Questyle

I have seen mentions of Questyle products in the forum. I thought I would start a dedicated thread to share our experiences with Questyle products.

The Questyle CMA Fifteen was released one week ago but I don’t know if anyone here has yet listened to it.

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Questyle CMA Twelve
The Questyle CMA Twelve is a $1,500 combined DAC and headphone amplifier in one chassis that is at the top of the price range that I would normally purchase. So, being absolutely curious about what I might be missing, I joined the list for the Questyle CMA Twelve tour through Audio46. Audio46 kindly and most generously provided the demonstration Questyle CMA Twelve unit for a one week audition in my home. What I experienced using this DAC/headphone amplifier has unexpectedly turned out to be quite a shocking revelation to my ears resulting in a turn of events that has led me down a very unexpected path of enjoyment.

Questioning Value
For me, value is inseparable from gear evaluation. For decades I have lived as a devout disciple to the philosophy of the point of diminishing returns. Among my fellow disciples, are traditions of reassurance that too little improvement in sound quality is gained by spending over some predetermined amount of money. For me, this spending cap amount began decades ago at $150, then increased to $300, and then again to $800. Last year, my cap limit had raised all the way up to $1,200. The value of the Questyle CMA Twelve amplifier section is approximately this amount when one considers that it contains a DAC that might be valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $400. Consequently, I was dying to find out if this $1,500 DAC/amplifier would be a waste of time or worthy upgrade.

Amplifier Section
I decided that I would compare the amplifier section of the Questyle CMA Twelve to seventeen of my favorite and popular solid state amplifiers of my collection. I was particularly interested to see how the Questyle CMA Twelve would compare against my very favorite of the bunch, the Rebel Audio RebelAmp $500. The RebelAmp is a giant killer when paired with certain headphones of my collection. In some combinations able to outperform costlier amplifiers such as my ultra-dynamic Headamp Gilmore Lite Mk2 $800 and my ultra-detailed Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2 $875.

For connection to the RebelAmp for the demo, WBC Mogami Amphenol interconnects from the DAC section of the Questyle CMA Twelve fed RCA input on the RebelAmp. A front panel switch on the Questyle CMA Twelve facilitated easily switchable A/B amplification comparisons. From the get go, the amplification section of the Questyle CMA Twelve demonstrated extreme competence with a variety of headphones. Having fallen in love with my RebelAmp over the past few months, I initially preferred its’ organic warmth over the sharp amp section of the Questyle CMA Twelve. The RebelAmp presented a sweeter, warmer, bloomy smooth intimate sound that I had grown to love and have become accustomed to hearing. Conversely, the amplification section of the Questyle CMA Twelve manufactured precision within a detail oriented presentation that was a sharp contrast to the organic round full sound of the RebelAmp. It became apparent that the Questyle CMA Twelve had very good technical qualities. This included evenly distributed and precise imaging across the sound stage in conjunction with a high degree of instrumental separation that might likely benefit studio production work. I however preferred the RebelAmp’s relaxed smooth blend of instruments that formed a comforting, intimate, and enveloping realistic ambiance that I could easily lose myself within the music. Unfortunately, my excitement over the prospect of uncovering further proof of the RebelAmp’s greatness was short lived. Instead, the amplifier section of this $1,500 high-end Questyle CMA Twelve crushed each one of my preconceived notions one by one. As listening commenced, and more time passed, my ear began to hear and appreciate so much more from the Questyle CMA Twelve than I could have anticipated.

The Questyle CMA Twelve brain burn-in grew within my being. Meaning, my ears and brain began to hear characteristics that I had been initially unaware of. Since my brain had become accustomed to the magic of the RebelAmp and formed a bias towards many of it’s particularly formidable characteristics, brain burn-in was a prerequisite to making comparisons between headphone amplifiers. An appreciation for the heightened precision of the Questyle CMA Twelve manifested each time one of my biases for the RebelAmp melted away. I continued to listen to a variety of tracks switching A/B between the amplifiers. I could now distinctly detect multiple characteristics of the Questyle CMA Twelve that exceeded the RebelAmp’s. For one, the perceived image of instruments upon the soundstage was so precise that each time I returned to the amplification of the RebelAmp I could not help but feel that instrumental separation had manifested into a sort of defocused blur. Not blurred to a large enough degree to detracted from my enjoyment. However, enough unfocus that I began to find myself leaning towards a preference for the precision provided by the Questyle CMA Twelve. Enough to suggest that in a blind A/B test, that most would probably choose the Questyle CMA Twelve over the RebelAmp. So, the answer to my quest was a resolving “No.” My precious RebelAmp, that I prize above all other solid state amplifiers of my collection, could NOT outperform the Questyle CMA Twelve in terms of sound quality save for the ability to create a warmer intimate up-close presentation. What quantifiable ratings can I assign to the amplifier performance of the Questyle CMA Twelve? With my top performing planar headphones, the amplifier selection of the Questyle CMA Twelve is favorable with over ninety percent of my music. This would safely allow me to also place it at the best amplifier of the bunch. So, congratulations are in order. Questyle, I hereby award your CMA Twelve amplifier first place.

Just as I wrapped up this listening comparison with my favorite headphones, the UPS man knocked on my door and delivered a pair of HifiMan HE6se V2 $600. So, I threw the HE6se V2 on the rigs. I began the entire listening session over again, comparing all of the amplifiers to the Questyle CMA Twelve using my new favorites the HE6se. The Hifiman HE6se V2 blew me away and is likely to replace the Monolith M1570 as one of my two favorite headphones. But, that is another story for another day.

Some of you will likely ask me how certain amps in the comparison stacked up against the Questyle CMA Twelve. So I will provide a brief summary.

Amplifiers that came close or possibly sometimes excelled with Audeze LCD-X (2020), HifiMan Ananda, and HifiMan HE6se V2 headphones:

1st place - Questyle CMA Twelve
2nd place - Rebel Audio RebelAmp
3rd place - Schiit Jotunheim 2
4th place - Schiit Jotunheim 1 (Discontinued, readily available used)

Amplifiers that came close or possibly sometimes excelled with Monoprice Monolith M1570:

1st place - Questyle CMA Twelve
2nd place - Rebel Audio RebelAmp
3rd place - Ray Samuels Emmeline XP-7
4th place - Singxer SA-1

Notes On Runner Ups
Questyle CMA Twelve has turned out to be quite an excellent piece of gear and a spectacular value. It is worth noting that the Schiit Jotunheim also had the Multibit DAC card installed so I figured I may as well let you know that for those of you that want to save lots of money, that are looking for an alternative to the Questyle CMA Twelve that the Schiit Jotunheim 2 at $600 with the Multibit DAC card is a very good budget alternative that does not achieve the performance of the Questyle CMA Twelve, but does not disappoint at it’s price point. The only thing that bothers me is that the Schiit Jotunheim 2 does put out heat from the top from it’s vent holes compared to the Questyle CMA Twelve that is barely warm. One plus side of the Schiit Jotunheim 2 is that it does take up a smaller footprint.

I could not help but notice the similarities of the front jacks and switches of the Questyle CMA Twelve to my $540 Singxer SA-1 and I get the feeling that someone out there just might be wondering if they sound the same. Hooking them both up to an A/B switch, I was met with very similar qualities. Both provide very technical and detailed presentations. However, on A/B comparison, the Questyle CMA Twelve is superior. The Singxer SA-1 is sort of a baby Questyle CMA Twelve. If you already own the Singxer SA-1, you may not want to upgrade if you are already content. An upgrade to the Questyle CMA Twelve would gain you clarity and precision but similar characteristics are found in the Singxer SA-1 at perhaps sixty percent of the amplification performance at perhaps fifty percent of the price.

Will I Upgrade?
Previously, I would never have considered the Questyle CMA Twelve. I entered into this trial fully expecting to inform the headphone community not to purchase the Questyle CMA Twelve. Instead, I am now wondering if I should liquidate all of my headphone amplifiers and upgrade to the Questyle CMA Twelve. How very unexpected this all has turned out for me.

DAC Section
I am in the camp that believes that cheap budget DACs are good enough, again due to the point of diminishing returns, which is of a magnitude greater when considering DACs compared to amplifiers. So, even though I think many would be willing to spend the money for the improved sound of the Questyle CMA Twelve DAC section, I could easily stay content enough with a thinner sound of $100 DACs. The lessened quality sound is easily distinguishable to my ears yet it does not detract from my enjoyment of music when the A/B switch has been removed from the equation. The one exception being my $200 Schiit Multibit DAC card in my Schiit Jotunheim 2 all in one headphone/DAC amplifier. It only sounds better on some tracks on the rare occasion that I am in the mood for colored multibit sound. But this is not enough to make any real difference. Perhaps I might not appreciate a substantial improvement until I have upgraded to a very colorful DAC such as the very popular and highly acclaimed Schiit Bifrost 2.

However, for the rest of you that would like me to make a statement on how the Questyle CMA Twelve DAC performs against my mostly $100 DAC collection. Yes, the superiority of the Questyle CMA Twelve DAC is most clearly evident through an A/B comparison. Thinner $100 sound versus full bodied purer sound from the Questyle CMA Twelve. I think the majority of listeners would likely agree that the Questyle CMA Twelve is a superior DAC. It does propose quite a modest price for the upgrade over $100 DACs if one values the DAC section of the Questyle CMA Twelve somewhere around $400 of the Questyle CMA Twelve’s $1,500 msrp. In terms of value, the CMA Twelve is quite tempting. Plus, the DAC is already built into the unit for combined convenience if one is looking for a tidy setup. The DAC value is a conundrum of personal choice that one has to decide for themselves.

The Final Verdict
Clearly, I have been thrown a curveball. The Questyle CMA Twelve has caught me off guard with amazing performance along with tempting value. In quantifiable terms, I enjoy the Questyle CMA Twelve eighty percent of the time over the RebelAmp as a headphone amplifier. I enjoy the Questyle CMA Twelve nearly one-hundred percent of the time over my large collection of headphone amplifiers and $100 DACS. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Questyle CMA Twelve. It is a very good value. Particularly to those of you that are currently looking for an upgrade from entry level gear or someone looking to purchase their first headphone gear setup.

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