Informal discussion of the merits and positioning of the CMA-15
Cons: maybe price? The gain switches.
I have been doing too much work lately, and this review got caught in the middle. My notes and processes fell a bit. Also, I have been putting off writing this review because I was not sure where to go with it. I might be getting jaded, or something else is causing my brain block.
With that said!
The CMA Fifteen has the same genetics as the rest of the Questyle line. The size is excellent for desktop or in-system use. The connections on the rear of the CMA15 are easy to access. The controls on the front are positive, and the indicator lights seem just about right for brightness. This tour is an excellent packaging test, which seems to hold well. Minor point, but I have had new equipment arrive here from overseas in packaging that is an absolute disaster. I am here talking to you, Antipodes and Ferrum!
But I digress. I did a very informal set of listening tests, using my Pi2AES streamer to several DACS when the CMA15 was here. The Holo May Kitsune, Questyle CMA600i, Ayre Codex, Chord Mojo, and the iFi Gryphon were in and out of the systems. As per their designs, I used the DACs, where possible, as the analog input to my Heavenly Soundworks Five Seventeen speakers and, of course, to multiple headphones and IEMs.
I want to discuss and set aside the Holo May Kitsune DAC as it is out of character here as a stand-alone DAC without a headphone amp. The May DAC is one of the most impressive-sounding DACs I have ever heard! Put this one on your list of things to try if you have the budget/desire.
Some DACs have a family sound, Like the Chord lineup. They are all cut from similar cloth. As you move up the line and into the newer models, Chord has improved what they provide us! The Ayre DACs have some of that same family sound to a certain extent. I get that same sense when listening to the CMA600i vs. the CMA15. The CMA15 does more of that good thing; it reaches inside the music.
When I first started listening to the CMA15 using my HD6xx headphones, I thought the DAC might be “sharp.” But as Treebeard would say, “Do not be Hasty”! Your brain has to adapt. This review may be hasty as I was dancing with too many partners. Just relaxing and spending time with the CMA15 took me further into the music. The CMA15 seems comfortable driving the LCDi4, the Timeless 7Z, SE535, my HD6xx, and others. The DAC extracts more perceived detail from the music. It may feel bright to some, but it is not forward.
I am unsure where I would place this product on my list of things to buy. It may be on par with the Hugo 2 in many ways, but it is not portable. The TT2 is better but, what, more than double the price. It is more than the RME ADI devices, and they have some exciting features; this sounds better. Who is this DAC for? Is it suitable for a primary DAC/Preamp for a more extensive system? Is it better suited as a desktop DAC/Headamp? Would you use it with powered speakers in a small room?
The CMA-15 would do justice as the digital front end for any of the above. It can be a part of simplifying the complexity of a system without fear of obsolesce.