I could say the new Black V1.5 DragonFly for the moment is the “lowest ranked” and cheapest DragonFly in AudioQuest’s product line-up but that wouldn’t do the unit justice as its performance isn’t low at all. The DragonFly units just keep getting better and if you’re looking for an amp/dac combo under $200, you just can’t ignore AudioQuest anymore.
For greater overall performance, both the new DragonFly models incorporate an improved 32-bit ESS Sabre DAC chip: the 9010 in Black and the higher-performance 9016 in Red. (Both of which employ minimum-phase filtering for naturally detailed, more authentic sound). While DragonFly Black uses the same headphone amp and analog volume control found in DragonFly v1.2, DragonFly Red includes the latest ESS headphone amp and a bit-perfect digital volume control that resides on the 9016 DAC chip itself. This implementation should ensure maximum fidelity, dynamic contrast, and signal-to-noise ratio.
DragonFly Black puts out 1.2 volts: enough power to successfully drive all preamplifier input circuits and a wide range of today’s efficient headphones. Meanwhile, with its higher 2.1-volt output, DragonFly Red will be compatible with a wider range of headphones, including power-hungry, low-efficiency models. See tests later in this article.
While the DAC chips are remarkably powerful and sophisticated, AudioQuest has intentionally limited DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red’s processing capabilities to 24-bit/96kHz resolution. This makes using the DragonFlies as simple as it’s always been: they’re fully compatible with PCs without having to download and install new drivers. I can understand why AudioQuest decided to go this route but at the same time it to me is annoying as a whole lot of music in my library has a resolution higher than 96kHz. As a result my Foobar, on shuffle play, stops working every time it wants to play one of these files. Just be aware of this if you have a lot of really high resolution music files stored on your source.
Both versions also have upgradeable drivers and in the future you’ll be able to upgrade them via a dedicated AQ software. You can also find a complete overview/comparison of the 3 latest DragonFly units on AudioQuest’s website here: http://www.audioquest.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/dragonfly-spec-sheet-darktheme.pdf
Unfortunately I never got to hear the DragonFly V1.0 and my DragonFly journey “only” started with the V1.2 but from that point on, the DragonFly units just got sounding better and better. The Black is a clear improvement over the V1.2. Where in the V1.2 the voices were more forward and the mids were more to the back, they are more leveled out in the Black version. Voices are still a little more forward sounding but the mids have gotten more body. The level of detail and the instrumental separation clearly is on a higher level in the new Black version. Also the sound stage depth seems to have gotten an upgrade compared to before. It makes the Black a lot more engaging, rich and realistic sounding where the old version had a more digital tone to it.
I find the Black to be the most neutral sounding one of the new DragonFly units and it’s also the most energetic one. I could have called it more aggressive sounding but that might have given you a wrong idea of the Black. It’s more that it’s fast sounding with good attack and prat. While the soundstage of the Black 1.5 in all dimensions is better than the V1.2, it still isn’t the widest or deepest. If you can read between the lines you understand that it’s good but the Red’s is even better. Bass in the Black is tight and fast but it isn’t the most detailed, layered or deep bass. Bass in the V1.2 is a bit looser and has less detail.
The mids section of the Black, as said, is now more leveled then before (more body) but I still find it to be a tad more to the back which makes the voices come out up front. Like with the bass, the mid-section in the Black has more detail and more body than before. The mids while already an improvement could be more spacious though. The treble section in both units is soft but it has detail enough. The new Black’s treble is further extended than before but the overall presentation still is on the soft side resulting in harmless and easygoing treble for everyone. A little more treble focus could have made the sound even more energetic though.
“Sound” continues on Page 3, after the Click HERE or below