So, you want to learn more about one of the most highly-rated and highly-reviewed DAC/amps? Maybe you’ve read a few other reviews or were recommended to check out this amp by a friend.
This device is one of the most simple and straightforward DAC/amps that’s ready to use right out of the box. It’s designed to be used for a wide range of situations, although it definitely performs better for ultra-portable listening.
Keep reading our Audioquest Dragonfly Red Review to see all the details, and why you may (or may not) want to consider adding it to your personal setup!
Audioquest Dragonfly Red Review – A Worthy USB DAC/Amp?
Features & Technical Specs:
- USB DAC + Preamp + Headphone Amp
- Fully compatible with IEMs, headphones, speakers, tablets, laptop/PCs, or Mac
- Supports all audio formats including M2A, MP3, WAV, FLAC, DSD, and other hi-res formats
- Internal 32-Bit SABRE DAC (for more detailed, natural sound)
- Uses BitPerfect digital volume control
- Includes a small leather carrying pouch and USB cap
- USB adapter required for use with a smartphone
- Shiny red finish
- About the same size as a standard USB thumb drive
- External sample rate LED indicator
- Built-in 3.5 mm headphone jack/line out
- Dimensions: 2.4 x 0.8 x 1.2 inches
- Weight: 3.52 ounces
You can either start at the beginning of our review, or use the links below to jump around from section to section. Here are the 5 most important features to consider before making your decision:
- Build Quality & External Controls
- Software & Listening With Your Smartphone
- Headphones That Do (Or Don’t) Pair Nicely
- Sonic Playback & Recommendations
- Who Is The Dragonfly Ideal For?
Now that you’ve taken a quick look at the most important features we’ll be covering, let’s start by examining the build quality, external controls, and what’s included in the box!
Build Quality & External Controls
The DAC itself has a very solid build with a shiny red finish. As you can see in the picture above, it looks almost identical to a standard USB thumb drive. In the box, there is also a small cap that you can use to cover the USB connector for keeping most debris/dust out.
This device doesn’t have any external controls like a physical volume control knob or gain/bass boost switch. (Everything control-wise happens internally.)
Dragonfly-Shaped LED Indicator
It also has an external LED indicator in the shape of a dragonfly. Aside from making it look more aesthetically pleasing, it does have an actual purpose.
The external LED indicator light will change according to the sample rate of the song you’re listening to. It will light up green for 44.1 kHz, blue for 48 kHz, amber for 88.2 kHz, magenta for songs playing at 96 kHz.
Compact Leather Carrying Case
You’ll also receive a well-built leather carrying case that you can slide your DAC into for a fit that’s nice and snug. Overall, this USB DAC amp is super compact and well-built. It fits into a nice package that makes it easy for taking with you and using on-the-go.
Next, let’s take a closer look at what’s happening internally, and what software is required for use with your smartphone, laptop, or PC.
Software & Listening With Your Smartphone
Although this USB amp is compatible with multiple devices, you will need an additional adapter if you plan on using it with your smartphone. If you’re planning on using it with your laptop or PC, no additional equipment will be necessary.
For listening with your laptop or gaming PC, no driver downloads or other software installation is required. All you have to do is plug it into the USB port, plug in your favorite pair of headphones, and start listening away.
Listening With A Smartphone
For listening with a smartphone, the process is still pretty straightforward but will require specific adapters for each type of operating system.
If you’ll be using an Android smartphone – you’ll need a micro USB to USB adapter. If you don’t already have one, here’s a link to the Best-Selling adapter on Amazon.
In order to maximize the audio output, it’s also recommended that you download an app like USB Audio Player Pro. It costs around $8 and unfortunately doesn’t support Spotify. The Audio Player Pro app allows the DAC to completely bypass the Android audio system, which then gives full access to the DAC’s internal components.
If you’ll be using an Apple device/iPhone – you’ll need to grab a lightning to USB camera adapter. The updated adapter pictured below is fully compatible with most iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch models.
This brings us to the main downside to using this device. Although the Android micro USB to USB adapter is pretty inexpensive, Apple’s updated lightning to USB camera adapter will add a few extra dollars to your overall cost.
Then again, if your main concern is portability and you primarily use your phone for listening to music, it’s not necessarily an instant deal-breaker. Keep in mind, that the need for an extra adapter only applies to use with a smartphone.
With that in mind, some listeners still prefer to grab a USB extension cable for their laptop or PC. Although it’s not absolutely essential, it will minimize the risk of accidentally bumping the DAC/amp and damaging the device.
BitPerfect Digital Volume Control
This DAC has what’s called BitPerfect built-in. It’s a digital volume control system that communicates any volume change from your device to the DAC. Since there aren’t any external control knobs on the actual device, when it’s plugged into your phone or laptop – you’ll use the volume controls on your device to turn it up or down.
For some, this might be a slight downside since there is something pretty satisfying about turning a volume dial and hearing your music creep into existence. For others, an external volume dial on a device that’s so compact would only add extra weight and bulk.
Either way you choose to look at it, there is something to be said about the ability to use a single, central volume control system. It eliminates the possibility of your DAC’s volume being turned up too loud while your music player is on mute, and blasting through your headphones – or vice versa.
Next, let’s take a closer look at what type of headphones work the best with this amp.
Headphones That Do (Or Don’t) Pair Nicely
The Dragonfly Red is advertised as being fully compatible with most headphones ranging from low impedance to high impedance cans. Does it deliver on that promise?
Headphones that tend to be harder to drive (and require more power) perform fairly well with this device. For example, it can easily drive the flagship Sennheiser HD 600. It also works well for driving most high impedance earbuds.
Most IEMs, open back headphones, and closed back cans that normally require more power should pair nicely with this amp. Although that’s true in most cases, there have been a few concerns when it comes to volume output.
Certain pairs of headphones don’t seem to receive quite enough power which can lead to a slightly lower volume output. Whether or not you’ll be completely satisfied with the volume level with largely depend on how loud you like to listen to your music. That, and what source device you’ll be using this amp with.
The quality (and volume output) of audio playback does tend to vary slightly from device to device. (We’ll cover which source devices work best in more detail below.) For most listeners, the volume isn’t too much of an issue at all – which brings us to the next performance aspect.
Sonic Playback & Recommendations
Immediately after you connect the amp to your phone or laptop (and plug in your ‘phones), you’ll notice how clean and crisp the audio sounds. It will sound much wider and the details you may have been missing out on before will clearly stand out.
Many smartphones are notorious for producing pretty lackluster audio quality (which might be one of the main reasons you found our review in the first place). The quality of playback from most popular streaming services is partially to blame, unless you use Tidal’s premium subscription.
Wherever possible, it would be ideal to listen to hi-res audio files stored locally on your phone’s hard drive. It would almost be a mistake not to utilize this device’s ability to further enhance FLAC, WAV, DSD, and other lossless audio formats. Doing that, plus adding a quality DAC will help you avoid most of the issues associated with listening to music on your phone.
Even if you do use Spotify or Apple Music, the overall soundstage will be significantly improved. If you were to try a side by side listening test and compare the level of sonic fidelity when using the amp, versus not – it becomes very clear that the Dragonfly Red delivers very detailed and noticeably spacious audio playback.
When compared side by side with the Dragonfly Black, there is an extremely noticeable improvement on not only sound quality, but detail imaging as well. Listening to lower volume tracks is the one area that can cause minor issues with playback performance.
If you can’t manually raise the volume on those tracks – you might be left wanting just a little bit more volume. Aside from that single minor issue, much of the overall improvement can be attributed to the internal DAC chip.
32-Bit SABRE DAC chip
The 32-Bit SABRE DAC chip is the same internal DAC chip that’s used in other hi-res audio devices. It does a great job at keeping the frequency response well-balanced and distortion-free.
This amp is primarily aimed at portable users, but since it can be used with speakers, you might want to see a short demo.
Here’s a short video demonstrating the level of sonic fidelity you can expect when paired with a loudspeaker setup:
Although the video doesn’t entirely do it justice, it does demonstrate how well this super tiny device can perform on a larger scale.
While the lack of options to externally control gain, volume, etc. might not be absolutely ideal for a home speaker setup, you can definitely make it work in your favor. (Which also speaks to its versatility and the wide range of practical applications this device has to offer.)
All in all, you can expect to hear significant playback improvement on your smartphone, laptop, listening room speaker setup, or the audio produced by your gaming console. Which of the settings is this DAC most ideal for? Take a look at our recommendation below.
Who Is The Dragonfly Ideal For?
If you need an ultra-portable headphone DAC/amp that doesn’t require a ton of extra cables – this device will work great in most cases. The fact that such a tiny device can provide this much audio enhancement is pretty impressive.
Overall, it will easily meet your expectations, as long as you don’t mind grabbing an extra cable adapter to use with your smartphone. If you’re looking for an amp to use with your laptop, this DAC does a great job at delivering exactly what’s promised.
Once again, it’s not absolutely necessary to use a USB extension for your laptop, but it’s definitely recommended to avoid breaking the DAC if you accidentally bump it while it’s connected. The need for additional cables is really the main downside to using this device. As far as overall performance, build quality, portability, and ease of use – it’s pretty hard not to recommend you try it out.
For an at-home setting (specifically for use with a desktop or gaming PC) – we recommend that you consider taking a look at our Creative Sound Blaster E5 Review or Audioengine D1 Review instead. Both of those options have external control knobs and offer a more diverse range of connectivity options for gaming consoles and/or loudspeaker setups.
Take a look at the review table below to see one final rundown of the most important features we covered. You can also see the main pros and cons as well as our final rating. If you’ve already made up your mind and want to check its current price or see more customer reviews, click here.
We hope our Audioquest Dragonfly Red Review answered most of your questions and helped you understand why it excels at ultra-portable and on the go performance. If not, feel free to ask below!
Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.
Audioquest Dragonfly Red USB DAC/Amp
Easy To Use & Set Up10.0/10
Use With Smartphones/Laptops9.0/10
- Improves Detail Imaging, Accuracy & Depth
- Extremely Portable & Compact
- Completely USB-Powered (No need for charging)
- Great Entry-Level DAC/Amp For First Time Users
- Works Well With Most Headphones, IEMs, and Earbuds
- Requires Extra Cables For Use With Smartphones
- Could Use Slightly More Volume Output
- Only Has A Single 3.5 mm Input