Dongle Discourse

On this episode of Dongle Discourse, we will be taking a look at five audiophile dongles from various companies from all over the map. The five participants in this mini shootout include:

1. Cayin RU-6, a Chinese R-2R dongle which I own and previously reviewed.
2. Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt, an American USB-A stick
3. iFi Go Bar, a British designed USB-C mini brick
4. Questyle M12, a Chinese current-driven USB-C mini stick
5. Violectric Chronos, a German-designed USB-C rounded rectangle with a colorful OLED branded display

All five of these should be considered premium USB portable audio devices ranging from the cheapest M12 at $129 to the $329 pair of Dragonfly Cobalt and iFi Go Bar. These are significantly more expensive than your everyday $8 Apple dongle or even one of the sub-$99 Bluetooth/USB DACs that are made by companies like Fiio, Shanling or Radsone/Qudelix. 

I'll be providing some quick impressions of each of these devices in a few short paragraphs below. All of the listening was done using what I consider my neutral set of IEMs, the Hidition Viento. This also happens to be one of my favorites, and it's a custom IEM, giving me perfect seal and that'll totally isolate sound from the outside world (or in this case, my house). I'll be listening to Bill Laurance and the Untold Orchestra's live recording released earlier this year from The EFG London Jazz Festival 2021. 

Items 2 through 5 on the list above were sent to me from the folks at on loan. I'll be shipping them back to them soon.

Cayin RU-6

This is the incumbent, as I purchased this earlier this year and reviewed it already. The Cayin's unique to this shoot-out in the fact that is does not use a typical sigma-delta DAC chip, but instead has a mini R-2R resistor ladder that gives it a more analog sound. Some people will find this to be a tad too warm, and not as resolving and sharp. To me, it provides an interesting pairing with my neutral to bright headphones and IEMs while also providing a lush and more deep soundstage that I quite enjoy. I can listen to my gear on the RU-6 for hours on end and love it, despite knowing it doesn't resolve as crystal clear as any of the others on this list.

Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt

The Audioquest Dragonfly series is a well-established product line that has gone through many iterations of their Red and Black ones. The Cobalt is their newest version that came out a couple years ago, and its the first time I've had a chance to try it.

The Cobalt is a very well-built USB-A (yes, that older larger, wider, USB port that was common in the prehistoric ages of a couple years ago prior to USB-C). The dragonfly logo has a color-changing LED that lights up during playblack, and it has a 3.5mm output.

The Cobalt does not have its own volume controls, so it will rely on your source device to control volume, which in my case here, is my laptop. This is a bit dangerous, as when you first plug it in, Windows 11 defaults to 100% volume, so if you are using this, make sure to lower the volume to 0 and move it up to your listening volume so you don't damage your ears or your IEMs.

The Cobalt is neutral to slightly bright tuning, but with punchy dynamics, and one that I surprisingly do enjoy. It has good resolution and snappiness to it that helps give a lot of kick, although is the least warm of all the dongles tested here. Its up there with the most resolving though, if not the most of this batch. 

The soundstage is a bit more forward than the rest, and it'll shine for those who like forward and spotlight on vocals and instruments in the midrange. 

iFi Go Bar

The iFi Go Bar is the other "most" expensive USB DAC on this shootout. It looks like a cute and minature iFi Signature Micro or one of their other portable battery-powered DAC/Amps. This amp has both a 3.5mm and 4.4mm balanced output, and a USB-C input. On the side are volume control, as well as a button to activate xBass and xSpace features, and a toggle switch to enable their signature IEMatch feature for either 3.5mm or 4.4mm output. 

The IEMatch increases output impedance, while reducing background hiss noise if that is an issue with sensitive IEMs. I did not have to use this feature with the 4-BA Hidition Viento, thankfully.

On the bottom of the device is a series of LED dots with incredibly hard to read text to designate which sample rate is being played back, and if one of the features is activated. I know it's supposed to be subtle and not distracting, but picking a dark gray font on a dark gray background is a little strange.

The Go Bar sounds pretty neutral in my ears. If anything, on the default sound profile, it is a little bright at times, but for the most part I find it pretty plain, which isn't a bad thing. It's not the most resolving of the dongles I've heard so far here in this shoot-out though.

The xBass feature adds a clean sub-bass boost which works pretty well with the Hidition Viento. I'm glad this feature doesn't make it muddy. The xSpace does add more space, but makes things a little leaner sounding, and perhaps these two features pair up together to be the best so that the leaner xSpace doesn't sound so lean.

Questyle M12

The Questyle M12 is the smallest of the dongles here, with a simple black rectangle shape that's lightweight and simple. It's so simple that it does not have its own volume control and relies on the source device's volume controls, so like my warning above for the Audioquest, please be careful.

This device has a single 3.5mm output and a USB-C input. On the device are two green indicator dots that let you know the type of bitstream and audio gain level, which I believe is automatically chosen, and defaults to low when I use my Viento IEMs.

The M12 sounds a little bland. I don't know how to really describe it much more than that. It's a little warm, and rounded sounding. It's not quite as warm as say the Cayin RU6, but it doesn't have as nice of a spatial and pleasant sound either. It's not really resolving to me, and lacks crispness and speed. I found this one to be my least favorite of the batch of dongles here, and I didn't even know the price of it until the time of writing this out.

Vioelectric Chronos

The Chronos is a really stunning looking little DAC unit with a vibrant colorful display that shows the branding in a lit up in a neon green.  There are up and down volume buttons one one side of the device, and a 3.5mm output jack on one end, and a USB-C input port on the other. I had no issues connecting this to my laptop and getting it going right away.

The Chronos provided a nice technical and somewhat neutral sound. It has a little bit of an emphasis on the low end, with a little extra mid-bass energy, while the upper end sounds clean and crisp, with good resolution. 

Final Thoughts

Unsurprisingly, I like the one I own the most: The Cayin RU-6. It is not for everyone though, but for those who like a little more color and a little more softness in your overall sound, and it works well with my neutral-ish tuned headphones. 

Surprisingly, though, my favorite other pick would be the Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt. This one is well-built, and sounds the most resolving and quite neutral with good punch. My other favorite is the Violectric Chronos, mostly for the way it looks and decent sound.