Review: AudioQuest Cobalt – First Impressions

Dragonfly Cobalt

DragonFly Cobalt

Cobalt is the new RED! Yes, the new color is Cobalt blue, and the unit has an automotive finish with silver lettering. Like before the DragonFly has a protective endcap, a contoured enclosure and it also comes in a leatherette travel pouch. It’s a nice package, and it gets even better as you now also get a DragonTail USB-C adaptor! All DragonTails use AQ’s Carbon-level USB cable.

Design wide the new Cobalt doesn’t look like the RED and Black anymore and with it’s smoother lines it looks smaller and more sexy.

The DragonFly Cobalt’s native resolution still goes up to to 24-bit / 96kHz and it has the same 2.1V  output like the RED. It’s a direct-coupled, high output which supplies enough power to easily drive the widest range of headphones. When used as a line-level device (volume set to 100%), DF Cobalt’s 2.1 volts provide enough power to drive all preamplifiers, integrated amplifiers, or receiver inputs.

The headphone amp used is the same one as the one in the RED version, the ESS Sabre 9601. The microchip now is the PIC32MX274 and it has the same features as Red and Black, but reduces current draw and increases processing speed by 33%. Impressive!

The DAC Chip in the Cobalt is the ESS ES9038Q2M, with minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound. The RED uses the ESS ES9016 and the Black the ESS ES9010. It’s evolution!

The Cobalt comes with an improved power-supply filtering, specially designed to reduce WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular noise. Of course you can still use the Cobalt with your desktop pc, portable PC and your mobile and it still offers MQA rendering! (see video above)

Size-wize the Cobalt is a tiny bit smaller and it measures 12mm (h) x 19mm (w) x 57mm (l). The RED and BLACK measure 12mm (h) x 19mm (w) x 62mm (l)

The Cobalt’s price has been set at $299€ or £269. It’s more but it’s newer, better and you get a DragonTail USBC to USB adapter on top of it

Full DragonFly Comparison

AudioQuest has been so kind to publish a clear overview of all the available DragonFly models and you can find that here: DragonFly Cobalt_ComparisonChart_white_6.20.19

First Impressions

The amplifier section is the same so it all comes down to the faster processor, better power supply and especially the new DAC section.

The first things you notice is how clean and clear the new Cobalt is delivering the sound. And not only that, it does it without any effort making it sound wide, natural and realistic.

Compared to the RED, the Cobalt sounds better, more precise, more wide and spacious but also more natural and clean. The separation is better, the sound stage wider, the extension better in all directions and the presentation more airy. Bass is a bit less thick, the mids more spacious, the treble more energetic and further extended. The Cobalt is superior to the RED on a technical level. Red is more punchy, more in your face, the mids more narrow/intimate, the treble less present.

The tuning is more neutral but to the natural and musical side. The Cobalt can’t be called a warm or dark sounding unit at all, it’s nothing like that. It’s neutrality with a high level of musicality and presented in a natural way with a lot of headroom.

I’ve been listening to it mostly with the brand new Vision Ears Elysium as well as the Earsonics EM64 and it’s dead silent with a pitch black background. Changing the volume of the Cobalt (64-Bit Bit-Perfect Digital Volume Control) is also perfectly noiseless.

I’ve been going back an forth between the RED and Cobalt using the transfer zone function in ROON, and after a lot of listening and switching, I have to say I really do prefer the Cobalt over the RED. In this case for me it’s clear already: the Cobalt really is an improvement of the RED.

Now does it mean you need to upgrade? No, not really as the RED still is really good as well. The Cobalt is a bit better though, and if you like technicalities you’ll for sure prefer the latest version. Some on the other hand will prefer the typical tuning of the RED over that of the new Cobalt. The Cobalt should be at your dealer very soon so I advise to go check it out and demo it. Take your Black or RED with you and do the test yourself.


We’ll of course do a lot more listening and testing with the Cobalt before we publish the full review, but it’s safe to say that AudioQuest with the Cobalt has another winner in their hands. One which audiophiles like us will enjoy for years.

Full review soon, but for now it’s all looking good. Well done AudioQuest.

Ps. don’t forget to sign up for our Final Audio Sonorous VI headphone giveaway here:

4.3/5 - (177 votes)

Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.


  • Reply July 9, 2019


    Have to say I didn’t see a new Dragonfly coming, but it has been some time since the Black and Red were released.

    One question:

    I had the Black for a while but one limitation was it was simply too powerful! By that I mean using it with my PC and easy to drive headphones like the Sennheiser Momentum I had the volume slider on Windows set to around 7 or 8 (out of 100). So fine grain volume control was gone, it was jumps of 10% or so between steps.

    Do you get the same issue with the Cobalt? Or does the digital volume control on the Cobalt and Red help avoid this?

    • Reply July 9, 2019


      It’s actually the same thing with black, red and Cobalt. I was listening at 82 (-18db) but from there on, it gets very loud very quickly

      • Reply July 9, 2019


        Thanks. 82 with those IEMs isn’t too bad, seems better than my previous experiences. Once the Cobalt arrives in NZ I’ll go have a listen 🙂

    • Reply July 13, 2019


      Just got my Cobalt today. Compared to the Red, the sound to me is not worth $100 more. That could well just be me. Also, the copper connection portion is loose within the shell. I need to return it as a result.

      • Reply July 16, 2019

        dale thorn

        It takes time for the sound. What I did was plug into my iPhone XsMax using the larger Apple USB-A to Lightning adapter with charging port (but never charge while listening). Then I fired up a highres copy of Steven Wilson’s Luminol – the experience was amazing – full body of bass with no bloat, no hump, no boom. I tried the DF Red next, and it was good – but not the same.

      • Reply July 21, 2019


        The sound quality of the DFC has really grown on me. The clarity and the separation with the DFC are dramatic. However, I am waiting for my third DFC now since the first two had wiggling usb connectors where my DFR and DFB never had such an issue. A wiggle free DFC would be great. The sound coming out of this DAC is really quite wonderful.

        • Reply July 23, 2019


          I just spoke to Audioquest Support and, according to them, a little jiggle is expected with the new design, so apparently it’s not an issue. Good, cause I love this little item!

    • Reply July 16, 2019

      dale thorn

      The Black is much louder than the Red and Cobalt – those 2 are about the same.

    • Reply November 22, 2023

      Gordon Rankin

      Unlike Red/Cobalt, Black uses a different headphone amplifier that has fixed intervals. Red and Cobalt have 1dB changes and 64 intervals. I programmed all of these to show up as dB intervals and not %. So it should show the true level at the output.
      IEM’s with low impedance typical are much louder than headphones with higher impedance. Considering the scope of available headphones I tried to center the volume to hit the best sweet spot.

      • Reply November 23, 2023


        Thank you for the info, Gordon!

  • Reply July 9, 2019


    You have made a typo?

    First impressions – at the end of the sentence you should have written new *DAC section?


    • Reply July 9, 2019


      correct. Thanks!

    • Reply August 21, 2019

      Artsiom Falevich

      How is it compared to COZOY Takt Pro? Thanks

  • Reply July 10, 2019


    No comparison to the black? Boohoo.
    The increase in price is. Abit steep IMO, yes we’re getting the dragon tail, but, any other usb c- adapter works anyway.

    • Reply July 10, 2019


      Cobalt is a RED upgrade. To see how black compares to red, all you need to do is read the black vs red review. But probably I’ll compare black to Cobalt in the full review 😉

      I find the improvement in sound worth the price increase, though maybe $250€ would have been better

  • Reply July 10, 2019


    DragonFly Cobalt vs Chord Mojo?

    • Reply August 29, 2019


      Cobalt is a $300 DAC that costs $500 (AUD) – because it’s small and easy to carry, while Mojo is a $2500-sounding unit that costs A$700, because it’s a gateway drug into Rob’s expensive PLC DACs…

  • Reply July 12, 2019


    How does the Cobalt compare to Spectra NextDrive X?

    • Reply July 16, 2019


      i had spectra X one week ago, but i quickly had issue with the cable and send it back… i got today the DragonFly Cobalt.

      Listening with BGVP DM7 and bose Q20 iem and oneplus5 phone.

      I loved the bass on the spectra x, but i’m disappointed to don’t retreive it on the Cobalt, also, not impressed with medium details and voices, seems like a peak down somewhere in the middle range so that soundstage is not that impressive.. on the other hand, cobalt seems equilibrate, but not sure…

      Cobalt is small and very easy to switch between PC and phone, that’s nice.

      Does The cobalt worth spending 300€ with my setup,,, not sure…
      The better should be to listen to compare before bying…

  • Reply July 30, 2019


    Hi Lieven you said ‘Some on the other hand will prefer the typical tuning of the RED over that of the new Cobalt’. I have the Red and I would be most grateful if you could elaborate about the tuning of the RED. The only thing I did is to add the Jitter Bug.

  • Reply August 29, 2019


    I received my Firefly Cobalt last week and have been testing it with an iPhone, iPad Pro and with my Razer laptop. Sound output has been high quality in-ear headphones and very high quality preamp-amp-speakers. It has no effect on sound quality. I’ve even done blind listening test with someone else selecting the output. It appears to be working as the color coded lighting is tracking input sources accurately. I’m convinced this is yet more audiophile snake oil. Like Hospital grade power outlets and oxygen free copper. Reviewers like this get one for free, they get advertising and they will never admit the emperor has no clothes. Don’t be fooled. Don’t waste $300.

    • Reply August 29, 2019


      It’s not because you can’t hear the difference that it’s snake oil ;-).

  • Reply September 26, 2019


    For iPhone use & big headphones, I prefer the dragonfly black over the cobalt. Somehow the dragonfly black drives my dt1990 on iOS properly at 50% volume. while the cobalt needs to be at 75% to 80% before I can achieve the same volume. though cobalt sounds more organic overall with better instrument separation but the black sounds fuller due to proper amping..

  • Reply January 26, 2023


    For me exists
    three little difrent audioqest,Black,Red cobalt no one Like that’s cobalt is winner,is depends about source,headphones and of course user – not strange just experience,loot hear especially headphones

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