Any other AQ Dragonfly Early Adopters out there?


I'd been seeing the AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DAC ads for a month or so and was intrigued. Then it was the cover story for the Oct. issue of Stereophile. Once I read that it:

o Is the size of a thumb drive
o Decodes anything up to 24/96
o Has asynchronous USB decoding
o Was designed by Gordon Rankin himself
o Has no measurable jitter
o Presents a nice balance of tonal body plus detail and treble extension
o Is priced under $250

... I ran out and bought one at my local Magnolia AV. Man, this thing is *cool*! I have been listening almost exclusively to vinyl, and although I've ripped about 250 CDs to my laptop in Apple Lossless format, I still didn't use it for playback much, convenient as it was, because the music ranged from uninvolving to actively irritating.

With the Dragonfly in the signal chain, this is no longer the case. This is a simple and inexpensive way to turn your computer into an excellent-sounding enjoyable source of music. When I play it for background music, it is very relaxing; when I put on more engaging music and turn it up, it is fully enjoyable and involving.

One thing I discovered along the way, however: Since a USB-powered device has to run on a tiny amount of voltage coming through the USB port, there is not a lot of latitude for getting the best performance. My laptop only has two USB ports and one is used for the portable disk drive that holds all my music files. I had been using the other USB port for an external keyboard and plugged the Dragonfly into one of the keyboard's extension USB ports. Using it this way, however, the music coming through the Dragonfly sounded like typical computer-based digital music--there was an irritating glare that made my shoulders go up and forehead tighten. But when I unplugged the keyboard and plugged the Dragonfly directly into the computer's USB port, everything turned into sweetness and light. This is a sweet-sounding rig.

And I've yet to hear it at its best. The Dragonfly can decode up to 24/96. As soon as I install some playback software by Songbird or Decibel, I'm going to download a 24/96 album or two from HDTracks and see how far I can take this. I've heard computer-based 24/96 and 24/88.2 files in demos, and they are significantly smoother and more natural than redbook files.

If you have $250 and would like to elevate the listenability of your computer-based music files, the Dragonfly will get you there. Just a few years ago someone posted on this forum how his laptop and a Wavelength Cosecant was his new digital playback standard. OK, so the Dragonfly is no Cosecant, but it's not $3500-6000 either, and it's still a Gordon Rankin design that provides completely jitter-free playback.
johnnyb53
Nice writeup on a highly intriguing product, Johnny. Thanks!

This has probably already occurred to you, but if you want to continue to use the external keyboard there are several possible approaches:

1)Plug the external HDD into the external keyboard's USB port. My instinct would be to avoid that approach, though, if the HDD is bus powered, as opposed to having its own power supply.

2)Purchase a powered USB hub, and plug the keyboard and HDD into two of its downstream ports, while connecting its upstream port to the computer. If you do that, it might also be worth seeing what kind of results you get with the Dragonfly also plugged into the hub.

3)If the laptop is one that still provides a PS/2 port, SOME keyboards are suitable for use with USB-to-PS/2 adapters, which would allow you to connect the keyboard via that port instead of USB. That will only work with keyboards that support the PS/2 protocol, though, despite the fact that the adapter would allow the connectors and their pins to be mated. The keyboard manufacturer could probably tell you if that protocol is supported.

If you want to pursue the USB hub approach, I'd suggest reviewing the user comments posted at NewEgg.com about the various models that are available, before finalizing the selection. Be sure to choose one that has its own power supply, as opposed to being bus powered.

Best regards,
-- Al
I was looking at that - figured I'd wait a few months for the version 2 to come out. I just don't trust a first-generation digital product.

09-19-12: Almarg
Nice writeup on a highly intriguing product, Johnny. Thanks!

This has probably already occurred to you, but if you want to continue to use the external keyboard there are several possible approaches:

Actually, I took Option 4 and bought a new MacBook Pro today. My stepson takes over the 2008 Macbook with external keyboard tomorrow. I'm also looking forward to having USB 3.0 with the new MacBook along with an increase of RAM from 2 to 8 GB and disk space from 160 to 500 GB.
Great if you can use your internal disk instead of external. The Dragonfly manual recommends using a different Bus if you are going to attach an external HD. Specifically, use a firewire for your HD and USB for your DAC.
I have some concerns about the long term reliability, there are several posts on head-fi reporting a loosening of the USB connector. One guy had to prop up the DF to hear things properly. The upcoming dragontail should help, but kind of dampers the form factor and convenience.
I'll look into the disk situation. I'll start with a powered USB hub and see what I get there. If that doesn't improve the sound, I'll get a Firewire portable drive.
So, if I sit about 15 feet away from Audio Rack, to use this device, I either have to sit my Laptop on my audio rack or attach it with 15'+ analog interconnects?
Is this correct? If so I'm not interested.
Bluetooth keyboard FTW

09-20-12: Ozzy
So, if I sit about 15 feet away from Audio Rack, to use this device, I either have to sit my Laptop on my audio rack or attach it with 15'+ analog interconnects?
Is this correct? If so I'm not interested.
Right now Musicdirect has a $209 5-meter AudioQuest AQ-3 stereo-mini-to-RCA interconnect for $59 here. Another possibility is to get a longer USB extension cord and use a short interconnect.
I did not buy the Dragonfly, but did buy the Halide DAC HD which is also small and portable. It is more expensive but already has all wires to connect to USB and to an amp. It is $ 499. It sounds wonderful and via wav easily sounds as good as CDs. It is my first DAC, however. Both the Dragonfly and the Halide were recently favorably reviewed in Stereophile by John Atkinson and Art Dudley. John Atkinson said the Halide was now his go to DAC. Choices.
Stereophile raved about it too

I wonder how it compares to my MusicStreamer II which I really enjoy and think is a terrific bargain at $150.00.
The Halide was reviewed in the September issue of S'phile; the Dragonfly in October. Both showed up in October's Recommended components, the Halide is Class A and Dragonfly is Class B, which is still good company for a $250 DAC.

I thought about the Halide; the idea of a class A asynchronous USB DAC is attractive, but I like the Dragonfly's form factor and I/O's better. I like the DF's stereo miniplug for the versatility to use it with headphones or to plug into the stereo. I already have some high quality stereo mini-to-RCA cables for plugging into the stereo.

Also, I'm thinking of getting PureMusic's plug-in so I can do HDTracks. Since I'm archiving my music to a USB hard drive, I'm particularly attracted to PureMusic's ability to specify buffering an album in RAM before playing it. That should eliminate any sonic downside to archiving via USB. Alternatively, with my new MacBook, I could get an external drive with Thunderbolt interface, which has 20x the data transfer rate of USB 2.0.
Interesting thread, thanks. And thanks to the other posters for there input.

09-20-12: Peter_s
Great if you can use your internal disk instead of external. The Dragonfly manual recommends using a different Bus if you are going to attach an external HD. Specifically, use a firewire for your HD and USB for your DAC.

My MacBook Pro has a Thunderbolt interface, 20x the speed of USB 2.0. If I upgrade the external drive that's what I'll get. In the meantime, I downloaded Audirvana to run my music files, and it appears to be a great matchup for the Dragonfly's capabilities and USB drive's limitations.

Audirvana enables you to create a multi-gigabyte cache in RAM for buffering music files. So now the speed and traffic on the USB bus is less of an issue--the music is streaming directly from RAM. I was contemplating paying $189 to get this in Amarra, but Audirvana offers it in Audirvana Plus at $50.

It provides a selection of upsampling schemes, overriding iTunes' up sampling everything to 24/96. I changed everything to 2x oversampling, so all my 44.1Khz ALAC files are now upsampled to 88.2Khz. The Dragonfly's color indicator changed from magenta (96KHz) to amber (88.2Khz) indicating that it's working, and I noticed a welcome improvement in the treble--smoother and more relaxed. I noticed better bass extension and fullness with Audirvana as well.
I bought a Dragonfly in December and am using it mostly in my Dell Latitude laptop based system at work. It immediately gave me a case of upgrade-itis, and I replaced the stereo in a box speakers I had been using with some used Boston mini monitors and switched from iTunes to JRiver Music Center for software. Combined with a PSB sub, Audioengine desktop amp and some modest cables, this system sounds better than it has any right to given what it cost. Foundation, tone, timing, speed, resolution, air, space, decay, all improved as a result of adding the Dragonfly and accentuated by the capability of Music Center. The digital harshness present using the built-in DAC melted away to music.

A note on set up, I am using the high speed USB port on the Dell dock for the Dragonfly and sourcing digital data from both the internal HD and a 1 TB external drive. The system is very sensitive to the cables used, both USB and mini to RCA analog, confirming Audioquest and salesman claims. HP USB cable beat other economy brands by a noticeable margin, and the external drive with right cable sounds at least as good as the internal drive, same bus as the Dragonfly or not. Auvio brand analog cable was superior to generic cable, again by a fairly wide margin. Cables are an obvious upgrade path for this system in the future when I get antsy.

Final note on the Dragonfly as a DAC/headphone amp. Last night I experimented with the laptop-Dragonfly combination with my Grado 325is headphones listening to a 24/88 version of Goat Rodeo and have to say it was breathtaking. Plenty of power to drive the cans and all of the positive attributes described in spades and then some. This combination was full on hifi, not approaching hifi.

The Dragonfly is a remarkarkable product and as described in Stereophile, a real game changer.