Small thing – big difference

I don’t normally write (much) about the commercial gear that I buy, but for once I’ll make an exception.

I’ve actually owned both the previous versions of the Audioquest Dragonfly (DF) USB DACs but sold them after a relatively short time because I did not really need them anyway. Thanks to an ad on a local classifieds page I now find myself as the owner of the third generation DF as well – the Dragonfly Red. Apart from the new looks – which I really like – the new series of DFs also have the benefit of much lower power consumption, meaning they can be used with mobile devices.

I therefore tried hooking up the DF to both my iPhone and iPad. To be honest I wasn’t expecting that much, but it really does make a significant difference to the sound quality. The downside is of course that your phone becomes quite a bit less portable with a couple of extra dongles and adapters hanging off it, but the benefit in sound quality seems worth it. I wouldn’t use it every day, but if I really had to travel light then using the DF would save me packing and carrying a separate music player which could be very handy.

Photo of the device and a “real” red Dragonfly as well for comparison 😉 (that picture was taken by yours truly in Hong Kong – coincidentally exactly two years ago today)

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Mini-stack (part 1)

Not exactly the most challenging builds ever undertaken, but still…

More or less since I originally built my passive preamps I have wanted to build more components in the same form factor. Here is the beginning of a “mini-stack”, namely a USB DAC and a passive pre, which should then be supplemented later by (at least) a power amp in the same small chassis (a GX143 from modushop.biz, so 124x40x73mm). That isn’t ready yet, but I do have a few ideas for what to do 😀 As for what is ready:

The passive pre is based on a Noble 10k pot that I happened to have lying around – not much more to say about that really 🙂

The DAC is based on an “off-shelf” module from ebay. It uses the SA9023 USB receiver/ES9023 DAC chipset so that it can accept up to 24/96 input signals. The module is powered from the USB connection. It is possible (and possibly recommended) to use an external supply instead, but since the preamp is passive I wanted to keep the design “cordless” except for the USB. Obviously that won’t work for the power amp… My only little piece of hacking here was to wire an “USB on” LED on the front panel instead of relying on the on-board SMD one.

The ES9023 DAC chip from ESStech is a highly respected performer and used in quite a few designs such as the AudioQuest DragonFly (albeit there with a more complicated/advanced USB front-end) and quite a few others. It is voltage output with a built-in charge pump to avoid capacitors in the signal path and it is actually capable of driving headphones directly, so the 10k load here isn’t really an issue.

The sound quality of the board is quite a bit ahead of the older PCM27xx-based designs as well. The sound from this little combo is actually quite good and the fact that no external power suppliers are required makes it a bit more interesting.

My idea for the power amp is to use a class D chip powered from an off-board switching supply. I have looked at both the TPA311x and the TDA749x chips but I am still exploring options here so nothing definite yet…let’s see what happens 🙂

Work in progress….

It’s been a while since I have posted here, but real life is still getting in the way of my build time. At the moment this means I am mostly starting up new projects, because for some strange reason I can always find time to start new projects – even when time to finish the old ones is nowhere in sight 😀

I have been shopping a little at diyinhk.com recently and bought several DAC boards and power supplies, so one a few DACs are in the cards for sure 🙂 Also, one or two gainclones might make an appearance as well at some point. One reason for this is that I rediscovered some pictures of the Audiosector “Patek” amp a couple of weeks ago, so guess who has been scouring ebay etc. for reasonably-priced copper bars lately? 😉

Lastly, the Borbely and the Le Monstre front/rear panels have arrived and I am pretty happy with those, so now I am just waiting for my transformer order and a free weekend and then at least that should be sorted out.

However, I have to say that even with not much new going on there are still plenty of people that find their way here. The blog was at 15k page views in the beginning of January and it is now over 21k views total – I can’t complain about that, so thanks a lot for stopping by 😀