Dragonfire Acoustics Mini Dragon DFA 2.1 desktop playback system Page 2

Bass quality seemed to improve when Bockrath and I placed the sub to my left, mostly clear of the desk, a change that prompted the creation of another room-correction curve. However, my thoughts on subwoofer placement changed once serious listening began. I moved the sub back under the desk, which necessitated yet another Dirac room correction curve.

By the time Bockrath left, all components of the Mini Dragon system seemed to work properly. A short time later, though—when I was playing a minimally dynamic file of soprano Maria Callas, sourced from a live mono radio broadcast—the system distorted horribly, breaking up on the smallest crescendos. And the San Francisco Symphony's dynamic recording of Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra (24/192 WAV, SFS Media SFS0070) was a disaster. Berg may have employed harsh atonality, but that was nothing compared to the sonic horrors of the distorted Dragonfire system.

What to do? I contacted Colich and Bockrath directly. Everything but the subwoofer, microphone, and mike stand was returned to Dragonfire, where Colich and the Dirac folks discovered that a firmware correction was needed to enable the SHD and the MD-4 to work with the latest Apple iMac OS upgrade.


While I awaited the equipment's return, Colich emailed a "little homework" in the form of how-to videos on the Dirac system (footnote 3) and documents from miniDSP. The thought of going through all that made my eyes bug out, so Bockrath and I instead scheduled a Skype screenshare that enabled us to create a new Dirac room-response curve. Now, if I had to do everything all over again, I could probably create new curves on my own: It isn't difficult.

Once the equipment made it back to my home, its firmware corrected, there was no distortion or break-up. I thought I was free to proceed—until I learned that the debut system Colich set up at RMAF included a 14-gauge Kimber Kable Ascent PK14 power cable on the MD-4 amplifier, stock power cables on the SHD studio preamp and subwoofer, and an upgraded Kimber interconnect cable on the satellites. I had never auditioned the system with a complete set of supplied cables.

Nor did I have them. Colich had supplied a combination of standard power cords and the USB, S/PDIF, and satellite interconnect cables from the Kimber Kable upgrade bundle. Since I intended to evaluate the Dragonfire Acoustics Mini Dragon system's sound with and without the upgrade cables, with and without the subwoofer, and with and without the SHD, I needed every cable. This may seem like much ado about nothing to those who doggedly contend that cabling does not affect sound, but this dog hears otherwise. (So does Colich, who is currently developing his own USB cable.)

I began by evaluating the entire $10,000 system with its supplied cables, using Roon to stream music that wasn't stored on my Mac's internal drive. Because Colich did not use a power conditioner in his RMAF setup, I didn't use one either.

While I did listen to some large-scale orchestral fare and lots of big operatic voices, I did so understanding that the Dragonfire Acoustics Mini Dragon DFA 2.1 system is designed for intimate listening where its monitors are precisely aligned to ear height and aimed directly at the listener. Although the system certainly does justice to large-scale music, it is not a rock-the-joint party animal whose volume can be cranked up anywhere near floor-shaking levels. Regardless, once I had raised the maximum volume ceiling to a safe level during one of my sessions with Dan Bockrath—it's a little low for classical music—I never wanted more.

Because the system DAC in the MD-4 amplifier downsamples all PCM files above 96kHz, does not decode and render MQA, and can only handle DSD when it's converted to PCM by music playback software, I let Roon perform the first MQA unfold (up to 96kHz) and convert DSD to PCM 352.8, which the Dragonfire MD-4 in turn downsampled to 96kHz. Not once did I experience that "if only this would play at higher resolution, the soundstage would be bigger and more all-inclusive" feeling.

First up, J.S. Bach's "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" from Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer's Bach Trios (24/96 WAV, Nonesuch 558933). The sound was warm, full, and lovely, with detail sufficient to convey the texture of Thile's mandolin string plucking, and none of the dryness sometimes associated with class-D amplification. Pitches were clear from top to bottom, three-dimensionality approached "awesome, dude!" levels, and the transparent silence around the mandolin and cello was what I expect from systems costing far, far more than Dragonfire, and that includes power conditioning. Not that $10,000 is chump change by any means. "I never thought it would sound this good with stock cables," I wrote in my notes. Nonetheless, when I switched to a complete set of upgrade cables, the mandolin sounded less "digitally" sharp and more naturally rounded, and more of the full envelope of sound emerged. Using the upgrade cable bundle on other tracks, I heard more subtle accents and dynamic shifts, as well as more color.

When I tried to determine which cable(s) in the upgrade package made the most difference, the braided dual interconnect cable to the satellites, which has Neutrik Speakon NL4 terminations on one end and 4-pin mini XLRs on the other, stood out.


There was only one issue: With the subwoofer situated to my left, Meyer's bass did not appear as it was recorded, between mandolin (left) and cello (right). Instead, it was tucked way off to the left, and so disconnected from mandolin and cello that the presentation lacked cohesion. Solution: subwoofer back under the desk, this time with Stillpoints Ultra SS supports elevating it above the carpet to eliminate booming and necessitating yet another room-correction curve to ensure that everything was optimally balanced.

As the Roon faithful can attest, when Roon Radio is engaged, sometimes you end up in unexpected places without prior warning. Thus did the spiritual elevation of Bach suddenly cede to the earthbound concerns of Billy Joel, whose "The Entertainer" from Streetlife Serenade (Tidal 16/44.1 FLAC stream, Columbia PC 33146) delivered a money-making lament of the fame that comes with fortune. On this far noisier recording, the Kimber Kable upgrade package made a significant difference, delivering far smoother and less bright highs—major plus there—far more midrange, and stronger bass.

Next up, "John Taylor's Month Away" from King Creosote and Jon Hopkins's Diamond Mine (Jubilee Edition) (16/44.1 FLAC, Deep Six/Tidal/Qobuz). "I can't believe how good this sounds, and how total the spacey ambience is," I wrote after listening with the supplied cabling. The cable upgrade noticeably increased three-dimensionality, brought out the natural midrange of the voice, and delivered more convincing resonant undertones on guitar. "This really is a different experience," I wrote. "God, is the bass even better. The increase in ambience is startling, and the music's bass heartbeat is more convincing." Kimber also made a major difference on the first movement of Lou Harrison's Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra, with violinist Tim Fain and Angel Gil-Ordóñez leading the Post Classical Ensemble (24/48 WAV, Naxos 8.559825/HDtracks). This very West Coast music's crazy assortment of gamelan-like gongs, percussive thumps, and explosive crashes is an equal test for sound systems and ultra-conservative music lovers. The better cables created a knock-your-socks-off experience that, while not on the same level as that delivered by my reference system's dCS Rossini stack, Dan D'Agostino Progression monoblocks, Wilson Audio Alexia 2 loudspeakers, and Nordost Odin array, was startlingly true-sounding and impactful.

The hubby and I spent one evening streaming and then debating the relative merits of six notably distinct versions of "Nacqui all'affanno" (Born into travail) from Rossini's opera La Cenerentola (Cinderella). In all cases, we heard differences in tonality and nuance that revealed the uniquenesses and distinct strengths of each singer. Then, for truly sublime listening of a more rarefied sort, I turned to the great mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's "Se mai senti spirarti sul volto" (If ever you feel your cheek caressed) from her recent Antonio Vivaldi album with Ensemble Matheus and Jean-Christophe Spinosi (24/96 WAV, Decca 002894834475). My elation at what I heard impelled me to write, "This system is great at conveying the airy sounds of period instruments, and the most intimate details. When the divine Bartoli descends, I swear I can hear what's going on inside her throat."

Many vocal lovers will go nuts when they hear how transparent and revealing this system is. They will also appreciate the firmer lower tones, additional vocal body, greater delicacy, and more detailed highs that better cables can deliver.

During one listening session, our sometime dog walker, Irene Sloot, stopped by. After cueing up Norah Jones's "Don't Know Why" from Come Away with Me (24/192 FLAC/Qobuz), she remarked, "I really enjoyed how you can hear each instrument so clearly. Sometimes when you're listening to a lesser system, you get more of the voice than the background instruments. Here, everything was balanced." She also dug the clarity and correct proportion of voice to bass in John Mayer's "Half of My Heart" from Inside Wants Out (16/44.1 FLAC/Qobuz). But when I played, at her request, Sir David Willcocks and the Bach Choir's "Silent Night (Stille Nacht)" from the album Christmas Adagios (16/44.1 FLAC/Tidal), she broke into tears. That's when I learned that her father had served in WWII and was in a church when, while the Americans were singing "Silent Night," the Germans entered: Once they heard everyone singing, they left them alone. It was a deeply profound moment, made possible by the Mini Dragon system.

Without the whole enchilada
The time had come to test the system as a sum of individual parts that can stand on their own, with a little help from only some of their friends. Without the Dragonfire SB-8P sub, much of what I heard sounded ridiculous. As long as I ignored the lack of resonance, undertones, and sense of space when music dipped below the satellites' limit of 200Hz, the combo of satellites, amp, and preamp kinda sorta worked for pure soprano voices accompanied by piano. But in more complex fare or anything with a bass line, the sound was a joke. In the aforementioned Lou Harrison piece, I could have sworn I was listening to a playpen's worth of toy instruments. (Imagine the percussion in a symphony by Mahler or Beethoven reduced to a tin drum, as an orchestra of kindergarteners would use in a rendition of Victor Herbert's famous march from Babes in Toyland.)

Don't even think about playing rock or jazz without the sub.

Returning the sub while removing the SHD and its Dirac room-correction delivered bass that was not under control. It either emitted a dull thud or rumbled and sounded ridiculously boomy. This uncorrected bass evoked memories of the college dormitory systems of my youth, whose speakers sat directly on carpet or floors (and dirty floors at that). On "John Henry's Month Away," guitar grew too prominent, its mellow core went AWOL, and its bass foundation suffered continual earthquake aftershocks that greatly discomforted this former Bay Area resident (who now lives close to the Pacific Northwest's major fault lines). Nor would DSD128 files of Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra's recording of Mahler's Symphony No.3 (DSD128, Channel Classics CCSA 38817/NativeDSD) play correctly; nothing Roon could do would stop them sounding like a ringing, clanging, absolutely unlistenable mess. Ugh.

The truth was inescapable: The components of the Dragonfire Acoustics Mini Dragon DFA 2.1 system work synergistically. They need each other to sound right. You can do without the cable upgrade—hey, you can use your own cables of choice everywhere except for the Neutrik Speakon NL4-terminated cables to the satellites and sub—but you will need the entire $10,000 package to appreciate why Colich calls this system his "life achievement."

Summing up
The Dragonfire Acoustics Mini Dragon nearfield playback system will likely shatter your expectations of what a desktop system can produce. Its remarkably transparent, colorful, and detailed full-range sound is musical to the core and can transform your work area into a relatively intimate listening environment that may tempt you to rarely leave the computer. Ultimately, that may not be a good thing, but once you're hooked, you may not care. As long as you balance out your experience with more hikes, runs, bike rides, and time at the gym, the Dragonfire system could permanently alter how you to listen to recordings and video. Properly set up and aligned, it may not fill your entire house with music, but it will definitely set your heart aflame. Highest possible recommendation.

Footnote 3: See youtube.com/watch?v=zr_oqF9jb-8 and youtube.com/watch?v=RgECJu-2hOY.
Dragonfire Acoustics
Orange County, CA
(657) 667-6187

Anton's picture

I've loved my Monsoon desktop speakers for years. Glad to see them getting some upscale cred!

JRT's picture

In the late 1990s I bought a 4-channel variant of Bruce Thigpen's Eminent Technology LFT-11.




Anton's picture

Factoring in technological advancements and inflation, those are 10,000 dollar speakers!

I still use my Monsoons, they are uncannily musical creatures.

Ortofan's picture

... a pair of Wilson Audio TuneTots?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

According to Hi-Fi News TuneTot measurements ........

There is a nice, approx. 8 db 'BBC dip' in the presence region ........ The frequency response almost looks like a 'roller-coaster' ride .......... The sensivity is somewhat on the low side 83-84 db ......... Distortion levels seem to rise as the frequency decreases ....... Pair matching is also, not that great +/- 5-6 db :-) ........

I saved the best for the last ........ They cost $10,000/pair and they don't come with an amp :-) .........

landylee's picture

London celebrates the elegance of Audrey Hepburn. London celebrates the elegance of Audrey Hepburn.
https://fabiosa.com/lbmkt-ctclb-rseln-audkz-pbdlr-sasha-and-masya-shpak-.... In addition to the classic portraits of such famous photographers as Cecil Beaton and Angus McBean for the first time, the early "family pictures are to be seen" to be provided to the gallery by the sons of Hepburn's available.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

KEF active, wireless, DSP controlled LS series ........ KEF EGG, LSX, LS-50 wireless and LS-50 wireless Nocturnes are all lot less expensive than Dragonfire :-) .........

Anton's picture

They don’t cost enough!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

In response to Ortofon's question, would I rather have a pair of Wilson TuneTots.... Every desktop system I've used in Port Townsend and Oakland, starting with AudioEngine 5s, has included self-powered loudspeakers. The Wilson Tune Tots would have to be paired with a different DAC, and would need appropriate amplification that I don't currently have on hand. Oh, and speaker cable as well.

As for comparing the sound of the speakers alone (which is the next question that a reasonable audiophile might ask), they are completely different animals requiring different connections and electronics. They're also designed for different placement. We're not talking apples and oranges; we're talking apples and almonds. Personally, I like them both. The foods, that is. I have only heard the TinyTots once, and have no educated opinion to offer.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be JVS could review the KEF LS-50 wireless Nocturnes ($2,500/pair)? ........... LS-50 Nocturnes are the top of the line model in the KEF LS wireless series ......... Nocturnes are active, wireless and DSP controlled ........ Nocturnes were not reviewed by Stereophile :-) ........

Anton's picture

I think that would be a way cool niche for Jason if it isn't to monotonous for him.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be not as monotonous as listening to Diana Krall over and over and over and ........ again :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... supply the amp (and DAC and DSP, if needed) as a complete system or would you prefer having the freedom to select the ancillary components (and cables) yourself?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If and when Wilson Audio comes up with an active, self powered, wireless, DAC and DSP controlled speakers for $50k ....... guaranteed JVS would be the first one in line to review them ...... Of course Nordost would be supplying the necessary cables :-) ..........

Ortofan's picture

... for a new Wilson product code named '4D'.
It will be an active model, with the speaker designed by Daryl (Wilson), the amplifier from Dan D'Agostino, the DAC from dCS and the DSP from Dirac.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

.... and the power supply cord is gonna be the $10,000 Synergistic 'world reference' power cord? :-) .......

Ortofan's picture

... Nordost products?
Try their Odin 2 power cord.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Aha ....... Great comparison review project for JVS ........ Comparison review between Nordost Odin2 power cord and 'World's reference' power cord .......... If JVS selects the 'less expensive' WR power cord, we can all save some money here ....... We can still use the Odin2 digital and analog interconnects ...... unless, the Wilson '4D' is totally wireless like the B&W Formation Duo .........

I can see endless possibilities for Wilson '4D' ......... Wilson could come up with a wireless surround sound system like the Enclave Audio system (see S&V website) ......... Wilson could also come up with a '4D' surround sound, soundbar like the Sennheiser Ambeo (see S&V review) ......... Also, height channel speakers, in-ceiling speakers, in-wall speakers, outdoor speakers, automobile speakers .......... :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

When JVS buys an eco-friendly Tesla automobile, he could get a custom installed Wilson Audio automobile system ....... and, write a review for Stereophile :-) ..........

Hi-Reality's picture

Thank you Jason for this great report and review. This was extra special to read since I had the pleasure to interview Dr. C at the T.H.E SHOW IN LONG BEACH 2019 and record a demo (in binaural audio) of this very system. Enjoy:

Dragonfire Acoustics (Part 1: System Presentation): https://youtu.be/BjzWkNhzq04

Dragonfire Acoustics (Part 2: Sound Demo: Roger Waters!): https://youtu.be/ay3Tb53umuY

Regards, Babak
Hi-Reality Machines