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Article: Subjective: AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt Review

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Thank you, Chris, for this review.

 

I have replaced my DF Red by another mobile Dac/HPamp with the ES9038Q2M chip, due to a defective headphone socket last year after 22 month of usage, and only looked back when the battery of the Topping NX4 DSD was (again) empty ....

Another DF with even less rigid hp socket doesn't cut it for me.

Cheers, Tom

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Thanks, Chris.  The original DragonFly was my entry to computer audio, so I have a very soft spot for them.  

 

Curious--what Custom IEMs were stolen?  I am getting close to biting the bullet, so I'd appreciate your recommendation.

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24 minutes ago, PeterG said:

Thanks, Chris.  The original DragonFly was my entry to computer audio, so I have a very soft spot for them.  

 

Curious--what Custom IEMs were stolen?  I am getting close to biting the bullet, so I'd appreciate your recommendation.

I had a pair of JH Audio JH13 IEMs. Loved them. 


Founder of Audiophile Style

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Thx Chris. "Bloom" is the exact impression I got from the Cobalt. I liked it. But I returned it since I have the Red. The more I listened to it, the more it seemed that it was like a different color (which it is!) more than an improvement. I am not going for a rainbow of flys, I will wait for an improved DAC (from Audioquest or someone else).


mini+Roon > dCS Rossini DAC + Rossini Master Clock >

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo G2

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Sigh. Looking at the Cobalt and Red, then looking at my on site photography laptop which when I travel is usually my system (relatively new MacBook Pro used for field processing images to show the client) with its USB-C ports. And my phone... USB-C. My tablet - Lightning port. Unfortunately the world of ports is in flux right now.

 

I blame Apple for a lot of this. Since I started using Apple stuff for tablet and laptop (employer requirement) way back when, I've had a Bag-O-Dongles. Dongles to connect laptops or tablets to any of the various ports on video projectors. Others to connect HDMI, memory cards, USB to tablet. But the Android world has jumped to USB C now. I've got dongles and adapters from everything to everything. I think it's the actual profit model for Apple.

 

Once I start visualizing a cable and dongle or adapter for connection to phone or tablet or laptop... Grrrrrr.

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I tried the cobalt and it’s very good for price but  thin sounding compared to my Hugo ... but I guess not a fair comparison. I would be curious how it compares to the McIntosh ..


Music after life

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I have a Cobalt and have been using it mostly in a desktop setup controlled by JRiver.  JRiver enables (and requires) me to downsample higher-res files to 24-96.  I have no real complaints about the sound quality of even the downsampled files in that application.  It’s comparable to what I get through a low-end LH Labs Pulse (although the latter plays even DSD natively).

 

Just for grins, I substituted the Cobalt for my Wyred 4 Sound 10th Anniversary DAC in my main system.  The cheap cable I used with the Cobalt probably explains at least some of the difference and the Cobalt generally sounded a lot thinner than the much more expensive DAC, but, on the whole, it sounded better than anyone ought to expect from a product of that size and price.  However - and this is a big “however” - it simply couldn’t play anything beyond 24-96 using my standard DLNA player.  It stuttered through those files.  I really wouldn’t recommend the Cobalt for a streaming system if you are heavily invested in hi-res, especially when there are decent uncompromised alternatives for not much more money.

 

 I don’t enjoy headphones and despise IEM’s, but I do own some $30 wireless cans from Best Buy that I use at the gym.  My Android phone connects to them via Bluetooth and keeps me entertained with low-fi Spotify and SiriusXM.  Also for grins, I attached the Cobalt to my Samsung Galaxy 9+ with the USB-C adaptor and then connected the cheap phones via cable to the Cobalt.  I was surprised at how much better everything sounded than over Bluetooth.  I suspect that the Cobalt might be at its best when connected to a phone, making mp3’s and low-fi streams sound better.  If I had more love for headphones and listened on the mobile more often away from the gym, I would be tempted to buy a much better set of cans for this application.

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1 hour ago, Mike Rubin said:

Just for grins, I substituted the Cobalt for my Wyred 4 Sound 10th Anniversary DAC in my main system.  The cheap cable I used with the Cobalt probably explains at least some of the difference and the Cobalt generally sounded a lot thinner than the much more expensive DAC, but, on the whole, it sounded better than anyone ought to expect from a product of that size and price.  However - and this is a big “however” - it simply couldn’t play anything beyond 24-96 using my standard DLNA player.  It stuttered through those files.  I really wouldn’t recommend the Cobalt for a streaming system if you are heavily invested in hi-res, especially when there are decent uncompromised alternatives for not much more money.

 

There are certainly much better $300 DACs on the market if that's what you want. They aren't small like the Cobalt, which is why they sound better and the Cobalt is portable but not up to SQ snuff. The Cobalt is for laptop/portability use.  Miniaturization costs money.


Main listening (small home office):

Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>CAPS IV Pipeline Server + Sonore 12V PS>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.
 

Secondary Listening: CAPS Pipeline>IFi iOne DAC>Schiit Freya>Kii Three . Also an SBT and a RB Pi 3B+ running piCorePlayer as an SBT emulator. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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10 hours ago, ajay556 said:

I tried the cobalt and it’s very good for price but  thin sounding compared to my Hugo ... but I guess not a fair comparison. I would be curious how it compares to the McIntosh ..

Yes--it would be kind of crazy if DF could match Hugo at 1/10 of the price.  All the DragonFlies are dramatic improvements over a Mac's built in DAC.  They make the Mac a reasonable source.

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8 hours ago, Mike Rubin said:

I have a Cobalt and have been using it mostly in a desktop setup controlled by JRiver.  JRiver enables (and requires) me to downsample higher-res files to 24-96.  I have no real complaints about the sound quality of even the downsampled files in that application.  It’s comparable to what I get through a low-end LH Labs Pulse (although the latter plays even DSD natively).

 

Just for grins, I substituted the Cobalt for my Wyred 4 Sound 10th Anniversary DAC in my main system.  The cheap cable I used with the Cobalt probably explains at least some of the difference and the Cobalt generally sounded a lot thinner than the much more expensive DAC, but, on the whole, it sounded better than anyone ought to expect from a product of that size and price.  However - and this is a big “however” - it simply couldn’t play anything beyond 24-96 using my standard DLNA player.  It stuttered through those files.  I really wouldn’t recommend the Cobalt for a streaming system if you are heavily invested in hi-res, especially when there are decent uncompromised alternatives for not much more money.

 

 I don’t enjoy headphones and despise IEM’s, but I do own some $30 wireless cans from Best Buy that I use at the gym.  My Android phone connects to them via Bluetooth and keeps me entertained with low-fi Spotify and SiriusXM.  Also for grins, I attached the Cobalt to my Samsung Galaxy 9+ with the USB-C adaptor and then connected the cheap phones via cable to the Cobalt.  I was surprised at how much better everything sounded than over Bluetooth.  I suspect that the Cobalt might be at its best when connected to a phone, making mp3’s and low-fi streams sound better.  If I had more love for headphones and listened on the mobile more often away from the gym, I would be tempted to buy a much better set of cans for this application.

The stuttering has nothing to do with the Cobalt really, more likely it is whatever is downsampling to 24/96. Frankly I don’t think any DAC below $1000 will make any difference when limited to 24/96 vs playing higher res. 

 

The Dragonflys are all at home with a mobile device, or when you’re out and about with your laptop. They are not the best you can get for the money for a desktop computer or audio system. The Cobalt in particular is truly the worst choice for use as a pure DAC at 100% volume as it introduces clipping distortion - neither the Red nor Black do this. This is the most clear statement of a flawed design in my opinion (and why I returned my Cobalt). For details see:

 

https://archimago.blogspot.com/2019/08/measurements-dragonflies-audioquest.htm


mini+Roon > dCS Rossini DAC + Rossini Master Clock >

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo G2

system pics

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8 hours ago, firedog said:

 

There are certainly much better $300 DACs on the market if that's what you want. They aren't small like the Cobalt, which is why they sound better and the Cobalt is portable but not up to SQ snuff. The Cobalt is for laptop/portability use.  Miniaturization costs money.

I disagree. There’s no difference in the chips used here vs elsewhere. Yes, they designed a motherboard to house the whole thing. Big deal.


mini+Roon > dCS Rossini DAC + Rossini Master Clock >

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo G2

system pics

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pretty happy with the iSine 10s that come with Cipher DAC lightning cable and regular headphone cables. Add in the Audeze equalization app and Qobuz sounds really good.

Less "spaghetti" is nice but I can see where if you needed noise blocking earphones, the Dragonfly Cobalt might have a place


Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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1 hour ago, miguelito said:

I disagree. There’s no difference in the chips used here vs elsewhere. Yes, they designed a motherboard to house the whole thing. Big deal.

The DAC chip is  a physically tiny part, and is irrelevant to what I wrote.
 

Yes, there is cost involved in getting a complete component built into such a small package. It's pretty basic - designing something very small that does pretty much everything that something larger does  with good quality off the shelf parts is almost always more difficult and more expensive.  It's true across the board in electronics.

 

DAC designers will tell you the chip is a very small part of the resulting sound. Two DACs with 2 different chips inside  from different companies can be made to sound alike.  Things like the PS and the analog output section make bigger differences. There are other, bigger $300 DACs on the market that measure MUCH better than the Dragonfly, and in all likelihood sound better. Those designers have fewer design constraints imposed on them by size and a lot more design options for problem solving. Easier to have quality power, shielding, internal isolation, etc. So they have an easier time getting good results if that's what they are trying for. 

The reason d'etre  for the Dragonfly is size and apparently Audioquest  is willing to compromise the results to get there, b/c they couldn't do better at their price points in that size format. They are using a high quality DAC chip, so why can't they get the results that other, better performing DACs do? Designers of desktop or tabletop DACs don't have that size excuse to fall back on, have many more directly competing models, and need to have better results if they want to compete. 


Main listening (small home office):

Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>CAPS IV Pipeline Server + Sonore 12V PS>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.
 

Secondary Listening: CAPS Pipeline>IFi iOne DAC>Schiit Freya>Kii Three . Also an SBT and a RB Pi 3B+ running piCorePlayer as an SBT emulator. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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6 hours ago, davide256 said:

pretty happy with the iSine 10s that come with Cipher DAC lightning cable and regular headphone cables. Add in the Audeze equalization app and Qobuz sounds really good.

Less "spaghetti" is nice but I can see where if you needed noise blocking earphones, the Dragonfly Cobalt might have a place

Red. Save $100 and do better.


mini+Roon > dCS Rossini DAC + Rossini Master Clock >

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo G2

system pics

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5 hours ago, firedog said:

The DAC chip is  a physically tiny part, and is irrelevant to what I wrote.
 

Yes, there is cost involved in getting a complete component built into such a small package. It's pretty basic - designing something very small that does pretty much everything that something larger does  with good quality off the shelf parts is almost always more difficult and more expensive.  It's true across the board in electronics.

 

DAC designers will tell you the chip is a very small part of the resulting sound. Two DACs with 2 different chips inside  from different companies can be made to sound alike.  Things like the PS and the analog output section make bigger differences. There are other, bigger $300 DACs on the market that measure MUCH better than the Dragonfly, and in all likelihood sound better. Those designers have fewer design constraints imposed on them by size and a lot more design options for problem solving. Easier to have quality power, shielding, internal isolation, etc. So they have an easier time getting good results if that's what they are trying for. 

The reason d'etre  for the Dragonfly is size and apparently Audioquest  is willing to compromise the results to get there, b/c they couldn't do better at their price points in that size format. They are using a high quality DAC chip, so why can't they get the results that other, better performing DACs do? Designers of desktop or tabletop DACs don't have that size excuse to fall back on, have many more directly competing models, and need to have better results if they want to compete. 

Agree, but the vast majority of the design of the board was already done with the multiple versions of the DFs. Justifying $100 for basically the same - and then botched in my opinion - design is a little bit “funny”. 


mini+Roon > dCS Rossini DAC + Rossini Master Clock >

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo G2

system pics

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> I won't even go into detail about using the Pixel because audio on Android is still a joke and a kludge. 
 

@The Computer Audiophile adding the UAPP app is not much of a kludge to me. It sends bit perfect output to external USB DACs, and is a great all-around music player serving up local files, UPnP/DLNA files, Qobuz, Tidal (with an optional MQA add-on), Google Music, internet radio, and more. Having said that, on long trips I usually carry a separate DAP too, a FiiO X5III, also running UAPP.


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1 hour ago, left channel said:

> I won't even go into detail about using the Pixel because audio on Android is still a joke and a kludge. 
 

@The Computer Audiophile adding the UAPP app is not much of a kludge to me. It sends bit perfect output to external USB DACs, and is a great all-around music player serving up local files, UPnP/DLNA files, Qobuz, Tidal (with an optional MQA add-on), Google Music, internet radio, and more. Having said that, on long trips I usually carry a separate DAP too, a FiiO X5III, also running UAPP.

I use that app, as it’s a must on Android. However, an absolute requirement for me is offline music. The app can’t do it. Also the whole volume control thing is a mess with that app and the DragonFly. The Qobuz interface isn’t nearly as good through that app. 

 

On iOS everything works perfect with the native Qobuz app. 


Founder of Audiophile Style

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