I listen to a lot of cheap earbuds and headphones of varying quality but the one thing they all have in common is my audio source. Most of the time I’m listening to Spotify via my laptop or phone, admittedly not the high end lossless source most audiophiles would prefer. But realistically that’s how most people are getting their music today, or from iTunes, Tidal, YouTube, etc. We’re all listening to the headphone jack on our devices so we’re at the mercy of the built-in DAC, which converts the digital file to an analog sound wave our headphones can play. The problem here is the built-in DAC is built for mass market consumption, cost is a major factor and quality just has to be good enough. Improving this DAC can have huge impact on your listening experience. There are any number of desktop DACs or “portable” DACs the size of a cigarette pack or larger, usually requiring their own power source or drawing too much power via USB to use on a cell phone. The Audioquest DragonFly looks to be the perfect solution for the mobile user, as well as for home use.
The DragonFly looks like a high quality thumb drive and connects to your USB port. All digital to analog processing is offloaded to the DragonFly and it’s high quality DAC chip. You can read all about the specs at the Audioquest site so I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say it’s a much higher level of audio quality than any laptop or mobile phone. It couldn’t be easier to use, just plug into your USB port, plug your headphones in the other end and you’re all set. It just works.
But how is the sound? Fantastic. I was skeptical about dropping $99 on something that might not make much of a difference but I immediately noticed the improvement. Music just sounds more dynamic, fuller, more defined. There’s a vibrancy to the sound that I didn’t even know was missing. I went from being a skeptic to being convinced that these are a must have, especially if you plan on buying a nicer pair of headphones than the type we usually review here. You need a good sound source to get the most out of your headphones, and the power to drive them. The DragonFly series of DACs provide that source. I only tried the Black but there’s also a DragonFly Red for $199 that provides even more power for higher end headphones. I don’t think you can go wrong with either.