The DragonFly created a huge buzz when it launched in 2012.
AudioQuest took a DAC and headphone amp – two traditional hi-fi components – and served them up in a great-sounding, consumer-friendly package.
MORE: Awards 2014 - Best DACs
Design and features
What you see here may look identical to the original DragonFly we reviewed back in 2012, but this is actually DragonFly v1.2.
You can tell if it’s the new version, not just because of the new price (£130 compared with £215 when it launched) but also because a sticker on the box tells you so, and the ring around the headphone jack is now grey (instead of black).
There’s also a subtle smattering of new markings and logos.
It’s inside where AudioQuest has made some pretty big changes. In an attempt to squeeze out even greater sound quality, the signal path between the DAC chip and the analogue output has been shortened and the internal power supply has been tweaked.
Otherwise, the general specification of the DragonFly hasn’t changed. This means the unit’s still asynchronous, PC and Mac compatible, and piggybacks the volume control of your music player’s software.
It can play up to 24-bit/96kHz files, but high-res 24-bit/192kHz files will have to be downsampled by the computer to 24/96.
We’ve always been huge fans of the DragonFly’s design. It’s weighty enough in the hand, while the matt finish feels smooth and satisfying to the touch.
The logo lights up in different colours to indicate the type of file being played: green is 44.1kHz, blue is 48kHz, amber is 88.2kHz and magenta is 96kHz.
Play a couple of tracks and you realise the open, spacious and detailed sound of the original DragonFly is still there, but the new version sounds even cleaner and clearer.
This DragonFly picks out greater detail and displays even greater dynamic thrust. Tracks sound more pristine and more communicative than before.
Up Is Down, from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, for example, is a blockbuster of a track – pacy, powerful and dynamic. And the DragonFly easily communicates all these facets to the listener.
With a WAV version of the track, strings flow naturally and wind instruments combine with percussion for a rousing, dynamic and explosive end to the track.
The DragonFly’s ability to follow a track’s rhythm and timing is superb.
More after the break
Calvin Harris’s Under Control is a feel-good dance tune and the DragonFly matches it with a fine sense of enthusiasm and an equally upbeat tempo. Listening to the track is an uplifting and hugely enjoyable experience.
There’s a great sense of solidity and depth to bass notes too – the DragonFly’s decisive and confident in its delivery of Jay-Z’s Empire State Of Mind whether it’s a CD-quality rip or a compressed version played through Spotify.
The drum-kicks hit with real purpose, with leading edges clearly defined, as is the striking of piano keys in the background.
Alicia Keys’s vocal doesn’t sound quite as smooth as it does when heard through Cambridge Audio's DacMagic XS, but you are getting a getting greater transparency and detail.