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 (comprising 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.
All DragonFlys are designed to preserve the body, warmth, and natural beauty in music. We like to think of the progression like this: Black is beautiful, Red is more beautiful, and Cobalt is most beautiful. For a complete Model Comparison Chart, click here.
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 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. However, all current-production DragonFly models—Black, Red, and Cobalt—are compatible with iOS and Android devices.
From MP3 to MQA and Hi-Res, DragonFly adds life, meaning, and color to all of your music.
With all current-production models of AudioQuest’s DragonFly USB DAC (Black, Red, Cobalt), music appreciation and exploration are limitless: Plug into an Apple or Windows® computer or connect to an iOS® or Android mobile device. Play YouTube or Vimeo videos. Go hunting on Bandcamp or SoundCloud. Explore playlists and podcasts on Spotify, Pandora, or Deezer. Stream high-res audio from Tidal or Qobuz.
No matter the choice of sonic pleasure, DragonFly unravels the emotional expression and nuance that makes music and movies so enjoyable.
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 DragonFlys Red and Cobalt (2.1-volt output) easily drive even the lowest-efficiency models.
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.
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.
Online music downloads of higher sample rates are available from a variety of sources, including HDtracks, but the selection remains limited.
All answers to the following questions have been provided to AudioQuest by MQA. For further clarification, please visit MQA’s educational webpage, "How It Works,"" or contact MQA directly at [email protected]
MQA is an award-winning technology that delivers master-quality audio in a file that’s small enough to stream or download. Using pioneering scientific research into how people hear, MQA captures and authenticates the sound of the original studio performance.
All three major music labels—Sony Music, Warner Music, Universal Music—as well as Merlin (on behalf of independent record labels), are MQA partners.
MQA’s “Origami” folding technology creates a single, compact, efficient distribution file with no playback restrictions. This file can then be used for download or streaming and enjoyed in many different situations, including mobile, in-car, on a PC, with a hi-fi, and so on.
For more technical information, visit Bob Talks.
An MQA renderer is a device that takes in the MQA Core (at 88.2 or 96kHz) and completes the unfold to the original sample rate and also matches and compensates the DAC characteristics to the hierarchical target, matching the analog sound heard in the studio.
All current-production AudioQuest DragonFlys (Black, Red, and Cobalt) feature an MQA renderer that enables playback of MQA audio files and streams, delivering the sound of the original master recording. When connected to an MQA Core signal (within TIDAL Masters or Audirvana, for example), DragonFly’s purple display indicates the unit is rendering an MQA stream or file.
Currently, the MQA Core Decoder is live on TIDAL (HiFi), nugs.net, Amarra, Audirvana, Roon, and USB Audio Player PRO, with more services coming soon.
For more detailed information, visit the MQA partner page
For more information on DragonFly and MQA, visit these helpful links:
Part-time Audiophile – MQA upgrade in under 5 minutes with the AudioQuest DragonFly.
Digital Audio Review – How to add MQA support to AudioQuest DragonFly Black/Red (Video).
Microsoft Windows Related
Yes. DragonFly is compatible with Windows 7 and later. 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.
Microsoft does not offer native support for 88.2kHz with its Windows 7 operating system.
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.
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.
If the installation is complete and the DragonFly is not visible, you may need to restart your computer to complete the installation process.
Mac OS X & iOS Related
Yes. DragonFly Black, Red, and Cobalt are compatible with OS X (starting with OS 10.6.8 to present). There are no known compatibility issues with OS X.
Yes. DragonFly Black and Red can be used with Apple iOS devices.
Yes. DragonFly Black, Red, and Cobalt can be used with Apple iOS devices. An Apple Camera Adapter is required to connect DragonFly to an Apple Lightning device.
In our tests, Apple's Lightning-to-USB 3 Camera Adapter (with charging port) sounds better and is more reliable than Apple’s less expensive Lightning-to-USB Camera Adapter, while also providing the ability to charge during playback. Your mileage may vary. Some users prefer the size of the smaller adapter, while others prefer the performance of the larger adapter. We encourage experimentation.
When DragonFly (Black, Red, Cobalt) is connected to an iOS device using Apple’s older Lightning to USB Camera Connection Kit, I can hear 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, Red, or Cobalt causes a clicking in the background of the music.
Neither we nor Apple have been able to determine why this is, but, in circumstances where this occurs, we’ve found that using Apple’s Lightning-to-USB 3 Camera Adapter resolves the problem. In addition, this connector offers improved audio performance over the smaller unit and provides the ability to charge the attached iOS device while listening to music.
Yes. DragonFly Black, Red, and Cobalt 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.
Despite Android’s support of USB audio output, there are still hardware manufacturers that do not completely adhere to the USB audio class specification. If you experience this, we recommend the USB Audio Player Pro application.
UAPP includes its own USB audio device driver that is compliant with the USB Organization’s USB Audio Host Mode Class specification. Further, it is compatible with various audio formats and will manage music on both the Android’s internal memory and inserted SD cards. With the phone connected to the Wi-Fi network, this application can also find and connect to DLNA servers/libraries. USB Audio Player PRO Version 5 now supports audio from Google Music, Tidal (including Tidal Masters), Qobuz, and Shoutcast, and includes an MQA Core Decoder, which will unfold MQA streams from 44.1/48kHz to 88.2/96 kHz and can be combined with DragonFly for further unfolding of even higher sample rates.
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 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 and Cobalt, we were able to employ a highly sophisticated 64-step, 64-bit, bit-perfect digital volume control. It works similarly: With DragonFly Red/Cobalt connected to a PC or mobile device, adjusting the host’s system volume control will, through proxy, control the DragonFly’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 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 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.
DragonFly’s LED displays different colors to indicate status or sample rate of audio data. For DragonFlys Black and Red: Red = Standby; Green = 44.1kHz; Blue = 48kHz; Amber = 88.2kHz; Magenta = 96kHz; Purple = MQA. For DragonFly Cobalt: Red = Standby; Green = 44.1kHz; Blue = 48kHz; Yellow = 88.2kHz; Light Blue = 96kHz; Purple = MQA.
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.
While iTunes was once the easy and obvious answer, a cottage industry of higher-performance, add-on applications have since sprouted up. These applications address OS X only.
Stand-alone media players (for Apple and Windows)
JRiver is a complete audio and video media player, offering both USB and Network (airplay and DLNA) connectivity.
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 is a subscription-based, CD-quality (1411kbps) streaming service. It offers both music and high-definition video content, including full-length concerts.
Qobuz is a subscription-based streaming service that offers an outstanding selection of hi-resolution content.
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.
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 operate the equipment under FCC rules.
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, in general we have found that DACs measure and sound better after being left on for at least 24 hours.
We absolutely recommend using JitterBug with DragonFlys Black and Red, both in series (with DragonFly plugged directly into JitterBug) and/or in parallel (with JitterBug plugged into a separate USB port within the host computer).
However, because some of JitterBug’s filtering is included in DragonFly Cobalt, a JitterBug is not necessary and not recommended with mobile devices or when only one USB port is available. When using Cobalt, you can still optimize the digital audio from a computer, car stereo, or other hardware by adding a JitterBug (in parallel only) into a different USB port.