When I purchased the original version of AudioQuest’s DragonFly USB DAC in late 2012 for $249, little tears of joy streamed down my face. For years I had suffered from separation anxiety every time I unplugged my stay-at-home DAC in order to travel or work on my laptop at a coffee shop. It seemed so unfair to have to choose between high-quality sound and portability, but my on-the-go life dictated that I sever the umbilical cord and leave great sound behind. The DragonFly was my little savior and gave me the freedom to move about without sacrificing sound quality. Lo and behold, the progeny of the original DragonFly has arrived; version 1.2 sounds better than ever, and costs far less.
I wanted to test the differences between the original DragonFly and version 1.2 with some mid-grade headphones that a lot of people can afford, so I paid a visit to Brian at Whetstone Audio in Austin (whetstoneaudio.com), who was kind enough to lend me a pair of Grado PS500s for the review. After breaking in the headphones and reacquainting myself with the original DragonFly, I fired up version 1.2 and played several tracks from the Audiogon Wake Up Your Ears Sampler, a 24-bit/96kHz album specifically designed for headphones and testing their capability. First up was CC Coletti’s “You Shook Me,” a bluesy rock song that really highlights her voice, harmonica, guitar work, and the reverby live sound of smaller venues. The main difference between the old version and version 1.2 that I noticed was the 1.2’s ability to extend the center soundstage ever so slightly, which pulled Coletti’s voice from my forehead, rather than tickling it—with the older DragonFly, her voice danced just inside my head, which can be an odd sensation for many people; there was also more of that “I’m listening in a venue” feeling. Then came “Cantaloupe Island” by Lenny White, et al. I focused on this version’s bass solo, which through the 1.2 sounded a bit more lifelike and a little less like a low-frequency bumblebee. That’s a good thing, by the way.
Next was “Wandering Eyes” by indie-rock’s Kopecky Family Band. With the original DragonFly, I had always heard what I thought was Kelsey Kopecky acutely shaking a tambourine—but with the version 1.2 plugged in, I realized it wasn’t a tambourine at all, but rather a heavy metal chain which she drops on a floor tom. This kind of microdetail started popping up across all the music I was listening to, and made listening through headphones all the more enjoyable. The improvements that version 1.2 of the Dragonfly USB DAC made weren’t extreme; if you’ve been using the older version, there won’t be any monumental shift in soundstage, dynamics, or transparency, but certain elements of music will become more focused—a subtle yet noticeable enhancement, in other words. Maybe these details poke their head up because, as AudioQuest states, “The circuitry between the DAC chip and the analog output stage has been refined to create a more direct signal path, leading to even greater transparency and immediacy.” Whatever the reason for the improvement, I like it, and so will the millions of laptop users who will benefit from using the DragonFly v1.2.
You know what I like more than the sonic improvements? The price: At $149, even the most cash-strapped of music lovers can afford this DAC.
Specs & Pricing
Input: Up to 24-bit/96kHz
USB transfer mode: Asynchronous (dual clock) Class 1 USB with Streamlength protocol
Output: Analog audio mini-jack
Maximum driver output: 125mW @ 32 ohms
2621 White Rd.
Irvine, CA 92614