- What is a digital-to-analog converter (DAC)?
Little-known fact: Digital-to-analog converters are used in all digital devices that have the ability to send an audio signal or play music. These digital devices include (but are not limited to) CD players, laptops, computers, tablets, smartphones, and televisions. DACs are everywhere. Simply put, a DAC, as its name suggests, converts digital audio information (comprised of 1s and 0s) into an analog signal that can be sent to headphones, powered speakers, amplifiers, and/or receivers, to be heard and enjoyed by the listener.
Anytime you’re listening to music, watching a movie, or even enjoying a YouTube video on a computer, the digital audio data is first sent through a DAC that converts the 1s and 0s to the analog waveforms that our headphones and home stereos deliver to our ears as music.
The sound card that’s built into your computer and feeds its headphone jack is an example of a DAC. However, computers and most other digital devices are not optimized for sound. They have other priorities to meet and functions to fulfill—browsing the Internet, taking and sending photographs, sending and receiving emails and texts, and so much more. For most digital devices, delivering audio is just one of numerous functionalities, all of which are compromised to some extent.
Far superior sound—and, thus, much more beautiful, engaging music—can be enjoyed when using an external, purpose-built DAC, such as DragonFly.
- Will DragonFly make my internal computer speakers sound better?
No. DragonFly does not use the internal speakers in your computer.
DragonFly is specifically designed to connect to external audio devices, such as headphones, powered desktop speakers, complete audio/video systems, and, now, iOS and Android mobile devices.
Note: DragonFly v1.0 and DragonFly v1.2 are designed to work with computers and laptops only; they are not designed for use with iOS and Android mobile devices. For now, compatibility with iOS and Android devices is limited to DragonFlys Black and Red.
- What kind of audio content can I play through DragonFly?
DragonFly will play any audio content or music file—from MP3 to high-resolution—from a computer or mobile device (the latter is true for DragonFly Black and Red only).
Whether you’re listening to iTunes®, YouTube®, Vimeo®, or streaming music services such as Tidal®, Spotify®, or Pandora®, you’ll enjoy cleaner, clearer, more naturally beautiful and dynamic sound with DragonFly.
- What headphones can I use with the DragonFly?
DragonFly is versatile enough to drive virtually any headphone on the market today, from impedances of 10ohm and higher.
While all DragonFly models offer enough output to drive most headphones, DragonFly Black (1.2-volt output) comfortably drives most medium- to moderate-efficiency models and DragonFly Red (2.1-volt output) easily drives even the lowest-efficiency models.
- What is “asynchronous USB?”
Digital audio is stored in computers and delivered to DragonFly as 1s and 0s.
Contrary to common belief, making beautiful music out of 1s and 0s isn’t a case of simply getting all of the audio data from Point A to Point B. In order to successfully reconstruct the analog waveform, it’s crucial that subtle digital timing relationships are carefully maintained. Timing errors such as “jitter” have long plagued digital audio playback, and never more so than in recent years, as computers have been pressed into service as audio source components.
DragonFly uses a very sophisticated “asynchronous” USB audio data transfer protocol. Rather than sharing crucial audio “data clocking” functions with the computer, DragonFly alone, using asynchronous USB transfer, commands the timing of the audio data transfer, dramatically reducing digital timing errors.
DragonFly’s StreamlengthTM asynchronous USB code ensures low jitter, low resource load, minimal packet errors, world-class audio playback, and reliable connectivity between our DAC and any computing device compliant with USB Host Mode (as set forth by the USB Organization). Streamlength requires no additional drivers, making DragonFly virtually plug-and-play for Apple, Windows, iOS, and Android users.
- What is a “sample rate”?
Sample rate refers to the number of “snapshots” of sound, or samples per second, captured when a digital audio file is recorded or encoded.
Compact Discs have always functioned exclusively at 44.1kHz, which equals 44,100 samples per second. However, recording studios often master at much higher sample rates, such as 88.2kHz or 96kHz.
Recently, online music downloads of higher sample rates have started to appear from a variety of sources, including HDtracks, but the selection remains limited.
- Can I use DragonFly with Windows operating systems?
Yes. DragonFly is compatible with Windows 7, 8.1, and 10. If you’re running the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, please be sure to install the Cumulative Update for Windows 10 Version 1607 (August 9, 2016), to maintain optimal USB audio performance.
- Why can’t I select 88.2kHz as the sample rate in Windows 7?
Microsoft does not offer native support for 88.2kHz with its Windows 7 operating system. While several hardware manufactures have sent requests to Microsoft asking them to support 88.2kHz sample rates, it is Microsoft’s opinion that there isn’t enough consumer demand for this sample rate to warrant an update.
Fortunately, aftermarket programs such as JRiver Media Center and Foobar2000 bypass the Windows “Hardware and Sound” application and allow native 88.2kHz decoding. For more information please visit www.jriver.com or www.foobar2000.org.
- Are there known USB-Audio issues with Windows 8 and Windows RT?
Early versions of Windows 8 had compatibility issues with their device drivers and many USB DACs (including DragonFly). If you are running Windows 8, we suggest that you do the following:
- Make sure your OS has all of the latest updates and service packs installed.
- Once all OS updates have been installed, check that all hardware device drivers are up to date and compatible with the latest version of Windows 8.
There are no reported audio issues with Windows 8.1.
- Can I use DragonFly with Windows Vista?
Currently, DragonFly is incompatible with Windows Vista.
Microsoft is aware of the incompatibility issues between the operating system and audio devices and is working toward a resolution. AudioQuest recommends using Windows XP or upgrading to Windows 7.
- Can I use DragonFly with Mac OS X?
Yes. DragonFly Black and Red are compatible with OS X (starting with OS 10.6.8 to present). There are no known compatibility issues with OS X.
- Can I use DragonFly with Apple iOS devices?
Yes. DragonFly Black and Red can be used with Apple iOS devices.
For Lightning devices, click here.
- When connected to an iOS device using the recommended Camera Connection Kit, my DragonFly Red or Black exhibits clicks and pops in the background of the music. What should I do?
In some rare instances, the combination of an iOS device in conjunction with the standard CCK and DragonFly Black or Red causes a clicking in the background of the music.
Neither we nor Apple have been able to determine why that is, but in circumstances where this occurs we’ve found that using Apple’s Lightning to USB 3.0 Camera Connection Kit resolves the problem. In addition, this connector offers improved audio performance over the smaller unit and gives the end user the ability to charge their iOS device while listening to music.
- Can I use DragonFly with Android devices?
Yes. DragonFly Black and Red will work with most Android devices running on Lollipop OS (and some Android devices running on KitKat), provided that the device manufacturer has adhered to the USB specification and implementation, and supports audio over USB.
To verify that your Android device complies with isochronous USB audio, download and run USB Host Check.
In our early pre-production testing, we found that some Android devices (4.1 OS and newer) do not provide native support for audio over USB. If you find that your Android device (4.1 or newer) does not support audio over USB, we ask that you please contact the manufacturer of your device. To determine whether your device supports audio over USB, consult the user manual or visit the manufacturer’s website.
For a reliable media player that has its own built-in USB device driver, ensuring reliable connectivity to all USB DACs, we suggest the ExtreamSD USB Audio driver application. This application is compatible with various audio formats and will manage music on both the Android’s internal memory and inserted SD cards.
Additionally, with the phone connected to the Wi-Fi network, this application can find and connect to DLNA servers/libraries. Version 2.2.5 USB Pro Player now supports playback for Tidal Streaming.
Android devices use a USB format known as “OTG” (On the Go). In order to connect an Android device in USB Host Mode to a DAC, an OTG adaptor must be used. (See http://www.audioquest.com/dragontail/dragontail-for-android-devices.)
- How do I set volume level when using DragonFly?
When using DragonFly with headphones, powered speakers, or a power amplifier, start at a low (or zero) volume level, then slowly raise the volume until the desired level is achieved.
When using DragonFly with headphones, powered speakers, or a power amplifier, it functions in variable output mode, and we recommend the following steps:
- Set the volume control of the associated music player application (such as iTunes®) to maximum.
- Set the computer’s main (operating system) volume control to 25% of maximum.
- Using the computer’s main (operating system) volume control, adjust the volume to the desired level.
DragonFly Black is equipped with a 64-step analog volume control. With DragonFly Black connected to a PC or mobile device, adjusting the host’s system volume control will, through proxy, control the DragonFly Black’s onboard volume. This ensures maximum resolution and the highest sound quality, regardless of volume setting.
In DragonFly Red, we were able to employ a highly sophisticated 64-step, 64-bit, bit-perfect digital volume control. It works similarly: With DragonFly Red connected to a PC or mobile device, adjusting the host’s system volume control will, through proxy, control the DragonFly Red’s onboard volume. Here again, we’ve optimized the volume control to ensure maximum resolution and the highest sound quality, regardless of volume setting.
You can also use DragonFly as a traditional fixed-output source component (such as a CD player, DVD player, or Blu-ray player), connected to a standard input on a receiver or preamplifier. When used in this manner, DragonFly functions in fixed output mode, which allows the overall volume level to be adjusted with the audio/video system’s master volume control. For this application, both the music player’s volume control and the computer’s main (operating system) volume level should be set to maximum.
- DragonFly can play audio data at four different sample rates. Which one should I choose?
DragonFly will play music or audio data at sample rates of 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, or 96kHz.
For the best sound quality, the computer should be configured so that it sends music and audio data to DragonFly that matches the native rate of the music. For example, since all CDs and music files purchased from iTunes use a sample rate of 44.1kHz, 44.1kHz tends to be the “native rate” of most digital music. In most cases, for most people, this will be the best sample rate to choose.
Choosing a sample rate that is higher than the native rate of a music file will convert the audio data using mathematical approximations that can potentially decrease the sound quality.
Conversely, if you have high-resolution music files, configuring your computer for 44.1kHz (or any other lower sample rate) will cause the computer to down-sample your music to a lower resolution.
When possible, always configure the computer to output the native sample rate of the music you are listening to. Many music player software suites on the market manage this process for you. To learn more about music player software, click here.
- What does it mean when the DragonFly lights up in different colors?
DragonFly’s emblem displays different colors to indicate status or sample rate of audio data: Red: Standby; Green: 44.1kHz; Blue: 48kHz; Amber: 88.2kHz; Magenta: 96kHz.
- I purchased high-resolution music files at 24-bit/176.4kHz or 24-bit/192kHz. Can I play these files using my DragonFly?
Yes. However, as mentioned above, DragonFly performs best when audio data is processed at its native sample rate.
If you have higher resolution files, it is important to choose the correct higher sample rate in order to maximize the benefit of those files. For the best performance with sampling rates above DragonFly’s 96kHz ceiling, files should be played at a rate mathematically related to their native resolution. For instance, a 192kHz file should be played at 96kHz (i.e., 2 x 96000.0 = 192000.0).
By selecting sample rates that are directly divisible, the computer avoids having to do sonically degrading, complex math in its conversions, and allows DragonFly to sound its best.
- What music player applications does AudioQuest recommend?
Simply put, we recommend using the music player application that you most enjoy.
While this is a question of personal taste, we present a few options here. Let your ears and proclivity for the interface be your guide.
- iTunes®: Simply the most successful media player to date, iTunes currently has over 800 million active users across the globe. For many, iTunes has become a standard.
A cottage industry of higher-performance, add-on applications have sprouted up. These applications address OS X only. All of these applications work in conjunction with iTunes’ graphic user interface (GUI).
- Amarra (from $34.99): Amarra works with your local music collection, streaming services, and has an optional room equalization suite.
- Audirvana Plus 2.0 ($74): Audirvana offers two interface options: with iTunes or with its own GUI.
- Bit Perfect (from $9.99): ,Bit Perfect works with your local music collection.
- Pure Music ($129): Pure Music works with your local music collection; a throughput for streaming services can also be activated.
Stand-alone media players (for Apple and Windows)
- JRiver (Retail $69.98): JRiver is a complete audio and video media player, offering both USB and Network (airplay and DLNA) connectivity.
- Roon ($199/year; $499 lifetime): Roon works seamlessly with a local media collection and Tidal Streaming services. Additionally, Roon enables streaming to multiple locations, and a complementary iPad application enables an external interface.
- Tidal ($20/month): Tidal is a subscription-based, CD-quality (1411kbps) streaming service. It offers both music and high-definition video content, including full-length concerts.
For any technical support or questions regarding the functionality or use of these recommended playback applications, please contact the manufacturer. AudioQuest cannot provide technical support for any of these recommended playback applications.
- Is DragonFly a FCC-compliant digital device?
DragonFly has been tested and found to comply with the limits for a Class B digital device, pursuant to Part 15 of the FCC Rules.
These limits are designed to provide reasonable protection against harmful interference in a residential installation. This equipment generates, uses, and can radiate radio frequency energy, and, if not installed and used in accordance with the instructions, may cause harmful interference to radio communications.
However, there is no guarantee that interference will not occur in a particular installation. If this equipment does cause harmful interference to radio or television reception, which can be determined by turning the equipment off and on, the user is encouraged to try to correct the interference by one or more of the following measures:
- Reorient or relocate the receiving antenna.
- Increase the separation between the equipment and receiver.
- Connect the equipment to an outlet on a circuit different from that of the receiver.
- Consult the dealer or an experienced radio/TV technician.
Modifications not expressly approved by the manufacturer could void the user’s authority to operated the equipment under FCC rules.
- Is it better to leave DragonFly constantly plugged in, or should I unplug it when it’s not in use?
It is completely safe to leave DragonFly plugged in at all times. We hope that you will always want it connected to your music playback device!
While repeatedly plugging and unplugging DragonFly will not affect its lifespan or reliability, all DACs measure and sound better after being left on for at least 24 hours. For more information on how DACs are effected by a warm-up period, please click here.