The Dragonfly Series is one of the most popular USB DAC/Amps in the market. The three models, the Dragonfly Black, Red, and Cobalt, all have been widely recommended by enthusiasts. And the reason for this is because of their small form factor and sound quality.
These devices are just the size of your regular flash drive and can be immediately used with your laptop/desktop PC or smartphone using an OTG cable. Additionally, plugging them into any device instantly makes the sound better.
But given their high prices and lack of modern features such as a 4.4mm or 2.5mm balanced output, users have been looking for a good alternative to the tried and tested Dragonfly Series.
If you want a portable DAC/Amp similar to the Dragonfly Series, then we highly recommend dongle type DAC/Amps. Just like the Dragonfly Series, these devices can directly connect to your laptop or smartphone. Some models introduce new features such as a balanced output.
The main difference between the three Dragonfly models is the DAC Chip used. And, of course, the model with the best DAC Chip will produce the best sound quality. And in this case, that model is the Dragonfly Cobalt.
In this article, we will be giving recommendations for the best alternatives to the Dragonfly DAC Series. We will be talking about low-cost alternatives to the entry-level Dragonfly Black as well as the higher-end alternatives to the Dragonfly Red and Cobalt.
Our top recommendations are the Earmen Eagle and the ddHiFi TC35B/TC25B. Keep on scrolling to learn more about these models.
Dragonfly DAC Alternatives
Earmen Eagle – Best Alternative
The closest alternative to the Audioquest Dragonfly Series is the Earmen Eagle. It shares the same flash drive design but has some interesting features.
Aesthetically, it has an RGB Earmen logo at the front and a glass-enclosed metal shell. It is certainly a premium feeling product, especially at its price point.
But what truly makes this little DAC/Amp special is its sound quality. The Eagle is utilizing an ESS ES9281 DAC Chip which when paired with a high-end IEM such as the Fitear/Fostex TE100, will get some very good results.
Overall, the Earmen Eagle is a solid alternative to the Dragonfly Series. You can read our review article on Earmen Eagle to know more. And if you want an upgraded version with a 2.5mm balanced output, make sure to also check out the Earmen Sparrow.
DDHiFi TC35B and TC25B – Most Affordable
If you are on a tight budget and are looking for the most affordable option, the ddHiFi TC35B and TC25B should be on top of your list. These are some of the smallest DAC/Amps available on the market. You can even leave them on the 3.5mm plug if your IEMs or headphones.
Additionally, these tiny DAC/Amps are built like tanks. Both models have a full metal build that feels very durable. They are also very light, meaning they do not add additional weight to the plugs of your devices.
Sonically, these two devices have decent sounding. They certainly won’t directly compete with the Dragonfly Cobalt. But if you need a quick upgrade for your smartphone or laptop, these will get the job done.
Just take note that both devices have the exact internal DAC and Amp. It means that even though the TC25B accepts balanced cables, it will still perform exactly the same as the TC35B
If you like what you are seeing with the TC35B and TC25B but wish for a better sounding and fully balanced dongle, then the TC44B is a great alternative. Unlike most dongles, the TC44B is much larger. It has a triangular prism shape which gives it a unique look.
Also, it only features a 2.5mm balanced output and a 4.4mm pentaconn balanced output. This means that it will not work with 3.5mm SE cables.
But sonically, the TC44B is one of the best in its price range. It has a very detailed sound signature, which makes it a good option for higher-end IEMs.
The only thing to take note of is that the TC44B does not feature a removable cable. But overall, the TC44B is a solid option for those who specifically need a dongle with balanced outputs.
Make sure to check out our full review of the TC44B to learn more.
Hilidac Audirect Beam 2SE
If you need a solid dongle for 3.5mm SE IEMs and headphones, the Hilidac Audirect Beam 2SE is a great choice. It checks all the boxes of a good portable DAC/Amp. It has a great quality build and sound quality.
In terms of build quality, it has a full metal construction as well as a removable cable. It even includes a lightning cable right out of the box.
But what is interesting here is the Beam 2SE’s internals. The Beam 2SE is powered by an ES9281C Pro DAC Chip which supports MQA. This means that if you have local MQA files or if you are a subscriber of Tidal, then you will have an even better experience.
Amplification power and sound quality are on par with the competitors such as the ddHiFi TC44B. So if you are looking for a DAC with MQA support, great sound quality, and build quality, the Beam 2SE is a great choice.
Check out our full review of the Audirect Beam 2SE to learn more.
Astell & Kern PEE51
Another worthy mention in this list is the Astell & Kern PEE51. Astell & Kern is best known for their high-end luxury DAPs such as the AK SP2000. We have tried the AK70/AK70 MK2, AK380, and AK SP2000 so we can confirm that AK truly makes great-sounding sources.
The PEE51 is their first attempt at recreating their magic dongle form factor. The main highlight here is its dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC Chip configuration. This is the same configuration used on their entry-level AK SR25.
This should mean that the PEE51 will have some of the key characteristics of the AK SR25. Of course, it will still depend on how well the DAC chip will be utilized. However, this is AK we are talking about, which should give you some confidence in the PEE51 sound quality.
The only thing missing here is the balanced output. But overall, the AK PEE51 is a DAC/Amp that you should certainly add to your list.
Aubrey has been a longtime fan of music. She plays arcade music games such as Pump It Up and Dance Dance Revolution. She also loves different genres such as KPOP. Ever since she discovered IEMs and Headphones, her love and appreciation for music have been taken to the next level. And as a writer, she wishes to share her audiophile journey with you.