Desktop audio solutions for headphones take all forms and serve all matter of connectivity in recent years. Attempts at owning the personal audio space that lives and breathes around the computer workstation have proven to be a good solution for many manufacturers. The one-case approach of course reduces unwanted clutter and promotes convenience in a place where the attribute is most needed. Questyle’s headphone products enter the arena with plenty of audiophile-requested features and a heavy bias towards sound quality thanks to its solid-state current-mode amplification. This “current mode” goodness permeates almost all the company’s offerings, including the portable QP1r portable player. It is also a driving feature on the newest member of the lineup, the CMA600i ($1,299).
The CMA600i is a combination current mode headphone amplifier and DAC that sits just under the 800i ($2,495), a similar product in style and function. Questyle CEO Bruce Ball tells me that their target was at least 75% of the performance, but at half the price. The 600i drops the digital filter indicator on the front panel, but still includes switchable filters controlled via the included remote. Perhaps even more impressive, it receives a large add with the 4-pin balanced headphone connection that has long been missing from many of the company’s stellar amplifiers. This includes the standalone CMA800R amp, intended to run in dual mono mode with two amplifiers. More information on this type of setup can be found in the flagship “gold stack” (equipped with ceramic boards) from our show coverage [here]. The 600i forgoes all this stackage and reduces the process back down to a single box. Always a stickler for balanced amplification done right, Questyle has kept true to its roots by supplying the 4-pin jack with a true balanced path from end to end. This includes two separate amplifiers for the connection, and also some additional gain for those hard-to-drive headphones. Along with dual 3.5mm SE jacks, the 600i is capable of driving three pairs of headphones simultaneously. Most headphones worked very well with the SE output, but the newest version of the Audeze LCD-4 (although only at 200 ohms) benefitted greatly from the extra gain and/or the balanced nature of the 4-pin XLR. The back of the machine is chock full of options including both balanced and SE outputs, which allows the 600i to act as a pre amp in a pinch. The unit also ships with a remote to help solidify the idea. Digital options include USB, optical, and SPDIF coaxial in and out (output only for the coax). The box is offered in Foxconn space grey for the first time and holds a slightly darker hue than the silver wraps previously produced.
The 800i’s Wolfson WM8741 decoding chipset has been swapped out for the AKM AK4490 (same silicone used in the Astell and Kern AK380 flagship DAP) but keeps the same high resolution and DSD-friendly intentions of the lineup with compatibility up to DSD256. Native DSD playback is possible for PC connections and Macs utilize a converted DoP signal. The playback of Blue Coast Record’s Newport Sampler 1 in DSD took off without a hitch and indicator lights on the front panel assisted with signal confirmations for either PCM or DSD. First take on the playback quality proved to be very sufficient for the pricepoint. Dynamics, especially through the balanced input felt above par for the sub $1k range. In an effort to isolate the digital section’s performance, a substitution was made via the SE “HP Amp External Input” to the Auralic VEGA. Upon further digging, it turns out that this RCA input is actually converted to digital signal by an A/D chip and then back to analog again as it joins the rest of the signal path outward. Purists may want to adjust their plans accordingly, but feeding the back with different sources still delivered performances with discernable flair. Pumping the VEGA though the SE input managed to delivered a hair more micro detail to the headphone output though this chain. The detail retrieval overall from the AKM chip was still very admirable for the sub $1k range, if you consider the head amp to make up some of the overall value proposition for the unit. Even at full value, a next level jump in sound quality should require a bit more in the way of cost.
Set against the backdrop of Questyle’s own line, the company’s intent is clear with the 600i: +bang/buck. The one case one solution proposition nearly trips over itself trying to impress consumers. The feature set is exactly what you would expect for and audiophile device just over the horizon of $1k. Plenty of adaptability efficiently partnered and packaged with a strong showing from a current mode amp. The grand sum equals plenty of punch and performance, even if the singled-out amplifier output alone is a shade beneath that of the much pricier CMA800r standalone. Comparisons to the well-received Astell and Kern portable player revealed a similar look and feel in terms of detail retrieval, but the overall sound side-by-side uncovered a slight lean towards the analytical for the 600i, tit-for-tat. A digital-sourced setup should derive expectations that fill in the $1k range very nicely, while the 800r amp alone still plays well with the upper end of personal audio options. Strings hum, bass bounces and highs spin out with a natural pitch through the space grey chassis loaded with plenty of goodies. The one-size-fits-all routine here is clearly executed, although the USB-sourced intent still lingers around the campfire. Dual XLRs can run straight to integrated or monos however, and the USB can convert to coaxial SPDIF should the need arise. The remote doesn’t hurt the pre amp proposition either.
Stacked into the Questyle product line, it is easy to see the direction that Bruce and the team are aiming for with the 600i. The sound is very well rounded, as is the bountiful number of connections the sturdy, yet space-sensitive chassis holds. It aims to please, and its tight and dynamic recreation of music should supply any full-sized headphone with exactly what it needs to get the job done right. The timbre and tone feel very balanced, as does its frequency response – no abnormalities crept up in any scenario with our time with the device. All the boxes are checked in proper order for a combo DAC + amp, with a few extra thrown in for good measure. For Audeze LCD-4 owners (current revision), it is highly recommended that you check out the dual amp 4-pin XLR input. Using a WyWires Red Series balanced headphone cable as an upgrade to a standard ¼” wire proved to be a winning partnership and this observation could also likely be extrapolated to include any of the more power hungry headphones on the market. There is a subtle finesse to the CMA 600i that brings some very fine hues to the LCD-4 in this configuration.
The design makes it easy to hold up the mid tier pricing of the DSD-friendly piece that clearly has the modern audiophile in mind, with little else distracting it. Big add-ons like 4-pin XLR that are not included from pricers models are a big W in this case, as are the flavor-rich current-mode amplification technology that are included across the board for Questyle. Those looking for something that won’t break a wallet in two will find it comforting that the 600i does its very best to bring all the goods that are usually associated with higher price points, but at a cost that is much easier to swallow for most. It certain fills the need here with style, Questyle.
More Info: http://www.questyleaudio.com/product-600i