AUDIOQUEST DRAGONFLY COBALT / COZOY TAKT PRO / COVOY TAKT-C USB DACs
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt
+ Solid, architectural sound from top to bottom; good “volume” of instruments and singers in an ample soundstage; MQA adds a layer of refinement, especially in the mids and highs; quiet for sensitive IEMs but also has sufficient power for power-hungry planar=magnetic headphones; useful indicator light for sample rate/MQA information.
– No DSD support; MQA renderer only, so software needed to do the first unfold; for use with lightning port, need to get Apple lightning-to-USB camera kit adaptor; no controls on the DAC itself.
Cozoy TAKT Pro
+ Even-handed sound signature with a precise but smaller, more intimate soundstage, and a slight warmth in the mid-bass which makes for a pleasant long-term listening experience; optimised for IEMs but just has just enough power to drive planar-magnetics.
– Lightning connector did not work, had to work around by using a camera connection kit cable; no USB-C cable in the package; body gets quite warm during operation; no indicator lights to show sample rate; precise soundstage not quite as broad or wide as the Dragonfly Cobalt.
+ Very similar sound signature to the TAKT Pro, voiced with a slight warmth in the upper bass, but still with good detail retrieval; captive USB-C cable works well with modern Android phones.
– Captive USB-C cable means it’s meant only for newer Android phones (there is a version with a lightning connector); body gets warm with use and no indicator lights, as with its stablemate.
I HAVE been looking forward to this test for some time – the distributor was kind enough to supply these delicious little morsels of headfi goodness for a comparative review.
These self-powered DAC/amps have created a category of their very own, despite being fairly niche in the big scheme of consumer electronics. This trend has been accelerated by the removal of the hitherto ubiquitous 3.5mm stereo minijack from mobile phones. Audiophiles have therefore been keen to adopt these little dongle DACs to drive their choice of wired headphones or IEMs.
In the past few years, I have collected a number of these little dongle amps, starting with the original AudioQuest Dragonfly, with a number of other models from Chinese, Hong Kong and Singapore manufacturers that showed progressive improvements in power draw, capability to decode high-resolution formats and sound quality.
Of note, too, are the bigger brothers to this dongle DAC category – the phone size slab DAC/amp, of which I possess a couple as well, like the Oppo HA-2 and the Chord Electronics Mojo. These are larger propositions, but promise more power/drive and sound quality.
On hand for this review are three DACs, each presenting a slightly different proposition:
1. AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt: The fourth iteration of the progenitor of the audiophile dongle DAC category is the current top of the line, sporting the very latest innovations from the erstwhile cable and audio accessories specialist. Incorporated into this model is the portable version of ESS Sabre DAC (ESS ES9038Q2M) and headphone amp chip (ESS Sabre 9601). Also integrated is the proprietary microcontroller, a de-jittering set of circuits (which featured in the Jitterbug) and proprietary Streamlength USB receiver which promises more stable digital data reception. To cap it off, there is a clock circuit called monoClock which promises to stabilise the processing of data in the DAC. It comes packaged with a robust USB-A to USB-C adaptor cable dubbed Dragontail, and a leatherette carrying pouch. The Cobalt does not decode DSD and does not do PCM above 24-bit/96kHz – deliberately capped so as not to require ASIO drivers on Windows. It can and does render MQA, but does not do the first unfold – your playback software will need to do that.
2. Cozoy TAKT Pro: This China-built, Hong Kong designed DAC is also not the first iteration of this category product for Cozoy. Sporting a handsome aircraft grade aluminium alloy body, quite stylishly bevelled and anodised in a handsome blue/grey finish, this little DAC also sports an ESS9018Q2C DAC chip, and can decode PCM up to 32/382kHz and DSD up to 256x resolution. It also has a nifty set of volume buttons and a multifunction button which can pause/play music. There are no indicator lights, however. The TAKT Pro does not decode MQA.
3. Cozoy TAKT-C: Stablemate of the Pro, the C variant comes in an almost identical body, but in a lighter shade aluminium finish and a captive USB-C cable and connector. Internal specs on paper seem identical to the Pro – the same ESS9018Q2C DAC chip and decoding capabilities. The TAKT-C does not decode MQA.
In use, I found the indicator light on the Dragonfly handy to check the sample rate that is playing and also if MQA was being decoded. Using the Dragonfly on an Android device (both my LG V50 as well as Huawei P30 Pro could not pass MQA), playing TIDAL did not enable MQA – likely because the Android audio-mixer was not passing a “bit-perfect” signal to the DAC.
But using a lightning to USB-A adaptor on an iOS device enabled this, so for those looking to enjoy MQA, test before you buy with your device. Not having any controls, the Dragonfly is obviously focused on just the audio experience, but a volume rocker might have been handy. The DAC did not get very warm during use and its 2.1V RMS output was useful to drive power hungry headphones such as planar magnetics without strain. One end of the DAC is a USB-A male plug which can go straight into a computer, and the other a 3.5mm stereo minijack output. The Cobalt usefully comes with its USB-A to USB-C adaptor dubbed Dragontail.
The Cozoys are much smaller in volume, and are machined from a very nicely tactile aircraft grade AL6063 aluminium alloy which is said to be similar to those used for MacBooks.
The TAKT Pro has a darker finish, whilst the TAKT C has a lighter finish to the anodisation. On both bodies, there is a volume rocker and a multi-function button to pause/play music. There are no indicator lights, which I thought would have been useful to know what sample rate is being played.
In use, the bodies of both TAKTs warmed up – not unduly so, but enough so as to surprise you if you touched it and was expecting a cool sensation.
The TAKT Pro has a micro USB-B port on one end, which mates with one of the three supplied short cables – one to USB-A male, one to microUSB OTG and one to Apple Lightning. I have to mention that I never managed to get the Lightning cable to work, and instead I used the USB-A male cable into the Apple Camera Connection kit, which did work.
The TAKT-C, as the name suggests, has a captive USB-C cable on one end. Both have the requisite 3.5mm stereo minijack on the other. Both DACs are rated for 1.5V RMS output which is more than adequate for IEMs, but I found it just enough for power hungry planar magnetics. Both worked well with my Grado GH-1s which are not as demanding on power.
For all three, testing was done with a few sources and with various IEMs and headphones as well as the DACs driving an amp/speaker combo.
- Driven by an iPhone 11 Pro Max, using appropriate Lightning adaptors using the TIDAL App and Roon App.
- Driven by LG V50 Android phone via its USB-C output using the Tidal app as well as the Roon App
- Driven by a Sonore Microrendu from its USB-A port, as Roon endpoint, driving a large speaker/amp combo (Parasound power amp with Q Acoustics Concept 500 floorstanders)
As a benchmark, I used my own Chord Mojo DAC/amp driven with the same sources.
I employed the Shure 846s as my primary test IEMs and also HiFiMAN HE4XX planar magnetic headphones. I also briefly auditioned them with Grado GH-1s and Focal Elexes. For all three DACs, I used the same music – to save repeated references, I list the common test music below:
1. Macy Gray – Stripped (HD Tracks 24/96 FLAC): This superbly engineered Chesky Binaural+ recording is one of the best I find to test how well head-fi can image and project an “out of the head” soundfield.
2. Camille Thurman – Inside the Moment (HD Tracks 24/96 FLAC and 16/44.1MQA CD Rip): Another superb Binaural+ live recording for ambiance retrieval and the ability to render a believable soundfield, especially as Camille moves from the position she plays her saxophone to where she sings. Drum hits and textures from her saxophone are also key aspects to look out for.
3. Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers – Like Someone in Love (Tidal 16/44. FLAC stream). The track Noise in the Attic has a superb drum solo which highlights cymbal textures, pace, rhythm and timing.
4. London Grammar – If You Wait (HD Tracks 24/44.1/24 FLAC): The opening track Hey Now highlights the ability of the system to handle bass whilst rendering Hannah Reid’s luminescent vocals and placing the other instruments in the right positions in the soundfield, without any interference between each.
5. Herbert Von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic – 1963 Beethoven Symphonies (Tidal MQA FLAC stream): Testing for MQA capabilities (if the DAC supports it), plus the ability to image the orchestra, and portray the end and flow of the sections of the orchestra whilst painting the textures of the instruments.
6. Kenny Durham – Una Mas (Dolby Atmos Tidal stream) – testing the ability of the DACs to image height cues embedded in the Atmos mix.
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt
On all tracks, the Dragonfly Cobalt presented a very broad soundstage, with a good impression of being “out of the head” with my Shure 846s. Dynamics, too, were very boldly presented, with a foot tapping rhythm to the music.
On further listening, the Cobalt is an immensely enjoyable DAC – especially when in MQA mode, where its sound takes on a further level of refinement, especially in the upper registers – cymbal textures and sheen had an additional delicacy. Ambiance retrieval was also enhanced, especially on well binaural recordings such as Camille Thurman’s Inside the moment – I preferred the MQA rendition to the straight up 24/96 PCM version for that reason.
The Cobalt also exhibits a good sense of the “architecture” of the music – how the various parts interact, without taking away from the music itself. It is only bettered by the Chord Mojo, which is the master of this at this price bracket. This was evident on the London Grammar tracks where Hannah Reid’s sublime voice is projected correctly with respect to the bass line and the other instruments – the separation is balanced by a connection between the instruments and the voice.
It was also able to paint a very convincing soundstage of an orchestra – something which I find that some DACs find very hard to do. I heard this ability best when I connected the Cobalt as a DAC driving my floorstanders – the soundfield projected was palpable with the sections well differentiated. The MQA mastering on this Tidal stream of Karajan’s 1963 Beethoven Symphonies is especially well done and now is my most favourite way to listen to this recording – over and above an early European vinyl pressing on Deutsche Grammophon which I also own.
Cozoy TAKT Pro / TAKT-C
Both Cozoys had very similar presentation styles, and for the most part were indistinguishable, so I will review them together.
The Cozoys presented a smaller soundstage than the Cobalt on the whole, but with a more intimate feel. Dynamics, too, were also not quite as bold, and neither was rhythm and timing as infectious. But there was a small but perceptible clarity lift in the mid range which when coupled with the subtly warm mid-bass tuning, made for very comfortable listening. Treble textures were well rendered and on high-resolution tracks, and the extra delicacy was evident, showing their ability to resolve well.
On PCM tracks, this comfort made for pleasant listening especially on not as well mastered recordings (from auditioning some tracks not listed above) and also on compressed material (e.g. Spotify streams). Although smaller, the soundfield was well constructed on both DACs, but was not quite as “architectural”, and with a bit more homogeneity across the field. This worked well for recordings which have been miked more “dryily” – the intimate feel of the smaller soundstage made for a more intimate feel e.g. Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas.
Where the Cozoys differentiated from the Cobalt was with DSD material. To this end, I auditioned Bill Evans Trio’s Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Single DSD rip from SACD), which showed the Cozoys’ strength with this codec – lovely textures and a relaxed sense of timing which complemented the swing of Jack Dejohnette’s drumming and cymbal work. Switching up to Bags and Trane (Quad DSD download), the textures on John Coltrane’s sax as well as Milt Jackson’s vibraphone were lovely and well rendered.
vs Chord Mojo
This seems like a somewhat unfair comparison as the Mojo is a larger and more expensive unit, but it is a reference DAC at its price point and can be used in a similar fashion.
In almost every way, the Mojo betters all three portable DACs – detail retrieval, architecture, PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing), dynamics. BUT….
the Cobalt in MQA mode can be more refined and more subtle…. AND…
the Cozoys are more comfortable listen over all, especially on poorer mastered material…. AND…. all three are much smaller and easier to use with your smartphone.
THE LAST WORD
So it comes down to what your priorities are. If you want to do MQA (especially with Tidal), then the Cobalt is the DAC for you and it can go toe-to-toe with many more expensive portable and desktop DACs as well as the output from many midrange DAPs.
But if you want to decode DSD and MQA is not a priority, then… two choices:
If you have multiple devices with different ports, then the TAKT Pro is for you. This the most flexible with connections. If you have a modern Android device with USB-C (or an iPad Pro, for that matter), then the TAKT-C is the one for you.
My personal choice? I could live with all and any of them, but the TAKT-C presents the best value for money here and is a portable DAC which will not disappoint.
As with all gear, test before you buy with your choice of music and your own equipment.
Sources: LG V50 Smartphone, Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, Sonore Microrendu
Comparison DAC: Chord Electronics Mojo
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt: US$299 (RM1,599)
Cozoy TAKT Pro: US$289 (RM1,250)
Cozoy TAKT-C: US$109 (RM459)
Review samples courtesy of STARS PICKER AUDIO LIBRARY (+603-6156 1984)