AudioQuest Beetle

Device Type: Optical–Bluetooth–USB DAC
Full Specifications
Availability: All over the place
Price: $199.99

Nothin' Bugs Me

To my way of thinking, if you want a DAC that offers USB, Optical, and Bluetooth inputs and you want it to sound good without deciding between it and a car, I have news for you.

AudioQuest disrupted the apple cart when they introduced the first DragonFly DAC ($249) back in 2012 (see review). The AQ team has since made the DragonFly(s) better and cheaper. Imagine that! So why do we have a Beetle when a DragonFly will do? Two words—optical, Bluetooth. I like to think of the Beetle as the stay at home near the warmth of the TV DAC, while the 'Flys are on-the-go. YMMV. You see, you can have two cables sticking out of the back of Beetle; a micro USB connected directly to an outlet for power-only or connected to a computer for power and digital in, and Toslink to your TV. No wires needed for Bluetooth.

If you've read the full specs on Beetle you'd know it can pass up to 24/96 PCM data through the wired inputs and up to 48kHz for Bluetooth. The beating heart of Beetle is the ESS 9010 DAC chip with its minimum phase filter employed. The Bluetooth input, like the USB input, is Asynchronous. While book-length comments can be written on that one word, asynchronous, even more when conjoined with "Bluetooth", the takeaway of note is—how does it sound. We'll get there shortly.

Like its insect brethren, Beetle has a multi-colored LED in its. . . face?, that lights up different colors indicating the incoming sample rate; Green = 44.1kHz; Blue = 48kHz; Amber = 88.2kHz; Magenta = 96kHz. The little black Beetle is otherwise fairly nondescript but I do appreciate the matte top with shiny logo and shiny sides because it means someone thought about it.

I used Beetle on my desktop and in my main system which has recently seen a welcome change; Beetle > AudioQuest Victoria 3.5mm - RCA cable > Leben CS600 Integrated Amp > DeVore gibbon X. On the desk Beetle was connected to my Adam A3X using a 3.5mm to RCA adapter and a pair of AudioQuest Yukon ICs.

Scarabaeus sacer

Did you know that the Scarabaeus sacer was important to the ancient Egyptians (and the Director of The Mummy (1999)), because they saw an analogy between the beetle's habit of rolling a ball of dung across the ground and the sun god Ra who rolled the sun across the sky. You're welcome.

The AudioQuest Beetle sounds much better than $199.99. The USB input sounds better than Bluetooth but Bluetooth sounds good, too. I did not test Toslink from my TV because I no longer have a system in the house that will accommodate such a thing. I think we can safely assume Toslink sounds good, too.

On my desktop with Beetle getting its bits from my iMac controlled by Roon for playback serving the ADAM active speakers, music was nice and full and fat and delicious. As music tends to be. There's nothing about the sound of the Beetle that calls undue attention to its price which is good for everyone. For comparison, I compared the Beetle to the same-priced DragonFly Red and I felt the Red sounded a bit better—richer and more fleshed out making Beetle sound comparatively lighter weight. That being noticed, I view these two DACs as having different purposes, as mentioned previously, so the relatively subtle differences are only important if you ignore their taxonomic rank.

In the main system, the little Beetle sounded much better than its price, which is good for everyone. I was having so much fun feeding it music from my iPhone via Bluetooth, I lost interest in A/B'ing. Then again, A/B'ing never holds my interest for long. Music was rich and full and enjoyable. As it tends to be. Let's talk about volume; when connected on my desktop I used Roon's volume control and left the Adam's control set at 0dB. When playing music from my iPhone via Bluetooth, I used the iPhone's volume controls. IN the main system when feeding Beetle from my microRendu, like my desktop Roon was in play as was its volume control.

keep an eye out for the Apocalypse Now moves

Here Comes the Sun

I blame Stephen. Aldous Harding has been on continuous play in-barn through every device that makes music. On the desktop, on my phone, in the main system. Beetle handled all of these scenarios really well, well enough so that I could listen in to Aldous and feel her wonderfully weird vibe. Of course I missed my main system for all of its moreness, allowing as close a listen in as I've heard, but let's not. Let's not compare a $199.99 DAC to a totaldac.

What I'm saying is, unless you are hell-bent on listening for flaws (dung) instead of to music (sun), the Beetle fills a need. Nicely. If you need a DAC that offers USB, Toslink, and Bluetooth that turns these inputs into music and you've got something else to do with your over-$200 money, a Beetle in hand is worth more than $199.99.

Associated Equipment

Brown Sound's picture

Great review, Michael! So I gather the Beetle cannot do 192kHz, DSD or MQA, like my DragonFly (v1.0)? Is there the possibility for firmware updates, like the newer DragonFlies?
Anyhoo, how would you rate the iFi Nanos to the Beetle? I currently run a Nano iDSD (v1.0) and love the sound, but the new Nano Black will now decode MQA. I've heard the term 'housesound' tossed around and wondering if you had a preference?
BTW, owning the AQ DragonFly (v1.0) and the iFi Nano iDSD (1.0) was your doing and I love them. Thanks!

Dick James's picture

...and it can't handle 24/192, DSD, nor MQA. It tops out at 24/96.

Brown Sound's picture

I know the specs of the DragonFly (v1.0), sir. My question was about the Beetle being upgradeable like the newer DragonFlys (Red & Black). MQA would be nice for streaming Tidal, in a non-flying mode, eh?

biglebowski's picture

Yeah that new triple lindy dac thingy is great and all but sweet jesus, Aldous. Amazing.

musicfirst's picture

No way uber expensive DACs like the TotalDac d1-Six that cost >$10k are 50x better than a $200 Beetle. You said it well, people who buy such expensive DACs aren't true music lovers, they're purely hell bent on listening for flaws instead. Same with crazy expensive music servers like an Antipodes, Aurender or dCS Network Bridge. There's simply no need to spend thousands when hundreds will do, Audiophiles are [flame deleted, Ed.] who are easy prey because of their emotional vulnerabilities!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I'd say you misunderstood what I wrote ;-)