The differences with the DragonFly Red are very much there and the DAC chip difference clearly is audible. Overall the Red gives you better layering from the lows to the highs and it has better depth and layering with even more body compared to the Black. I find the Red version to be a little warmer and more unforced/relaxed sounding than the Black one and that brings a lot more emotion and musicality to the sound. The Red version sounds a lot richer.
The Red has more bass body and it goes deeper compared to the Black with better layering and detail. It’s the good kind of qualitative and airy bass although the Black’s bass feels a little tighter and faster. The increased bass body is never too much and it surely doesn’t run into the mids. The mids, which also have more body, flow nicely from the bass and have the same good amount of air and layering. Bass and mids on the Red are more layered, go deeper, wider and have more detail resulting in a very musical, yet detailed and realistic presentation. Treble still is presented in the same soft kind of way even though it might have a little more detail. Treble maybe is a litter further extended but it isn’t much.
One of the headphones I ended up using a lot with the DragonFlies is the Hifiman Edition-S. Both units have more than enough power to drive this headphones and volume always had to be turned down by a lot. The S sounds very engaging and musical with the DragonFly units and depending on tuning I was in the mood for I switched between the faster Black and the smoother Red. The Sennheiser HD650 with its 300Ohm impedance is a harder to drive headphone and while I still prefer to listen to the HD650 on tubes, especially the Red Dragonfly made it sound very engaging and musical. Volume wise you of course have to seriously turn it up but there is headroom left.
Sennheiser’s HD800S with the bigger bass and thicker mids sounds surprisingly nice on the Black but it sounds even better on the Red. Good bass, good mids but at higher volumes the sound seems to start to distort, I still recommend a full sized desktop unit for this kind of headphones. Beyerdynamic’s DT770Pro is an easier drive headphone and so neither of the DragonFly units had a problem with it. With the Black you get good and full bodied bass and good speed overall. With the Red I find the bass to lose a little of control and I prefer the faster sounding signature of the Black with this headphones.
With sensitive monitors like the CustomArt 8.2 (an 8-driver ciem), both the Red and Black were dead silent and had enough range on the dial to listen to them at very low volumes. I wasn’t particularly a fan of this pairing though as there was no magic with the 8.2 which sounds excellent in balanced mode. The VE ZEN with its 160Ohm impedance plays best on the Red DragonFly. I don’t know what it is but I clearly prefer full sized headphones over in-ear monitors with the DragonFly units.
The red one is the best sounding DragonFly up to date even though some listeners might prefer the more neutral less bodied and faster sound signature of the Black. Once you’ve listened to either of these versions you don’t want to go back to your original V1 or V1.2, they’re just that much better. Each DragonFly is dead silent with all of the headphones I tried them with and I didn’t need the JitterBug to get that result.
On top of that these new models work on a whole lot more portable devices and you always get a desktop sound delivered to your ear and headphones, a sound with a higher quality than your normal phone will provide you with. Another advantage is that the DragonFly is small and it is much easier to “stack” with your mobile phone compared to let’s say a Chord Mojo. I love what AudioQuest is doing with the DragonFly. The sound quality of both of the units is very good and especially the Red one is impressive. The Black is going for only $99 while the TOTL Red will set you back $199. I know that is double the price but the upgrade in sound definitely is there. With all my headphones I tried the DragonFlies with, I mostly kept going back to the Red version but if you’re on a smaller budget, the Black won’t let you down.
To me the DragonFly is an ideal DAC for at work or for when I’m on the go with just my laptop, phone or tablet. It gives you a desktop quality sound for a fraction of the price. I always have a DragonFly with me in my bag in case I forget the DAC or amp I’m supposed to be testing in the office or at home. I was going to say DragonFly is a great backup and it never disappoints, but it’s not really a backup as it simply sounds great.
While I’m very pleased with the sound quality I still don’t recommend using them as your main driver/amplifier for the TOTL and very hard to drive headphones. In those cases a full sized desktop amp will still make your headphones perform on a higher level, but it also costs you a hell of a lot more in comparison to the easily affordable DragonFly. For some reason I prefer listening to my (custom) IEMs (in balanced configuration) from one of my balanced DAPs or other sources, but that’s just my personal preference.
I seriously doubt there are better DAC/Amp combinations in this price category and especially in such a small package. If Headfonia would hand out medals, the DragonFly Red would surely get one. Yes, it’s that nice.