A Survey of Digital Audio Players Part 3 Questyle QP1R

DAP3_QuestyleQP1R_Photo_Main

Questyle QP1R ($899)
I've covered Questyle's desktop DAC/amp a few years back, and the company seems to have really grown in popularity since then. Despite their popularity with amps and DACs, their most talked about product ends up being their smallest—the QP1R portable player. This surprised me as they seem to be moving upscale with a lot of the desktop gear, as well as exploring more traditional HiFi markets with a dedicated preamp and a nifty wireless Class D speaker amp.

The initial plan was to have a more affordable QP1 and then a step-up model called QP1R with enhanced internal components and a correspondingly higher price tag. Somehow I don't think the base QP1 ever really came to fruition—I've never seen an example of one "in the wild" or even on the forums. Perhaps I just missed it. That may change going forward though and it's actually not a bad idea at all. More affordable players are always welcome.

I've been using the QP1R for quite some time and have really come to enjoy it. Then one day I notice Stereophile editor John Atkinson does too—see his review complete with measurements. Well, there goes my scoop. Still, in the context of other DAPs, it will be worthwhile to get a metric of how the Questyle stacks up.

External Design
The QP1R has an attractive and relatively thin design that stands out in a group of chunkier DAPs. Questyle contracts with Foxconn—known for making Apple's slick looking iDevices among many other electronics—to make their DAP, and it really shows. The little fit and finish details are really top notch with one significant exception which I'll discuss shortly.

Speaking of Apple, the general layout of the QP1R has a lot in common with early iPod devices before they went all iPhone-looking with the Touch series. The top half of the front panel features a 43mm x 39mm non-touch display, while the bottom portion has a physical scroll wheel with clickable center button. Surrounding that scroll wheel are four touch-sensitive buttons which augment the wheel's controls. There's a power button on the right side of the device but no transport controls, and the volume knob sits on top protected by a metal protrusions that prevent accidental adjustment.

Again recalling Apple products, the QP1R comes in silver (space gray?) or a sort of goldish hue (rose gold?) that looks very nice in real life. The entire rear panel plus any portion of the front not otherwise occupied with the scroll wheel are coated in Gorilla Glass. The end result is among the very best of the bunch as far as looks and feel are concerned.

Internal Design
Questyle is quick to point out that many DAP makers focus heavily on their DAC technology but say little or nothing of their amplification section. This is true of the Cowon Plenue models as well as the entire Astell & Kern range to name just a few. Not that those devices are necessarily poor in that way, it's just that the Plenue 1 is pretty exceptional. But Questyle launched on the strength of their high-end CMA800 headphone amp and it makes sense for them to focus on their amplification here as well.

DAP3_QuestyleQP1R_Photo_Inside

To that end, Questyle tells us their amp section is designed using all discrete transistors operating in pure Class A. As with all their products, "current mode architecture" is the order of the day. And as usual that only applies to internal signals—Questyle devices, unlike Bakoon's current-mode-output amps, convert current to voltage just before the output stage.

The DAC section uses a modified version of a tried and true design from the big Questyle desktop DAC models that brings a flagship Cirrus CS4398 DAC plus their "3X Clock" discrete oscillator design using ultra-low phase noise NDK parts. Like its desktop sibling, QP1R handles all the usual suspects including PCM up to 384kHz and native DSD64/DSD128 with no internal DoP conversion.

User Interface
Questyle doesn't advertise any info about the underlying operating system on their device. I spoke with my contact and he clarified a bit - they use a Linux-based system which keeps a very low overhead for maximum SQ. It's also more responsive than it would be running Android with similar hardware. But there's nothing really recognizable in terms of the user experience. It's all proprietary to Questyle, and it's fairly basic yet mostly effective.

Think old-school iPod or Sansa Fuze—scroll wheel moves through options, center button makes the selection. Easy. The capacitive buttons around the wheel offer "home" and "back" plus a "left" and "right". The side-mounted power button acts as a screen lock when tapped while long press powers up or down. It's pretty basic and actually works well...with one issue.

My initial experience was that of the scroll wheel being absolutely terrible. I actually thought my review unit was defective until I spoke with others who reported the same thing. It jumped back and forth seemingly at random, making selections way more difficult than they should be, at times almost comically so. It doesn't help that the physical button is so smooth and slippery. It offers zero visual feedback to show if it turned, so I often just slid my finger around while not actually moving it. The capacitive left and right buttons generally duplicate functionality with the scroll wheel, though when browsing albums they acted as a sort of page up and page down—I used them to get close to the target, then wrestled with the wheel to finish the job. It was doable though far from ideal.

As I updated the firmware multiple times, things ended up improving to the point where it's vastly more usable. Not perfect, but there's far less frustration involved. I notice Questyle changed the left and right buttons to where they always scroll one step at a time versus jumping to a new page. This was surely done to allow sidestepping of that awful wheel—you can pretty much get around using only those buttons if you want. Not sure when that change happened but the wheel on my unit is now so usable that I would welcome a return to the page up/page down functionality. I also hear talk about Questyle issuing stick-on pads for the wheel, to help with physical contact. It makes sense on paper and perhaps a few firmware updates ago it would have been beneficial, but at this point I'm reasonably happy with the experience as-is.

Aside from that, there's the somewhat clunky playlist creation system with a lack of naming ability—let's add this song to "playlist7", I hope that's where I keep solo piano and not thrash metal because that could get confusing. And then there's the EQ functionality which is basic and pretty tough to work with compared to most others. I also spotted a bug in the current (at time of writing) firmware that I had not noticed prior. I'm browsing by artist and whether I select Alyn Cosker or Badbadnotgood or Crooked Still, hitting "back" brings me way down to Yo-Yo Ma—second from the very bottom of the alphabetical artist list. This one is probably an easy fix while the playlist and EQ aspects are inherently limited based on the UI.

It's not all bad news though. There are some thoughtful touches like your choice of low, medium, and high gain, or the option to change menu font size (though it curiously doesn't impact the tiny scrolling artist name on the Now Playing screen). I also like the option of manual database updates only when the user chooses. Auto mode updates every time an SD card gets swapped, while Manual mode is nice for those folks who prefer working with directory structures and don't want to wait around for scans after every swap.

The volume knob rotation direction can be swapped so clockwise is either volume up or down, depending on what feels more logical to you. And volume level can be set to a default value for every startup, or to just remember the last setting. Nothing earth shattering here, but a lot of this appeared in later firmware revisions, and it shows Questyle takes feedback seriously.

Connectivity
The QP1R is pretty well covered in this area. Aside from the standard 3.5mm headphone out, there's a dedicated line-out jack which doubles as an optical digital out for use with an external DAC. Or, connect the QP1R over microUSB and use it as a DAC with your PC or Mac—a relatively recent addition via firmware update. It can even work as a USB to SPDIF converter to get your computer linked with an old-school DAC from the pre-USB era. The only things "missing" would be balanced headphone output and any sort of wireless connectivity, which I don't consider deal breakers.

While the QP1R has 32GB internal storage which is not much these days, Questyle generously supplies not one but two microSD expansion slots. Add a pair of 200GB cards (which have really come down in price lately) and you'll be sporting almost half a terabyte worth of total storage in this little DAP. I imagine 256GB cards will work fine as well, but those are still expensive at the moment and I have not bothered to try.

My one complaint is the microUSB connection which sits in a recessed "cutout" on the bottom of the device in between the microSD slots. Not only is there no real benefit to doing this, users with portable DACs will connect via Toslink, not microUSB, so there's no need to fortify the connection. Unfortunately, it really causes trouble with most cables. Of the dozen or so cables I have laying around the house, only a single one ended up fitting deeply enough into that recess to make the proper contact. And that was Questyle's bundled cable. None of my others did the job due to the moldings being too bulky. I'm sure I could find a working replacement if I looked carefully but the whole thing seems needlessly complicated. The design makes sense to protect the microSD slots, but there's no reason that should have carried over to the USB port.

Battery
With the lack of a touch-screen display and fancy visualizations, I was hoping for improved battery life compared to most others. Sadly this is not the case—QP1R ends up getting the usual 8-10 hours depending on format and volume levels. So pretty much standard in this area.

I did note a few instances where remaining battery life on my display didn't seem to match up with real world use. After being told I had 30% left, the thing would be dead in under 45 minutes. Which meant the 30% had never really been accurate. I don't recall this happening recently so perhaps it was fixed in a firmware update.

On the plus side, this battery lasts very well during power off. Many DAPs have slight battery drain even when not in use, so a full charge is really only 85% after sitting unused for a week. The QP1R seems to hold steady even when the thing sits unused for a long time.

Sound Quality
The QP1R is a strikingly clean, resolving playback system. It delves deeply into recordings and captures the subtleties you don't often hear with lesser players. This assumes the necessary recording quality exists in the first place, and of course a capable set of headphones. Get that chain right and the result is an illuminating experience. Get it wrong, and it won't sound bad, but you might find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about.

Using the QP1R to drive a set of Jomo Audio 6R custom in-ear monitors, I had a field day listening to the drumming of Simon Phillips on Hiromi's latest Trio Project album "Spark". While Hiromi is obviously a piano virtuoso, blindingly talented even to those of us who aren't experts on the matter, Phillips is a different kind of good. The average listener would certainly call him impressive, but it takes a percussionist to really appreciate the complexities and nuances of what he does. Even when he's doing something "simple" there's usually a lot more happening than most people can appreciate. His touch on the ride cymbal; his use of loose timing when it suits; his prowess with the dual 24-inch kick drums; and his ability to organically mesh with bassist Anthony Jackson even during complex phrasing. To my ears he combines the musicality of Tony Williams with the explosive precision of Billy Cobham—making him one of the greatest drummers around.

Phillips has been using Tama drums for years, and they now have a line of snares named after him. On Spark, his kit actually has all three models of his Tama Signature snares, each with very different construction. The "Monarch" snare, which gets the most use, has a unique sense of tone and a nice full-bodied snap. His other snares, the "Gladiator" and the "Pageant", each have their own distinct character. And his large array of custom-built Zildjian cymbals don't quite sound like anything else out there either. With a highly accurate monitor like the Jomo 6R, Questyle's DAP teases out these little nuances like few others. The Sony ZX2 and the HiFiMAN HM901S are the only possible contenders for this level of detail retrieval, with Cayin's N6 trailing a short distance behind. Everything else falls by the wayside, either through deliberately smoother voicing or just the inability to resolve those fine details. This is the sound Astell & Kern devices seem to be trying, yet failing, to properly achieve.

Keep in mind that it does take really high quality material to make this sort of thing possible. Spark was recorded using excellent mics and preamps, with a Sonoma DSD workstation and EMM Labs converters and very strict attention to detail. You won't get the same level of realism from the average release, though the QP1R will do what it can. I use this album (among many others) because although it sounds fine on a mediocre system, a really nice setup unlocks the magic. Plus I just enjoy it more than any Diana Krall type demo music.

The general sound here reminds me a bit of iBasso's DX90 but more fully mature—a similar signature that excels at its strengths rather than being somewhat limited by them. The QP1R still works well enough with Grados or the Ultrasone Edition 12, where iBasso's device stumbles on those due to treble trouble. And while I noted a bit of oddness with regards to soundstage on the DX90, I make no such complaint here. The QP1R is precise and very natural, with proper instrument spacing and a convincing sense of depth.

Like the Sony ZX2, this isn't an ultra-powerful device. It comfortably drives most headphones, but if you want to get the most out of a tough-to-drive, current-hungry planar magnetic model, this won't be your best bet. Bass impact is the first thing to go, resulting in a distractingly thin sound when played at higher volume levels. I noticed this more with the Mr. Speakers Alpha Dogs, the Audeze LCD-3 Classic (pre-Fazor version), and of course the HiFiMAN HE-6. At low to moderate volumes those were presentable, but ran out of steam rather quickly. A set of Fazor-equipped LCD-2 faired much better, as did the HE-1000. The latter in particular made a surprisingly nice match considering the QP1R only supplies it with about 40mW - far less than many competitors here.

Kept within its limits, the Questyle pleases with extremely tight, textured low end performance. It keeps up with quick double-bass drum strikes without breaking a sweat, and the extension is palpable. Personally I like it best with IEMs where I get pretty much zero hiss with exceptional speed and clarity, though it also does a great job with the K812, Grado PS500, and Fostex THX00, among others.

Overall Questyle's DAP is among the very best sounding of the entire roundup. It has arguably the finest aesthetics and craftsmanship of the bunch, and when you factor in the robust connectivity and a price tag that doesn't hit four-figures (as so many others do), it is definitely in the running for Wall of Fame status. Shame about that scroll wheel fiasco though.

COMMENTS
tony's picture

This is one hell-of-a-summary!

Battery life, efficiency, Streaming, Quality, Design Integrity, you're hitting all the key points. What do I owe you for this? Buying the wrong feature Set is an expensive mistake.

Can you offer an opinion on the New Phones as Audio Players? the V20 for example.

It would seem that the World will be using their Phones as DAPs, I hope to encourage you to continue your "important" work in this new area.

Thank you for all this work!

Tony in Michigan

John Grandberg's picture

...are getting better (at least some of them). Unfortunately it seems like LG and others don't want to bother with us lowly audio journalists. I have a heck of a time getting replies from their PR people, which makes it tough to properly investigate. I'll keep at it though.

I'm currently using a ZTE Axon 7 as my daily driver and it's pretty impressive, both as a phone and in terms of audio quality. Not a true "DAP replacement" but very impressive for what it is.

flohmann's picture

A big omission, it seems to me, since the X1a is about $650, supports up to 400gb, and runs a newer version of Android than the Sony player (so runs all the apps that the Sony player does). Maybe Part 4?

John Grandberg's picture

I had the original DP-X1 when it first came out. Weird battery issues, and then the 3.5mm jack went sideways. I figured it was just an anomaly, but then a friend with a pretty decent measurement rig got some wild results with his DP-X1 - *extreme* deviation from the published specs. Those two experiences were enough to put me off when it comes to Onkyo.

Don't know if those issues are still present with the DP-X1a, and honestly I haven't kept up with it. But from now on I'll be doing updates one DAP at a time so I should manage to be more nimble going forward. Perhaps an Onkyo is in my future one of these days.

logscool's picture

I also had issues with my original DP-X1 and almost didn't get a second one after trying the not very good OPUS#1 I went ahead and got a second DP-X1 I've had no issues with the new unit. There is a pioneer unit coming out that looks to be identical (XDP-300R). There is also the single ended only version Pioneer makes (XDP-100R).

Meshail's picture

Why do you find the opus #1 bad or ( not good ) where is it lacking, I'm asking as I want to grab one now as price is like 290$ & you are the second person who is saying it is not good

logscool's picture

It just didn't have a lot of weight or dynamics to the sound pretty "digital" sounding in comparison to better sources. If you have a chance to try it then definitely try it as you might like it's signature.

Meshail's picture

Can you please suggest me a better dap in the sub 300 $ range as the opus#1 runs for 289$ on amazon

Long time listener's picture

I note you mention the Fiio X5, but they now also have an X7--disappointed not to see it as I would appreciate comparisons. I trust the Fiio brand, they use a good DAC chip, and the sound seems very good at the $600-700 range. But is there better?

Also, to Tyll, a review of the new Shure electrostatic IEM would be appreciated. Thanks

John Grandberg's picture
See, there's the dilemma I mentioned - always another worthy model coming out. I finally had to put my foot down and just go with what I had, else it all became irrelevant. But I definitely intend to catch up on newer models from Fiio, Cayin, Astell&Kern, and perhaps the new Sony models. One at a time though!
thefitz's picture

I use the DX90 because you can plug in a USB hard drive via OTG. Use Western Digital drives. 2TB+ at my fingertips!

John Grandberg's picture
The literature for the Acoustic Research M2 also mentions the same OTG functionality. I never actually tried it but I can see how that might come in handy in some cases. Thanks for the info!
jcheadphone's picture

Thanks John. Really enjoyed reading your three part series on DAPs. I used to own the Calyx M and agree it sounded wonderful. I ended up selling it because of the shortcomings that your mentioned and others. I currently own a ZX2. It sounds great and is able to drive all my headphones from my Shure SE846 to Audeze LCD-XCs with good results (although the XCs as expected certainly benefit from a desktop headphone amp). I also picked up a pair of Sony MDR-1000x wireless noise cancelling headphones for travel. The LDAC streaming with the ZX2 sounds very good. In A/B tests with 16/44 ALAC and FLAC tracks I can't distinguish a difference between the wired connection and the LDAC wireless streaming. I note that Sony has now made LDAC available on the licensing market so maybe we'll see it on other non Sony Bluetooth products in the future.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

As a big fan of better quality sound on-the-go, the ever evolving DAP market is of big interest to me. I very much appreciate you taking the time to review so many entries. Its great to see this site evolve in its review and wall-o-fame offerings.

Great stuff...keep it up...even if you dont do the huge comparison reviews (takes loads o time im sure), drop in with a 1-off review of a DAP every now and then. Would be much appreciated

Peace .n. Living in Stereo

3ToF

GlennT's picture

I own a Questyle QP1R and I love it. However, I agree that the scroll wheel's functionality is disappointing. Before I bought the QP1R I had the expectation that the scroll wheel on it would be as useful as the old iPod scroll wheels used to be, but that's not the case. I find that the touch-sensitive buttons around the outside of the scroll wheel as well as the button in the center of the wheel become usability obstacles when scrolling. It's too easy to accidentally brush against the touch-sensitive buttons when scrolling. It can be very frustrating when trying to scroll to a specific selection only to suddenly be dumped back at the home screen because your finger accidentally brushed against one of the touch-sensitive buttons surrounding the scroll wheel. The wheel is also pretty slippery, making it sometimes difficult to grip. However, they have an adhesive film that goes over the scroll wheel that Questyle will provide to you upon request at no cost that mostly solves this problem.

husafreak's picture

I am a huge fan of my QP1R. It is beautiful and sounds fantastic. Clean, dynamic, and detailed. Your review is on the money. I would say that the scroll wheel cover is a must to facilitate its use. I believe the unit ships with them now but they are free and easy to get, actually something as simple as a generic stick on rubber dot can solve this design flaw.
I use mine with a set of 64 Audio U6's, TH-X00's, and now Mr Speakers Ether Flows. It is amazing to me how much detail and life I can hear with the Ether Flows. I had to comment because my son is a drummer, a professional now, and so I really get into the nuances of drums and cymbals. I swear I could hear the double bass chain mechanism rattling away when I was auditioning the Flows through my QP1R! I look forward to hearing the Spark album you used in your review.
By the way there is a very active QP1R thread on the Head-Fi forums and the company has been very proactive in releasing timely updates. In only one year they have solved many requests.

John Grandberg's picture
...for the comment. Glad you are enjoying the QP1R. The firmware aspect is yet another category which I probably could have used to judge each model, or at least each brand. Questyle is indeed one of the better ones in terms of frequent updates.
Jayhawklaw's picture

I love comparisons like this. I hope you (and your sister publications) do more. So much more meaningful data for the "everyman." I would love to see a similar survey for portable dac/amps (e.g.: Audioquest Dragon Flies Red and Black, Oppo HA-2SE, Chord Mojo, etc.)and how a smartphone with one of said dac/amps connect compares to the dedicated DAPs.

jcheadphone's picture

At first I was disappointed that Sony decided to go with a proprietary WM port rather than micro USB. When I contacted Sony tech support via phone to ask about this the tech rep said the WM port was intentional because it allowed the left and right channels to be separated for optimum line out sound quality. Don't know how much this explanation holds water but thought I would mention it.

John Grandberg's picture
They say the same thing about their 3.5mm jack. Not sure it really makes a notable improvement of any sort in terms of SQ, but it's a perfect example of Sony being Sony.
Martin.'s picture

The only DAP that seems "consumer friendly" in my eyes is the Sony NWZ-A17, which is priced at 300$. Is it even worth buying a DAP for 300 usd when you can save a bit more for a mojo at ca 500? The real question being, other than portability, what advantage would a 800$+ DAP have over a 500$ portable DAC like the mojo and, most importantly, would it make a discernible, audible difference? Thanks for any answer :)

John Grandberg's picture

Different folks will have different priorities, and each solution has pros and cons.

I like a dedicated DAP because it's smaller and easier to manage than a phone-plus-Mojo type solution. Also many phones don't have expandable storage so a DAP with 128GB or 200GB (or more) can be useful if your phone is stuck at 32GB or even 16GB. If we're talking Sony ZX2, then battery life is supremely better than a Mojo. Last but not least, there are various sound signatures to be had with different DAP models. Not everyone loves the Mojo presentation, as popular as it seems to be. The target market who prefers the sound of a Cowon Plenue 1, for example, is not likely to be thrilled with the Chord.

On the other side, it could be argued that you always carry your phone with you anyway, so a DAP isn't really saving any space over a Mojo setup. And a decent phone is usually superior when it comes to display quality, ability to run apps, etc. In some (many?) cases the Mojo sound will be superior depending on your criteria.

I agree that there aren't enough affordable options right now. I'm still looking for a true replacement for the Sansa Clip/Clip+/Clip Zip. Only reason I can't put those on the Wall of Fame is the fact that they are long since discontinued.

Martin.'s picture

Thanks for your answer. Being a novice, I usually want a "this is best" answer because I feel I need to be told what is best by veterans in the field. It is nice to be reminded that audiogear is personal and that "different strokes for different folks". Your well balanced answer is much appreciated.

br777's picture

has convinced me yet to give up my sansa clip zip.

Rblnr's picture

Very comprehensive and useful reviews. I've been using the Plenue 1 for a couple of years after testing it against others at the time of purchase and am still very happy with it driving JH Audio Angies and some over the ear headphones as well. Surprised that Cowon doesn't get more attention. The sound is as described, smooth and easy, but by no means lacking dynamics micro or macro. Sometimes I want a more 'in your face' sound and the BBE and other profiles ( as noted in the review) can provide that to a point.

I also have to say that I have little tolerance for wonky interfaces anymore -- time for those manufacturers to enter the 21st century, whether or not interface is really their expertise. The Cowon's ergonomics, while perhaps 'merely' utilitarian, are at least direct and unfussy.

Peragulator's picture

No love here for the X7 I see.

John Grandberg's picture
I just had to stop accepting or seeking out new models at some point, or else I'd never get this thing finished. I intend to revisit different models from time to time, so a Fiio of some sort is certainly on the horizon.
Trebor74's picture

Hi, great review! Are there, or will there be, any measurements available at some point to complement the reviews? I'm especially interested in the Cowon measurements - Cowon and a couple of other sites have posted THD figures for the player but these are probably not with any load. I'm curious to see how well it performs (in terms of THD both in earphone and headphone modes) on some low impedance cans. Thank you!

Peragulator's picture

AK300 ($899.00) Sony 1a ($1,199.00) FiiO X5 3rd gen ($400.00) Pioneer 300r OPUS #2 ($1,400.00)

yc627's picture

I'd Love to see some flagship phones' real world comparison in their ability to reproduce sound through headphones... Such as:

Sony Xperia XZ premium: they say it can do 24bit 192kHz audio. And Sony's own LDAC bluetooth codec. How does it sound like with Sony h.ear go SRS‑HG1 bluetooth speaker compared to other devices... + Sony Xperia Z series and to the XZ lineup, they had this noise cancelling earphones that needs no battery boxes like the Sony MDR-NC750 and MDR-NC31E I also wonder what you guys think about those earphones.

Samsung Galaxy S8: I hear it can do 32-bit/384kHz audio and I wonder what audiophile people would think about that.

LG V10, V20, V30: I heard they got 32-bit/192kHz audio and B&O Play certified. LG seems like they don't really do a lot of marketing on the audio parts what do you think about the B&O Play certification?

Just a question from a college student who is somewhat regretting getting a Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 just because it had a huge discount on Amazon and is thinking that I should have gotten the V-Moda M100 or Sony H.ear on MDR100ABN or just go crazy and go with Sennheiser Momentum Wireless...

trl's picture

Based on https://reviewzorro.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/HifimanHM901s3.jpg seems that Hifiman 901S has 2 x ES9018S inside. Quite impressive, so that explains the price indeed.

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