AudioQuest’s latest critter DAC, the Beetle (€199), can be neatly summarised as a DragonFly Black DAC – PC/smartphone-compatible USB input – but with additional TOSLINK and Bluetooth inputs.
Like the DragonFly Black, the Beetle is software upgradable, enjoys Gordon Rankin‘s asynchronous USB code, uses a Microchip PIC32MX Series microcontroller for data marshalling and an ESS 9010 chip + minimum phase filter for conversion to analogue. The Beetle is capable of decoding PCM up to 24bit/96kHz but unlike the DragonFly Black executes volume control bit-perfectly in a 64-bit digital domain.
The Beetle’s other big talking point is its asynchronous Bluetooth input, also coded by Rankin, where the AudioQuest DAC – not the host device – is in charge of digital audio data flow.
If that all sounds way too techy, fret not. The Beetle’s proposition is better sound from smartphones, laptops and desktops PCs but also TVs and games consoles. Connect the Beetle’s 3.5mm output socket to a pair of headphones, integrated amplifier or powered speakers and you’re off to the races.
At the 2017 CanJam Europe event in Berlin there would be no way to ascertain the Beetle’s (relative) performance. I collected a review unit intended for home-based listening tests and was just about to conduct audio show business elsewhere when AudioQuest’s Regional Sales Manager Thijs Helwegen began talking of the Beetle’s Bluetooth in-car prowess.
Wait – didn’t his Volvo’s audio system already have a Bluetooth input? (Yes). Did the inbuilt Bluetooth input not sound the same as (or better than) the Beetle’s hooked up to the auxiliary input? After all, the in-built Bluetooth input theoretically enjoys the benefit of shorter signal paths.
A chance to take five and hear for myself:
The Beetle’s greater avidity, bass presence and listener engagement was easy to pick.
Could it be something as seemingly insignificant as the Beetle’s absence of internal switching power supplies? Or could it be the asynchronous Bluetooth implementation where the Beetle tells the transmitting device (Helwegen’s’ iPhone) exactly when to send audio data? Or could it be something as simple as a codec issue: that the Beetle supports AAC and the Volvo’s inbuilt Bluetooth does not?
Whatever the technical reasons, this was one seriously compelling demonstration (via A/B) that reminds us that 1) not all Bluetooth audio systems are built with optimal sound quality in mind and 2) for a couple hundred Euros, better in-car sound can be easily realised with 3) the potential for even better sound quality via affordable cable upgrades, as budget allows.
Helwegen uses AudioQuest’s Golden Gate analogue interconnect and Cinnamon USB hooked into a (naked) Jitterbug, not only for this rather unusual audio show demo but for every one of the thousands of kilometres he and his Volvo clock up each year.
Perhaps an opportunity for AudioQuest to consider taking their ‘Better Bluetooth Audio’ message to car audio shows or dealerships.
Further information: AudioQuest