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How to add MQA support to AudioQuest DragonFly Black/Red

  • Munich High-End 2017 felt like a victory lap for MQA. Content licensing deals are now in place with all three major labels – Sony was announced with a whisper last week – as well as independent provider Merlin. From May 15th’s press release: “MQA and Merlin, the global digital rights agency for the independent label sector, have today announced a multi-year agreement that will support the world’s best-known independent labels to encode their master recordings in MQA’s industry-leading technology.”

    In January 2017, Tidal commenced streaming of MQA Master content from Warner Music with MQA-encoded titles from Sony and Universal still to come. Negotiations are ongoing between MQA (the company) and “other streaming services“.

    For the end user wanting more than MQA’s first unfold, as provided by desktop software applications like Tidal, Audirvana+ and Amarra, an MQA-certified DAC is required. Megabucks? Nope.

    This week in Munich, AudioQuest announced the availability of a firmware update to their DragonFly Black and Red USB DACs: v1.06 adds improvements to Android compatibility and MQA support. In case you missed it, the DragonFly Black sells for US$99. The Red for twice that.

    Future units will ship with MQA support pre-installed but existing users are first directed to the AudioQuest Desktop Manager app. Download it here.

    From the floor of Munich High-End 2017, AudioQuest’s Skylar Gray walks us through the update process:

    Now the wrinkle: the low-power Microchip micro-controller used in each DragonFly has only enough juice to apply MQA’s “deblurring” filter (rendering). The first (and only) unfold in this system is instead carried out by the desktop playback software. A team effort –hardware and software.

    Those seeing this as the DragonFly glass being one quarter empty are reminded that this update comes free of charge. Similarly, those with no interest in MQA can still use their DragonFly Black/Red with good old-fashioned PCM (up to 24bit/96kHz). We should not forget that the majority of the world’s music supply is lossy and lossless Redbook. MQA is a nice-to-have extra for interested parties.

    One thing’s now readily apparent: with licensing deals inked, streaming supply in motion and affordable supporting hardware now available, MQA is anything but DOA.

    Further information: AudioQuest | MQA

    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. The Meridian Explorer2 and the Meridian Prime Headphone Amplifier indicates the presence of MQA via a blue light. The Dragonfly Red’s light turns a purple color when MQA is present. It would be nice if there were a color consistancy for MQA music files. If there were, I would vote for the Blue of Meridian the originator of the encoding codex. I do wonder after reading your article if the purple is the results of the Dragonfly inability to fully decode the MQA signal.

      • I had the same problem when streaming MQA direct through Tidal desktop app. But when I switch over to Tidal through Room it changes colour to Blue. Haven’t played enough with it to work out why

        • If it turns blue, it’s not doing MQA. As DAR explains above, Tidal software has to do the first unfold before the Dragonfly can do its part. Turn MQA passthrough OFF in Tidal and you should see the light turn “purple” (a deeper shade of magenta than that used for regular 96k). Completely counterintuitive, but that’s how it works.

    2. how about connecting my dragonfly to the usb c ports on new macs?do adaptors spell hifi?
      from rome

      • Audioquest’s site has a USB c adapter available, as I’m sure Amazon et al do as well.

    3. how about answering my post about that contest you mentioned- i sent 3-4 suggestions of some unusual songs/albums and heard nothing not even how to enter the contest or where to send my suggestions
      BTW- i love my ME2 and AQ DF RED and i think MQA is maybe the best thing since white bread

      • *As per the text above*, you enter by commenting here – as you have done.

    4. Just to clarify, a Dragonfly Red/Black with the updated firmware paired with Tidal’s Desktop App has the ability to take full advantage of MQA? Because the “unfold” is being done by Tidal, is this inferior to a DAC that can do both?

      • “Inferior” might be slightly pejorative in this case. Instead I would suggest the AQ Dragonfly set-up will get you 96-98% of the available magic with minimal upfront fuss or investment. The remaining 4- 2% is available by utilizing those MQA DACs.

        Those last percentage points mean a lot to some people, less to others. Of note, my MBPR runs a tad hotter when performing the first unfold whether it’s booted up running MacOS or Windows.

    5. Darbonne, my Dragonfly black (with MQA update downloaded) just goes Magenta and stays Magenta no matter what type of file (MQA master, hifi Tidal or anything else) is playing. Is this the norm? I would dearly love to see some recognition of MQA from the unit…

    6. My error…I forgot to uncheck the disable MQA software box…now it is working fine! Light goes to Magenta for MQA, sample rate changes for the hi fi stuff depending. Early (1st day) review from my office is positive. MQA seems to reveal a bit more detail, track depending. The Dragonfly Black makes all of my files (most wav from cd rips) sound as good or better. Tidal sounds superb! More to come…

    7. ” The first (and only) unfold in this system is instead carried out by the desktop playback software” – that’s not what Gordon Rankin is saying over at Computer Audiophile. Tidal does the first unfold, subsequent unfolds are done by the Dragonyfly microcontroller and/or DAC (he’s being a little ambiguous on purpose).

      • This is what I was told by AudioQuest in Munich. *Twice* – I double-checked. But Rankin knows best on matters DragonFly. Meanwhile, I’ll wait for him to email me with a correction. 😉

    8. I don’t use Tidal so I don’t know how it works. I’m interested in the MQA remasters of Led Zeppelin IV and Physical Graffiti. Can I purchase a single MQA track to be used offline without Tidal app.

      Is there any windows 7 music player software that can do the unfold and the rest is handled by DF Red. I know Jriver can’t do it.

      • Just FYI – Tidal still offers a 30-day free trial. Sign up, download the Tidal ‘Desktop App’ and update the DF Red’s firmware. Zeppelin’s Remastered Albums sound amazing using the Master/MQA files and serves as a great example of the benefits MQA offers.

        • Thanks for the reply Nick
          Yes I know, but the Tidal HiFi subscription is not available in my country yet so I can not use the trial version. Is there a way to download the files without subscribing?

 says that the albums are available in MQA but “Unfortunately, the album can not be purchased at the moment due to country and license restrictions, or the official release date for your country is not yet available. We update our publication dates once or twice a week. Please take a look from time to time.
          We recommend you to add the album to your shopping cart.
          We appreciate your understanding and your patience.
          Yours, HIGH RES AUDIO”

    9. I am trying to get my updated AQ Dragonfly Red working with Foobar on Windows. I am using the WASAPI driver and turned off all DSPs, etc. I have download MQA files from 2L and David Elias. When playing normal FLAC files the DR light changes to the correct color depending on the bit rate. When playing the FLAC MQA files the light does not change to the expected Purple color indicating MQA?

      Has anyone gotten a Windows local software player working with MQA files and DR?



    10. I am trying to get my updated DR working with MQA with local files. I have download MQA files from 2L and David Elias. I am using Foobar and the WASAPI driver. When playing normal FLAC files the DR light changes color base on the resolution of the file. When I play MQA files the DR does not change to the expected purple color that indicates MQA files are being played?

      Has anyone gotten this working on Windows with a software player besides Tidal?


    11. Additional info: I’ve presented MQA files an updated AQ DF Red via the Onkyo HF Player app on an iPhone 7+. Depending on the native resolution of the source file the DF shows amber (88,2kHz) or magenta (96kHz) during playback. This would suggest it’s indeed able to decode MQA files without having the first unfold take place via software.

    12. I am a little bit dumber, so just to clarify, the Red will only play MQA through the desktop app but not through android device.

      • As of right now, MQA content is only being served by Tidal via its desktop apps.

        • Can confirm it works via Tidal service integrated into Roon. Interestingly it’s decoding at 48khz in Roon meaning a nice blue/purple glow on the DFR – it seems to be double-sampling up to 96khz in the Tidal desktop app, giving an orange glow on the DFR.

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