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The DragonFly Cobalt is AudioQuest’s new flagship DAC

By Kenny Yeo - on 30 Aug 2020, 11:31am

The DragonFly Cobalt is AudioQuest’s new flagship DAC

Note: This article was first published on 10 Sept 2019 and it's republished now because the Cobalt is still Audioquest's flagship portable DAC and headphone amp.

The AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt is still the size of a typical USB flash drive. (Image source: AudioQuest)

AudioQuest has a new flagship portable DAC and it’s called the DragonFly Cobalt.

The first DragonFly DAC dropped in 2012, and in the past seven or so years it has gained a reputation for outstanding value. If you are looking for a portable DAC and headphone amplifier, the DragonFly was an easy recommend.

The new DragonFly Cobalt improves on its predecessors in a few ways. Perhaps most crucially, the DAC chip has been improved. It’s now an ESS ES9038Q2M chip configured with a minimum-phase slow roll-off filter.

The USB receiver chip has been upgraded too, and now uses a Microchip PIC32MX274 processor that offers 33% more processing power and draws less power. Drawing less power is always good since it puts less of a strain on the source’s battery.

The Cobalt also boasts improved power supply filtering for a cleaner sound. AudioQuest was particularly keen to reduce noise from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular activity.

What hasn’t changed is support for high-resolution music files. The Cobalt still “only” supports 24-bit/96kHz PCM and no DSD, even if the ESS ES9038Q2M chip is capable of much more. This was done intentionally to ensure that the Cobalt will work with all devices ― Android, iOS, PC, and Mac ― without the need to install drivers.

Also unchanged is the headphone amp. So we still have the ESS Sabre 9601 headphone output chip that offers 2.1 volts of power output and 64-bit bit-perfect digital volume control.

The connector remains USB-A but AudioQuest has thoughtfully provided a USB-A female to USB-C male adapter which they lovingly call the "DragonTail." Audio output is via a 3.5mm audio jack.

The DragonFly Cobalt still connects via USB-A. (Image source: AudioQuest)

I managed to spend a few weeks with the new DragonFly Cobalt and found it to be more enjoyable than my own DragonFly Red. The Cobalt sounds more natural, more organic, and fuller. It works better with a wider genre of music. The Red, on the other hand, counters with a more energetic and punchy sound.

Both Cobalt and Red are more than capable of driving any in-ears and most full-sized headphones. Even a high impedance Sennheiser HD6XX sounded great out of it. However, power-hungry planars will still sound their best with more powerful desktop solutions.

Between the two, my personal pick is the more natural-sounding Cobalt. However, at S$399, the Cobalt commands a considerable S$100 premium over the Red which is S$299. The Red, therefore, is the value buy in the DragonFly line-up right now. Budget-conscious music lovers who are seeking a basic portable amp/DAC solution to improve the quality of their music on-the-go should check out the entry-level Black at S$199.

Find out more about the AudioQuest DragonFly DACs here. You can also buy them from the AudioQuest store on Lazada here or by clicking the price links above.

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