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AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt Review (Portable Headphone Adapter)

Billy Budapest

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....and then again, my son listens his IEMs through $7-this, and does not want anything else. Not at all.


View attachment 128187
That’s because it’s pretty decent. Not great compared to many other much more expensive dongles, but for the $7.00 and minuscule size, it’s pretty crazy that it offers acceptable performance. Must have taken a lot of engineering hours. Compare it to the Cobalt—the Apple dongle smokes it.
 

firedog

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Thanks Amir,

Your review confirms / supports those by @mansr (referred to above) and Archimago.

http://archimago.blogspot.com/2019/08/measurements-dragonflies-audioquest.html#more

I own the red dragonfly and admit to enjoying its sound and convenience, however, the SMSL dongle that I also bought at half the price is superior in ever way.

The overriding impression I get is that Audioquest products are not well engineered and that they are at the high cost / low value end of the HiFi spectrum.
Yep, and I'm pretty sure there was another measurements/objective review of the Cobalt at the time it was introduced that agreed: compared it to the much cheaper "Red", and it had much worse distortion, etc.
In spite of that, subjective reviews pretty much all praise it as a significant upgrade....
 
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I have the Cobalt, the Red, EarMen Sparrow, Shanling UA2, Tempotec Sonata HD Pro, Tempotec BHD...and the Cobalt is the most musical and most natural sounding of the lot. So far I have had no problems.

I don't know how much emphasis is put on the quality of the dac implementation in this review/discussion - and how much of the price is related to that. The Shanling UA2 has the same dac chip as the Cobalt, it is way more powerful, costs $85....but does not sound as good...it has a really bumpy, elevated bass and an attenuated midrange....but is is great value. So get this one instead then...

Any company that sells dacs, be it Topping or Schiit, for example, has differently priced models....and you can spend infinite on a dac alone...before any amplification.
 
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I examine this in my own review of the DragonFly Cobalt, in particular examining the maximum levels that are possible without high levels of distortion into different impedances: https://www.stereophile.com/content...obalt-usb-da-headphone-amplifier-measurements

I wrote in the review's listening section: "When the Cobalt is required to drive lower impedances, the volume control has to be backed off to avoid clipping the DAC's output amplifier."

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile
John,
I am not a technical expert on measurements (but have a classical music education) and was pointed to your and Archimago's measurements.

But when I first put Cobalt into my ears...erm, I mean plugged into my Mac... I instantly...and I mean instantly, noticed its musicality and natural sound. And this held up against all my other comparable devices, most of which sound rather technical (Khadas Tone2 Pro, for example).

I only recently watched the respective John Guttenberg video...and he said essentially what I heard.

So, when listening to Mozart, I grab and enjoy the Cobalt while ignoring/having been unaware of the measurements...which probably do not relate to this aspect of the dac implementation. But my Mozart sounds somewhat "plugged in" with the more technical dongles.

What is wrong with me :) ?
 
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So the Meze 99 Classics are not very good? I almost bought them as there are many reviews lauding them.

I have learned to never trust a reviewer on Youtube with affiliate links in the description.
Ermmm...you mean salesmen on commission :)?
 

raistlin65

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But when I first put Cobalt into my ears...erm, I mean plugged into my Mac... I instantly...and I mean instantly, noticed its musicality and natural sound. And this held up against all my other comparable devices, most of which sound rather technical (Khadas Tone2 Pro, for example).
....
What is wrong with me :) ?
The AudioQuest brand is designed to make you perceive their equipment to sound better relative to the money you spend on it. Thanks to expectation bias.
 

VintageFlanker

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I have the Cobalt, the Red, EarMen Sparrow, Shanling UA2, Tempotec Sonata HD Pro, Tempotec BHD...and the Cobalt is the most musical and most natural sounding of the lot. So far I have had no problems
I have absolutely no idea what musical or natural mean.

Good thing about such products is that they are very easy to be compared blind: Just keep the same HF on your head and someone may randomly do the switch in your back for you. But such comparisons would have no point if not level matched.

Let see if you still prefer the Cobalt once you stop to think about the 300$ you spent. Oh, about that... you've been robbed:
 

AudioSceptic

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I will admit, I am a former owner of a Dragonfly Cobalt... In Jan 2020, I finally decided to expand my 30+ years of speaker-based music enjoyment and bought a pair of Grado SR-325e‘s and a Cobalt. I mostly listened Tidal over my iPhone 9 and/or iPad. To address the battery issue, I dusted off my wife’s old iPhone battery bank and bought a generic ($11) USB “camera” splitter, which worked like a charm. I did like the sound - both Redbook and MQA titles were fine...

...And then I joined ASR. :) This is where I learned that a $300 for the pleasure I was getting was way too much, and there are better alternatives. So, I sold the Cobalt (after over half year) and bought EarMen Sparrow (for $200). The one with both single-ended and balanced outputs and the one they market as ”sparrows eat dragonflies for breakfast”. I liked the sound through my easy-to-drive Grado’s... but then (1) I bought more demanding HifiMan HE-400i’s, (2) @amirm finally measured the Sparrow, and @IVX came up with his (~$100) E1DA 9038D...

Bottom line, I learned it first-hand. Cobalt is not too bad, especially for easy loads. But not for $300. And better sounding and measuring under-$100 options are there today. And a USB/Lightning splitter, even a no-name, easily solves the limited iPhone power issue. And a stationary DAC+headphone amp setup might be even better, but it's a different story...


View attachment 128184
There was no iPhone 9. Was that a typo for 7, 8 or X?
 
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Somehow most of us knew this thing would measure like shit !!!

I was hoping it would be a legit product. But how could it be? They make money on fancy cables that don't do anything special.
 

Lacas

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I have the Cobalt, the Red, EarMen Sparrow, Shanling UA2, Tempotec Sonata HD Pro, Tempotec BHD...and the Cobalt is the most musical and most natural sounding of the lot. So far I have had no problems.

I don't know how much emphasis is put on the quality of the dac implementation in this review/discussion - and how much of the price is related to that. The Shanling UA2 has the same dac chip as the Cobalt, it is way more powerful, costs $85....but does not sound as good...it has a really bumpy, elevated bass and an attenuated midrange....but is is great value. So get this one instead then...

Any company that sells dacs, be it Topping or Schiit, for example, has differently priced models....and you can spend infinite on a dac alone...before any amplification.
Hi, I have tried several dongle dacs (Dragonfly Red and Cobalt, Tempotec Sonata HD Pro, Meizu Hifi Pro, Zorloo Ztella, Lotoo PAW S1, E1DA 9038S G3, and I found the Lotoo PAW S1 and the G3 to be the most musical between them.
I suggest you to try the E1DA 9038S G3. I think it is the most mature 9038Q2M implementation by far. With their Tweak9038 app you can change the filters, control 2nd and 3rd harmonic distorsion (built in features of the chip),etc... so you can tailor the sound signiture to your needs or even to the music you listen to, on the fly. I have seen this feature until now only on desktop ESS devices like SU-9. There are some firmwares with unique setting, that you can use as presets. The linear phase slow roll-off_SE firmware is quasi 'tube emulation'. I use the dac with this firmware, and it is very musical with totally black background. If I wish i have the opportunity to change for a more technical sound. The G3 combines great measurements/professional engineering with musical sound and perfect usability. The achilles heels are: higher power consumption, sensitivity to RF noise and only 2,5 balanced out. The sensitivity can be reduced mostly with the usage of DDHifi TC05L USB-C cable, and since there is the E1DA 9038D with the 3,5mm output available. In summary the G3 is a very innovative product for 100USD. From the listed dacs, I kept the G3 and the Meizu Hifi Pro (Lotoo I just sold because I started to build a desktop rig :). I think, Audioquest should have come out with a product like this based on the 9038Q2M.
 
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Hi, I have tried several dongle dacs (Dragonfly Red and Cobalt, Tempotec Sonata HD Pro, Meizu Hifi Pro, Zorloo Ztella, Lotoo PAW S1, E1DA 9038S G3, and I found the Lotoo PAW S1 and the G3 to be the most musical between them.
I suggest you to try the E1DA 9038S G3. I think it is the most mature 9038Q2M implementation by far. With their Tweak9038 app you can change the filters, control 2nd and 3rd harmonic distorsion (built in features of the chip),etc... so you can tailor the sound signiture to your needs or even to the music you listen to, on the fly. I have seen this feature until now only on desktop ESS devices like SU-9. There are some firmwares with unique setting, that you can use as presets. The linear phase slow roll-off_SE firmware is quasi 'tube emulation'. I use the dac with this firmware, and it is very musical with totally black background. If I wish i have the opportunity to change for a more technical sound. The G3 combines great measurements/professional engineering with musical sound and perfect usability. The achilles heels are: higher power consumption, sensitivity to RF noise and only 2,5 balanced out. The sensitivity can be reduced mostly with the usage of DDHifi TC05L USB-C cable, and since there is the E1DA 9038D with the 3,5mm output available. In summary the G3 is a very innovative product for 100USD. From the listed dacs, I kept the G3 and the Meizu Hifi Pro (Lotoo I just sold because I started to build a desktop rig :). I think, Audioquest should have come out with a product like this based on the 9038Q2M.
Interesting. Co-blogger Larry assigns better sound to the new $85 Shanling UA2 over the E1DA - I have not tested the E1DA. The Shanling has not been investigated here yet, and I look forward to it :). To me, in comparison to more expensive models, the UA2 has a bit of a lean midrange...but lots of power.

There is also a potentially interesting Astell & Kern dongle...it is amazing what selection the market offers these days.
 

Jimbob54

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Yep, and I'm pretty sure there was another measurements/objective review of the Cobalt at the time it was introduced that agreed: compared it to the much cheaper "Red", and it had much worse distortion, etc.
In spite of that, subjective reviews pretty much all praise it as a significant upgrade....
That's not a fault, that's a sublime piece of sonic engineering
 

Rottmannash

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Big names? Are you kidding? None of those brands have any market share in US. Most don't even sell a phone here anymore (e.g. Nokia). Even worldwide they are MIA. As for the table you post, a bunch of those are not flagship phones. Samsung A series for example are all mid-tier phones.

Top phone brands worldwide (outside of China) are iPhone, Samsung and Google. Google only has one phone with headphone jack. Samsung's flagship phones do not. I know, I just looked to see if I should replace my Samsung S8+ and there simply is no choice available from any manufacturer.

For all intent and purposes, headphone jack is history in top-end phones with LG departure.
Upgrade to the S10+. That's what I'm typing on now. Has a jack and sounds good but not great. Am using the E1DA which takes it to another level.
 
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