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El Hefe's picture
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Audioquest Dragonfly DAC
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Hello fellow forummers and WHF team,

Very impressive review on this unit in this month's magazine. However, I am big shocked to see the price of GBP 215.

Is there any information on what DAC chip Audioquest is using for this unit?

 

I am currently using a DIY USB DAC based on the  ES9023 Sabre DAC and it only cost me GBP 25. Just wondering if I will get a much more SQ with that amount of money.

Anonymous
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RE: Not just a Dac

You don’t have the same thing here.  The Audioquest Dragonfly DAC, uses Gordon Rankin’s Streamlength USB protocol like the $500.000 Streamlength Halide Design Dac HD and other designs, and has a digitally controlled analog volume output, like that found on the more advanced Wavelength Proton.  Even though Audioquest does not know how this works, using the digital volume controls on the laptop, will sound lose resolution. With the computer that you show, your volume is controlled in the digital realm which increasingly degrades the sound the further you turn the volume down.  Unlike what you show the dragonfly has two clocks, to optimize synchronization with the various sampling rates.

So, besides conversion, it can do it in each sampling rates natively and provide bit perfect volume control.  The easyest way to see if you can actually hear any differance is to try it out and return it if you don't.  I know of one user who has sold off his  Halide Design Dac HD at a loss in favor of the Dragonfly.

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RE: Not just a Dac

Interesting points Sumflow, I know you put it in the title but just to clarify... El Hefe's device is just a DAC whereas the Dragonfly is a headphone amplifier as well (hence Sumflows points about volume, which a DAC alone has no control of).

I think the DAC shown is the ODAC, is that right? If so, I think that is £60 here. It is combined with a headphone amplifier in the form of the Epiphany Acoustics EHP-O2D here in the UK for £187, but unlike the Dragonfly this is a mains powered device and much bigger.

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RE: Audioquest Dragonfly DAC

El Hefe wrote:

 Hello fellow forummers and WHF team,

Very impressive review on this unit in this month's magazine. However, I am big shocked to see the price of GBP 215.

Is there any information on what DAC chip Audioquest is using for this unit?

 

I am currently using a DIY USB DAC based on the  ES9023 Sabre DAC and it only cost me GBP 25. Just wondering if I will get a much more SQ with that amount of money.

 

to be honest, if you are using the same dac chip, I doubt you will notice much difference, least of all 200 odd quid difference.  It's odd as the audioquest blurb says a 24bit Sabre chip, yet ESS don't have that listed on their website, so there is a chance it's a custom job.  If it is though, I'm guessing it'll be based on one of their current or older chip models.

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RE: Audioquest Dragonfly DAC

I don't think it's fair to say that all DACs with same chip will sound similar. You can't tell me that the DACMagic Plus and the Fiio E7 sound similar. At the other end of the scale the Audiolab M-DAC and Resonessence Invicta also do not sound similar.

It's really not a good idea to focus on the chip itself, the quality comes from the implimentation.

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RE: Not just a Dac

Sumflow wrote:

 

You don’t have the same thing here.  The Audioquest Dragonfly DAC, uses Gordon Rankin’s Streamlength USB protocol like the $500.000 Streamlength Halide Design Dac HD and other designs, and has a digitally controlled analog volume output, like that found on the more advanced Wavelength Proton.  Even though Audioquest does not know how this works, using the digital volume controls on the laptop, will sound lose resolution. With the computer that you show, your volume is controlled in the digital realm which increasingly degrades the sound the further you turn the volume down.  Unlike what you show the dragonfly has two clocks, to optimize synchronization with the various sampling rates.

So, besides conversion, it can do it in each sampling rates natively and provide bit perfect volume control.  The easyest way to see if you can actually hear any differance is to try it out and return it if you don't.  I know of one user who has sold off his  Halide Design Dac HD at a loss in favor of the Dragonfly.

Thanks for the reply. Thats what I wanted to know. What kind of DAC is used for the Dragonfly. Although I dont quite agree to say the Sabre DAC I have degardes the sound the further I turn the volume down. I currently use this DAC connected to just a pair Bose Companion SII speakers and most of the time play music at low volume but still the SQ is much better than a direct 3.5mm connection to the laptop headphone output. But given that dragonly has 2 clocks, I do believe it would a more optimized synch.

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RE: Not just a Dac

quadpatch wrote:

Interesting points Sumflow, I know you put it in the title but just to clarify... El Hefe's device is just a DAC whereas the Dragonfly is a headphone amplifier as well (hence Sumflows points about volume, which a DAC alone has no control of).

I think the DAC shown is the ODAC, is that right? If so, I think that is £60 here. It is combined with a headphone amplifier in the form of the Epiphany Acoustics EHP-O2D here in the UK for £187, but unlike the Dragonfly this is a mains powered device and much bigger.

Blimey...how did I missed the paragraph on Audioquest website stating -> The heart of DragonFly is the 24-bit ESS Sabre™ conversion chip, a high-performance solution that’s typically found in better CD and Blu-ray Disc™ players. DragonFly can accept audio and music files ranging from MP3s and CD-standard 16-bit/44kHz to native 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution, regardless of music file format...

Nevertheless, what makes the dragonfly also a headphone amplifier and my DAC not? The DAC  shown in my first posting also can easily drive heaphones and IEM but the volume is of course controlled from the laptop. Does the Dragonfly have its own volume control as it says on the website 'variable output'

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RE: Not just a Dac

The Dragonfly does have it's own volume control on the device itself but I think this works similar to the HRT Headstreamer in that it effects the software volume and then in turn changes the analogue volume on the device itself (not digitally). 

What do you have your DAC plugged in to in the photo? Do you plug headphones directly into it?

What is the make and model on your DAC and where did you buy it from?

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RE: Not just a Dac

quadpatch wrote:

What is the make and model on your DAC and where did you buy it from?

 

he says it a home made one with a ecc sabre dac in it in the first post.

 

It's plugged in to a dell laptop dock by the looks of things.

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RE: Not just a Dac

quadpatch wrote:

The Dragonfly does have it's own volume control on the device itself but I think this works similar to the HRT Headstreamer in that it effects the software volume and then in turn changes the analogue volume on the device itself (not digitally). 

What do you have your DAC plugged in to in the photo? Do you plug headphones directly into it?

What is the make and model on your DAC and where did you buy it from?

OK fair enough. If the Dragonfly has a analog volume control, then maybe it can be categorised as a headphone amp too. 

My DAC is a ES9023 Sabre DAC, directly plugged into a Dell laptop USB port. The 3.5 mm output jack is then connected to a Bose Companion SII speakers. However, I also use it sometimes to drive Shure and Sennheiser IEMs and also Bose and Alessandro Headphones with no issue. For the Bose speakers, I set the laptop/iTunes volume to the max and just control the volume manually on the Bose speakers. For headphones/IEMs, I set the volume on iTunes to the max and control the volume on the laptop.

Its a DIY product by a friend and he is selling it for about GBP 25 equivalent.

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RE: Not just a Dac

Sorry for the silly questions before, I forgot you mentioned that stuff in your first post. The speakers you mention are active and thus have their own amp anyway, but to drive the headphones you mentioned it must have some kind of amplification. It sounds ridiculously cheap for what it is.

Do you know how the sound compares to off-the-shelf (so to speak) DAC/amps?

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RE: Not just a Dac

I think the proper thing to say is that the Dragonfly performs as a decent headphone amp for efficient headphones, but is not a headphone amp strictly speaking. The manufacturer as well as the maker of the Headstreamer state as much, but it's a bit murky to me no matter how long-winded the explanation.

Edit: After extensive listening to the Headstreamer, Audioengine D1, and Dragonfly, using the Shure 1840 headphone, I hear no significant differences with my best 96 khz tracks - and I can hear the details. But comparing the iStreamer and FiiO E17 DAC's, and using the Objective2 amp with the iStreamer and the E17's own amp, those two have significantly less detail than the previous three.

AKG K812/K712, Beyer T1/T90 Jubilee/DT1350, v-moda M100/XS, Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza/Microstreamer DAC/amps, Portaphile Micro/PA2V2 amps.

Anonymous
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RE: Low volume

El Hefe wrote:
I dont quite agree to say the Sabre DAC I have degardes the sound the further I turn the volume down.
How else can a digital volume control reduce the sound level, unless it destroys bits?
Pure Music wrote:
It's true: word length (resolution) is reduced with a digital volume control!
If you are using a digital volume control chances are you are degrading the sound.  The lower you go the more that you lose.
El Hefe wrote:
I currently use this DAC connected to just a pair Bose Companion SII speakers and most of the time play music at low volume
If your are at least theoretically concerned with ultimate sound.  Then you must be aware that unless you run through some type of loudness circuitry, you will lose the ability to hear the same thing at low volumes as was mixed for you at higher volumes.   Vintage amps have loudness compensated controls. The effect is to give a flat frequency response across changing volume levels by keeping the low and high frequencies volumes up as the main mid-section volume is reduced. The effect increases as the volume is lowered so that we still hear the full-frequency range at lower volume levels and flat response is obtained at full volume.
McIntosh Labs wrote:
The compensation switch automatically provides the correct amount of bass required to compensate for the change in response of the human ear at low loudness levels. When the volume is reduced, the music will seem to lose much of its bass and some of its treble. This effect is due to the sensitivity characteristic of human hearing. The response of the human ear to bass and treble pitch decreases more rapidly than its response to pitch centered in the mid-tonal range.
Newer is not necessarily better.
El Hefe wrote:
For the .. speakers, I set the laptop/iTunes volume to the max and just control the volume manually on the.. speakers. For headphones/IEMs, I set the volume on iTunes to the max and control the volume on the laptop.
Doing this with the Dragonfly will not degrade the sound, because the system volume control on the laptop only controls the analog side of the Dragonfly.  This is the correct set-up even though AudioQuest does not know it, and suggests otherwise in their material.

If you have a Dac without an analog volume control like the Wavelength Proton then the computer will effect the volume digitally and you will lose bits of your sound.  When you use the iTunes digital volume controls you also lose resolution.

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RE: Not just a Dac

quadpatch wrote:

Sorry for the silly questions before, I forgot you mentioned that stuff in your first post. The speakers you mention are active and thus have their own amp anyway, but to drive the headphones you mentioned it must have some kind of amplification. It sounds ridiculously cheap for what it is.

Do you know how the sound compares to off-the-shelf (so to speak) DAC/amps?

 

No worries mate. I would not say the Bose speakers are active...its just a powered speakers. Yes, it is cheap hence the posting on whether a 215 quid USB DAC will give much more SQ or not.

As for the question on comparison, I wrote a review of this DAC on another forum. Copy and psate as below:

 

The ‘Naked’ USB DAC

I was in the market recently to purchase a small, portable USB DAC. Mainly to have a quick upgrade to office set up. Set up here is simply a laptop running iTunes/JRiver connected via 3.5 mm x RCA to a pair of powered Bose Companion II speakers. I did wanted to listen to ARCAM rPAC but have yet the chance to visit the distributor. And when our fellow forummer in the DIY section offered openly to anyone whom would want to review his DIY DAC, I solemnly offered my time to him to do a review.

First of all, a big thank you to hifi4sale.net team for having a platform for hifi enthusiasts to share their interest with others. Secondly, thank you to chchyong89 for having the courage to share your DIY design for review.

Stay tune....want to go breakfast first.  Smile

The Topography

From the picture above, you know why I call this unit a ‘Naked’ USB DAC. Its physically a clean and bare piece of USB DAC. Main components being the USB, the DAC and the 3.5 mm jack. 

The DAC used here is an ES9023 Sabre DAC. Its commercially available and it’s basically a 24 bit stereo audio DAC with an integrated 2Vrms op-amp driver. For more information on the ESS website http://www.esstech.com/PDF/ES9023%20PB%20Rev%200.2aPB%20110117.pdf

It is also a synchronous USB unit. A simple definition:

Synchronous USB connections use a one way digital connection for music replay and are considered the worst type of connection for audio purposes

Asynchronous mode is technically most advanced in that it has a feedback loop so that the amount of data in the frame can be controlled.

It is also a plug and play device which works on both Windows and Mac. No software to install. Just plug in and the computer will detect the USB DAC. It will also be the default audio output for your computer. Need to deactivate it if you want to listen to music through computer speakers.

The Listening Session

Three set up were used for the review. 

1. My home set up using Window base laptop, running iTunes/jRiver. The USB DAC was then connected to my MF M6i amp using QED 3.5 mm to RCA interconnect. Played through ProAc D18 speakers.

2. My office set up using the same laptop. The USB DAC was connected using the same interconnect connected to a pair of powered Bose Companion 2 speakers. (NOTE: This is actually the main set up that I intend to find a USB DAC for)

3. Using same laptop and the USB DAC is connected directly to my Shure and Sennheiser IEM.

The same tracks were used in all 3 set up:

1. La Mer – Kevin Kline (MP3 48kHz, 320 kbps)

2. La Mer - Charles Trennet (MP3 48kHz, 320 kbps)

3. Siboh Kitak Nangis – Zee Avi (MP3 48kHz, 320 kbps)

4. Enter Sandman – Metallica (FLAC)

5. Time to Say goodbye – Andrea Bocelli (FLAC)

6. Hotel California (LIVE)– The Eagles (FLAC)

Now, don’t be fooled by the miniature size as the result from this DIY unit can be summarized in:

One word – Ingenious

Three words – Size Doesn't Matter

Many many words – One of the best sounding, effective and fuss free upgrade for CAS.

Using Setup 1 at home, there is gap in overall presentation compared to playing my music collection from the NAS via the MF CLiC. Playing La Mer by both artists above via the USB DAC was actually enjoyable. However, it is sort of being amplified as the hiss on the old and original recording by Charles Trenet was more evident then playing it through CLiC. But for more modern recording, there was a slight loss in the details of instruments played on the tracks especially Hotel California. Nothing to fuss about but the Naked DAC presentation loss a little bit of life in the Live ambience of that track. It may also be that for the Naked DAC, I was using the QED interconnect as oppose to Siltech on the CLiC.

When I switch to Enter Sandman, it was hard to spot any difference compared to playing it on CLiC. The Naked DAC gave a similar rock thumping bass drum and the guitar riffs were as metal as it can be. 

The most evident however was with Siboh Kitak Nangis. This is a simple and wonderful track by local Miri lass who shot fame in USA by the name of Zee Avi. It is in a local language. It’s a mixture of Norah Jones with a touch of Hawaian music. The Naked DAC injected a new life and experience listening to this track. It gave so much and openness that it made me feel that Zee Avi was performing life in my room.

Now, listening through Shure andSennheiser IEM, in contrary of the designer’s statement in his thread that it is advisable to connect the Naked DAC to a headphone amp, it drove my IEMs nicely. No sound of stress and definitely provided enough clarity and sound level for listeners to enjoy their music without the fuss of a headphone amp.

The last review is meant for the very reason I wanted to get a USB DAC which is to ‘upgrade’ the sound quality in my office. My setup in the office is nothing to shout about. I just connect a pair Bose Companion SII speakers to my laptop.



I know most audiophiles would not even look at a Bose products, but these speakers serve their purpose nicely in my office. But I just wanted to see whether a simple set up (laptop + speakers) can still benefit from a tweak. I don’t particularly like internal laptop tweaks on software nor hardware. I just prefer a plug and play approach. So this Naked DAC was a perfect bill for this purpose. And boy, my jaw literally dropped when I played Siboh Kitak Nangis through this USB DAC. For a simple set up like mine, the USB DAC gave this track a whole new experience to what they call ‘background’ music while you work. In the office I don’t particularly focus on the music as I just need it as a background music while working. But using this USB DAC, work was no longer a focus. I was basically drifted away listening to this track and another track and another track. It created this emotional space for me where I can feel the emotions that the singer was trying to deliver. Similar to the other tracks like La Mer and Time to Say Goodbye. Andrea’s vocals played through the USB DAC and the Bose speakers was so open and spacious that it felt like my whole office was fill with music. Not to mention another colleague of mine stepped in and went ‘Wow….Did you do something to your speakers?’ He too was very impressed that this small USB DAC managed to change the sound quality of simple set up. 

The Verdict

Small but powerful, in short. The Naked DAC is definitely a very basic upgrade for CAS but the outcome feels like you have a fully spec’ed DAC box. The only different is its size. Its half the size of the normal thumbdrive.

I cannot say it is value for money as its currently not commercialised.

One recommendation is of course to come up with a proper casing. Then we can call it a Dressed Up USB DAC. The reason for this recommendation is because of its small size, people will tend to make it portable. Hence, it warrants some kind of protection on the exposed DAC chip.

Will the designer sell the unit? Will he mass produce it? Will he be the next Datuk like the father of pendrive Pua Khein Seng ? Smile I let him announce his own plan.

I just wish I had more than 1 week to play around with the DAC.

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RE: Low volume

Does the op-amp in the DAC helps to compensate the loudness at low volumes?

Anonymous
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RE: Loudness

No loudness control on the Dac.

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