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Review and Measurements of DACPort HD and Dragonfly Red

amirm

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#41
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#42
This is a review and detailed measurements/comparison of AudioQuest Dragonfly Red and CEntrance DACPort HD portable, "thumb drive" sized DAC and headphone amplifiers. Both are kind loan from members. The Dragonfly Red retails for USD $200 from Amazon and DACPort HD for $179.

Physically the DACport HD is fair bit larger than Audioquest although in grand scheme of things, the differential is small:


The Dragonfly Red is made out some kind of metal and runs very cool. The DACPort HD is made out of lighter weight aluminum and runs fair bit warmer.

The DACPort HD has volume control and low/high gain, neither one of which exists on AudioQuest Red. It also supports a range of formats up to 384 kHz PCM sampling and DSD while the Dragonfly Red is stuck in the last decade, limited to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM only.

The DACPort HD requires a cable to connect to USB Port. The Dragonfly as you see just plugs in.

Let's get into measurements and see how they compare.

Measurements
Let's start with Dragonfly Red:
View attachment 19698

Nice to see 2 volt output which means you can use this as DAC with the same nominal output that desktop DACs have. Distortion/SINAD though is not so hot though. Here is the DACPort HD:

View attachment 19699

Voltage output jumps up to more than 4 volts which bodes well for the amount of power it can product. Distortion remains the same though although you gain a few dB by using low gain mode.

Putting them both in context of DACs tested (portable and otherwise), we see them land at the top of tier 4 or bottom of tier 3:

View attachment 19700

Let's test the intermoduation distortion but unlike before, the IMD is plotted against output voltage as opposed to input digital value:
View attachment 19702

In high gain mode, the DACPort HD has higher noise which dominates the performance until the end. The Dragonfly Red has much lower noise but its output starts to saturate pretty early and distortion rises as a result. Low Gain in DACPort though nearly matches the noise floor of Dragonfly Red so you could have that performance with DACPort also.

Jitter and noise is comparable:
View attachment 19703

Both are doing well here and there is no audible concern.

Let's look at all important power versus distortion starting with 300 ohm load:

View attachment 19704

The same performance as IMD test repeats here except we can now quantify the amount of power. Clearly the DACPort HD is more capable, producing 5X more power than Dragonfly Red. Same theme continues at 33 ohm:

View attachment 19705

Here the gap widens even more with DACPort HD in high gain producing an astonishing 0.3 watts of power! This little guy as a lot of mojo under its unassuming case.

Putting all of this together against other small USB DAC & Amps, and sorting based on power at 300 ohm we get:
View attachment 19706

That is a commanding lead for the CEntrance DACPort HD. It has a bit less power in 300 ohm compared to Apogee Grove but then runs circles around it at 33 ohm due to much higher current availability. The tiny USB-C dongles disappear in the dust.

Output impedance is similar although the Dragonfly Red has the edge:
View attachment 19707

Neither should be a concern for all but lowest and wildest impedance headphones you may find.

Since the DACPort HD has a volume control, I decided to run the channel balance test against it:
View attachment 19708

Boy, I did not expect this. The volume control feels like a cheap little potentiometer which I predicted would have horrible balance. Not so at all. There is zero deviation until the end, indicating that it is a mono pot that is sampled. That digital value is likely then used to change the volume in the DAC chip. Very nice!

Listening Tests
I hooked up both units to my AB selector, ganged both units in Roon and started to play my bass heavy headphone test tracks. At similar volume, the fidelity is close but the DACPort has clear headroom. Increasing its volume past what Dragonfly Red could deliver resulted in much more satisfying bass with HD-650 headphones. Highs remained cleaner and the better dynamics resulted in nicer sense of space around instruments. While I had to keep the Dragonfly Red at max to get "pleasurable" volumes, I could operate the DACPort HD at 70 to 100%.

Similar story repeated with Hifiman HE-400i. The DACPort HD makes you almost forget you are generating music out of this little box. The Dragonfly Red not so much.

Fascinating thing happened with this track from Laurie Anderson called My Compensation,

It is a mix of deep bass and vocals. The DACPort HD handled it fine but on Dragonfly Red the sound would constantly mute/volume limit. Clearly it lacks sufficient power reservoir to handle the peaks in this track.

Conclusions
I have gotten many requests to review the CEntrance DACPort HD and have not had time to review it until now. It is a shame because this is one performant thumb-drive sized USB DAC and Headphone amp. It powers headphones that normally would require desktop DAC and Amps. It doesn't put those products to shame but does with other small devices. Its features such as dual gain settings and perfect channel balance nicely add to the equation. As such, the DACPort HD gets my recommendation for this class of devices.

The Dragonfly Red would have done much better had it not been in the presence of DACPort HD. It costs more, has less features and has outdated format support. So I can't really recommend it even though I understand its popularity.

-------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

The cost of lobster and Dungeness crab have gone through the roof. Please help me afford weekly dinners of those by donating using:
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or
upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
The Resonessence Herus and Herus+ have been interesting to me since I recall reading that the Resonessence team were part from the ESS Technology, so maybe there's good performance on this DAC/Amp even though I feel they're priced too high. Also on a side note, I believe a really well measuring small DAC/Amp could be achieved considering what LG has done integrating their Quad DAC technology (ESS mobile chips) on some of their phones.

Herus:
https://www.resonessencelabs.com/shop/herus/

Herus+:
https://www.resonessencelabs.com/shop/herus-plus/
 

amirm

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#43
The Resonessence Herus and Herus+ have been interesting to me since I recall reading that the Resonessence team were part from the ESS Technology, so maybe there's good performance on this DAC/Amp even though I feel they're priced too high. Also on a side note, I believe a really well measuring small DAC/Amp could be achieved considering what LG has done integrating their Quad DAC technology (ESS mobile chips) on some of their phones.

Herus:
https://www.resonessencelabs.com/shop/herus/

Herus+:
https://www.resonessencelabs.com/shop/herus-plus/
Ouch, they are hugely expensive for such little devices. The measured specs don't show great performance either (90 dB SINAD).
 

garbulky

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#44
Hello, I have a thumb drive DAC and headphone amplifier called MUSILAND MU2PLUS. The device is from China and its core uses a "CS43130M" so I will easily get a "1.7VRMS" signal. I got some interesting results through "RMAA"
View attachment 19711
View attachment 19712
View attachment 19713
View attachment 19714
View attachment 19715
View attachment 19716
View attachment 19717
Is this for real? How does such a device have a 140 db noise floor or any of those specs and measurements you posted?
 

amirm

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#45
Is this for real? How does such a device have a 140 db noise floor or any of those specs and measurements you posted?
You routinely see that in my measurements too. The 140 dB is the noise floor of FFT, not the device. There is a thing called FFT gain that allows the measurement noise floor to be lowered a ton depending on how many points are used in the FFT. You can get 30 to 40 dB improvement here. So don't go by that.
 
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#46
Ouch, they are hugely expensive for such little devices. The measured specs don't show great performance either (90 dB SINAD).
Yeah, at least they reach 2.4 Vrms and would be interesting to see how they manage power prior to clipping and if they do with their posted specs. Yet again, too expensive. Still feel the DragonFly Red is a good choice for mobile use (phone and laptop) but still expensive, at least I got mine for $170 through Ebay using their 15% off coupon (maximum $100 off) which they regularly put and that's when I usually buy stuff, got a Khadas Tone Board for $70 that way too!
 

DDF

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#47
You routinely see that in my measurements too. The 140 dB is the noise floor of FFT, not the device. There is a thing called FFT gain that allows the measurement noise floor to be lowered a ton depending on how many points are used in the FFT. You can get 30 to 40 dB improvement here. So don't go by that.
The following link (and attached snippet) provides a good overview of the effect amirm is describing
https://www.analog.com/media/en/training-seminars/tutorials/MT-001.pdf

FFT processing gain.JPG
 
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#48
This is a review and detailed measurements/comparison of AudioQuest Dragonfly Red and CEntrance DACPort HD portable, "thumb drive" sized DAC and headphone amplifiers. Both are kind loan from members. The Dragonfly Red retails for USD $200 from Amazon and DACPort HD for $179.

Physically the DACport HD is fair bit larger than Audioquest although in grand scheme of things, the differential is small:


The Dragonfly Red is made out some kind of metal and runs very cool. The DACPort HD is made out of lighter weight aluminum and runs fair bit warmer.

The DACPort HD has volume control and low/high gain, neither one of which exists on AudioQuest Red. It also supports a range of formats up to 384 kHz PCM sampling and DSD while the Dragonfly Red is stuck in the last decade, limited to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM only.

The DACPort HD requires a cable to connect to USB Port. The Dragonfly as you see just plugs in.

Let's get into measurements and see how they compare.

Measurements
Let's start with Dragonfly Red:
View attachment 19698

Nice to see 2 volt output which means you can use this as DAC with the same nominal output that desktop DACs have. Distortion/SINAD though is not so hot though. Here is the DACPort HD:

View attachment 19699

Voltage output jumps up to more than 4 volts which bodes well for the amount of power it can product. Distortion remains the same though although you gain a few dB by using low gain mode.

Putting them both in context of DACs tested (portable and otherwise), we see them land at the top of tier 4 or bottom of tier 3:

View attachment 19700

Let's test the intermoduation distortion but unlike before, the IMD is plotted against output voltage as opposed to input digital value:
View attachment 19702

In high gain mode, the DACPort HD has higher noise which dominates the performance until the end. The Dragonfly Red has much lower noise but its output starts to saturate pretty early and distortion rises as a result. Low Gain in DACPort though nearly matches the noise floor of Dragonfly Red so you could have that performance with DACPort also.

Jitter and noise is comparable:
View attachment 19703

Both are doing well here and there is no audible concern.

Let's look at all important power versus distortion starting with 300 ohm load:

View attachment 19704

The same performance as IMD test repeats here except we can now quantify the amount of power. Clearly the DACPort HD is more capable, producing 5X more power than Dragonfly Red. Same theme continues at 33 ohm:

View attachment 19705

Here the gap widens even more with DACPort HD in high gain producing an astonishing 0.3 watts of power! This little guy as a lot of mojo under its unassuming case.

Putting all of this together against other small USB DAC & Amps, and sorting based on power at 300 ohm we get:
View attachment 19706

That is a commanding lead for the CEntrance DACPort HD. It has a bit less power in 300 ohm compared to Apogee Grove but then runs circles around it at 33 ohm due to much higher current availability. The tiny USB-C dongles disappear in the dust.

Output impedance is similar although the Dragonfly Red has the edge:
View attachment 19707

Neither should be a concern for all but lowest and wildest impedance headphones you may find.

Since the DACPort HD has a volume control, I decided to run the channel balance test against it:
View attachment 19708

Boy, I did not expect this. The volume control feels like a cheap little potentiometer which I predicted would have horrible balance. Not so at all. There is zero deviation until the end, indicating that it is a mono pot that is sampled. That digital value is likely then used to change the volume in the DAC chip. Very nice!

Listening Tests
I hooked up both units to my AB selector, ganged both units in Roon and started to play my bass heavy headphone test tracks. At similar volume, the fidelity is close but the DACPort has clear headroom. Increasing its volume past what Dragonfly Red could deliver resulted in much more satisfying bass with HD-650 headphones. Highs remained cleaner and the better dynamics resulted in nicer sense of space around instruments. While I had to keep the Dragonfly Red at max to get "pleasurable" volumes, I could operate the DACPort HD at 70 to 100%.

Similar story repeated with Hifiman HE-400i. The DACPort HD makes you almost forget you are generating music out of this little box. The Dragonfly Red not so much.

Fascinating thing happened with this track from Laurie Anderson called My Compensation,

It is a mix of deep bass and vocals. The DACPort HD handled it fine but on Dragonfly Red the sound would constantly mute/volume limit. Clearly it lacks sufficient power reservoir to handle the peaks in this track.

Conclusions
I have gotten many requests to review the CEntrance DACPort HD and have not had time to review it until now. It is a shame because this is one performant thumb-drive sized USB DAC and Headphone amp. It powers headphones that normally would require desktop DAC and Amps. It doesn't put those products to shame but does with other small devices. Its features such as dual gain settings and perfect channel balance nicely add to the equation. As such, the DACPort HD gets my recommendation for this class of devices.

The Dragonfly Red would have done much better had it not been in the presence of DACPort HD. It costs more, has less features and has outdated format support. So I can't really recommend it even though I understand its popularity.

-------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

The cost of lobster and Dungeness crab have gone through the roof. Please help me afford weekly dinners of those by donating using:
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or
upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
Was wondering if using the DragonFly Red to feed an Amp would it be better using it at full volume or a bit lower as I'm unsure if it'll reach clipping point even though feeding a high impedance?
 

amirm

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#49
Was wondering if using the DragonFly Red to feed an Amp would it be better using it at full volume or a bit lower as I'm unsure if it'll reach clipping point even though feeding a high impedance?
Depends on how noisy the amplifier is because you would be trading that for distortion. You could always try it. Pause the music and listen at your normal listening level either way and see if the background noise level is higher.
 
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#50
Depends on how noisy the amplifier is because you would be trading that for distortion. You could always try it. Pause the music and listen at your normal listening level either way and see if the background noise level is higher.
The times I've tried I haven't heard any background noise at any volume level or gain on the Amp with the DragonFly at full volume. However I simply wonder if for example something's playing and it gets close to 0 dBFS if it might clip even though it should be feeding a very high impedance not from a headphone, but an Amp. I'm unsure how it might measure specifically working as just a DAC feeding an Amp like the JDS Labs Atom, might be interesting to see how well it works and measures as just a DAC through an Amp in my opinion.
Screenshot_20190102-211442.png
 
Last edited:

jason0342

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#52
Correction: a kind member had sent me another SMSL Idea which was still packed. Here is its dashboard:

View attachment 19741

So pretty comparable to Dragonfly Red with respect to max output and SINAD.

Instead of posting other measurements let me test them altogether in a future article....
Looking forward to the remeasurement of iDEA. I'm interested in buying one after seeing its previous measurement here as well as the Archimago one. The much higher distortion shown now makes me hesitate and decide to wait. Maybe SMSL is having some QC issues?
 
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#53
I grabbed a used DACport HD off of eBay after reading this review. I was using a LH Labs Geek Out 720 for laptop listening, but wanted something with a physical volume control and that didn't run extremely warm (arguably hot) to the touch. The DACport HD is a really nice device... Very small, runs noticeably cooler than the Geek Out, sounds great on multiple headphones, has lots of power, and runs much cooler than the Geek Out. Clearly a step up from the Geek Out on all fronts IMO.

That all being said, I bought the DACport with a Fiio K3 already "in the mail" from Amazon. Without taking things too far off topic, I may end up keeping the K3 instead. The K3 is a little larger than the DACport, but seems to sound pretty similar - which makes sense since they are both AKM 44xx DACs. The DACport HD clearly has a lot more power on SE, but the K3 has the option of balanced (I have a TRRS adapter on the way) which should increase the power. I would give a slight edge to the DACport in sound quality, but I like the feature set of the K3 - specifically the line out and the ability to turn it off without needing to unplug it. The K3 is also USB Type C and runs barely warm to the touch (cooler than the DACport).
 
Last edited:

amirm

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#55
Amirm and all, would I have any worries with my SE846 low impedance dips with the dacport?
Ouch, the impedance of those drops way down in mid-range:

1546901618093.png


So likely you would get some change in mid-range.
 

amirm

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#57
any recommendation instead? (Small form factor)
You mean other than getting a different headphone? :)

Seriously, this is a subjective change. If you can buy it from Amazon and such where you can easily return it, try it and see if the impact is to your liking (some reduction of mid-bass). With anything else you would be trading power for flatness of eq and I don't know what the right trade off might be for you.
 

BenKlesc

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#58
From what I can see after using Dragonfly Red for a few months...

Looks to be that DacPortHD will power larger headphones. Is that good for all?

It's definitely good for some, but I bought into these portable DAC's to use from my iPhone. I wanted something that would give my IEM's a little punch and cleaner sound. I didn't really want a product that would run hot or drain too much battery over long listening periods.

I can see that if someone is trying to drive power hungry headphones the Dragonfly may not be the best for your money, but it definitely will have no problem driving low impedance headphones and earbuds. I use it when I'm biking or on a long car ride.

Thank you for doing these tests!
 
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#59

Shoaibexpert

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#60
Repeating a question raised earlier here... I can see that the Dragonfly Red distorts at high volumes if directly connected to the headphones... But what if it was feeding into a clean amp like the JDS Atom or the THX AAA 789. Would it still distort coz now the volume on PC would be say 100% and the volume to the headphones would be managed by the amp pot manually. Is there a work around to avoid distortion in this setup? And what are the possible REAL upgrades to the Dragonfly Red worth the investment? Thanks
 
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