USB Digital-Audio Converter
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Computers Are Where Our Music Lives Today
Today’s computers are the CD, the LP, and the golden age of radio all rolled into one. From streaming
Internet radio to MOG and Pandora®; from convenient compressed file downloads at the iTunes® Store to high-resolution music downloads at sites such as HDtracks®; computers are a digital hub capable of delivering a nearly infinite amount of Internet- and computer-based music and video content. However, with their tiny budget, the analog and digital audio circuits in your computer are not designed with the quality of parts and sophistication of circuitry which would enable the computer to perform as a high-fidelity audio source component, fully honoring the fragile nature of audio data.
What is a Digital-Audio Converter (aka “DAC”)?
Anytime you’re listening to music, or watching a movie or YouTube video on a computer, the digital audio files being played are comprised of streams of 1’s and 0’s. A Digital-Audio Converter is a device that converts these 1’s and 0’s to the analog waveforms that our headphones and home stereos then give to our ears as music. The sound card that’s built into your computer and feeds its headphone jack is an example of a DAC. However, much better sound is possible using a purpose-built Digital-Audio Converter like AudioQuest’s DragonFly.
DragonFly is an affordable and easy-to-use device that delivers far superior sound by bypassing the poor quality sound card that is built into your computer. DragonFly is a sleek, flash drive sized Digital-Audio Converter that connects to a USB jack on a Mac® or Windows® PC, turning any computer into a true high-fidelity music source.
Whether you’re on the go or at home, listening on ear buds or connecting your computer to a stereo system, DragonFly reveals all the emotional expression and nuance that makes your favorite music, or movies, so enjoyable.
Spread Your Wings … DragonFly
True high-fidelity audio has been restricted to our home stereos and home entertainment systems
for generations. DragonFly is a 21st century hi-fi component that offers breakthrough price and
performance. Getting truly great sound from any computer is now not only possible, it’s portable.
What DragonFly Does
DragonFly’s 3.5mm mini-jack output is highly versatile, and supports a variety of output modes depending on how it’s connected.
- DragonFly drives headphones or ear buds directly
- DragonFly can be used in “variable” output mode with analog volume control when connected directly to powered speakers or a power amplifier.
- Connecting to a traditional preamplifier or AV receiver, DragonFly can be set to a “fixed” output mode by turning the volume to maximum, allowing it to behave like a CD or Blu-ray player
However you connect it, DragonFly simply and easily makes any computer sound better.
How DragonFly Does It
The heart of DragonFly is the 24-bit ESS Sabre™ conversion chip, a high-performance solution that’s typically found in better CD and Blu-ray Disc™ players. DragonFly can accept audio and music files ranging from MP3s and CD-standard 16-bit/44kHz to native 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution, regardless of music file format. If your computer’s software can recognize and play a format, DragonFly will make it sound its best. However, high-quality digital-audio conversion alone isn’t why DragonFly sounds great. How the audio data is transferred from the computer to DragonFly required particular attention from DragonFly’s design team. Remember that digital audio is stored on computers and delivered to DragonFly as streams of 1’s and 0’s. Making beautiful music out of 1’s and 0’s isn’t a case of simply getting all the music data from point A to Point B. Maintaining subtle digital timing relationships is crucial in order to be able to reconstruct the analog waveform that we hear as dialog or music. Timing errors have long been the plague of digital audio playback, never more so than in recent years as computers have been pressed into service as audio source components. DragonFly uses a very sophisticated “asynchronous*” USB audio data transfer protocol. Rather than sharing crucial audio “data clocking” functions with the computer, DragonFly alone commands the timing of the audio data transfer, dramatically reducing digital timing errors. In addition, not all audio content is encoded at the same native resolution or “sample rate.” DragonFly uses two discrete onboard “clocks” so that the math algorithms used to convert the digital audio data to analog are always optimized for the native sample rate of the audio file or stream being played. This ensures the least amount of mathematical manipulation to the native audio data, which results in fewer errors and better sound. A smart LED indicator on DragonFly shows the resolution of the incoming signal.
While the digital domain is where your computer-based music experience starts, the analog domain requires attention too. Digital volume controls too often reduce signal resolution and decrease sound quality. Even when the iTunes volume slider is used, DragonFly’s high-resolution analog volume control carries out the instructions in the analog domain for the best sound quality. And DragonFly’s analog circuits are direct-coupled from the ESS converter chip’s output, avoiding the need for any extraneous, sonically degrading components in the signal path. All of these refinements allow DragonFly to make music with a natural solidity and clarity that is dramatically superior to the sound you would hear from your computer on its own.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Digital-Audio Converter (aka “DAC”)?
Anytime you're listening to music, or watching a movie or YouTube video on a computer, the digital audio data are comprised of 1's and 0's. A Digital-Audio Converter (also referred to as a Digital-To-Analog Converter) is a device that converts these 1's and 0's to the analog waveforms that our headphones and home stereos then give to our ears as music. The sound card that's built into your computer and feeds its headphone jack is an example of a DAC. However, much better sound is possible using a purpose-built Digital-Audio Converter like AudioQuest's DragonFly.
Will DragonFly make my internal computer speakers sound better?
No. DragonFly does not use the internal speakers in your computer. It is designed specifically to connect to an external audio system such as headphones, powered desktop speakers, or your audio/video system.
What kind of audio content can I play through DragonFly?
DragonFly will accept any audio you want to play on your computer and make it sound dramatically better, whether your listening pleasure is iTunes®, YouTube®, Vimeo®, Streaming Music Services such as Mog®, Spotify®, or Pandora® … Anything you want to hear will sound better with DragonFly!
What is "asynchronous USB?"
Digital audio is stored on and streamed to computers and delivered to DragonFly as 1's and 0's. Making beautiful music out of 1's and 0's isn't a case of simply getting all the audio data from point A to Point B. Maintaining subtle digital timing relationships is crucial in order to be able to reconstruct the analog waveform that we hear as dialog or music. Timing errors such as "jitter" have long been the plague of digital audio playback, never more so than in recent years as computers have been pressed into service as audio source components. DragonFly uses a very sophisticated "asynchronous*" USB audio data transfer protocol. Rather than sharing crucial audio "data clocking" functions with the computer, using asynchronous USB transfer, DragonFly alone commands the timing of the audio data transfer, dramatically reducing digital timing errors.
What is a "sample rate"?
Sample rate is a term used to describe how many "snapshots" of sound, or samples per second are captured when a digital audio file is recorded or encoded. Compact Discs have always functioned exclusively at 44.1kHz, which is 44,100 samples per second. However, recording studios often master at much higher sample rates, such as 88.2kHz or 96kHz. Recently, online music downloads at these higher sample rates have started to appear from HDTracks.com and a variety of sources, although the selection is currently limited.
DragonFly can play back audio data at four different sample rates. Which one should I choose?
DragonFly will play music or audio data at 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, or 96kHz. However, for the best sonic results the computer should be configured so that it sends music and audio data to DragonFly that matches the “native rate” of the music. For example, since all CDs and music files purchased from iTunes are at a 44.1kHz sample rate, for many people 44.1kHz will be the best sample rate since this is the “native rate” of most digital music. Choosing a higher sample rate will convert your native music and audio data using mathematical approximations that can potentially decrease the sound quality. Conversely, if you have purchased high-resolution music files, such as those available from HDtracks.com, configuring your computer for 44.1kHz (or any other lower sample rate) will cause the computer to down-sample your music to a lower resolution. When possible, always configure the computer to output the native sample rate of the music you are listening to. Many music player software suites on the market manage this process for you.
What does it mean when the DragonFly lights up in different colors?
As mentioned above, DragonFly performs best when audio data is sent to it at its native sample rate. To simplify this, DragonFly lights up different colors when it receives audio data at different sample rates: green for 44.1kHz, blue for 48kHz, amber for 88.2kHz, and magenta for 96kHz.
I purchased high-resolution music files at 24-bit/176.4kHz or 24-bit/192kHz. Can I play these files using my DragonFly?
If you have purchased a file that has a higher sample rate than 96kHz you need to configure your computer to send DragonFly audio data at a resolution no greater than 96kHz, and for the best performance the sample rate you choose should be exactly half the sample rate of the file you’re playing. For example, if you purchased a 24-bit/176.4kHz file 88.2kHz should be selected, whereas if you purchased a 24/192kHz file 96kHz should be selected. Directly divisible sample rates prevent the computer from doing sonically degrading, complex math in its conversions and allows DragonFly to sound its best.
What headphones can I use with the DragonFly?
DragonFly is versatile enough to drive virtually any headphone on the market today. DragonFly can drive any headphone from 10ohm impedance on up. DragonFly has enough output to drive even the lowest efficiency headphones.