Don’t worry; a new DragonFly DAC hasn’t slipped in under your radar undetected. That’s news that would be difficult to miss considering their popularity. Instead, we’re highlighting an amusing paradox that sometimes affects gear reviews. Some devices continue to excite and spark revelations long after the review is written and published.
It’s most common when discussing feature-rich equipment with app-based controls and functionality. But this time is quite different. The AudioQuest Dragonfly Red has no buttons, no settings to navigate… not even a power cord. Despite its simplicity, its full potential is only revealed over time – like a lotus blossom opening in slow motion.
Examining specs is helpful for understanding gears’ technical nature, but commenting on their personality requires a relationship with the devices. That personal connection uncovers more significant insights and appreciation. Complexity isn’t a requirement for excellence. Here are 18 remarkable qualities and use possibilities for the AudioQuest DragonFly Red – 9 things to know and 9 ways you can use it.
9 essential AudioQuest DragonFly character traits
- It’s one of the easiest, and most affordable audio upgrades you can make: DragonFly is reasonably priced, simple to integrate into your system, and the difference it makes is instantly audible. That’s not always a given when upgrading audio gear, especially with low-cost equipment. If we’re being honest, we occasionally have to convince ourselves the “improvement” was worth it. That’s never the case when adding DragonFly Red; the jump in audio quality over using a mobile device’s built-in DAC is instant music to our ears.
- AudioQuest does the work for you. Unlike some newer portable DACS, there aren’t a bunch of settings to fiddle with – that’s not a downside. Sometimes trivial features disguise mediocre sound quality. In DragonFly, AudioQuest did everything we could want. They paired the correct circuitry, added a digital filter, and tuned the audio tastefully. All we have to do is enjoy how good music sounds when using it. That’s a gift.
- It’s not a disposable gadget: The DragonFly Red isn’t a short-lived gizmo. The entire DragonFly line is firmware upgradeable using the intuitive device manager software. There’s no planned obsolescence here. The performance and functionality of your DragonFly will continue to improve with new updates.
- It works with almost everything: DragonFly offers plug-and-play ease of use with any playback software and is fully compatible with iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. AudioQuest’s reasonably priced adapters provide greater connectivity with a broader range of devices.
- Premium audio circuitry courtesy of Sabre: Sabre two-channel DACs are specifically designed for low-power applications that still demand audiophile performance. DragonFly Red sports the ESS9016 DAC chipset with an ES9601 headphone amp – circuits found in top-tier disc players and AudioQuest’s flagship DAC. The combination delivers perfect synergy and outstanding audio quality from an incredibly portable platform.
- Maximum efficiency means more play time: DragonFly Red’s upgraded high-performance microprocessor is 77% more efficient than previous version’s. Meaning several hours more playtime with minimal mobile battery impact.
- Increased output power means more use flexibility: DragonFly Red provides 2.1 volts of output power; that’s plenty enough punch to drive less sensitive power-hungry headphones or use it as a preamp for a power amp or active speakers.
- Seamless integration with your OS volume control: DragonFly Red uses highly sophisticated 64-step, 64-bit, bit-perfect digital volume control that automatically syncs with your device’s OS. It becomes one with your device as soon as it’s connected.
- Driverless simplicity: Some reviewers have complained that AudioQuest capped DragonFly resolution support at 24-bit/96kHz. But it makes driverless device compatibility possible resulting in better audio quality with greater ease of use – that’s a sweet deal!
9 more ways to enjoy better sound quality with DragonFly Red
As inveterate music hounds, the primary use scenario discussed in our DragonFly review focused on getting the best sound from our new on-the-go streaming app, Roon Arc. With daily use, we discovered more ways DragonFly Red can improve everything we listen to. Here are a few that came to mind.
- A perfect companion for Nucleus and Nucleus Plus: our Roon Core music servers are controlled with Roon Software installed on a computer, mobile phone, or tablet. The DragonFly Red is a perfect companion device because it dramatically improves the audio quality of those control devices compared to their merely adequate onboard DACs. DragonFly’s near universal compatibility means they work with all the most frequently used devices.
- High-Quality car audio: Since the release of ARC, I connect my iPhone to Dragonfly Red, then use a 3.5mm cable for the AUX input in my car. The improvement over using a Bluetooth connection is instantly apparent. Radio apps sound better as well.
- Create a DIY Roon Ready Streamer/DAC/Amp: I have an iFi Zen Stream here for review. One afternoon I connected the DragonFly Red to its USB output, then ran a 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable to a set of powered Klipsch speakers. It sounded much better than I expected. The superior audio quality of the streamer and DAC fed the speakers a solid signal that improved their usual performance making them more enjoyable – and Roon Ready!
- Instant Zone Expansion: DragonFly Red makes it so easy to add another Roon Zone. Connect it to your phone for an around-the-house or bedside headphones DAC/amp endpoint. If you aren’t a headphones listener but are interested, this is the quickest way in!
- A reference DAC you can drop in your pocket: The DragonFly Red has an appealing memorable sonic signature. It’s a perfect portable reference DAC for auditioning headphones, powered speakers, or power amps. There’s no audible noise or distortion, and it’s dead quiet, rendering a blank slate ideal for testing gear.
- More realistic gaming: Our senior support tech uses his DragonFly Red to enjoy more immersive video game audio. The driverless connectivity makes it effortlessly compatible with various gaming platforms.
- A taste of vinyl fever: You can use DragonFly to connect a USB turntable to a pair of powered monitors for an instant hi-fi system with much better sound quality than the built-in phono preamp.
- Bring movie effects to life: DragonFly doesn’t just make music sound better when using a computer, phone, or tablet. It makes everything sound better. Say goodbye to mediocre audio from YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video with DragonFly Red’s superior audio processing power.
- There’s still lots of net left: We’ve named a handful more things you can do with DragonFly Red. Some are Rooncentric, and many are not. But there’s still enough net left to scoop up less obvious use scenarios – like improved sound quality for video meetings or any of the numerous digital communication tools we’ve adopted in the last few years. Or something for self-reflection, like enjoying a podcast or audiobook. The possibilities are only limited by our imagination.
That’s the great thing about gear that’s elegant in its simplicity and just works. It improves our experience with sound in an effortless, intuitive, and uncluttered way. DragonFly Red is a beautiful little converter that does its job so well that we forget it’s there. It’s honest and unbothered, giving us a more direct and immersive connection with the media we enjoy, whether it’s music or any of the examples above. The fact that it’s one of the most accessible, easily affordable, future-proofed, and highly portable sound improvements you can make is all the more reason to climb aboard a DragonFly!