Why spend 250 $ for a USB DAC? That’s the first question that popped into my mind when I saw the AudioQuest DragonFly. Especially when my entire laptop only cost me 1 000 $. As I previously mentioned in some of my articles, I am a skeptic but I am the type of skeptic who is willing to try anything out before claiming anything about the product. So I arranged with Lenbrook, the distributor of AudioQuest in Canada, to get myself a sample of the product to be reviewed.

As you might already know, a computer by its nature is always multitasking. This makes timing to be their secondary task. When the timing suffers, in the world of audio, it creates timing error (jitter) which in turn makes the sound quality turned into a big pile of mush lacking definition with virtually no imaging whatsoever.

Interestingly enough, AudioQuest use the simplest AND the most effective way in fighting the jitter problem: Asynchronous DAC where the clock of the DAC runs independently from the source’s DAC. So rather than sharing crucial audio data clocking functions with the computer, by using asynchronous USB transfer, AudioQuest’s DragonFly alone commands the timing of the audio data transfer. Ingenious!! I’m extremely impressed by this simple, elegant, yet highly effective implementation of jitter correction.

In fact, this application does not only reduce or fixing jitter problem but completely eliminates it. Better still, Gordon Rankin, the pioneer of asynchronous mode for Wavelength Audio was actually the person who designed the Dragonfly circuitry for AudioQuest.

Want to be more impressed? The DragonFly has two internal clocks; each optimized for the sampling rate (and its multiples) of whatever signal feeds it. One clock optimized for 44.1 Khz and 88.2 Khz sampling rates (which the DragonFly logo on the chassis turn green and amber respectively) and another optimized for 48 Khz and 96 Khz sample rates (with blue and magenta backlit DragonFly logo respectively).

Want to know something more impressive? This entire USB DAC enclosure is made of magnesium alloy which functions almost like a Faraday cage practically eliminating all electromagnetic and radio frequency interference from the DAC.

Still not impressed? How about the 64-position analog volume control that is controlled by the computer’s main volume control? Gone is the signal degrading digital volume control used in far too many music player applications. This way, the volume control is able to preserve full resolution and maximum sound quality.

With multitudes of song files can be purchased and downloaded from various sites such as HDTracks, or better yet, Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound music download service at merely 59 $ annually, one can easily access various FLAC (lossless compressed) audio files at 24-bit depth and 48 kHz sample rates. Not surprisingly, they are mostly classical music, although I don’t see much point of listening to Britney Spears or the soundtrack of the popular TV series Glee in 24-bit / 96 kHz even if they are available.

After listening to several downloads including the obligatory Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and several other works of Debussy and Rachmaninoff, I can only sum my experience as quite a revelation. All the songs that I already know of inside-out (thanks to my boring years of study in Musicology) sound better. Wider imaging, better texture, amazing depth and no hearing fatigue even at reference level (the level of loudness as if I’m sitting right in front of the entire orchestra… which I have experienced far too many times). Lower frequencies seem to sound tighter, more solid and punchier.

I don’t want to like this USB DAC, I really don’t. I hate computers. I hate anything that is even remotely computer-related. However, the AudioQuest DragonFly literally changed my mind about using personal computer as a music source. Especially at that insanely low price.

For a mere 250 $, you don’t even need to read about how great this thing sounds through my trusty PSB / Pioneer / Sony / Beyerdynamic headphones or my Anthem / NAD / Pioneer Elite / PSB / System Audio gears. Whatever system I amplify this thing’s output to, whichever headphones I plugged into this tiny little thing to, all the songs reproductions sound great.

So is this thing the best thing since sliced bread? I think so, and if you use your personal computer as your music source, for the 250 $ price you must be crazy not to buy one of these. Who said that audiophile quality comes at an esoteric price?

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