Dragonfire Acoustics Mini Dragon DFA 2.1 desktop playback system

Ever go on a blind date? If you've been on more than one, you know what it's like to encounter an entirely new product at an audio show: Sometimes it's love at first listen, your only question being, "When can we get together again?" Other times, you can't wait to say goodbye.

My blind date with the Dragonfire Acoustics Mini Dragon DFA 2.1 nearfield monitor system ($10,000), accessorized with its Kimber Kable Axios Goliath cable upgrade ($1500), took place during its coming-out reception at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) in Denver. After listening to a 24/96 file of Cassandra Wilson's "Dance to the Drummer Again" on the Dragonfire system, I scribbled in my notebook, "totally absolutely impressive . . . musical flow reigned supreme."

Astonished by what I had heard, I chatted with the system's SoCal-based designer, Dragoslav Colich, who is best known as the designer of Audeze planar-magnetic headphones. Colich told me he considered the Mini Dragon system's planar-magnetic loudspeaker his "life achievement . . . the finest transducer I have built."

I knew a way to spend more time with this system, whose remarkably transparent, detailed, colorful presentation seemed way beyond that of any computer-fed desktop system I'd ever heard: All I had to do was review it!

Matchmaking, though, isn't always smooth. After the complete Mini Dragon system crossed my doorstep, a wardrobe malfunction precipitated a painful episode of reviewus interruptus. It was only in mid-May of 2019, after my date had made a round-trip back home for a change of undergarment, that I had the opportunity to get to know Master Mini Dragon and his consort—and leave behind this already overstretched dating metaphor.

In the beginning . . .
Dragoslav Colich has spent 40 years working with planar-magnetic technology. His inspiration came from hearing the Magnepan MG-II loudspeaker, whose imaging struck him as a thing apart from that of other loudspeakers. "I was blown away by how nice and pleasant it sounded," he explained at the start of a lengthy phone interview. "So I took it apart, saw the simplicity of the technology, and got hooked."

In the 1990s, after working in the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia) with planar-magnetic drivers, Colich continued that work in Canada, at Sonigistix, a company that made planar-magnetic transducers for multimedia. The structures whose diaphragms he helped perfect were small, 4" x 8" transducers with near-full-range capabilities—used, Colich says, in "very similar applications to the Mini Dragon system."

819dragon.spkrs

After moving to California, Colich became CTO for HPV Technologies, developing full-range, highly efficient, high-power planar-magnetic loudspeaker systems that were used in churches, stadiums, and arenas, as well as in military and police applications. Colich cryogenically treated the diaphragms and explored the management of such factors as membrane tension and edge damping. He was, he now says, able to get his transducers to behave "like super-high–quality full-range speakers."

Six or seven years later, Colich began Dragonfire Acoustics. Soon after that, with three partners, he co-founded Audeze, where he "squeezed all that I'd developed into super-high–quality headphone transducers that worked so well that they could also be used in loudspeakers." After an initial attempt to make a floorstanding loudspeaker that included a 4"-diameter planar-magnetic driver, he opted instead to design the Mini Dragon Satellite dipole loudspeaker, with a 5" by 10" planar-magnetic transducer, housed in a machined-aluminum frame. Colich describes the Mini Dragon Satellite as a "a near full-range speaker with a super–low-mass diaphragm. We have tremendously strong magnetic flux within the magnetic structure and use open circuits for the internal planar magnetic transducer. There are no steel pole pieces to close the magnetic circuit. Instead, Fluxor magnets (footnote 1) are attached to aluminum stators [that] are nonmagnetic.

"We also have tremendously high magnetic induction—about 1.8 tesla—in the middle of the magnet where the diaphragm sits. That is an unimaginable number for normal designs. Even if you go to dynamic drivers which have focused fields with large magnets where the voice coil is, you get 1.5 tesla or less. Maybe in some compression drivers you have a little more. To me, it is a very large achievement to get such tremendously high magnetic induction with open circuits."

From RMAF 2018 to the present
Dragonfire Acoustics accompanied the launch of its Mini Dragon system with a website that marketed it as a collection of separate albeit interrelated components, each of which could be purchased on its own. After I submitted this review, Dragonfire launched a new version of their website that places greater emphasis on the interrelatedness of the products in what is now labeled the Mini Dragon DFA 2.1 system ($10,000). The site continues, though, to list that system's individual components as separate products, with prices for most:

• Mini Dragon Satellite speakers ($4998/pair).

• MD-4 250Wpc class-D amplifier/system DAC/DSP controller ($3498), which contains the DSP system that corrects the satellite's inherently uneven frequency response, adjusts time and phase alignment, and implements the crossover with the subwoofer. It also makes some preliminary adjustments to correct for the shape of the desktop—this being a desktop audio system.

• SHD headphone amp/streamer ($998), a third-party product from Hong Kong-based company miniDSP, sold by Dragonfire as the SHD Studio streaming processor ($899). The SHD contains a quad-core processor for network streaming (preloaded with the Volumio music player), a headphone amp with a single output jack, and Dirac Live room-correction software. The SHD is the system's digital source, volume control, and room-correction engine.

• DFA SB-8P active subwoofer ($498), containing an 8" long-excursion driver, an 8" passive radiator, and its own 180W amplifier.

• A calibrated USB measurement microphone.

• A standard set of system-connection cables, some of them cryogenically treated.

The user supplies his or her own source of audio data—in my case, a 2017 Apple iMac running Roon 1.6 (build 416) playback software.

Dragonfire offers an optional Kimber Kable Axios Goliath Series cable upgrade ($1500), whose braided geometry of 16 24-gauge "super-pure" copper conductors per channel and FEP dielectric are claimed to "lower reactive losses and DC resistance while shielding the signal from electromagnetic interference."

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Despite what's on the website, Colich insisted by phone and email that, save for some professional applications where engineers are equipped to work with their own subwoofers and/or room-correction software, the Dragonfire components are intended to be used together. For example, without the DFA SB-8P subwoofer and the MD-4 amplifier, which crosses the satellites over to the sub, frequency response is limited on the low end to 200Hz—no bass and also no room correction. (I don't use active room correction in my reference system, but as you'll read below, I'm convinced that it's an essential component of the Dragonfire system, footnote 2.)

Setup complications
While the Mini Dragon manual lacks a tutorial on how to correctly use Dirac room-correction software to calibrate the system, that information appears in a second, 89-page publication, miniDSP SHD Series User Manual, the existence of which I learned about only days before submitting this review. Hopefully, by the time this review appears, Dragonfire Acoustics will have systems in place that ensure that all necessary documentation is supplied to users, either in print or download form.

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That said, I didn't have to worry about the absence of manuals, thanks to a visit from Dragonfire's immensely capable Dan Bockrath, a martial arts enthusiast with a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a regular DJ at the annual Burning Man festival. Bockrath spent several hours setting up the DFA 2.1 system, carefully aligning the centers of the Mini Dragon Satellites with my ears and using the microphone to run Dirac room-correction software on my Mac, to create a personalized room-correction curve.

Setup was not without its challenges. My preferred music playback software, Roon, at first refused to work with the SHD and its Dirac software; we used Audirvana until Bockrath was able to find the Roon webpage that details the appropriate audio settings for pairing Roon with Dirac. Once Roon was running, I confirmed once again that, to these ears, Audirvana's sound is brighter on top and less fleshed out in the midrange than Roon—the superior tonal balance of which necessitated the creation of a new room-correction curve.

While Dragonfire recommends that its DFA SB-8P subwoofer be placed under the user's desk, equidistant from the satellites, I thought that bass sounded muddy in that position. Perhaps this was because, instead of using a rectangular desk, I work on a large two-tiered triangular affair (54" deep by 66" wide) that sits in a corner of my office. Unless the Dragonfire subwoofer was placed very far back under the desk, its left- and right-side drivers would fire directly into my desk's 14"-wide steel supports, with less than 6" of breathing room between them.


Footnote 1: Fluxor refers to a design, patented by Colich, in which magnets are magnetized diagonally, at a 45° angle, and arranged in pairs for optimal focusing of their flux lines with respect to the diaphragm and its conductors.

Footnote 2: Stereophile's long-standing policy is to review just one component at a time. We went forward with this review because I concurred with Colich's opinion that the Dragonfire speakers and accessories should be viewed as an inseparable system. In particular, the Dragonfire satellites, which are the system's core technology and the star of the show, are essentially unusable without the bass extension provided by the subwoofer and the frequency correction provided by the system's DSP.

COMPANY INFO
Dragonfire Acoustics
Orange County, CA
(657) 667-6187
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Anton's picture

I've loved my Monsoon desktop speakers for years. Glad to see them getting some upscale cred!

JRT's picture

In the late 1990s I bought a 4-channel variant of Bruce Thigpen's Eminent Technology LFT-11.

http://www.eminent-tech.com/lft11prod.html

http://www.eminent-tech.com/graphics/desktopandruler2.jpg

http://www.eminent-tech.com/graphics/wooferandruler2.jpg

Anton's picture

Factoring in technological advancements and inflation, those are 10,000 dollar speakers!

I still use my Monsoons, they are uncannily musical creatures.

Ortofan's picture

... a pair of Wilson Audio TuneTots?
https://www.hifinews.com/content/wilson-audio-tunetot-loudspeaker

Bogolu Haranath's picture

According to Hi-Fi News TuneTot measurements ........

There is a nice, approx. 8 db 'BBC dip' in the presence region ........ The frequency response almost looks like a 'roller-coaster' ride .......... The sensivity is somewhat on the low side 83-84 db ......... Distortion levels seem to rise as the frequency decreases ....... Pair matching is also, not that great +/- 5-6 db :-) ........

I saved the best for the last ........ They cost $10,000/pair and they don't come with an amp :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

KEF active, wireless, DSP controlled LS series ........ KEF EGG, LSX, LS-50 wireless and LS-50 wireless Nocturnes are all lot less expensive than Dragonfire :-) .........

Anton's picture

They don’t cost enough!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

In response to Ortofon's question, would I rather have a pair of Wilson TuneTots.... Every desktop system I've used in Port Townsend and Oakland, starting with AudioEngine 5s, has included self-powered loudspeakers. The Wilson Tune Tots would have to be paired with a different DAC, and would need appropriate amplification that I don't currently have on hand. Oh, and speaker cable as well.

As for comparing the sound of the speakers alone (which is the next question that a reasonable audiophile might ask), they are completely different animals requiring different connections and electronics. They're also designed for different placement. We're not talking apples and oranges; we're talking apples and almonds. Personally, I like them both. The foods, that is. I have only heard the TinyTots once, and have no educated opinion to offer.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be JVS could review the KEF LS-50 wireless Nocturnes ($2,500/pair)? ........... LS-50 Nocturnes are the top of the line model in the KEF LS wireless series ......... Nocturnes are active, wireless and DSP controlled ........ Nocturnes were not reviewed by Stereophile :-) ........

Anton's picture

I think that would be a way cool niche for Jason if it isn't to monotonous for him.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be not as monotonous as listening to Diana Krall over and over and over and ........ again :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... supply the amp (and DAC and DSP, if needed) as a complete system or would you prefer having the freedom to select the ancillary components (and cables) yourself?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If and when Wilson Audio comes up with an active, self powered, wireless, DAC and DSP controlled speakers for $50k ....... guaranteed JVS would be the first one in line to review them ...... Of course Nordost would be supplying the necessary cables :-) ..........

Ortofan's picture

... for a new Wilson product code named '4D'.
It will be an active model, with the speaker designed by Daryl (Wilson), the amplifier from Dan D'Agostino, the DAC from dCS and the DSP from Dirac.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

.... and the power supply cord is gonna be the $10,000 Synergistic 'world reference' power cord? :-) .......

Ortofan's picture

... Nordost products?
Try their Odin 2 power cord.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Aha ....... Great comparison review project for JVS ........ Comparison review between Nordost Odin2 power cord and 'World's reference' power cord .......... If JVS selects the 'less expensive' WR power cord, we can all save some money here ....... We can still use the Odin2 digital and analog interconnects ...... unless, the Wilson '4D' is totally wireless like the B&W Formation Duo .........

I can see endless possibilities for Wilson '4D' ......... Wilson could come up with a wireless surround sound system like the Enclave Audio system (see S&V website) ......... Wilson could also come up with a '4D' surround sound, soundbar like the Sennheiser Ambeo (see S&V review) ......... Also, height channel speakers, in-ceiling speakers, in-wall speakers, outdoor speakers, automobile speakers .......... :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

When JVS buys an eco-friendly Tesla automobile, he could get a custom installed Wilson Audio automobile system ....... and, write a review for Stereophile :-) ..........

Hi-Reality's picture

Thank you Jason for this great report and review. This was extra special to read since I had the pleasure to interview Dr. C at the T.H.E SHOW IN LONG BEACH 2019 and record a demo (in binaural audio) of this very system. Enjoy:

Dragonfire Acoustics (Part 1: System Presentation): https://youtu.be/BjzWkNhzq04

Dragonfire Acoustics (Part 2: Sound Demo: Roger Waters!): https://youtu.be/ay3Tb53umuY

Regards, Babak
Hi-Reality Machines

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