AudioQuest DragonFly Red & Black USB D/A headphone amplifiers Manufacturer's Comment

Manufacturer's Comment

Editor: We greatly appreciate the time and effort that John Atkinson and Art Dudley have put into becoming intimately familiar with our latest DragonFlys. Our goal was to surpass versions 1.0 and 1.2 in every meaningful way, reaching new levels of performance and value through the successful implementation of sophisticated technology, enabling compatibility with mobile devices, and providing software upgradability.

In direct comparisons against the original DragonFly, Art preferred the Black for its "superior musical incisiveness: clearer pitch relationships and more sharply drawn rhythmic nuances." Elsewhere, Art is no less poignant: "Black kicked the old DAC's ass out the door." The Red, meanwhile, impressed Art with its greater musical nuance, improved senses of drama and drive, and ultimate ability to communicate the emotion in a performance: "it was easier, with the Red, to hear and feel the enthusiasm with which each singer attacked his lines."

Something we've long admired is Stereophile's "separation of powers"—subjective listening balanced by objective measurements—a quality unique to the magazine and of great value to its readers. There may be no single measurement that can reliably predict an audio component's ability to stimulate the listener's emotions, but measurements can provide meaningful insight into a product's fundamental character.

While John's work on the test bench reveals good overall measured performance, we were surprised by the Red's results, as our own tests have indicated no such anomalies. Of the two models, the Red, with its more sophisticated parts and circuit design, should invariably demonstrate significantly higher performance—both in the listening environment and on the test bench. As Art noted, the Red delivered "an emotional mainline of conductor and orchestra playing as one, in accordance with a single, sensitive musical vision"—beautiful words, and extremely high praise.

With this in mind, and in an attempt to better understand John's findings, lead designer Gordon Rankin subjected nine random samples of the Red to an intense battery of tests, using the Apple Music app to play 24-bit files from an iPad, as well as several Mac computers running OSX. As with John's tests, all DSP—equalization, level normalization, etc.—was disabled. Gordon's tests were performed using a Prism Sound dScope Series III measurement system.

As you'll see from figs.1 and 2, Gordon's tests reveal much cleaner results—commensurate with the performance that we'd expect from the Red.


Fig.1 J-Test (24-bit): red trace shows results from an iPad Mini (v.1); green trace shows results from a MacBook Pro running Quad Xeon OS 10.11.5.


Fig.2 J-Test (16-bit): red trace shows the results from an iPad Mini (v.1); gray trace shows results from a MacBook Pro running Quad Core OS 10.11.5.

While we are confident in John's process, we are concerned about his findings, and we look forward to receiving his measurement samples so that we can learn more.

We hope that we have contributed information that will result in greater insight and understanding, and that all who listen may enjoy an experience as "emotionally devastating" as that described and felt by Art—with similar degrees of nuance, power, and pure musicality.—Steve Silberman, VP Development
Gordon Rankin, lead designer

2621 White Road
Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 585-0111

dbtom2's picture

I've had this iMac for three years and until I read this article I didn't know there were USB jacks on either side of the keyboard. Thanks for that.

dalethorn's picture

If I remember correctly, they advise against using any but the main USB jacks for the DragonFlys.

Anon2's picture

I thought about the Dragonfly, seriously.

Then my local dealer had a rock-solid alternative: the Arcam r-Pac. The r-Pac is marginally less "portable" than this product. It is a full headphone amp/DAC offering performance of headphone amps costing many times more.

The r-Pac is a true piece of gear, made with the trappings of Arcam's higher-up-the-food-chain DACs of high repute. I hope that Stereophile will review the r-Pac in the coming days. It even has a Brown-Burr processor.

You can't use the r-Pac on-the-go, though just about any portable DAC would be a tough-sell to use in a less-than-stationary listening environment. It does square the circle on two key dimensions: 1. it is USB-powered; 2. it is a solid piece of gear with a top-rate processor; it might even double as a full home-system DAC while doubling for headphone use during the week at work.

dalethorn's picture

I know people who do like the r-Pac a lot. For me, the amp makes the biggest difference, as this review alluded to. The DACs not so much. So it would be good for someone to compare the Red to the r-Pac, on headphones.

mtymous1's picture

Dudley wrote:

"To use either new DragonFly with current-spec Apple iOS hardware requires the purchase, from Apple or an authorized Apple supplier (footnote 1), of a $29 accessory: a Lightning-to-USB-camera adapter."

So when AAPL announces removal of the 3.5mm jack next week, I do think the Lightning phone + camera adapter + Dragonfly approach will be a nifty solution for those unwilling to give up their favorite cans. Just remember to carry all of them with you!

audiobill's picture

I was directed to this article by a link in an 5/12/17 article on this site written by Jason Victor Serinus entitled "Munich Milestones for MQA."
In reading your (this) article, I noticed on page two, a photo of what appears to be a DragonFly Black connected to an AudioQuest JitterBug, which is connected to the USB port of an unidentified notebook computer (decidedly not an iMac). I find no mention of the JitterBug or the notebook computer in the body of your review or in the listing of Associated Equipment. This photo is somewhat confusing to me. Couldn't you use the very good camera in your iPhone 6 Plus to take a photo of the actual iMac setup mentioned in the article?

temujin114's picture

why don't you quantify "musical nuances." FFS you guys are so full of dog $h!t.
are you guys owned by the fox news or what.

I also liked “Now there was no air between notes—just . . . stuff.” ROFL
WTH is that?
Also amusing were “more musical color, sounded a bit mushy, impression of flesh and blood, music exhibited more momentum (omfg lol), huge sound,..”
“high-and-mighty high-end talk”, you mean unadulterated BS.
You guys are some piece of work.