AudioQuest’s DragonFly Red puts high-end DAPs on notice


DragonFly – the story so far: the average laptop computer isn’t built with audio sensitivities in mind. With ongoing downward pressure applied to computer design budgets, only the most basic of DAC and headphone amplifiers chips are included on the motherboard found inside a Microsoft Surface or Apple MacBook. From an audiophile perspective they are little more than functional. Their sound is often one that’s big on layer congeal, lacks air and is shy with dynamics.

One way to improve the sound quality of one’s Mac or Surface (or any computer running Windows or OS X) whilst keeping cash drop and portability (literally) in the pocket is AudioQuest’s DragonFly dongle DAC / headphone amplifier. The original 2012 version sold for US$249. Arriving two years later, a refreshed DragonFly v1.2 gave listeners more for less at US$149.

This week the Californian company announce shipping commencement of a further improved version: the DragonFly Black. Same headphone amplifier chip, same analogue volume control as the v1.2 but better 32-bit ESS 9010 Sabre DAC chip (previously a 9023) as well as a new, low noise asynchronous USB PIC32MX270 receiver chip from Microchip loaded with revised Streamlength™ code from Mr. USB himself, Gordon Rankin. Price? US$99.

AudioQuest announced the availability of the US$199 DragonFly Red too – we’ll get to that shortly.


As covered here, Black sounds better than v1.2. Once again, we get more for less.

However, further icing the new DragonFly cake is AudioQuest’s sleeve-stashed ace – full compatibility with all iOS and Android devices which, like laptops, only get the most basic of internal audio circuitry. Such connective wizardry is largely down to the Microchip silicon’s super low power draw. It requires a mere quarter of the current supply needed by the previous TI receiver chip.

Rankin elaborates: “DF1.2 registers itself with a calculated maximum current draw of 100mA. Usually that is more like 55-75mA depending on what headphones you use, etc… The new Red [and Black] registers its maximum at 24mA.”

An OTG (‘On The Go’) USB cable connects the DragonFly Black/Red to an Android phone or tablet. Some Android devices will also require the intervention of CyanogenMod or the USB Player Pro app.

iPhones and iPads offer plainer sailing. Apple’s Camera Connection Kit (US$29) connects any iDevice to the DragonFly Black with plug and play simplicity.

Say hello to my little friend:

Say hello to my little friend. #ghettoDAP

A photo posted by DAR__KO (@dar__ko) on

A Velcro tab secures the AudioQuest dongle to the back of an iPhone 6S Plus. The big news here is that this Black-charged ‘ghetto DAP’ pulls up alongside the Astell&Kern AK120 II in terms of sound quality but steps ahead on functionality and UX.

The Pono Player’s beautification of music is what sets it apart from the DAP pack. No doubt the byproduct of Charlie Hansen’s firm adherence to discrete output staging and absence of global feedback. But much like the Astell&Kern unit, the Pono Player’s app-less interface doesn’t stream Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, Soundcloud et al. It only plays files loaded in to its internal storage or inserted micro SD cards. And neither DAP’s battery life is sufficient for long-haul flights.

Streaming service app installs from the Google Play Store and 30-hour battery life are two reasons why one might move to a Sony NW-ZX2 (as I did). The 21st Century Sony Walkman is a heavily disguised Android phone that trades in call and SMS functionality for D/A conversion and headphone drive designed with audiophile sensitivities. Like the Astell&Kern players, the Sony’s headphone output is on the weak side. Fine for IEMs, less so for thirstier cans. The DragonFly Black supplies more of the necessary go juice as called on by the Fostex T50RP MK3 than the Sony portable. Wow.

The bad news for Sony and Astell&Kern doesn’t end there. Your wallet on the other hand will like what it’s about to hear.

Also shipping this week from AudioQuest is DragonFly Red. It’s a souped-up Black. To wit, we get the same Microchip USB receiver as Black with the same 24bit/96kHz PCM ceiling and firmware upgradability. (AudioQuest’s OS X and Windows apps are still to come).

That’s where the similarities end.


The most obvious difference between Black and Red is on entry-fee. At US$199, DragonFly Red sells for double the Black’s asking. That might be too rich for Doug’s blood but seasoned audiophiles accustomed to thousand dollar decoders won’t even flinch.

Pimping Red’s ride is its glossy finish. More aesthetically-minded consumers will find Red more visually striking than Black.

On the inside, Red sports hotter chips – “the latest ESS headphone amp” (according to AudioQuest) and a 64-bit, bit-perfect volume control that’s built into its ESS Sabre 9016 DAC chip. (Remember: in the Black is a 9010).

On output muscle, the Red says hello at 2.1V – that’s 0.9V higher than Black – and drives HiFiMAN’s HE-1000 just nicely. Red’s tonal nourishment of the high-end Chinese cans isn’t as accomplished as the Modi/Magni combo from Schiit but you can’t take those on the road as easily; each silver brick demands wall power and neither will drop invisibly into a jacket pocket.

Like Black, Red runs from USB bus power and will travel anywhere. Rankin again: “In general the Red will draw less into the same load as Black. But just a little… as the bias current for the Black amp is a little higher.” Translation: Red will dent the portable host device’s battery life ever so slightly less than Black.


When charged with handling D/A conversion and Fitear Air CIEM amplification, the DragonFly Red displays greater talents with layer separation than its less costly Black bro. The Red is the better of the two in exposing nuances buried deep within Moderat III‘s sometimes dense mix. Ditto the spooky second half of Kate Bush’s The Hounds of Love.

“Wake up!” “A good morning, ma’am. Your early morning call.” “You must wake up!” ” Wake up! ” “Wake… … “Wake up, love!”

Moving Red from Macbook to iPhone gives us our rude awakening. Compared to the Sony NW-ZX2 and Astell&Kern AK120 II, the blood-Red DragonFly’s allegedly superior DAC, volume control and headphone amplifier prove their collective worth. The aforementioned South Korean and Japanese handhelds are outclassed on detail retrieval, separation and – most obvious of all – finesse.That’s useful for making the post-punk guitar grind of The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left more easily digestible. There’s an exquisiteness to Red’s presentation that neither standalone player can match.

The takeaway? Touchscreen DAPs from Astell&Kern, Sony, Fiio, Onkyo, Pioneer might not yet be rendered obsolete, especially for hardcore head-fiers, but the DragonFly Red casts serious doubt over the need to carry a second phone-sized device in the pursuit of higher sound quality.

If SQ, user interface and streaming service compatibility matter to you more than the bragging rights that ship with limited edition metal finishes and balanced connectivity, then US$199 (for Red) for an iPhone appendage is enough to throw a long shadow over Astell&Kern’s deluxe offerings.

More so with Red than Black, AudioQuest pose a rhetorical question: if a smartphone provides the interface and streaming apps and the DragonFly Red gives us audible superiority over the iPhone itself as well as many rival DAPs, is spending (often heavy) cash on a dedicated player a serious over-indulgence? Pass the Mylanta.


I’ve reviewed a number of a DAPs over the past few years. Neither the AK100, the AK120, the AK120 II, the AK Jr. nor the Sony NW-ZX1 satisfy this listener’s thirst for felicitous SQ on the go as much as AudioQuest’s ‘Fly dongles, particularly the Red. The PIC32MX270 chip’s super low power needs sees an iPhone paired with Red (or Black) exceed all but the Sony NW-ZX2 on continuous playtime hours.

With an absence of the same make/model interconnects – one RCA to RCA and the other RCA to 3.5mm – I know not how the Red compares to the DAC inside AURALiC’s Aries Mini. That’s left for other reviewers to unravel. However, I’d be confident of a Red or Black breathing fresh life into a Squeezebox Touch’s now long-in-the-tooth analogue output.

And is affordability not the number one precursor to accessibility? If so, the Red and Black are easy access goods. No doubt we’ll soon see readers taking a blind punt and reporting back here or elsewhere.

If neither Red nor Black does it for you in your loudspeaker-fronted system, it can be readily redeployed as smartphone or laptop appendage to bring your favourite headphones to life. The host device’s location and supporting OS are now almost immaterial. You can do it with DragonFly Red or Black on the bus with a Samsung Galaxy Sx; on the train with an iPhone; in the office with an iMac; at home with a PC. Either variant will bring a consistent improvement to the audible quality of locally hosted files and, the kicker for mobile users, streaming service supply, irrespective of the host device’s OS.


With a 3.5mm output socket in common, comparing DragonFly Red to Chord Electronics’ Mojo is easier. Neither Red nor Black DragonFly are as resolving or as internally capaciousness as the sound spilling from Chord’s battery-powered brick. In other words, the Mojo is better. Just as the Red convincingly earns it US$100 premium over the Black, the Mojo remains king of the sub-$1000 DAC hill. The Schiit Bifrost multibit might be the queen.

The downside for wannabe mobile Chord users cannot be ignored: a Mojo can’t be rubber-strapped to a smartphone without rendering its touchscreen unusable. And even though Chord’s forthcoming extender will resolve this issue for some phones, the package would still be too cumbersome for proper pocketability. AudioQuest’s quasi-inline DragonFly offerings are far more practical.

The irony here shouldn’t go unnoticed. Despite Chord’s ‘Power to the People’ posturing of their most affordable WTA DAC to date, it is AudioQuest who have created the unit(s) with the greatest potential for mainstream crossover. Dongles that will undoubtedly disrupt the portable audio player space too. These critters are for the hardware you have, not the hardware you have to buy.

DragonFly Red and Black are the finest examples of everyman hifi ever to grace these pages. Their value quotients explode the dial.

Game ON.


Further information: AudioQuest

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


Leave a Reply
  1. Thank you again, Darko.
    Will the Red draw more juice from an iPhone’s battery than the Black, given it’s greater output….?
    And look, this is a long shot, but do you think 59 year old ears with mild tinnitus will be able to discern an audible improvement from the Red over the Black?
    Or should one just buy both and be done with it…? Decisions, decisions.

    • Nope, very similar (if not the same) current draw for both. I’ll see if Gordon Rankin can clarify.

  2. Reading that, first time I ever considered upgrading the sound of my phone. I don’t do lot of mobile listening, so I never thought buying and carrying 2 devices was worth it. But a good sounding little plug in device – that changes the situation.

    I predict these things will turn some mobile audio only users into audiophiles.

  3. The term “pimped” objectifies women (or men, for that matter) involved with exploitive partners.

  4. Touche John. Excellent article. I have been waiting for these to show up for a looooonnnngggg time.

    I always regretted selling my v1.2 but now I’m happy I did…. I’ve saved up for the upgrade. I’ve bought a couple Sennheisers recently (HD598 and HD650) and I’m wondering how they would fare with the “Red” version?

  5. So the Red utilizes an entirely digital volume control, while the Black uses the same digitally controlled analog attenuation as the DF v1.2?

  6. John: Love the review, but I wish you said a bit more comparing the red and the black. I imagine this is a decision many will be facing. In particular, any sense what headphones the red will power that the black struggles with?$100 more isn’t too much, but (1) that’s still 2x the price and (2) with more power does the Red use up the iPhone battery more quickly?


    • Quoting from the above: “…the DragonFly Red displays greater talents with layer separation than its less costly Black bro. The Red is the better of the two in exposing nuances buried deep within Moderat III‘s sometimes dense mix. Ditto the spooky second half of Kate Bush’s The Hounds of Love.”

      “felicitous SQ on the go as much as AudioQuest’s ‘Fly dongles, particularly the Red.”

      “Just as the Red convincingly earns it US$100 premium over the Black,”

      Not a personal jibe or anything but one thing I’ve learnt from 6 years in the reviewing game is that no matter how much you give there’ll always be readers who want more. But like every job, time constraints come into play. Each piece of gear landing here is auditioned for 2 – 3 weeks before several days are spent writing up thoughts. Think of it this way: you knew more than you did yesterday and you’re getting this info for free. The glass is half full, not half empty.

      • Not a personal jibe either but you’ve quoted 2 comparative (and helpful!) sentences and one conclusion, which I did read in the article. I don’t think it was crazy or out of line to ask if you had any more comparative thoughts than that between two products you’ve written 2 separate reviews of in 2 days that I imagine many readers are gonna be deciding between without the ability to easily compare themselves. Not something I feel entitled to–it’s your site not mine–just something I was curious about. And I did include 2 specific questions i was interested in that you didn’t answer (though one you answered later, thank you for that).

        I do appreciate the reviews very much, which I started my comment with! It’s your site and you should include what you want. But if you want comments from readers (not all sites do, which is totally fine), that was the type of comment that seemed pretty standard.

        • “I don’t think it was crazy or out of line to ask if you had any more comparative thoughts than that between two products you’ve written 2 separate reviews of in 2 days.”

          Not out of line at all but don’t you think I would have included ‘more comparative thoughts’ in the review text/s if I’d had more to say? 😉 All thoughts on EVERYTHING that I attempt/compare are featured in the main text of all reviews.

          On power draw differences Rankin says: “In general the Red will draw less into the same load as Black. But just a little… as the bias current for the Black amp is a little higher.”

  7. Hi John,

    Thanks for the review. I’m very excited about these dongle DACs…What do you think, is the Red worth the double price of the Black – SQ wise?

    Hint: I miss the Red in your DAC index. 😉

  8. Great review, thanks.

    I’m the new owner of a pair of NightHawks, which as they’re starting to burn in, I’m starting to love.

    I’m using a mojo though, predominantly for home use though, when the situation arises, I’ll happily take the mojo on trips.

    I’m finding though, with Nighthawks being so easily driven, that the bass can be a bit overpowering with the mojo.

    If this isn’t something that’s going to ease through burn in (& i can’t justify both), how big a step down from the mojo would the DF red be? Obviously that’s a difficult thing to quantify I know!

  9. Another fine review, John. I was hoping to hear that the Red approaches the Mojo’s SQ. That it doesn’t quite tells me that all’s actually right with the world of tiny audio. I’m sure Chord is breathing a sigh of relief and AQ is nonetheless proud of what they have accomplished.

  10. John,

    Thanks so much! Great Review, glad you like it… Again the average current use for the Red and Black are about the same and this along with the quality is the real story.


  11. Hi John, thanks for the Dragonfly reviews (Black & Red); I thoroughly enjoyed them.

    Before your glowing review, I was seriously considering a Mojo, but hesitated due to its less size, especially when paired with an iPhone. Now it’s Dragonfly Red for me.

  12. John, I love the clever way you affix the dragonfly to the phone. Did you come up with that yourself? I would have used duct tape and sticks or something.

    These new ‘Flys may be just what I’ve been waiting for. Til now I’ve had no appetite for a separate device.

    • Thanks Angelo. It’s a bit of a kludge that I’ve been using for a while now. It came to me whilst trying to get the v1.2 to work with the iPhone back in 2014.

      • Hi John,

        Perhaps Audioquest would come up with some sort of ergonomic docking solution on the back of iPhones and Android phones in general (if there is enough demand..) But I have my doubts they’ll do that. Although if they don’t, maybe somebody else will..

  13. Hi John

    Will the Shure SE846 + AQ Red + Android smartphone perform better than SE 846 paired with the Sony ZX2???

    • Not heard the Shure so can’t be (err) sure but with every other headphone/earphone I’ve tried, I prefer the Red to the ZX2.

      • Thank You John.

        Quoting from above “the Mojo remains king of the sub-$1000 DAC hill”

        I’m guessing the Mojo will provide a better DAC section than 1200$+ DAPs but is the headphone amp section of the mojo as good(transparent, detailed & musical) as 1200$+ DAPs?

        The only thing I’m not sure about is the micro USB cable, I swapped the stock USB cable I was using with my desktop DAC for an aftermarket USB cable and that improved the SQ a lot so using “el cheapo” micro usb connectors in portable setups is bound to hurt the SQ, do you agree?

  14. Thank you for this early review.
    I’d like to ask about the volume control. You say these Dragonflys have better volume control (I imagine precise/accurate not power) than most DAPs with a huge amount of steps, so the built-in 64steps volume is enough accurate with sensitive iems? I assume the Red’s digital control will be better for iems but I don’t know if there is too much power for sensitive iems.

    • I used the Red with both Noble and Fitear CIEMs and have zero issues. Running them at around 15-20% of full volume.

  15. So hey…Will either of these devices decode and amplify the signal on my Android from the two services I get? I use Pandora One and SiriusXM right now and like both enough to pay for them.

    If so, then I will give serious consideration to both the red and the black. I am also considering the Fiio E18 but have yet to find out if that DAC/AMP combination will do what I want. If it does, then it has the advantage of being a battery pack for the phone which neither of the DragonFlys can match but in their favor they are not HUGE bricks.

    I have begun to think I really don’t want to carry a DAP around with me and even put a couple thousand MP3s (*GASP*) on a MicroSD in my phone for use when I cannot get a good enough signal for Pandora or SiriusXM. So if any of you lads ( or lasses!) know if any of these three devices will do what I want (with an OTG cable), please let me know here.

    Back on track. Nice, relevant to the real world in which we all live, review sir. Huzzah, indeed!


    • Yes, as per the review, the Red and Black are compatible with Android phones (with a few exceptions).

  16. Hi John,

    Thanks for the great reviews on the new Dragon Fly DACs. I have the 1.2 and I’m excited to upgrade to one that can play from my iPad/iPhone as well as my laptop. I use an NAD HP50 and HifiMan HE400s as my primary cans, and some Brainwavez dual BA IEM’s on occasion. Would either of the new Dragons drive the cans as well as the old dragonfly in your opinion? Thanks and cheers!!


    • Hey Mike – you should see improved headphone/IEM drive from the newbies, especially the Red.

  17. Very impressive little unit, but I’m not ruing the day I bought my ZX2 just yet!
    – Much larger capacity than my iPhone
    – No matter how small the battery impact of the Red (or Black), using my iPhone as a DAP still uses battery, which is an issue given I already struggle to get through a whole day on one charge as it is with emails, news, messaging, Internet…etc
    – Balanced drive (more or less) – did you compare the ZX2 to the red balanced or single ended?

    Price/performance sounds stunning though. If the above aren’t important to you, it’s a no-brainer!

  18. John, any ideas about how this compares to the Resonessence Herus / Herus+? Herus+ is a bit pricier, but also plays back DSD and PCM up to DXD rates, which is attractive to me (I have quite a bit of DSD and higher-rate PCM content).

    • I didn’t conduct that comparison but if pushed I’d say the new DFlys might sound a little more refined than the Herus. Of course, as you say, with RL you get DXD/DSD and a quarter inch jack. What you don’t get is iOS/Android compatibility.

      • I have the Herus and it is fully compatible with an old iPad2 running iOS6 connected via CCK, no external battery required.
        The Herus is also fully compatible with various Android phones including the LG G2, Moto Nexus 6, and Moto X Pure, again with no external battery.
        Those are the devices I’ve used with the Herus since 2013 or so, the full compatibility list is no doubt much longer.

        • Yes, I’ve used the Herus with various smart devices too. However, it drains the host’s battery far faster than these new AQs.

  19. I’m confused. Doesn’t the LG V10 have a ESS9018. Does that mean the Red doesn’t sound as good?

    • As with all D/A converters, it’s not just about the DAC chip. For AQ, it’s a low noise receiver chip loaded with GR’s code and headphone amp chip that also make a difference.

      • Thanks for explaining that. Another question. what is the range of supported ohms on both? Thanks

        • Output impedance on both is less than 1 Ohm. Is more than fine with sensitive IEMS and HiFIMAN HE-1000.

          • steve silverman of audioquest kindly replied to me…sharing below an excerpt.

            here is hoping it can help others using it when streaming spotify, tidal, etc

            ”Hi, this is Steve Silberman. Thanks for the email.

            me: dragonflys…still not great with streaming…any suggestions?

            steve: When you say streaming, can you clarify what you mean here. Streaming services, such as Tidal and Spotify et al? With apps such as these, on every OS other than Android we are not having issues, nor are we receiving complaints from consumers. Right now, its an Android specific issue.

            me: i admit i was about to plop down my $200 for a red yesterday at my local vendor, til i hooked it up to my LG G5 smartphone and started streaming….for the red i had to (like the 1.2v) crank it up to 90% for decent sound…and for the less demanding (new) black at least 60-70%.
            ..came away disappointed as I so wanted to buy one of them.

            any resolution coming?

            steve: You don’t actually crank a device up. Its quite the opposite, you crank them down. All of these devices start out at unity gain. Unity Gain on the Red is 2.1v out and on Black its 1.2v out. Each of these devices has an attenuator, to attenuate the signal down, not up. The amount of attenuation required is going to be dependent on the source material, the heaphones (or speakers), and how loud someone likes to listen. “Cranking” a device up doesn’t require “driving it harder”. They’re designed to run at unity gain.

            As for the Android issue we (and anyone else that adheres to the rules set forth by the USB organization) are not to blame here (sorry to cop-out). When a USB device enumerates the host asks a number of questions, such as …
            Maximum Vol,
            Minimum Vol,
            Current Vol,
            Volume steps
            For some reason the Android OS gets confused in this process and assumes an incorrect maximum volume capability. We believe this is an Android defect because all DragonFly’s work with:
            Windows — XP, 7, 8.1, and 10
            Apple OS X and iOS
            Linux ( I have two computers at home on Linux — one on Mint and one on Ubuntu — no issues with either’s ALSA

          • oops…wrong comment below, john..(silberman’s reply) meant it to go at the reply to my issue, where i just correctly placed it now).

            i meant to say this: on a headfi thread i reached out to gordon rankin on this very issue: more ‘current’ dacs etc (was before the 2 dragonflys were launched comparing it to what was in the B/O hi fi module for the LG G 5 phones..but his reply i thought was interesting…perhaps splwf will appreciate it, too:

            ”Thanks for the email…
            You could put 10 top rated designers in a room for a year with the same parts and have 10 totally different products.
            Speculation based on ESS part#s is a poor way of determining how well something is designed or will sound.

  20. “However, I’d be confident of a Red or Black breathing fresh life into a Squeezebox Touch’s now long-in-the-tooth analogue output.” I’m a happy owner of a Squeezebox Touch and very interested in this. However, the USB connection of the Touch does not support audio out. It only supports an additional music library from a USB device. So how to connect the Touch to the Dragonfly? The Touch does have coax digital out and optical digital out. Is there an adapter which converts either of those to USB? Our amplifier requires two RCA inputs, so is there an adapter which converts the 3.5mm headphone connection of the Dragonfly to double RCA?

  21. Great review as always! The Dragonfly Red looks like the ticket for my iphone connected to my car aux in. Do you have a favorite cable with male to male subminiature connectors?

  22. thanks, john….nothing comes close to that cute lightweight, small dragonfly….i mean for truly portable audio–as in walk around and not detecting it’s weight and bulk–nothing comes close. and for being on the road, in public situations where there is alot of noise (and thus truly critical listening doesn’t have the ideal conditions) this baby just might be the ticket.

    i’m sure in the next few yrs we’ll get to the point of having a dragonfly-like dac/amp with the chord mojo’s refinement, from some maker.

    ”…comparing DragonFly Red to Chord Electronics’ Mojo is easier. Neither Red nor Black DragonFly are as resolving or as internally capaciousness as the sound spilling from Chord’s battery-powered brick. In other words, the Mojo is better. Just as the Red convincingly earns it US$100 premium over the Black, the Mojo remains king of the sub-$1000 DAC hill.”

    per your brief comparison, was the mojo significantly better?

    continued success with your helpful column.

  23. Thanks …makes sense given its 3x the price….can’t wait to see how chord will improve upon the mojo, which they will eventually of course…that’s progress for you.

  24. Mr. Darko do you know whether or not the new AudioQuest DragonFly will work as you have demonstrated with an older Apple product (iPod Touch 1st Gen) with the 30 pin connection? There are 30 pin to USB adapters available. I was wondering if this connection protocol would work like the lightning/camera connection kit does with the newer Apple products. As you know the older iPods (in my case the 1st Generation Touch can only be updated to iOS 3.1.3 I don’t know if that TOO has something to do with my question but hopefully you do. I read your site regularly and have followed your recommendations many times with great success. Thank you very much for any help you can be to me on this.

    • Both DragonFlys are OK with a 30-pin CCK but need to see a minimum of iOS 5 to make music happen.

    • You’ll need to talk to AQ about availability as I’m not sure what their timeline is. Amber Tech are the Aussie handlers.

  25. Can you run the red strait to an amp ( non integrated/pre amp ) ? So, iOS device, to red and then to amp using the reds volume control?

  26. Hi John,

    Have you used any equalizer apps with your iPhone? I just tried the free Onkyo HF player app to optimize the sound from my iPhone in my car. It worked great in removing mid-bass boom to greatly improve clarity and better focus the images in the soundstage.

  27. Hi!
    Do you think, that it makes sense to buy the Red over the Black if the DAC would be used with a pair of Sennheiser Momentum wcans alongside with iPhone6 and iPad 3 gen.? I have AAC music on both devices and I regularly do streaming while on the go. Thanks!

    • Both will drive the Momentums with ease, the Red will (likely) sound better; at least it does to me. Make sense how? Not sure I understand your question.

  28. Red ordered in the UK today!!! Thanks for the incisive reviews John, they seriously helped my decision making process.

  29. Overall I wanted to complement you on your site/approach/style. I also like how you’re an Apple guy, so your overviews always take that into account. I discovered “the pursuit of hi-fi sound” (whatever the short-hand is) several months ago, and your site just a few weeks ago. I much prefer your tastes, because if I read another review that references Miles Davis (no offense to him) I’ll jump off a ledge. I’m more drawn to modern music, ranging from rock to EDM to house to acoustic, and using a “real world filter” that takes into account budget, actual use, portability and whatnot. I’ve just subscribed to your mailer — looking forward to the ride!

    I supposed I should comment on this article too. I’m really excited about this release, and am in the middle of an inside-my-head debate as to whether I should spring for Red and use extra funds towards other things (e.g. additional headphones)…or if I should make the leap straight to Mojo. Obviously you can’t answer that – I’m just publicizing my plight. It feels like it makes too much common sense to start with this, but I’ll always wonder “what if” in my head. Damn those 30-day trials. I guess if I were to try to conjure up a specific question, it would be this:

    1) Any advice on how to determine if a Mojo is worth 3x the price than Red if you’re just getting into upgraded sound and don’t want buyer’s remorse?

    • Perhaps your desire for portability will help answer your question? I pocket the Red next to my phone. Can’t do that with a Mojo, yo.

  30. My Black was finally delivered today. My one concern is for the apple CCK, I fear I’ll be going through about one a year. A silicon sleeve holding the two would be cool.
    My other thought is that I need two, one to keep permanently in the car, the other to keep next to my phones. (Maybe one to keep at work too? Too much? No?)

    • Yes, the US$29 CCK is deffo the weakest link in the chain. But better that than your headphone cable or the Black itself.

  31. Finally received my Dragon Red today … my iPhone is on steroids now. Outstanding improvement. Spent more money for less result. Highly recommended.

  32. Hi John, thanks for the review.
    I see in your DAC index the Dragonfly Red in the same level as the Schiit Bifrost Multibit. Is that so?
    Would mind explaining that a bit? The price diference is quite substantial here. We are talking value I suppose. I am thinking about getting both, the Red for headphone/mobile use and the Schiit as my main system dac ( Rega Brio R/ Dynaudio X12s/Apple TV) as I find the Mojo, the other contender, not really convenient the my main system use as it needs to be charged. BTW, do you see the Schiit was a good companion for the Brio R? What about the Red and the Sennheiser HD600? Did you get to try this combo? Thanks. Best, Rodrigo.

  33. thanks for the heads up on the red…received mine today & it’s right up there with the ELAC debuts on a value basis…everyman hifi has never had it so good…thanks, also, for the great coverage and for being a trusted source

  34. John, thanks for the great review. Would any of the upgraded technology on the Red or Black potentially eliminate or make redundant the benefit of adding Audioquest’s own JitterBug? I currently own the JitterBug and pair it with the Dragonfly v1.2 but am about to place my preorder for the Red since I can use it with my iPad & iPhone. Any guidance is appreciated.

    • From what I can tell from the briefest of listening sessions the JB still lifts the Red’s game a smidge.

  35. Hi John. How do these fare as DAC’s feeding an external headphone amp for the beefier headphones? Would the DAC portion be the stronger part of this DAC/amp combo? Considering this as a much more mobile alternative to a Schiit stack and I am hesitant as you mentioned in your review that you felt the Schiit stack was still more acomplished. Where you regering to the DAC or amp in that case?

  36. My local A\V dealer just got the Dragonfly Reds in stock. I had one on order. Last night I used it with the Apple adapter and Bowers & Wilkins P5 S2 phones with music from my iPhone 6. Sounded very good to me. Substantial bass without boom, nice rendition of vocals. I am pleased.

    I am surprised that Audioquest does not offer a version of Dragon Tail to replace the Apple adapter. They already make Lightning cables so they have “permission”.

    • Agreed. I’d sooner have an Audioquest built connection than an Apple one…even if it cost more.
      They could call it a Centipede or something like that and have little eyes on it that glowed and changed colour depending on the bitrate…or maybe not.

  37. I preordered a red based on this review. Picked it up the other day. VERY pleased with this purchase. Tiny size and weight, utilizing the iPhone volume controls, inexpensive and excellent sound. Lots of power to drive my thirsty HD650s. At $225 Canadian, the red is a bargain.

    • heck where did you get it for cdn $225?
      it’s $250 everywhere else.
      darned…missing those promos.

  38. Had my red for a few days really enjoying it. I am outputting high res from my phone . Its really dynamic has great low and top end extension. Its an absolute no brainer for use with your phone. Everything from my IEM’s to my Kef 500’s sound great. There is plenty of volume. Im selling my other portable gear because of how much I like it.

  39. Just received my Red today. What an unbelievable improvement over playing tunes straight from my phone. This is the first device of it’s kind that I have owned or heard, so I can’t say how it compares to others. I have my cd music stored on my phone in flac and what I’ve listened to so far sounds amazing. The music has greater weight, scale, detail, clarity, etc., you know the deal. Anyone who regularly uses their phone as a music player should get this or something like it. Now I have to get to the hardware store to buy one of those Velcro things John showed us.

    • for playing music straight from your phone, and for portability I don’t think there is much better than the red. I had a Mojo it was cumbersome in comparison.

  40. Good write up, I agree. It excels against a bare iPhone 6S which in my opinion makes it a worthy buy. The new iPhones sound very very good to my ears. OK, the AQ offerings fall short of Chord’s – it’s not a Mojo, nor is its price but as a Mojo owner I am keeping AQ red for mere convenience. This thing is great for using with your car stereo, walking around etc. It certainly has its advantages over the better sounding Mojo which the review outlines. There is a nice resolving sound to this uber convenient DAC/HPA/PRE – which doesn’t become tiresome.

  41. Hi John,

    Would you characterize the Red as also more analytical or clinical (or even ‘too hot’) in the upper mids and highs compared to the Black? Thank you..


  42. With the above information, it seems the Dragonfly Red would be a better bet than the original RL Herus. Considering the Herus Plus with the 10-percent battery savings and the additional filters, would the DF Red still be worth a purchase?

  43. what still sucks is for those who primarily stream for our audio: these devices still require alot of juice.

    i have an LG G5 …went into my local retailer the other day to try out the new black and red.
    for the red to get good volume (not loud mind you) (had spotify premium on, no other apps, no EQing) i had to crank the volume to 90% (just like the older 1.2 v)…and when it switched to the (new) less demanding black I still had to crank it up to 60-70)%. not so much dragonfly’s fault it seems, but as it is a larger android OS issue.

    if you’re using a UAPP or similar app for downloaded files, fine…and esp for apple…but for those of us mostly streaming…still things need to be worked out…or tweaked/created by vendors.

    steve silverman of audioquests, who I invited to join the thread, addresses some of these issues:

    • Must be an Android issue; I’m running my Black at 15-20% off my iPhone 5.
      The sound stage, resolution, clarity and sheer joy of my classical catalogue makes these lil’ critters a no-brainer.

  44. I bought a Dragonfly Black a few days ago, and am very impressed (would have bought the red but don’t think my headphones would show the difference as well – AKG Y55s) sounds so much better than straight out of the iPhone 6S. One thing I’ve struggled with is getting 24bit/96kHz out using VLC, which has made me reluctant to pay for Onkyo HF player app. Can anyone confirm the Dragonfly indicator turns purple with with app, as mine is remaining green for 44.1kHz cheers

    • Yes, I can confirm. I’ve hit for the cycle with sampling rates on the black and the red so I’ve seen the rainbow.

      • Thanks. I’ve managed to get an app called AmpliFlac (which has a really bad interface – but a fully featured time limited demo version) to output the correct HF to the DAC. But I still can’t get VLC to play ball! I’d rather use VLC as the interface is much better, and it’s free! Anyone been able to get VLC on iOS to work correctly? If so how?! Cheers.

  45. I’ve had the DF Red for more than three days now. All a can say is it is a steal for the asking price. This, coming from a long-time BB and Philips Multibit chip fan.. I’ve yet to try it with over the ear cans, since I’ve only tried it with some hybid IEM’s via IPhone 5S + CCK.. With Jriver on an old laptop to play in the main system (amp + speakers) using a 3.5mm jack to rca IC’s I played some ripped .wav files from cd’s, from rare live Hendrix tracks to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Three, The Stooges’ Funhouse, Cocteau Twins’ Heaven or Las Vegas, Koko Taylor’s Deluxe Edition, Wedding Present’s Valentina, Miles Davis’ Live-Evil and Sketches of Spain (to contrast both Miles eras..) It is one of the better Sabre chip implementations, and may well be the best at its price point as a tiny portable dongle type device. It’s tiny but looks well built with a lovely paint finish on its aluminum (?) body. I can’t detect any digital harshness or zing or artificiality as it fleshes out layers and nuance. It may not have the same transparency, bass heft/fullness and macro dynamics of some full sized desktop dacs I’ve heard from memory, but those dacs cost a lot more, and most of the time not as conducive to long term fatigue free listening..

  46. The Red’s clear mids change the balance of things compared to the 1.2, that had a nice “punch” in the bass. It has the “wow” factor – but not the “oomph” factor. I hope that the next software update will fix that, as it isn’t accurate compared to the masters.

  47. Apologies for such a late comment, as I’d somehow missed this article when it was first posted, John. I have a question; what’s the reason the Dragonfly and other DACs (eg; Chord Mojo) require that cumbersome Apple CCK to work on iOS devices, as opposed to some adapter they could simply make themselves? Is it some technical roadblock on iDevices preventing anything but the CCK, or is it a case of said manufacturers skimping on MFi certification? I was seriously considering the Red until I read that it requires the CCK. Aside from the overall inconvenience, there’s the matter of the fragility of the lightning port, and none of the lightning solutions, whether they be some of the new DACs coming out (presumably in anticipation of Apple’s rumored drop of the 3.5mm jack) or adapters like the CCK, have any form of strain relief built in, which inevitable puts pressure on the the lightning port.

    • Forgot to mention that I had already sampled the Red and came away very impressed. Didn’t have my FitEar customs with me at the time, but my JVC Kenwood wood shelled HA-FX1200 universals (running from an old ThinkPad with Linux and a MPD client configured) sounded as good as I’ve heard them. Quite possibly the best sub-$1000 ESS Sabre equipped sound I’ve sampled. Volume control could’ve used a bit more finesse, but my MPD config was probably partly to blame. Aside from the tacky finish (I’d have preferred a matte red), a very good piece of kit.

    • Yes, MFI. The way John Franks tells it is that MFI requires a manufacturer to open the lid on the inner workings of their DAC.

      • “…MFI requires a manufacturer to open the lid on the inner workings of their DAC…”

        This comment made me think that MQA should have the tagline “Inspired by Apple!” as part of their sales rhetoric… 😉

    • I use the CCK and CCK USB 3 (adds ability to charge as well) almost every day. The CCK is starting to show some wear and tear since I bought it in July 2013. The USB3 CCK is incredibly robust, but it’s also bigger. Note that neither my phone or ipad have lighting port strain issues. That was one of the reasons Apple developed the Lightning Port was for easy of use and superior strain resistance compared to anything out there.

      My suggestion is get a case, put some velcro or 3m command picture hanging strips. Put one on the connector and one on the case. Then all the strain is on the velcro and not the CCK or DF.

  48. Is there anyway that the Dragonfly Red DAC can hook up directly to a Pono player? Via some sort of wire that is able to be purchased?

    • Unless the Android OS running on Pono can spill USB audio from its port, no, I don’t think so. Ask Charley Hansen at Ayre – he’ll know.

      • Hey, thanks for the reply. The Charley Hansen at Ayre doesn’t seem to have a twitter account as far as I can tell. Perhaps just an email to Ayre Acoustics “contact us” link? Any other ideas that maybe I am missing?