The Tight and Tasty Questyle Q192 DAC/Headphone Amp Page 2

Questyle_Q129_Photo_Inside

Listening
My first exposure to the Q192 was throwing it into my 2-channel setup. It replaced the CAS192 in a system being fed by a MacBook Air running Audirvana. The Q192 initially fed a NuForce HAP-100 doing preamp duty to their matching STA-100 amp, driving a pair of Sjofn Hifi (the clue) monitors. I left the Q192 on "fixed" mode and therefore used it strictly as a DAC.

The result here was pretty impressive. It didn't have the same polish as the big CAS192, but didn't fall terribly behind either. Not bad for a unit at 1/3 of the price. I heard good dynamics and pace, well rounded transient response, accurate imaging, and much of the clarity I've come associate with the Questyle name. This was a combo I could happily live with, and definitely seemed competitive with the better examples in this price range.

Next I removed the HAP-100 from the chain, and let the Q192 handle DAC and preamp duties. I felt just a very slight loss of resolution—barely perceptible except with my absolute best recordings that I know exceedingly well. It seemed like the presentation took just the slightest step back, becoming less real or lifelike for lack of a better description. This was an incremental difference at best and I wouldn't fault a listener for completely missing it altogether. I consider the NuForce HAP-100 an excellent preamp so I'm pleased with this result. The NuForce uses a fancy switched-resistor ladder network for volume control. The Q192 has a more pedestrian Alpha brand potentiometer on board, and that factor alone may well account for the differences. Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased the Q192 handles volume control in the analog realm in contrast to a lot of affordable "all in one" units which use good-but-not-great digital volume implementations. I'm not saying analog volume is always preferable, but sometimes it is, and this seems to be one such case.

Pleased with my results this far, I moved the Q192 into my headphone system. I fed it over USB with the Auraliti PK90 file player and NuForce LPS-1 power supply, or occasionally over coaxial from a YBA Design WM202 transport. Initial listening was done with the Noble Audio 8C custom IEM because I just love those things. The result? Very impressive. I don't know what the gain is, but it must be sufficiently low to allow for comfortable IEM use. I heard no background noise at all and had a good range of control with the volume knob. In this respect the Q192 even beats the CMA800R, which has a bit too much gain for most IEMs.

The sound was an interesting combination of relaxed and detailed. I say relaxed because there was no edge or stridency to be heard. Questyle claims their current-mode amplification reduces TIMD to practically nothing, taking the "edge" off highs which might otherwise sound metallic and harsh in other designs. But make no mistake, this has nothing to do with the actual levels of detail coming through. The Q192 is definitely not the warm/smooth type and does not dull high frequency response to achieve the "relaxed" tone I mentioned. So, the result is a very accurate, resolving sound that doesn't fatigue in the least. The Noble 8C is a supremely non-fatiguing IEM anyway, so I swapped it out for a Lear LCM-5, a flagship 5 driver custom IEM which can sometimes have problems up top when paired with the wrong equipment. This time I heard sharper transients and more focus on top end splash, but still came away unperturbed after an hour of listening. Same deal with the JH13 FreqPhase, the Cosmic Ears BA4, and the Noble 4C, all of which have more aggressive signatures than the Noble 8C. If you love hearing microdetail—plucked strings and intricate brushwork and that type of thing—but have trouble with the overly splashy sound that sometimes comes as part of the sonic bargain, the Q192 will be right up your alley.

After being thoroughly satisfied by the performance with IEMs, I switched to bigger headphones. The LCD-2 came first, and it was pretty good if not up there with the best I've heard. Overall performance seemed solid, with reasonably good top to bottom resolution and a fairly open presentation. But after a while I noticed the sound was less "weighty" than I'm used to. Bass extension was deep enough but perceived impact was lighter than normal. This might be perfectly fine for people who aren't accustomed to hearing the LCD-2 from a higher end amp—even with the diminished impact, the result is still not what I'd call thin.

I moved to the HE-500 and got a similar result. The upper midrange and highs were simply ravishing—all that clarity, packed in a grain free and non-fatiguing way. Just lovely. The low end again had less authority than I'm used to though, making this a better choice for jazz and classical rather than modern pop or rock. Soundstage and imaging performance were quite respectable but I got the impression of the music not being "anchored"; likely a result of the truncated bass energy. As with the LCD-2, this became more noticeable when volume increased—keep it low to moderate and the issue was somewhat less intrusive.

When I tried the less sensitive HE-400, I got better results. The low end grunt did not seem diminished at all, hitting with plenty of authority. This confirmed my earlier suspicion: the Q192 is not ideal for the more difficult to drive planar models. Which I figure is acceptable at this price range, as there are plenty of other good headphones out there. One can always add an external amp if extra juice is needed. Recent amplifier trends lean towards more power and gain, which is great for planar magnetic headphones but tends to leave sensitive IEMs in the dust. So I don't mind seeing a design like this which is more comfortable pushing Grado, Audio Technica, and Ultrasone, as well as IEMs.

I validated this theory even further by trying the HD800. I should have started here in the first place, because wow, what a performance! This time the lower registers had no shortage of oomph, and those famous HD800 highs were about as graceful as I've heard from an all-in-one design. I should have known since the Questyle CMA800R pairs astonishingly well with Sennheiser's flagship. The performance with this particular headphone approaches that of my favorite affordable stand-alone amps such as the Firestone Audio Bobby and the NuForce HAP-100. Don't misunderstand though, that doesn't apply across the board, particularly with most planar headphones, where the dedicated amps retain a distinct advantage. But for anyone seeking a reasonably affordable path to the HD800, this is by far the best pairing I've heard from a combo unit.

Lastly I swapped the Q192 into my desktop rig. Running a Windows 7 machine with JRiver Media Center 19, I used the Q192 to drive the Adam Audio F5 active monitors. I was pleased with the result and would put it on par with the AMI DDH-1 formerly occupying that role. The Adam monitors, with their proprietary ART folded ribbon tweeter, are resolving enough to easily show differences in upstream equipment. They really fleshed out the character of each unit—the AMI being more bold and punchy, the Questyle more elegant and graceful. I could easily live with either of them. I swapped out the F5 monitors for a second opinion, and my Serene Audio Talismans concurred—both units were separate but equal, and very satisfying in their own way.

Summary
I could go on and on about my time spent with the Q192. I could tell you how the DAC portion alone isn't too far off from the Resonessence Labs Concero, a dedicated DAC which is my favorite in this price range. I could wax further about how excellent of a pairing the amp portion makes with the Sennheiser HD800, as well as all the IEMs I tried. I could talk about the USB to SPDIF conversion being roughly on the level of a Stello U3, which is very high praise indeed for a "bonus feature". But I'll wrap this up and save us both some time.

Strengths? General neutrality, crystalline high frequency clarity, with no grain or splash. Oh, and it's super versatile too. Weaknesses? The amp section is clearly not intended to drive difficult loads. Yet kept within its limits, the amp does a brilliant job. Overall the Q192 is a very strong performer and easy to recommend.

Resources
Questyle home page and Q192 product page.
Reviews of Questyle's flagship amp here , here (Polish), and here.
Another review of the Q192 here.

COMPANY INFO
Questyle Audio Technology Co.,Ltd
Suite 804, Building B, Jialin Highrise
No.2001 Shennan Road
Futian District, Shenzhen, China
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
The Federalist's picture

John,

Are you putting a CAS192 review up anywhere? Head-fi or something?
I know they've long since moved on in keeping up with the Joneses (aka DSD) but the dual WM8741 choice, and a friendly relationship with JRiver has me interested in chasing down discontinued stock or a used one... I'd just be curious what your impressions were against the backdrop of your current DAC stable since there don't appear to be any reviews of that model.

Thnx,

BW

John Grandberg's picture

I missed this comment until now. I have a review of the newer CAS192D posted at HeadFi (can be found via google) and it's not really different from the original CAS192 model. They tweaked and simplified the output stage on the new model, yet it doesn't really sound any different to me. A used CAS192 for a good price would be an excellent buy if you can find one - it's not far behind something like a Vega.

alicewirek's picture

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