Imagine a device the size of a thumb-drive and Now imagine that it can improve your listening experience by a notch. Yes, this magical device does exist and here we go: I present you the Audioquest Dragonfly Red! It is small; it is bright and it is absolutely eye-catching. Without further ado, let’s delve into the world of musical bliss which it claimed it can deliver.
Extra note: know some acronyms like DAC (digital-to-analog converter), USB OTG(on-the-go), the former representing the device that converts sound files to headphone so we can listen to them and the latter referring to the USB OTG cable used to connect the DragonflyRed to most Phones that support this feature.
Audioquest Dragonfly Red is the company’s 3rd generation products and has created other DACs with similar names, mainly Dragonfly v1.0 and v1.2. A Reminder: This is NOT a review of Audioquest Dragonfly Black, which is released around the same time as Dragonfly Red.
(this review is written with excessive care to avoid any errors, however, there might still be some appearing due to human error)
Packaging & Contents
Audioquest goes for an impressive stylish minimalistic packaging that is all black to give contrast to the Redness of the device and the Dragonfly. On the cover, you will be greeted with a big Dragonfly Red name with red Audioquest logo and the specs list. Red is the main colour palette of the packaging and you will be seeing it across the rest of the packaging.
At the back, there are more pictures of how you connect the Dragonfly Red to your computers and mobile phones as well as the devices it’s meant to output to. As I got mine in the UK, there are instructions in many languages from Europe itself too.
Inside the box, you will be presented with an equally stylish manual and two leaflets advertising some streaming services that work with Dragonfly Red (Contents may differ if you buy from another region). The manual lists more detailed instructions on how to set the Dragonfly Red to maximise it’s DAC prowess for most phones and operating systems. There are also additional instructions on additional software that is recommended by Audioquest, which stated that they are compatible with each other and will help to improve the sound quality further. All in all, the packaging and contents are pretty simple but not redundant and I am fairly impressed with the minimalistic design and Red colour theme across them.
Also, they provide you with a small leather protector for your dear Dragonfly Red, which is pretty neat.
The Dragonfly Red is really the size of your average thumb-drive and you might even mistake for one if it is not for the eye-catching red and the dragonfly logo on the top. Audioquest has decided to plate it red strong red and the surface feels smooth just like glass. It weights slightly heavier than most thumb-drive. Both this and the special glass-like texture feel makes it instantly recognisable when you hold it, so you won’t be able to mistake other portable drives for Dragonfly Red. Overall, the device feels sturdy and can take a few beatings but I am quite concerned that the materials used might make it more prone to being chipped. So do handle this carefully to avoid any scratch marks on the redness!
The black pouch given is like any basic pouch that can be found in phone protector. It does the job of protecting the Dragonfly Red from scratches in your pocket. However, it is no cushion if you accidentally drop the Dragonfly Red to the floor. You might need to get a better pouch if you want to protect it from the fall as well.
Oh yeah, now’s the part that you have been waiting for I betcha! Well, before going on further, this is my set-up:
Moto X 2014 edition
SoundMagic HP200 Open Back Headphone
StarTech USB OTG cable
Software: Spotify & Tidal, USB Audio Player Pro*
My setup is quite simple: I just connect the Dragonfly Red straight to the USB OTG to Moto X and then plug my headphone into the former. The first test will be from Spotify 320 kbps. The Moto X seems to output at a fixed 96000hz as the logo is glowing magenta.
(There are 4 different colours: Red- Standby, Green – 44100hz, Blue – 48000hz, Amber – 88200hz and Magenta – 96000hz.)
Songs tested [Spotify 320kbps]:
Gentle Bones – Sixty Five, Run Tell Daddy
Ne-yo – Because of You
Europe – The Final Countdown
Jay Chou and JJ Lin songs from their latest album
Instantly, the Dragonfly Red sounds louder and fuller compared to the Moto X headphone jack. You can feel the background instruments are clearer and more pronounced. Vocals are enhanced in the way that you feel they are singing right in front of you. There are no distortions to be heard and during the silence, it is completely silent without any hiss or other digital noises. Safe to say, Audioquest is right on its claim that Dragonfly Red really does improve the sound quality and listening experiences even from 320kbps streamed music.
The next test is done using Tidal, Hi-fi, 16bit 44100hz streaming with the same songs. The FLAC lossless music is brought out fully to life by the Dragonfly Red beautifully. Every single song increase in depth and clarity that is small but noticeable. For me, Tidal has the better sound quality due to its lossless format and it shows when you pair it up with good DACs and headphone. However, you can further improve the sound quality through another software that has to be paid.
Introducing USB Audio Player Pro which is available on Android Google Play Store. What this software does is creating its own driver mechanism which replaces the normal driver in your phone. Stock or modified Android has a sound driver which is passable for normal listening but is not meant to be used for the lossless format. The USB Audio Player Pro’s own driver is focused completely on sound quality and it will bring the best out of the music in your phone through Dragonfly Red or other DACs as if it is a portable Hi-Fi player. One caveat is it currently only works with Tidal and own downloaded songs, so you can’t stream Spotify through it. Any other software will have its sound muted when this App is active so do take note of this. Otherwise, listening to Tidal through USB Audio Player Pro makes the Dragonfly Red even better and music is more alive, essentially at double the quality comparing to listening without the app. I am immersed in a few songs while typing this review and stops for a while before I realised I was sidetracked by the music bliss.