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Doppelgänger preamp. To check whether headfi sonics migrate in full to the variable preout—my sat/sub setup required splitters to generate feeds to both the Clones Audio 55pm monos and Gallo TR-3D subwoofer on a foot stool beneath the desk—I moved the Questyle between my Strada 2. The Clones Audio AP1 vacated its spot. From this swap fast and ultra detailed clocked in again. So did a slightly cooler drier demeanor. The op-amp based brick from Hong Kong had had warmer meatier tone. With the Gallos' stat-type timing precision and ultra resolution this did register.

From my converter arsenal the color-intense slightly sweet AURALiC Vega was thus more complementary than the rhythmically taut Metrum Hex or Aqua Hifi La Voce. The Burson Conductor counterpointed the CMA even more to be the most balancing. Nip and tuck as you see fit.

At this level it's mostly a matter of taste whether one relates to upped attack articulation as sharper, pricklier and nervier or more accurate, propulsive and snappy. Knocking down the Vega's volume from 100 to 60 whilst making up for it on the Questyle demonstrated small losses incurred by digital attenuation and a concomitant softening of this aspect. Replacing the Gallos for Sven Boenicke's solid-wood W5 added tone mass and textural elegance. This dealt with the CMA's high transient focus in a warmer embrace to feel spot on rather than electrostatically lean.

Plugging in Dave Clark's Alpha Dog earspeakers with 3D-printed cups showed how the Questyle doesn't simultaneously mute its main outputs. One must manually power down the amps (plus subwoofer in my case). Alden probably wanted to avoid another signal-path relay. Some installs and users could complain a bit. Moving to 320kbps Spotify+ recovered a rather unusual amount of detail. In trade there were greater leanness, brightness and treble grain. But it certainly showed how good MP3 at the lowest compression rate has far more to offer than high-brow snobbery would admit.

Upgrading my source from digitally tapped 160GB iPod Classic to PureMusic-enhanced iMac with battery-powered two-box SOtM USB bridge and Metrum Hex converter magnified the speed and separation aspects. For me Sennheiser's HD800 now got just a bit blistery and zingy. The Alpha Dog's far warmer darker voicing more than compensated though. The sealed Audeze LCD-XC hit my personal bull's eye. My beyerdynamic T1and T5p came out a tick drier than I fancy, AKG's K702 even more so. The entry-level Mad Dog as the darkest of my bunch—a pre echo of the more advanced Audeze LCD-2—pricked up to fall in line. It acted more aspirated and resolved. HifiMan's HE-6 barely trailed the HD800 in top-end energy. The mellower HE-500 thus had my vote because it didn't make close-mic'd right-handed piano sound quite as spiky and percussive and sibilants less hissy.

This name dropping wasn't to show off. It was about giving you more markers depending on what you're familiar with. Reviews are never about agreeing with a writer. They're about relating with him. As long as you relate, his preferences can be your avoidables and vice versa.

With the CMA800R, typical pop pornography where a mic is so close to a singer as to pick up saliva and lip smacks has nowhere to hide. That type of sizzle and sibilant fire gets exposed for what it is. The obvious flip is a rig whose pipes are a bit clogged up. Now you want Drano and an accelerant.

How much 'humanity' one desires in all of this is entirely personal. What's indisputable? With its very low noise floor the CMA shines a light into the darkest corners of the soundstage.

In proper audio terminology, resolution, the retrieval of micro ambient data and the ability to track steep transients like rim shots, string plucks and brass staccato all operate at a very high level with this machine.

Getting more casual again we call it fresh, brilliant, crisp, separated, magnified, unenhanced, stripped back on so-called pleasing distortion, crystallized. Moving into my bedside rig, the CMA800R displaced my usual Bakoon AMP-12R. The DAC was Simon Lee's Eximus DP-1. Because it's also a very good headphone amp, I compared. Despite the additional Zu Event balanced cable, the Questyle had the higher resolution and leading-edge speed. In transistor terms it suggested cooler bipolars. Then the DP-1 would represent warmer Mosfets. In tube terms the Questyle was ultralinear pentodes with feedback, the DP-1 triodes with no or lower feedback - except that I've not heard valve headphone amps I'd quote in this context. An Eddie Current Balancing Act or ALO Audio Studio Six belong to a very different sonic school.

To revisit our vintage toons, as preceding converter I thought Burson's chunky dense Conductor the ideal counterpoint to the CMA800R's honed reflexes and magnifying power. For headphones and from what I know, I'd favor Audeze, Audio Technica, Grado or MrSpeakers™. To revisit the bigger hifi map for context, Alden Zhao's top headphone amp clearly sits in the Bakoon/Crayon vein. If those be its mature elders with nothing left to prove, the Questsound is the younger acolyte. It follows the same path but isn't quite as far along. It still has a bit of a look-at-me attitude. It's not yet completely seasoned and mellowed. But that it's so accomplished already, so beautifully built, finished and styled all for just €1'499 when its elders demand from twice to five times as much... that should give one pause. Little wonder our Polish colleague Dawid Grzyb was so pod wrażeniem (impressed). On Alden Zhao's side of the globe, He Qinghua of Audio gd with his 'current conveyor technology' should keep a watchful eye. If Dawid was right, Questyle has already overtaken him...
Questyle Audio website