The inspiration of the Questyle QP1R portable player is easily compared to Apple, not only for the fact that it shares a China-based Foxconn factory for manufacturing, but also with a nod towards the days-long-gone-by click wheel that takes on much of the player’s navigation.
The QP1 digital player comes in two flavors, the R for “reference” version ($899) reviewed here and a vanilla version QP1 ($599), the former of which sports “higher quality components as well as a more critical approach to the audio circuit which produces lower distortion (QP1R THD+N=0.0006%, QP1 THD+N=0.0015%).” Both products are offered in silver and gold colors similar to the latest crop of iPhones on the market. More importantly, both offer some of that current-mode amplification technology that proved to be the magic juice for the outstanding CMA 800R headphone amplifier we reviewed [here].
Spec-wise things look very promising as well. The QP1 supports DSD128 and up to 24/192kHz PCM playback as well as offering 3 levels of gain control to properly match wits to the appropriate headphone. On paper and in execution, the player is very much an audiophile’s device. In addition to utilizing current-mode circuitry design, the amplification stage is pure class A with discrete transistors and components employed throughout the device. Digital duties arrive care of the flagship chipset from Cirrus Logic (CS4398) which is the same chip utilized in the Astell & Kern AK240 player ($2,500). The internal 3300 MaH battery claims up to 10 hours of battery life and the QP1R has 32GB of internal memory which can be expanded via the two micro SD card slots located on the bottom edge of the unit (up to 256GB per slot).
In the hand the aluminum-fortified device feels well constructed and hefty, but not so much that it is overbearing in a pocket. A rotary volume knob protrudes from the top edge and well covered from any missteps by a protective case design. Next to the volume adjustment you will find two 3.5mm jacks, one serving as a headphone output and the other as a dual analog line out and digital optical connection. According to the Questyle website, the QP1 headphone output impedance is rated at .19 ohms, while the QP1R is even lower at .15, both of which should provide plenty of room for sensitive IEMs. Both the back and front offer up black-colored Gorilla glass panels held together by the finished aluminum frame. A singular side button allows the device to be powered up or down, and the bottom edge features the aforementioned micro SD card slots and micro USB connection. The front-facing side houses the color display screen, 4 navigation buttons and Questyle’s “Steering Wheel”. Navigation through the onscreen menu’s was simple enough and the UI proved to be fairly straightforward and easy to use. Dropping files on the device was (thankfully) a simple click and drag and no additional software was needed to interface with my Macbook Air. The software design of the device proved to be fairly reliable, as I did not experience a single system crash throughout my critical listening sessions. The gain settings for the headphone output are accessed in the setup menu, but never proved to be much of a burden to activate when switching between headphones. The steering wheel of course harkens back to the classic navigation tool from the original Apple music playback device. It works fairly well although the texture of the wheel’s surface appeared bit slippery at times which would make the menu clicks skip a beat every so often. I’m told this happens less as the wheel is properly broken in, but the application of any type of friction grabbing material to the ring seems like it would easily remedy the situation straight out of the box.
Overall the sound of the QP1R fits securely into the little slice of Venn diagram overlap with circles labeled “detail” and “natural delivery”. It is a very good spot to be found in. The level of clarity the Questyle player is able to transmit is distinctly superior to your typical Apple product or default player. This is a very important factor to note as the device costs more than the typical player, and more resolution at the player level is often very hard to come by. The double win comes from its ability to sound natural within that heightened detail. Too much of a good thing can sometimes take a weird turn and detail can get aggressive, edgey or just a little funky sounding. Not so with the QP1R. More in this case is much better, and it’s easy to see where the device draws it main value proposition from in direct comparisons.
The new 100 ohm Audeze LCD-4 turned over plenty of volume from the device, as did the hard-to-drive 300-ohm Sennheiser HD650. Listening to Jason Mraz track 93 Million Miles it was easy to pick out texture separation from Jason’s voice and the rest of the audio spectrum. The depth and dimensionality of his voice at 24/96 during the lighthearted entry verse seemed 93 million miles away from the crackle of a iPod headphone playing crinkled low resolution MP3’s. It was equally gratifying to hear the holographic placement of the clinking percussion panned to the far left and right like falling rain, far away from the center mix, but yet still identifiable and separated beautifully in their own location. Mid range tone and texture was rich and finely woven around space it occupied. With the LCD-4 the same track played through an iPhone 6 Plus left Jason’s voice slightly more flat and congested by comparison and also required nearly max volume from the phone. Frequency response was spot on straight out of the box but the QP1R does offer a 10 band EQ with 2 custom presets for those interested in a little fine tweaking. Bass shove from tracks assumed proper measure and trust, all the while dancing appropriately with unassuming foundation and crisp, pleasurable, bassy fullness ripe with definition.
I was surprised how much performance Questyle was able to squeeze out of the $899 pricepoint for the QP1R. One of the best performers I have heard in this category is the AK240 by Astell & Kern ($2,500), and while the big dog was able to edge out the QP1R in terms of a slightly more natural presentation, it was impressive to see how close the sound was between the two for less than half the price.
Questyle’s QP1R is a digital player that delivers on the promise of better sound than your typical portable off-the-shelf device. Its blend of finely-tuned precision playback and pleasant overall demeanor allows it to pull away from the pack of $500 and under DAPs that are currently flooding the market. The build and design follow suit with a solid presentation and easy-to-use, upfront UI. Questyle’s efforts here make a very respectable follow up to the current mode amplifiers it has already established itself with. There is plenty to love, even at a pricepoint that starts to contend with the upper sanctions of portable HiFi. It is a great recommendation for anyone looking for a device that checks all the boxes and then some.