ICYMI: AudioQuest Does It Again With New DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC

A while back, AudioQuest turned the Headphone Amp/DAC game on its head with the DragonFly, a USB device that made it easy to get top-level sound out of your smartphone or computer. Not only that, but it also gave you a more powerful headphone output than the built-in jack on your devices allowing you to hear bigger, more power hungry headphones at their full potential. Since that first model, AudioQuest has come out with a couple of upgraded follow-up products, called DragonFly Red and Black, two units I have raved about here on the site.

Since I was a big fan of the Red and Black, I was really happy to hear this week that AudioQuest has come out with their most advanced DragonFly to date, the $299 DragonFly Cobalt. It’s $100 more than the Red, and $200 more than the Black, but it has a bunch of upgrades over those products, a list of which I pulled from the press release:

  • New, more advanced ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with a minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound.
  • Microchip’s superb PIC32MX274 microprocessor draws less current and increases processing speed by 33%.
  • Improved power-supply filtering that specifically increases immunity to WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular noise.
  • Includes AudioQuest’s new DragonTail USB-A (female) to USB-C (male) adaptor to easily accommodate the increasing number of electronic devices that feature USB-C ports.
  • Contoured enclosure measures just 2.26” x 0.73” x 0.47” (57.5mm x 18.6mm x 11.9mm), making the latest DragonFly 10% smaller than its predecessors.

I really like their inclusion of a top of the line ESS DAC chip. In my past experience, they have provided a smooth, exciting sound. I also like that they are including the DragonTail adapter, which makes the DragonFly a lot easier to use with laptops, and it’s a must to have with phones and tablets. BTW, it decodes MQA just like the previous models, which I’m a huge fan of. The Cobalt looks good on paper, I can’t wait to get my hands on one! For a comparison of the Dragonfly Cobalt with the Red and Black click here.

 

The following is courtesy of AudioQuest:

AudioQuest Introduces High-Performance Portable USB DAC: DragonFly Cobalt

In 2012, the original AudioQuest DragonFly thoroughly disrupted the DAC market. For so many casual enthusiasts who had never previously considered the possibility of improving their digital-audio experience, DragonFly was nothing short of a revelation. Meanwhile, even the most experienced audiophiles were compelled to reexamine long-held notions of what a DAC could and should be. Stereophile’s Art Dudley enthusiastically summarized, “DragonFly is fun: It’s a thumb in the eye of those tea-pinky tyrants who would tell the rest of us what is and is not high end. I can think of no more recommendable product in digital audio.”

In the early months of 2015, AudioQuest surpassed its previous achievements with DragonFlys Black and Red—two sensational models that offered improved performance-to-cost ratios with unprecedented sound quality, free firmware updates, and, of course, the biggest news of all, compatibility with Apple® and Android® smartphones.

 

And now comes DragonFly Cobalt ($299.95 US)—AudioQuest’s new flagship DAC. Cobalt takes what music lovers around the world have come to expect from the multi-award-winning DragonFly family—naturally beautiful, seductive sound—and strips away fuzz and fog that weren’t even noticeable until Cobalt removed them.

How is this possible? Like the critically acclaimed DragonFly Red, Cobalt has the robust 2.1-volt output to drive almost any headphone, uses a bit-perfect digital volume control for outstanding signal-to-noise ratio, enables seamless compatibility with Apple and Android devices, and is an exceptionally competent and affordable MQA renderer.

Cobalt’s precedent-setting performance is made possible by multiple significant upgrades:

  • New, more advanced ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with a minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound.
  • Microchip’s superb PIC32MX274 microprocessor draws less current and increases processing speed by 33%.
  • Improved power-supply filtering that specifically increases immunity to WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular noise.
  • Includes AudioQuest’s new DragonTail USB-A (female) to USB-C (male) adaptor to easily accommodate the increasing number of electronic devices that feature USB-C ports.
  • Contoured enclosure measures just 2.26” x 0.73” x 0.47” (57.5mm x 18.6mm x 11.9mm), making the latest DragonFly 10% smaller than its predecessors.

Like previous models, Cobalt uses Gordon Rankin’s precedent-setting StreamLength® asynchronous-transfer USB code. Further, in Gordon’s monoClock® technology, a single ultra-low-jitter clock generated from the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip runs the ESS chip functions as well as all microcontroller functions. This superior clock enables DragonFly Cobalt to provide greater resolution and clarity than DACs with multiple clocks.

With AudioQuest’s DragonFly USB DAC, music appreciation and exploration are limitless: Plug into an Apple or Windows® computer or connect to an iOS® or Android mobile device. Play YouTube or Vimeo videos. Go hunting on Bandcamp or SoundCloud. Explore playlists on Spotify or Pandora. Stream high-res audio from Tidal or Qobuz. No matter the choice of musical pleasure, DragonFly delivers beautiful sound to earbuds, headphones, desktop speakers, or complete audio systems, unraveling the emotional expression and nuance that makes music and movies so enjoyable. Now, more than ever before, naturally beautiful sound is right at your fingertips—however you want it, whenever you want it.

The first 10,000 units of DragonFly Cobalt will come packaged with vouchers for trial subscriptions to the outstanding Tidal and Qobuz music-streaming services. Cobalt customers can begin their musical journeys with two new AudioQuest playlists—On an AudioQuest and Making Connections—available on Tidal and Qobuz, respectively.

 

DragonFly Cobalt

US RETAIL PRICE: $299.95

SHIPPING TO DEALERS NOW

  

What’s New

  • New ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound
  • New Microchip PIC32MX274 microprocessor draws less current and increases processing speed by 33%
  • Improved power-supply filtering that specifically increases immunity to WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular noise
  • Includes form-fitting DragonTail USB-A (female) to USB-C (male) adaptor
  • Smaller, contoured enclosure

 

What It Does

  • Dramatically improves sound from MP3s, YouTube, etc.
  • Delivers high-end performance from high-res and MQA & Masters files
  • Bit-perfect variable output drives powered headphones, powered speakers, or power amp
  • Fixed output feeds preamp or AV receiver

 

Compatibility

  • Windows 7 and later
  • Apple macOS 10.6.8 and later
  • iOS 5 and later (requires Apple USB adaptor)
  • Android 5 and later (requires micro-USB DragonTail, USB-C DragonTail, or other Android USB adaptor)
  • Linux (AudioQuest does not provide technical support)

 

Sample Rates/Playback Status (indicated by LED color)

  • Standby (Red)
  • 1kHz (Green)
  • 48kHz (Blue)
  • 2kHz (Amber)
  • 96kHz (Magenta)
  • MQA (Purple)

 

Selected Critical Praise for DragonFly Black and Red

Winners: 2016 Stereophile Digital Components of the Year

Winners: 2016 Stereophile Budget Components of the Year

Runners-Up: 2016 Stereophile Overall Components of the Year

Winner (DragonFly Red): 2018 Rocky Mountain International Hi-Fi Press Award

Winner (DragonFly Red): 2016-2019 What HiFi? Best DAC £150-£300

Winners: Darko.Audio Knock Out Award

TwitteringMachines.com TM Select

ComputerAudiophile.com C.A.S.H. (Computer Audiophile Suggested Hardware)

Stereophile Recommended Component

The Absolute Sound Editor’s Choice

 

Unequivocally recommended.”—Chris Connaker, AudiophileStyle.com (ComputerAudiophile)

“DragonFly Red and Black are the finest examples of everyman hifi ever to grace these pages. Their value quotients explode the dial.”—John Darko, Darko.Audio

“At the 99-buck mark, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better companion for you and your music.”—Michael Lavorgna, AudioStream.com

Very strongly recommended.”—Art Dudley, Stereophile

“With the DragonFly, AudioQuest has created a simple and affordable path into the high end for a new generation of listeners, as well as the perfect product for an audiophile’s personal-audio system.”—Robert Harley, The Absolute Sound

 

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