Everything a Portable, Affordable USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Should Be: Acclaimed AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt Sounds Fantastic, Offers Apple and Android Compatibility
So much for having to speak softly and carry a big (USB) stick: The latest entry in AudioQuest's see-and-hear-it-to-believe-it DragonFly family, the DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC/headphone amplifier, takes the line's award-winning performance to previously unforeseen heights all the while packing cutting-technology into an even smaller package. Measuring a minuscule 2.26 x 0.73 x 0.47 inches, DragonFly Cobalt achieves everything its sibling, DragonFly Red, does – drives any headphones via a 2.1-volt output, decodes MQA files, offers compatibility with Apple and Android devices, plays with a bit-perfect volume control – and adds a more advanced ESS ES9038Q2M DAC with a minimum-phase slow roll-off filter, an enhanced Microchip PIC32MX274 microprocessor, an elevated power-supply filter, and a form-fitting DragonTail USB-C-to-USB-A adapter. The upshot: Smooth, natural, beguiling sound along with increased processing speed, less Wi-Fi and Bluetooth fuzz, a lower noise floor, and stellar connectivity. Whether you listen at home or on the go, DragonFly Cobalt delivers price- and size-beguiling warmth, dynamics, body, tonality, and color from music.
Indeed, tunes on your computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet, powered speakers, or even stereo will benefit from richer presence, extra authority, and revealing realism with DragonFly Cobalt in your system. Designed for stunning flexibility and portability, and requiring even less power than DragonFly Red, this blue stick handles everything from 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution files to MQA. One of the secrets of its ability correlates to the implementation of GordonRankin's StreamLength asynchronous-transfer USB code and monoClock technology – whereby a single, ultra-low-jitter clock generated from the DAC chip runs both the ESS chip and micro-controller functions – that net greater resolution, clarity, and dimensionality than DACs with multiple clocks.
What's more, when you factor in DragonFly Cobalt's aptitude as a headphone amplifier, there's simply no other audiophile product that comes close for anywhere near the price. If you've never experienced what a DragonFly can accomplish, or if, like thousands upon thousands of listeners, you have but want even more of everything, we highly encourage you to audition DragonFly Cobalt risk-free at your home – and enjoy what's certain to be one of the blockbuster devices of the coming years. 100% Music Direct Guaranteed.
"In a way, this review is one of upholding the status quo. The Red is better than the Black, the Cobalt is better than the Red. However, in a way it's also nothing of the sort; what the Cobalt does push ahead of the Red and the Black by a considerable margin. It doesn't make the Red sound 'broken' because the Red (and the Black) are excellent performers in their own right, but if you can go from Red to Cobalt, do so."
—Alan Sircom, Hi-Fi+, 2019 Compact Headphone Amplifier or Amplifier/DAC of the Year Award
"First, it represents a worthy, evolutionary upgrade to the Red version. And second, it's also, quite simply, one of the best headphone amp/DACs money can buy. At $299, the DragonFly Cobalt remains perhaps the greatest bargain in all of audio."
—Alan Taffel, The Absolute Sound, Golden Ear Award
"The latest arrival in the DragonFly range is a huge step up from the already impressive Black and Red models, being capable of levels of performance that are nothing short of stellar. Fast, weighty, dramatic and super-clean, the sound is superb with portable devices, and more than impressive enough for 'main system' use, too."
—Andrew Everard, Hi-Fi News, Outstanding Product
"Is AudioQuest's DragonFly Cobalt worth the extra $100 compared with the DragonFly Red? Yes. That sense of ease it offers with long-term listening is something I don't want to do without."
—John Atkinson, Stereophile, 2020 Budget Component of the Year Award
"The sound isn't like what I hear on a reference-level system that enables me to get lost in the music on a different level, but nonetheless I get lost in the music on this album through the Cobalt."
—The Computer Audiophile, Audiophile Style
"The Cobalt model not only converts a huge range of audio formats from your computer, it also features a high-quality headphone amplifier, as well as being able to deliver great sound to a hi-fi system – and all in a package no bigger than a USB thumb-drive. It's an ideal portable audio companion."
—EISA, 2020-2021 Best Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier Award
"Timing is greatly improved, with beats locking in like puzzle pieces, so much so that it can sometimes leave the DragonFly Red feeling a tad lazy. The Cobalt's hard work is also heard as it belts out grand dynamic shifts before donning its reading glasses to contour those more diminutive quivers."
– What Hi-Fi?, 2020 Best DAC €200-300 Award
Volume Control: 64-position, 64-bit, bit-perfect
Output voltage: 2.1
Headphone Amp: ESS Sabre 9601
DAC Chip: ESS ES9038Q2M
Microcontroller: Microchip PIC32MX274
Dimensions (HWL): 0.5" x 0.7" x 2.2"