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AudioQuest Beetle DAC crawls across Tokyo

  • How does a cable company evolve? If you’re Irvine’s AudioQuest, diversification into entry-level, camel-case-named hardware, to which cables connect, is the next step: NightHawk headphones (US$599), JitterBug USB filter (US$49) and DragonFly USB DAC (US$149). And coming soon to their slowly expanding ecosystem of widgets and dongles is the Beetle – a palm-sized, plastic-shelled, 24bit/96kHz-capable US$199 DAC that builds on the DragonFly’s USB-only connectivity with Bluetooth and Toslink inputs.

    Whilst the Toslink input has its incoming data stream moved directly to the Beetle’s ESS 9010 DAC chip, the USB and Bluetooth are doubly different. A microcontroller chip from Arizona’s Microchip is loaded with Gordon Rankin-coded software to host USB and Bluetooth reception, both of which are asynchronously handled. That means the Beetle itself controls data flow with USB and Bluetooth instead of the device supplying the ones and zeroes.

    The Microchip micro-controller has another ace up its sleeve: its on-chip power supplies are linear, thus ensuring the Beetle’s internal electrical noise and power draw are vanishingly low.

    To wit, the Beetle can be powered by a USB port (even that of a smartphone) or the supplied linear wall wart, one that’s none too dissimilar to those that ship with Schiit Audio’s entry-level products.

    The upshot? Not only can the Beetle be used like a DragonFly – as a USB DAC driving headphones or a line level input from its 3.5mm output socket – but visiting friends and relatives can stream to Bluetooth input, one that promises broader SQ lift than aptX. Remember: Apple have yet to licence the aptX codec. No iPhone, iPad or Mac can meet aptX’s requirements that both receiving DAC and transmitting i/Device be compatible with CSR’s next-level Bluetooth tech.

    Phileweb staff photograph Beetle and exchange business cards with their AudioQuest guests.

    However, Toslink connectivity is where we foresee Beetle potentially kicking the most goals. Like it or not, Toslink has become the adopted digital audio standard outside of the audiophile niche. Manufacturers shipping a product without it doom any mass market aspirations from the outset.

    Not only will AudioQuest’s Beetle likely bring some much needed sonic improvement to the Sonos Connect but its pricing makes it the perfect partner for the Google Chromecast Audio.

    Moreover, many modern boxes arrive without an analogue audio output altogether. ‘Analogue sunset’ is slowly airbrushing twin RCAs from the back panel of most Blu-Ray players, the 3rd generation Apple TV is optical only, as are many new-production TVs and gaming consoles. Here the Beetle moves from optional to necessary.

    We first caught sight of a (naked) Beetle as it crawled out of Berlin just prior to its Munich High End Show debut.

    Last month in Tokyo, I accompanied AudioQuest’s Shaun Schuetz, Skylar Gray and Steve Silberman as they introduced Beetle to two of the country’s biggest audiophile publications: Stereo Sound in Roppongi and Phileweb in Akihabara, both of whom publish in print and to the web. Think of the former as Japan’s Stereophile and the latter as a younger-staffed TAS.

    Providing the introductions were Koichi Kosuge and Tetsuya Kano of D&M Holdings who also distribute AudioQuest products in Japan. Kosuge-san handled English-to-Japanese translations as Silberman took us deeper into the Beetle backstory. I filmed a little at Stereo Sound but more at Phileweb where Silberman really hits his explanatory stride:

    (After Silberman, Gray took centre stage to explain the ins and outs of his NightHawk headphones.)

    Point Google Chrome here for a fully-translated take on Phileweb’s coverage of the Silberman/Gray visit that includes photos of the Beetle itself. DAR will have more on the fully-formed Beetle after its official CES launch event in Las Vegas next month.

    Further information: AudioQuest | Beetle on Phileweb | Stereo Sound Publications

    Team AudioQuest pose with their D&M Holdings guides (left) and the Stereo Sound crew.




    Stereo Sound’s 2015 Summer/Autumn headphone guide.
    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. AudioQuest seems overpriced for something that does only 24-96. That’s yesterday’s news. They need to write some drivers to enable at least 24-192.

      • I think if you want 24/192 then a different DAC is yours for the taking. The way I see it, with the Beetle AudioQuest are pandering less to the more extreme end of audiophillia and are more about the FAR broader appeal at the entry level of better Bluetooth and improving the sound of streamers, TVs and the like. If I slap one of these on a Chromecast Audio it’ll make EVERYTHING sound better.

        I’m curious though: how does your collection divide percentage-wise between 16/44, 24/96 and >24/96?

        • The problem with the FAR broader market is they don’t really care about the ultimate sound quality. It’s evident by the way Hi-res seems to be stuck in the little niche. The Beetle doesn’t do enough to set it self apart from the DAC chip built in to your device or any other add-on you can get for a few dollars.

          I, like most, have more CD’s than hi-res but that’s because nobody trusts the labels to put out properly transferred well mastered titles. But If I was a beginner and had one title that’s 192K or DSD and wanted to hear it, I wouldn’t buy a device that doesn’t play it.

          • Fair enough. If you’re sufficiently curious about DSD or 24/192 then you need something else; the Beetle isn’t for die hard hi-rez-ers. However, I find AQ’s DragonFly a marked step up from the headphone output of any smartphone or laptop. If this is anything to go by, the Beetle should bring similar levels of SQ amelioration to a Sonos Connect and/or Google Chromecast Audio. As such, I think the Beetle promises to bring the message of ‘better sound on a budget’ to more folk than hi-res could ever dream of. With this new product, AQ are taking the conversation to people who listen to Apple Music and Spotify, who dig the convenience of Bluetooth – the very people who (as you say) might not care about SQ.

    2. Hi John,

      Do you have any idea how the Beetle relates to the Dragonlfy in terms of sound quality.
      I recently purchased a Dragonfly to drive my new Fostex T50RP III’s (put my money where your mouth is). While i’m really happy about the Dragonfly in combination with my laptop, in combination with my phone (Oneplus One) the Dragonfly somehow has less power so this combination is not as succesfull as with the laptop. So perhaps it would make more sense the return the Dragonfly and wait for the Beetle. The addition of toslink is interesting since i also use a Teufel Raumfeld Connector in my living room and perhaps the Beetle drives my Fostex better from my phone. By the way, in all your articles I’ve never seen the Teufel device mentioned. Is Teufel stuff not available Down Under? The pricing would fit your affordable audio adventures perfectly.

      • I’ve not heard a Beetle yet so can’t comment on its SQ, let alone how it compares to the DF.

        Funny: I visited Raumfeld in Berlin earlier this year. They seem to be really making a play for better sound in the high street – and that’s *great* – but their gear isn’t something I’ve really considered for review, especially when time is so darn tight here. Unsure of its availability down under.

        PS Fostex’s latest revision of the T50RP is superb, isn’t it?

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