Au­dio­quest Drag­on­fly Red £169

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Awards 2018 -

So, what does Au­dio­quest’s con­sid­er­ably pricier USB DAC of­fer that the sound­key doesn’t? Not much in the way of bulk for your buck, cer­tainly. It also can’t get above 24-bit/96khz in terms of file sup­port.

But the Drag­on­fly Red has an ad­vanced DAC and head­phone amp, plus “bit-per­fect dig­i­tal vol­ume con­trol con­tained on the DAC chip it­self”. A volt­age out­put of 2.1v makes driv­ing de­mand­ing head­phones easy, too. In­deed, the Au­dio­quest gets you not so much as a step but a leg up in per­for­mance. More than enough to jus­tify its price tag? You bet.

There’s real sonic weight to the Red’s de­liv­ery. This is partly in the form of bass ex­ten­sion, but also in the ex­tra body given to each and every note. There’s three-di­men­sion­al­ity, so­lid­ity and tex­ture here. Full-bodied and de­tailed, with ex­cel­lent low-level dy­nam­ics, the Red is a nat­u­ral, sub­tle and ex­pres­sive lis­ten.

It’s also well or­gan­ised. A 24-bit file of Ra­dio­head’s Burn The Witch is fully al­low­ing you to pick out and ad­mire every thread of the glo­ri­ously com­pli­cated ar­range­ment. The whole track builds, be­com­ing ever more fran­tic and lay­ered, and when it sud­denly ends, you feel you’ve just ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing gen­uinely dra­matic. There’s lit­tle of this drama through lesser DACS.

The lows reach new highs

Even com­par­a­tively low-res streams (from Spo­tify, for ex­am­ple) get a hefty improve­ment in the de­tail, def­i­ni­tion and dy­namic de­part­ments – as strong a case for the Red as the 24-bit stuff.

The fact that the Red can work with An­droid (check your hand­set can out­put au­dio over USB) and Ap­ple smart­phones (us­ing Ap­ple’s cam­era adapter) in ad­di­tion to laptops and com­put­ers means this supremely com­pact and con­ve­nient de­vice can be taken any­where for an im­me­di­ate mu­si­cal boost.

Hav­ing the Drag­on­fly logo light up in dif­fer­ent colours to tell you the file for­mat it’s han­dling re­mains an el­e­gant and in­stant method of de­liv­er­ing mind-eas­ing in­for­ma­tion, too.

We have some reser­va­tions about the har­di­ness of that red fin­ish – Au­dio­quest pro­vides a pouch as a tacit ad­mis­sion of its vul­ner­a­bil­ity – but in every other re­spect the Drag­on­fly Red is a pretty per­fect com­puter (or smart­phone) mu­sic up­grade – as three Awards at­test.

If you didn’t think su­perb sound and ex­treme porta­bil­ity could go to­gether, lis­ten to this

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