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Review: Audioquest DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC

The DragonFly Cobalt is the all new member of the Audioquest family of portable USB DAC/headphone amps (after it's award-winning predecessors: the Red and the Black). Representing a total redesign and update, Cobalt brings better performance than ever before in one of the smallest form factors of any DAC on the market. The Cobalt combats the noise associated with digital files to preserve musical details, particularly when it comes to high-res audio. Connect to your Mac, PC, iOS or Android device, and you will experience a dramatic improvement in sound quality over the built-in audio boards. 

It starts with a rewrite of asynchronous algorithms, a 33% increase to processor speed, and an upgraded DAC chip (ES9038Q2M), all while reducing power consumption, wrapping in power filtering, and still reducing overall size by 10%. While that sound more like repairs needed on the Millennium Falcon after making another unadvised shortcut through an asteroid field, it actually all adds up to the hottest new piece of tech in the mobile and streaming music world.

A 2.1v amplifier is strong enough to push nearly any wired headphones on the market (even Audeze LCD-3s!).  Plus, you can also use it as a preamp for a traditional stereo setup, car audio application, and more. This is easily one of our top picks in the portable category for best audiophile DAC on the market. Check out the video below for more.

The Details:

  • New, more advanced ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with a minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound.
  • Microchip's superb PIC32MX274 microprocessor draws less current and increases processing speed by 33%.
  • Improved power-supply filtering that specifically increases immunity to WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular noise.
  • Dimensions: 2.26" x 0.73" x 0.47"
  • Comes with an Audioquest Dragontail USB-A to male USB-C adaptor included in the box

Sidebar FAQ: What’s a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter)? It’s the computer chip responsible for translating the 1s and 0s of digital files into the analog waves of music we can enjoy. Or, to quote our friends at Audioquest: "DragonFly plugs into a computer’s USB port to bypass the computer’s compromised audio circuitry and deliver cleaner, clearer, more naturally beautiful sound to headphones, powered speakers, and complete audio systems. Small, affordable, easy to use, and remarkably effective."

AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter

AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter

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Video Transcript

"Hi, everyone. It's Adam with World Wide Stereo. Today, I'm excited to show you the DragonFly Cobalt. So the DragonFly Cobalt is now the third offering in this line. They have the Black, the Red, and now the Cobalt. These are a brand of USB DAC and headphone amplifiers. So what the heck is that?

A DAC is a digital to analog converter. If you think of music, think of a guitar, when you pluck a string and you hear the vibrations come out in the air, that translates and comes into your ear, and that's what you hear. That's analog sound, okay? Well, we're streaming things now. That's digital, so it's a digital representation of that analog sound. So in order to play it back somewhere along the line, that digital information needs to get converted back to analog, hence the name digital to analog converter.

So by connecting this to that kind of device, you're taking the music out of your phone, tablet, or computer and allowing the music to be made here. And then you can connect this to either a pair of headphones, you could connect it to your stereo system in your house, and now we're getting great, clean sound coming out of that as opposed to using your computer, your tablet, or your phone which, again, wasn't really designed to play great music.

One cool feature on the DragonFly is when you're listening to things, the DragonFly logo on the front will change different colors, anywhere from green, blue, amber, magenta, or purple. Purple is a good one. That's one of my favorites because that means I'm listening to MQA, which sounds terrific. So I mentioned before this is the third offering in the line. So what makes it better than the Black or the Red? First, it has a brand new DAC in it.

The digital to analog converter is much better than it was before, so it can give you cleaner and better analog sound than the two other models. It also has a new microprocessor in it, so a computer. It's faster. And, always, a faster computer is better, but because it's faster, it uses less power. So when you plug in your headphones, it's the first thing I notice with this guy, is that the headphones seem to have a lot more power to them. So they also put in now a new power supply filter to help get rid of unwanted noise.

There are things like cell data, Bluetooth transmissions, and Wi-Fi flying all over the place, and all that can get in here and affect the performance. So included in the box, obviously, the DragonFly Cobalt. You will get a leather pouch, and also the USB-C to USB-A adapter. Now, I personally use an iPhone with a Lightning connector, so if you happen to use an iPhone, you're going to need to run out and grab a Lightning to USB adapter.

There's a couple of them out there, and if you use an older Android phone that has a Micro USB connection, you will need a Micro USB to USB-A connector. So I've been personally using the DragonFly Red for quite some time now, and love the product. But when I got my hands on the Cobalt, I instantly noticed the first time I plugged it in how much quieter things got and how much more power I had, and that has a lot to do with the new microprocessor that's in here.

When I plugged it into my iPhone, I almost could never ever go back to just plugging headphones directly into my iPhone. It was so harsh in comparison, and with the DragonFly Cobalt, everything was so relaxed sounding and wide open. I could really listen for hours on end with this. This is the DragonFly Cobalt. It'll be available online at worldwidestereo.com, or if you happen to be in the area, you can stop by our Ardmore or Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania showrooms.

We offer free shipping, 60-day return policy, and we are authorized dealers for everything that we sell here. If you have any questions, you can leave them in the comments section below or call or email us at any time. Please remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel. This is Adam with World Wide Stereo reminding you to listen to music every day. So long."

***AudioQuest has updated the naming of the sample rate colors to more accurately reflect the actual colors of the Cobalt LED. For Cobalt only, the 88.2kHz LED is now “Yellow” (previously Amber) and the 96kHz LED is now “Light Blue” (previously Magenta).***

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