BonGoBiLai

Head-Fier
Flawless Victory
Pros: 1. Realistic, uncolored, pristine sound
2. Excellent synergy with Planar IEMs and Headphones. Great synergy with DD iems/headphones as well
3. Solid build quality and intuitive controls
4. POWER
5. Impressive technical performance
Cons: 1. Weird gain switch location
2. Supplied power cord is too short

Questyle is one of those rare brands that is yet to release something that isn’t impeccable. They have a very small catalogue that offers only a handful of products but whenever they come up with something new, it's bound to be a guaranteed hit. I think this exemplary consistency correlates well with their very conservative product release practice where quality and polish takes utmost priority as opposed to flooding the market with subpar products every other week. I have tried and owned both their dongles (M12 and M15) and had long trial sessions with their previous flagship, CMA 12 Master. When I got the opportunity to try the new flagship, CMA 15, for a month, naturally my anticipation was sky high. I am happy to report that this new All in One unit from Questyle has far exceeded my expectations.

Design and Build quality:

CMA 15 is not a particularly humongous AIO which such devices often tend to be. It's roughly the size of a Blu Ray DVD player or twice the size of RME ADI 2, another compact DAC Amp unit. Feels substantial when held but the weight distribution is simply perfect therefore the unit is very easy to move around. Instead of a screen, inputs and file types/sample rate are indicated by individual LEDs. I very much appreciate the choice of using amber for indicator LEDs, as blue/green indicators can get irritating, especially at night. Volume knob implementation is very good and has a satisfyingly tactile resistance to it instead of being buttery smooth. This makes micro adjusting volume a cakewalk.

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As for accessories, it's fairly basic and not extensive. You’ll receive a remote control, a power cord and a USB B data cable. I loved the remote control because of the nice tactile buttons and the extensive level of controls and functions it offers. CMA 15 also has a cool party trick. Whenever you adjust volume using the remote, the volume knob will rotate accordingly as well. I found this small detail very cool.

Specs and Input options:

Standard affair. Covers basically all viable input options including BT and USB type C. I won’t bother much with inputs/outputs as I prefer to avoid clutter and talk more about sound. I believe other reviews on head fi have covered it already . CMA 15 uses Questyle’s signature Current mode amplification which I am a big fan of. It's quite different from more ubiquitous voltage mode amplification therefore power specs can be somewhat misleading. Actual drivability is much higher than the numbers suggest. Contrary to CMA 12 Master which had an AKM chip, CMA 15 is sporting ESS flagship 9038 Pro. All the usual codecs are supported including MQA and DSD

Sound, synergy and drivability:

Like I mentioned previously, CMA 15 is using ESS instead of AKM which was present in the CMA 12 Master. However CMA 15 sounds fuller and more polite and linear in the treble region compared to its predecessor. I would describe the sound as hyper realistic and at the same time, dead neutral and precise. I found no sabre glare or supposed dryness that is generally attributed to ESS devices. Everything sounded smooth and linear throughout the frequency spectrum. Bass needs a special mention as well. The way Questyle devices do bass is truly one of a kind. It extends very very deep and has a visceral physicality to it.

It's generally difficult to describe uncolored DAC Amps for me as there is seemingly no special sauce setting them apart from the rest. In my opinion, what sets CMA 15 apart other than its realism and bass response is its spectacular, holographic imaging and how it churns out the best out of headphones, especially planars. I hooked my budget pair of Shuoer S12 planar IEMs to it just for the lols and I was struggling to believe what I was hearing. I have never experienced any IEM scaling so exponentially in my audio journey. It was as if I was listening to a 700/800 USD pair of IEMs, not a 129 USD one. I had somewhat similar experiences with two Hifiman Planars, Edition XS and Ananda Stealth as well.

Pairing with DD headphones was also exceptionally good, especially on high bias. I don’t know what tweaks this mode does internally but It made my HD 650 sing with authority. However, DD headphones don’t scale as much as planars do on CMA 15. I would still recommend OTLs like Feliks Euforia AE or similar if you have the same budget and exclusively run DD headphones like ZMF Atrium or Focal Utopia.


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Pairing with IEMs is well, complicated. All BA and hybrids sound slightly off for some reason. However planars and single DD IEMs perform incredibly well like their over ear counterpart. As I’ve mentioned before, Shuoer S12 was simply breathtaking on CMA 15. Sony IER M9? not so much.

Soundstage was fairly adequate for the price. Width is decent, depth is more impressive in comparison. Detail retrieval is as good as it should be for the price. Drivability is fantastic. CMA 15 can power every headphone under the sun including oddballs like Abyss AB1266 Phi TC, HE6SE and Susvara (except electrostatics of course)

Special note; BT sound:

CMA 15 has the LDAC BT option and it's honestly the best BT implementation I’ve heard of in an All in one unit. It does lack some body and detail compared to physical connectivity options but gets very close to the real thing nonetheless, which is still quite impressive.

Comparisons:

Matrix Element X :
Element X has a lackluster amp section and is mainly viable as a DAC. It’s a massively different approach from CMA 15 being very sterile and even sandpapery at times. Therefore it only pairs well with warm Amps/Tubes or warm, dark headphones. CMA 15 is the better all rounder IMO

iFi iCAN pro: iCAN pro is a warm, colored amp and is a great complement to CMA 15. I won’t rank one over another if amplifier performance is considered. They are equally awesome just in different ways.

Feliks Euforia AE: Being an OTL, high impedance DD headphones will perform considerably better on the Euforia. However it is not suitable for planars and all BA iems due to very high output impedance and low current.

M15: What's a dongle doing here? Yes, the Questyle M15 is really that good. M15 and CMA15 are eerily similar and M15 actually has an advantage over CMA15. It doesn’t have any issue with All BA/Hybrid sets. However it’s a budget device after all compared to the 10x expensive CMA15 there not as refined especially in the upper treble. CMA 15 has massively superior detail retrieval and precision as well. M15 still remains damn impressive considering how close it gets to its older sibling.

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Conclusion:

CMA 15 is almost perfect, almost because it does have some negatives (Hard to reach, odd positioned gain switches for example). But if overall sound quality and synergy with a broad spectrum of headphones/iems is considered, There is hardly any sonic flaw to be found, especially considering the price.

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T
tubbymuc
Thanks for the review.

betula

Headphoneus Supremus
Questyle CMA Fifteen: a decent two in one solution
Pros: neat DAC/amp combo in one chassis
- solid build quality
- solid technical performance for the price
- rounded but dynamic sound
- analogue input
- very neutral (for some it is a pro)
Cons: very neutral (for some it is a con)
- can be a bit dry and uninspiring
- shape of soundstage occasionally is a bit odd
- not the most musical/emotional listen
- lacks some fluidity and coherence versus higher-end gear
Disclaimer:

Questyle has kindly approached me to review their flagship DAC/amp, the CMA Fifteen. I happily agreed as being a headphone listener this is a unit that drew my attention anyway. I am not affiliated with Questyle to any degree.

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Background and a little Questyle history:


Questyle was founded in 2012 in China. It is a company that takes quality control and quality in general very seriously and the innovation of their engineers was acknowledged by many international awards including CES. Their design philosophy is based around amplifying current instead of voltage; the opposite of what most amplifiers do. I will touch on this technology a little later. Their first amplifier was the CMA800i which was an immense success. They started at the higher end of the market, the technology then trickled down to more affordable consumer pieces like the CMA600i, CMA400i and with further developments they released the CMA12 and last year the CMA15.

I used to own the CMA600i which I quite enjoyed back then, its weak point was the DAC section which in my opinion held back the overall performance. With an external DAC like Chord Qutest I had achieved great results until eventually moved on to better amplifiers. I remember the CMA600i being quite a smooth listen.

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What is current amplification then?

I am very far from understanding it fully and I am not an engineer at all, but I will try to sum up what I read about it here and there.
Voltage is the electrical force that drives the current between two points. Current is the rate of flow of the electric charge. Apparently it is easier and more cost effective to amplify the voltage of an electric signal, that is why most amplifiers are designed this way. The disadvantage of amplifying voltage is that the original, very weak signal gets slightly distorted during the amplification process. Think of it like projecting a picture to the wall on an old overhead projector: the picture gets a lot bigger, but also a little distorted.
On the other hand if the current rate gets amplified/increased, the original, weak signal remains undistorted, just the flow rate gets boosted which also leads to a stronger and louder result. This can't be done on speakers as the technology has physical limitations, but current amplification can be powerful enough to drive the small and efficient headphone drivers/transducers. Current amplification effectively is an alternative signal management which aims to preserve a cleaner signal and reproduce a more accurate sound in headphones.

In my opinion all higher end gear including amps, DACs and headphones have one main purpose and that is to sound as realistic and lifelike as possible. In my experience there are three main ways to achieve a more lifelike sound in your system. The most obvious is to buy higher end headphones, as they tend to sound a lot more lifelike with more natural texture. The second and third ways are R2R DACs and tube amps. It is not an accident that most long term, hard core audiophiles end up with one or both of them. The fourth, additional way of achieving a more natural sound could well be current amplification to a smaller extent. To me current amplification definitely has some more lifelike qualities compared to many regular voltage amplifiers. Not quite like a tube amp or R2R DAC, but a step towards a more realistic sound. Of course, there are gains and drawbacks of most R2R DACs and tube amps too, unless you go super high-end.

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ESS DAC?

In the CMA15 there is an ESS chip which is known to be very technical but quite sharp sounding. I do not believe in 'chip sound' and you shouldn't either. The DAC's sound is all about implementing that chip in the audio circuit. Implementation can change the prejudged character of a DAC chip as it does in the CMA15. The CMA15 certainly has some treble energy, but the sound is still smooth and not bright/sharp or edgy at all. (Another example is the iFi Pro iDSD with Burr-Brown chips. Those chips are known for a warm and less technical sound and the Pro iDSD is a very detailed and technical DAC.)

Design, build quality:

The unit is surprisingly heavy for its size, but that is mostly due to the thick high grade aluminium casing which prevents all sorts of signal interferation. Build quality is up to a high standard, I particularly like the satisfying click of the switches on the front. Beauty is subjective, but I personally like the compact studio/industrial look of this Questyle flagship.

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Sound:

I tried several DAC and amp combinations in the last few months which are still vivid in my mind, but do not have them anymore for direct comparison. Just to mention a few: Burson Soloist 3XP, Bryston BHA-1, iFi Pro iCan Signature, Chord Qutest, RME ADI-2, Soekris 2541. I combined all of these with each other back and forth.
What I have right now is the Chord TT2. I know, when it comes to new prices or even at secondhand prices the TT2 cost twice as much as the CMA15 but still I think this can be an interesting comparison although perhaps not quite fair. (I also have an older generation iFi Pro iCan at hand.)

General impressions:

Part of the reason I was interested in the CMA15 is to potentially replace my TT2 and use the extra cash elsewhere. The raving reviews of the Questyle and reading about another Head-Fier who swapped his TT2 for the CMA15 made me interested.

The sound of the CMA15 positively surprised me in some ways and slightly disappointed in others. Due to the delta/sigma ESS DAC I was expecting a brighter, edgier sound and a more two dimensional soundstage. I was surprised to hear that the soundstage has a lot more depth to it than I was expecting. More depth than on other delta/sigma DACs like the excellent RME ADI-2 for example. The width however is not actually that great on the CMA15 to my ears. Yes, sometimes you can hear sounds from far left or far right, but generally it feels like there are two big walls on my sides that somehow prevent the stage from expanding horizontally: I sense some unevenness in the CMA15's soundstage width.

This is a very neutral sounding DAC/amp it is not leaning to any direction, like most other equipment do. It is not a little bit warm, it is not a little bit bright: it is pretty much dead neutral. That can be a good thing in many users' books, but if someone is after a little extra flavour, might have to look elsewhere.

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Technicalities:

I think the CMA15 offers a technical performance level akin to the competitors in its price range. The asking price is between £2200-£2500 depending on where you order it from. For this money you can put together many different and exciting DAC and amp combinations, for example using the pieces I mentioned above. Most of those DAC and amp combinations will cost you around two grand. While I think the CMA15 certainly competes with them, it doesn't really stand out. To me the RME ADI-2 with the Burson Soloist 3XP (Super Charger & power amp mode) or the Chord Qutest with a secondhand Bryston BHA-1 can still sound more spacious, more dynamic, more refined and perhaps a little more exciting. Of course every combination has drawbacks too.
The biggest advantage of the CMA15 here is a neat all in one aluminium case as opposed to a relatively awkward stack.

Back to the CMA15's sound, further initial impressions apart from the shape of the soundstage and the neutrality are dynamism, and macro dynamics. These are both excellent on the flagship Questyle. I really enjoy that tangible bass impact and weight. It is not as crazy as it is on the Bryston BHA-1 or the iCan Pro Signature, but slightly more impactful than the Hugo TT2 on its own. If I could change one thing on the TT2 that would be just a little more bass impact.

The CMA15 sounds as detailed and resolution is as good as the price suggests.

Bass:

As I briefly touched on it already, bass is neutral but weighty and impactful with good slam and definition. Extension is as good as it gets. Notes are clean and well separated. Despite the dynamism the edges are not too sharp, they are slightly rounded. I think this is a characteristic of the current amplification as it pretty much describes the whole frequency range. While I really like a healthy and kicking bass, sometimes I was wishing for just a hint of warmth or extra smoothness.

Mids:

Mids are clear and well defined again with plenty of detail. They sound smooth(ish), but they are not as lifelike as they can be. The singer's position is great, mids are not recessed and not too forward either. Both in a spatial and in a frequency range kind of sense mids are in line and in balance with the rest of the sound. If I had to criticise mids on the CMA15 I would say they are a little too 'studiolike' to my taste. They sound like a great studio recording as opposed to a live performance or even live recording. Vocals are not as engaging as they can be.

Treble:

Treble is clean and clear with good air. While it is still in balance with the rest of the sound, there is certainly a strong treble presence. It adds to the perception of space and details, and I wouldn't say it is overly bright or sharp despite using the ESS chip. Yet, to me this treble openness combined with the dynamic presence both in treble and bass led to slightly more fatiguing long term listening sessions. It is fun and enjoyable in the first two hours, but then if I switch to my TT2, my ears sigh a smaller relief.

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Few more thoughts on sound and comparing to Hugo TT2:

Let's sum up: to me the CMA15 sounds like a neutral, dynamic studio equipment with good detail retrieval and resolution for the price. Current mode smoothes off the edges, but to me the sound is not quite fluid and effortless enough for long listening sessions.

When it comes to multi thousand dollar audio equipment, let it be headphones, amplifiers or DACs, it is common knowledge that performance will improve to smaller and smaller degrees as you throw in another grand and another grand. A $4000 headphone will not sound twice as good as a $2000 pair. But it is almost certain, they will sound better: more spacious, more lifelike, more coherent with better timbre and texture in most cases. Budget, hearing abilities, needs, wishes and taste all play a big role whether someone wants to buy a $4000 headphone or stay happy with a $2000 pair. Improvements might be incremental to some, but enormous to another. It is a subjective hobby on many levels.

To me the Hugo TT2 sounds not simply smooth, but significantly more fluid and coherent. Music effortlessly flows with the TT2. Compared to the CMA15 the level of micro details and micro dynamics are a clear step up, Chord's desktop DAC/amp sounds more lifelike, the space is a lot bigger in all directions, instrument separation in this bigger space is more effortless and cleaner as well.
The CMA15 in comparison can get a little congested at very busy passages whereas the TT2 handles these with ease. The information of the surroundings, feeling the venue from tiny spatial cues is clearly present on the TT2; to a much lesser extent on the CMA15. Drum hits are notoriously difficult to reproduce in a lifelike manner. A drum hit is a short but intense and complex signal. Many amplifiers get the leading edge right, giving the impression of a dynamic sound. Not too many amplifiers excel at reproducing drum hit decay, body and reverbs. Upper mids and lower treble is much more open and airy on the TT2 which leads to a more natural sound perception.
When comparing the CMA15 to similarly priced DAC and amp combinations, these differences of course will be less obvious if apparent at all.

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Occasionally the Questyle can also come across as a little dry. While the TT2 is not as organic and lifelike as a good R2R DAC, Rob Watt's FPGA design with the increased taps puts chord DACs somewhere between regular delta/sigma and R2R when it comes to lifelikeness and three dimensionality.
I still think the CMA15 is a great two in one unit, and I am aware that comparing it to the TT2 is unfair. Yet based on my research, the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Head-Fi led me to think the battle will be a little tighter.

In my opinion, you should have something to love in every audio equipment you own, even in the most neutral sounding ones. Most, neutrally categorized equipment lean just a little bit towards warmth or brightness. Some excel at presenting accurate texture, some are very coherent, others are supremely smooth. Some are very lifelike or open and airy sounding. Some are extra dynamic and slam hard. Depending on your taste, you love your chosen 'neutral' gear for a reason. I find that on the CMA15 there is not actually too much to criticise from an objective perspective. It is a neutral, dynamic studio sound, a neat 'two in one' solution. My issue is, there is not much about the CMA15's sound to get particularly excited about either, let alone evoking emotions. Still, if you come from some more affordable Schiit stacks, basic THX, SMSL or Topping combos, there is a good chance the CMA15 will wow you.

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Conclusion:

I do not like to share less glowing reviews, but I have to stay honest to my ears. I still think the CMA15 is a very decent and good DAC/amp, but I also think that with separate DAC and amp combinations you can find a more pleasing and more enjoyable sound when it comes to the £2200-£2500 price range. Secondhand market is a different story, with some luck you can find a used CMA15 around £1400-£1500. For that money it certainly beats pretty much every other alternatives; but it is not a Hugo TT2 killer. At least not for me.

Bonus experiment:

After I finished the review I decided to try the CMA15's amp section only, using the Hugo TT2 as a DAC. This is a rather unlikely usage scenario, but based on my experience with the CMA600i/Qutest combo from a few years back, I wanted to hear what a higher end DAC brings out of the CMA15's amp section. Analogue input was missing from the last few Questyle DAC/amps since the CMA600i; it is back on the new flagship. For comparison purposes I used my old generation iFi Pro iCan strictly in single ended input mode to make the comparison more fair (balanced input is superior on the iCan).
As expected, the TT2 as DAC only to the CMA15 elevates and refines the sound of this unit. The Chord DAC enhances spaciousness and creates a more accurate 3D stage. The sound also gets smoother and more refined. The Questyle amp's character is preserved, it still sounds very neutral and a little dry especially compared to the iFi Pro iCan. The Questyle offers a little more space but I find the iFi more fun to listen to due to the extra weight, body, dynamics and slight warm colouration in its sound.

Old1Eye

New Head-Fier
Great piece of kit, if you ignore the price tag.
Pros: Plenty of Power for almost any output device.
Good range of connection options and audio sample rates.
Great sound world!
Cons: For what it is, it's expensive.
Has quite a large footprint if you are tight on space.
OTG didn't work with my Iphone 12.
FYI this will be a shorter review than some as I don't like reading overly long reviews, I also prefer to write short reviews.

Equipment I have used for comparison: Bang & Olufsen H6 V2.
Sennheiser Momentum 2 wired on ear.
Grado SR80 MK I custom Brass housing.
NAD 3020 V2 Amp

Source used was Apple music in highest audio format, cabled and Bluetooth, iPhone 12 and iPad pro-2022.


I will be comparing each headphone used with the NAD and the CMA 15, this will hopefully give a comparison of an Amp costing 500E vs one costing 2500E.

Packaging:
The box it comes in is minimalistic (which is a plus for me), with everything neatly arranged.
has a nice felt like bag around the actual amp with everything else wrapped nicely to the side.



Bang & Olufsen H6 V2:
NAD:

Now these are currently my favourite headphones (sold off the H95's once I got the H6's), they are easy to drive and as such there isn't a drastic difference between the iPhone 12 and NAD.
Main difference is separation and small details become slightly clearer, otherwise I don't find a huge difference or at least not enough that i will run them through the NAD more than the iPhone 12.

CMA:
Now here there is a huge difference!
The clarity is very obvious as well as instrument separation, soundstage vs iPhone 12. It was the same "Holy crap" moment as it was going to the H6's from my other headphones, it feels like I just put these headphones on for the first time again.
Bass is very tight and clean with such a smooth presence, Treble is clear and bright but not painfully in any way, Mids are bang in the middle where they should be and not lost to either Bass or Treble, clean and precise.
I could listen for hours with this combo!



Sennheiser Momentum 2 Wired:
NAD:

Not as flat sounding as from the iPhone 12, nice clarity and separation.
Bass is a little fuzzy/fluffy on some tracks, overall good soundstage.

CMA:
Much better Bass clarity and very slightly better separation.
Treble can be a little forward and even annoying on some tracks, overall slightly better than the NAD but only just.



Custom Grado SR80:
NAD:
Good sound scape and depth, needs very high volumes to reach desired audio output though.
Much better than through iPhone 12 though.

CMA:
Very similar sound scape to the NAD, better sub-Bass clarity and presence.
Requires only 1/3 volume levels for the same effective audio output as the NAD does. Very slightly cleaner/sparkly in comparison.
Makes the iPhone 12 sound like a sock was fitted over the headphones.




NAD vs CMA Overall Impression:
I was surprised, not a huge difference between them in sound world. CMA is a little bit more sparkly/brighter sounding and ever so slightly larger sound scape on the H6's.
Biggest difference is their power, NAD is almost max volume vs 1/3 of CMA for the same effective loudness.
CMA also has more connections and sample rates which is a bonus.
But, and for me it is a big "but", considering the NAD is less than 1/4 of the price, unless you have crazy power-hungry equipment or you are hunting for extra clarity from very high-end audio equipment, the CMA is overkill for the average user.

On a side not: I couldn't get the iPhone 12 to work over USB OTG, but Bluetooth worked fine.
iPad pro 2022 worked great over OTG, so not sure if it's an issue with the CMA or my iPhone.

Couldn't tell a difference with any headphones with apple music over OTG vs Bluetooth which is cool!



So, in conclusion I found the CMA 15 to be a very nice piece of kit, with very good audio quality. I enjoyed using and listening to it, but I feel it's a bit overly priced for what it is.

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asifur

100+ Head-Fier
CMA Fifteen : Short Review from the IEM perspective ONLY
Pros: + Premium look
+ Supports all major connectors
+ Separate Low & High gain modes
+ SIP & CMA resulting in significantly cleaner & transparent output
+ Can easily power any IEM
+ Excellent Staging & Imaging
+ Superb Separation
+ Remote control
+ Clear & transparent presentation that has become Questyle Signature
Cons: - Quite big & hefty
- Comes with a high price tag
- 4.4mm input (that's just nit-picking)
CMA Fifteen : Short Review - the IEM Perspective!

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Summary & Objective:

The @Questyle CMA Fifteen is the latest flagship desktop DAC/AMP release by Questyle in 2022, which has been appreciated worldwide as a true flagship and a TOTL DAC/AMP in many cases.

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Introduction:

The @Questyle CMA Fifteen comes with excellent build quality and superb sound performance clear and transparent representation that is only possible owing to features like Current Mode DAC and Current Mode Amplification .
The Questyle CMA Fifteen is priced at $2499.

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Disclaimer:

This unit was sent by @Questyle as part of a tour and I'm happy to be a part of it.
Everything mentioned in this review are purely my own based on my experiences with the Dongle DAC/AMP.

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Design & Features:

I wouldn't want to make this a very long review by describing each feature but for people who want to know, here are some extracts from the Questyle website.

"Current Mode Amplification Meets Current mode DAC=Current Mode²
To chase extreme performance, almost all high-end DAC chips from world-renowned manufacturers feature current-type output, which in most traditional amplifiers, is then coupled with an IV converter and classical amplifier architecture. But we at Questyle wondered: if the DAC’s output is already current-type, why don’t we also amplify that signal in current-mode? And that’s exactly what we did in the CMA Fifteen: we use the ES9038PRO current-mode DAC, and couple that to four Current Mode Amplifiers, which together operate in fully balanced mode to achieve “system-level lossless” purity.



Continuity and Inheritance

Questyle believes that the greatest products are born from the smallest details. The CMA Fifteen continues the classic design concept and perfect manufacturing technology of its previous lines of products, while further improving on all the details. Resonance, for example, is always a detail that could easily be ignored in the design process. However, mechanical vibration does indeed affect audio signal processing and the resulting sound. To avoid this resonance, the CMA Fifteen chassis is formed from 10mm-thick aircraft-grade Aluminum 6063, with precise machining tolerances of ±0.02mm.*


Specifications:

The Questyle CMA Fifteen comes with $2499 price tag and the specifications are as below:

https://questyleshop.com/products/cma15
https://www.questyle.com/language/en/cmafifteen/

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NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT THE SOUND....
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Items Used for this Review:

IEMs:

IEMs of different ranges:
below $300: Kinera IDUN GOLDEN, 7Hz Salnotes DIOKO, @MOONDROP CHU, BQEYZ TOPAZ, TRUTHEAR ZERO
$500-700: @CampfireAudio Holocene
$800 - 1500: @Sennheiser IE600, @DUNU-Topsound ZEN PRO, @CampfireAudio Dorado 2020, @Audeze Euclid
$1500 - 2500: @UniqueMelody MEST MKII
$3000: @Vision Ears EXT

Well these are the ones I have with me presently... and have used for the review.


Source : CAYIN N8ii, LOTOO PAW GOLD TOUCH, A&K SP1000M
Streaming Source: QOBUZ

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Tracks Used:
The tracks I have used can be found from the below playlist that I have used and generally use for most reviews...


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QUESTYLE CMA Fifteen Sound Impressions in Short:

Tonality:


The CMA Fifteen has a very neutral tonality while ensuring clear, crisp & very transparent and open sound delivery.

The BASS:

The Bass sounds just Superb. Bass has details in the sub-bass region and is thick and creamy with enough muscle in the mid-bass to make the instrument attacks sound very natural and realistic. In tracks like : "Anna R. Chie (Remastered) - Konstantin Wecker" and "Dreams (2001 Remaster) – Fleetwood Mac" you can feel the the deep attack of the different instruments with just enough details. The thumps and slams are very enjoyable. The layering & separation is also superb and you can distinguish each instrument from the other one easily.

The MIDS:

The Midrange is excellent in terms of every single element. It is able to produce an good creamy smooth and textured midrange that is soothing to the ears while having excellent details and layering in it. The vocals are natural and both male and female vocals come with great amount of details. Instruments sounded natural and can be identified easily from the other instruments owing to excellent separation capabilities. In tracks like: "Anchor - Trace Bundy" and "Ruby Tuesday - Franco Battiato" while you will love the overall midrange specially transients of the guitars, violins etc... instruments and the vocals.

The TREBLE:

The Treble is very natural with great extension & air as the track commands. It has enough details and despite being very natural it doesn't come with any harsh peaks in the treble region.

STAGING & RESOLUTION:

The staging and resolution is just amazing and truly TOTL and Flagship grade. The resolution is superb and likely better than a lot of other DAC/AMPs in similar price range. Tracks like: “ She Don't Know – Melody Gardot” or “Bohemian Rhapsody (live aid) – Queen” sound good & enjoyable. This is by far the best DAC/AMP performance in this category that I have come across till date.

Pairing:
The CMA Fifteen makes an ideal pair with just about any IEM. It pairs well with each & every IEMs that I had tried from the various price ranges and various traits.
However, CMA fifteen for only IEMs is likely overkill. I don't have headphones and therefore couldn't cover that category.

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Conclusion :

After comparing all those dongles above, if I have to pick one based on my preferences, I would pick the CMA Fifteen in a heartbeat. It is significantly better than any DAC/AMP that I have come across till date.

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jcslone

New Head-Fier
CMA Fifteen...god tier performance
Pros: Tonally accurate, multiple I/O options, exceptionally well-built, good USB implementation, easily portable in a backpack
Cons: Expensive, requires an external source (streamer, laptop, phone, etc).
Greetings everyone...after an involuntary hiatus, I'm doing something headphone-related...tonight's literally the first night in...nearly 2 months I've put on headphones (DCA Aeon 2c at the moment)...

I'm going to give you my summary notes first, then wax poetic afterwards...

  • Source: Tidal FLAC/MQA via Roon w/DSP + upsampling to 768kHz, Mac Mini Roon Core v1.8
  • MacBook Pro (Intel 2020), Roon v1.8, USB-C > USB-A, iFi iSilencer+, USB-A > USB-C cable
  • DAC/amp: Questyle CMA Fifteen (USB-C input) > 4.4mm or 6.35mm output, standard bias, low gain
    • Literally doubled the dimensions and realism of the soundstage on DCA Aeon 2c (compared to Matrix mini-I Pro 3, which is no slouch at its price point).
    • Extremely transparent, detailed, and effortlessly organic
    • Brings incredible bass control and speed to the Meze 99 Noir, which I previously was not the biggest fan of with other pairings (iFi Diablo is alright, a touch sterile, Matrix mini-I Pro 3 was pretty good with some of the DAC filters, but CMA Fifteen is audibly better
    • Fifteen + 99 Noir is about as good as the Noir can get IMO, awesome speed and tonality
    • Roon Crossfeed with Jan Meier’s settings is absolutely ****ing awesome and fun w/99 Noir
    • Beyerdynamic DT770 80-ohm sound flat, lifeless, garbage…only good for monitoring/mixing, even with Roon’s crossfeed
    • Apos Caspian pairs exceptionally well, big stage, good imaging, good tonality, speed is fairly good (limited by the headphone’s driver), nice sub bass rumble, detailed but gentle treble
    • Aeon 2 c: extremely crisp and hyper detailed/extreme separation with good stage, but doesn’t have the low-end gravity and slam of a dynamic like the Caspian while being technically superior, huge, deep stage, intense and rich layering, no harshness or distortion
    • Pairs well with pretty much everything in my collection
    • Ether Flow 1.1 is marvelously balanced and lively
    • Roon DSP Settings: Headroom Management -6dB, upsampling to 768kHz PCM for everything except for DSD (native), precise minimum phase filter
    • Digital input does not automatically slave to the input that is providing signal (e.g., starting a USB-input signal while the DAC input is on optical)
    • HD6XX was sublime with huge stage depth and width and clarity
    • No need to use high bias with most headphones
    • Front panel is not overly cluttered, but the left side where all the bit rate and source indicators are, can be slightly busy when glancing at it. Toggle switches are nice but might be vulnerable to being bent or snapped off if you take the unit with you on a business trip for use at your hotel or otherwise packing it up and moving it around (happened to my Schiit Saga). Recessed hp outputs are quite nice and firmly and precisely accept cable terminations. Volume pot is nice and smooth with an appropriate amount of resistance that prevents rapid spikes in volume and gives you finer precision in volume control. Remote functions as advertised and is nothing special.
    • Back of the unit is nicely organized, with digital inputs grouped together on the left as you look at the back panel, then the single-ended analog input (sadly no XLR, but that would not have fit in the chassis I suspect), and then the analog outputs grouping, SE and Bal, with preamp output level and volume control switches. Finally, at the right of the back panel as you look at it you will find the Bluetooth antenna and the standard IEC power cable port. On the underside of the unit there are 4 recessed slider switches to adjust gain with, I left them in Low the whole time. The top of the unit is devoid of features, save for 8 chassis screws along the front and rear top edges of the DAC. The entire finish is a smooth and refined matte black, but it does pick up fingerprints and smudges a little bit, but it’s not horrible like gloss or semi-gloss finishes can be. The underside of the unit has 4 circular feet containing high density rubber, which in combination with the THICC 10mm chassis wall thickness help to isolate the electronics from vibrations and other undesirable interference.
    • Worth mentioning is the “output protection function” that the Fifteen boasts. Questyle claims that if the Fifteen fails for any reason it will automatically stop output to headphones or speakers to protect everything downstream.
    • Measurements…yeah they matter, and in this case Questyle did it right by not simply going by the components’ specifications, but actually measured the performance of the entire unit properly using industry-standard testing equipment. This means that the performance figures they quote on their website are actually what you will get, not the theoretical performance as stated by a chip manufacturer.
    • Power output is stupendous at 765mW @ 300 ohms and 2 watts @ 32 ohms balanced, and single-ended is no slouch with 188mW @ 300 ohms and 1.5 watts at 32 ohms.
    • Both optical and coaxial input support up to 192kHz/24-bit PCM audio
    • USB-C and USB-B inputs support up to PCM 768kHz/32-bit audio, DSD Native up to 512, DOP DSD up to 256, and is a Full/Core MQA Decoder. USB inputs support mobile/OTG devices such as Android and iOS-based devices (with appropriate cabling and adapters of course). Bluetooth input supports SBC, AAC, and the LDAC codecs, with the highest bit rate supported being 96Khz/24-bit, 990kps/909kps.

Ok, now the audiophile tomfoolery...

Holy ****. I love this DAC. I love this amp. I would buy TWO if I could. One for desktop headphone use (duh lol), and one for my home stereo, in which it performed flawlessly and brought a level of detail, finesse, depth, and richness no DAC I've tried to date can do in my system. It's even awesome for gaming (yup, tried that too, stereo and headphone).

Did I mention you can throw the thing in a backpack with your laptop and a power strip and jam out high def at Starbucks? (yes, I've been that guy once or twice hehe).

But yeah, other than the minor quibbles I've listed, it's near perfect. Like someone actually put thought into what the end user would not only find useful but enjoyable.

Now...let's get it in WHITE! :D
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kmmbd

500+ Head-Fier
The Great Sequel
Pros: Excellent transparency, highly resolving signature
– Staging and imaging is nearly as good as it gets
– Great separation and layering, rivaling that of separated DAC/Amp setups
– MQA HW full-decoder (for Tidal users)
– High quality components with isolated USB controller and integrated low-noise PSU
– BT connectivity is solid, even though wired connectivity sounds noticeably better
– Rock-solid build with much improved volume knob
– An analog line-in (finally!)
Cons: Lacks balanced/XLR line-in
– Sparse accessories
– Gain switches hard to reach
– Not the best pairing with very bright headphones
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Questyle has slowly become one of the most consistent manufacturers around. Nearly all of their releases are either excellent, or extremely competitive at their respective price-tier.

I have been using the Questyle CMA-400i for the past two years, using it as a reference desktop source. The Questyle CMA Twelve, meanwhile, has managed a place at our Wall of Excellence as one of the best TOTL DAC-Amps around.

Naturally the CMA Fifteen has to bear the weight of high expectations. Anything short of excellence in terms of sonic performance is a letdown. Let’s see if Questyle can maintain the track record with their latest flagship.


Note: the ratings given will be subjective to the price tier. Questyle was kind enough to send me the CMA Fifteen as part of the Review Tour. The unit was sent to the next reviewer afterwards.

Headphones and IEMs used: Final Sonorous III, Sennheiser HD650/HD820/HD560S, HiFiMAN HE-6se V2/HE-400i/Deva Pro, Meze 99 Classics, Dunu Zen, Earsonics Onyx

Price, while reviewed: $2400. This review first appeared on Audioreviews.

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

Questyle does not provide a lot in terms of accessories. A remote, a power cord, the CMA Fifteen itself, and that’s about it. The remote is pretty handy esp for volume adjustment and muting, but many of the buttons do not really work (since this is a universal remote for all Questyle products).


BUILD QUALITY

In one word: excellent. The machined aluminium chassis has a solid, dense feeling. The top panel can be unscrewed by removing the 8 screws (do note the differing lengths of the screws at corners). There’s an option to replace the top aluminium panel with a plexiglass panel but I recommend against it since heat dissipation becomes worse that way.

The front of the unit is full of knobs and lights. Some might find it too busy, and I agree. Having four different logos/trademarks do not help either. Questyle does a far better job with the CMA-400i front panel (where additional logos are shifted to the top panel) so I wonder why they did not choose so here.

Most of the controls on the front panel are self-explanatory. The “Function” button switches between using the CMA Fifteen as a DAC-Amp or a DAC-Preamp. This is a very useful function as with a flip of a switch I can go from my headphones to my powered speakers, for example.

The “bias control” switch meanwhile turns the High Bias mode on or off. More on this later. Also note that all three of the front panel outputs are active at the same time, so I’d advise against keeping sensitive IEMs or headphones plugged in alongside hard-to-drive ones (as once you push the volume for the inefficient ones, the efficient ones will get progressively louder as well).

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The volume knob does a cool trick: it rotates accordingly when changing the volume via the remote. The feel and quality of the volume knob is also improved over the previous Questyle DAC/AMps e.g. my Quesytle CMA-400i knob got loose over time. I could fix it by tightening the screw inside again, but it needed some fiddling.

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Looking at the back of the device, you have all the expected inputs and outputs. Questyle has a type-C and regular USB type-B input to keep up with modern standards. The USB inputs get the highest priority, but of course you can switch to other inputs with the switch at the front.

The surprising (for Questyle) inclusion is the RCA input. Previous Questyle all-in-ones lacked an analogue input and this made it impossible to use the amp section alone. That’s not the case anymore with the CMA Fifteen, though I’d have preferred an XLR input as well (though space constraint could’ve been a reason for excluding that).

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Then we find the stereo outputs and this time XLR-out is available. The line-out can have fixed or variable voltage, and the line-out level can also be adjusted between 14dBu and 20dBu. Lastly, we find the BT module (with LDAC support), a button to pair the DAC-Amp with a BT device, a voltage switch (110V or 220V), and the power input with a fuse underneath.

IMG_8615.jpg


My only gripe: the gain switch at the bottom. There are four separate DIP switches and you have to individually switch them to the desired gain level. The procedure is annoying as it’s not easy to switch gain on the fly for sensitive stuff. You have to flip the entire unit to gain access. Given that vertical mount does not work here like CMA-400i, you have to fiddle with the unit at times if you intend to use sensitive IEMs and power-hungry planars.

TECH INSIDE THE CMA FIFTEEN

Questyle is known for their clean PCB design and the use of high quality components, and the CMA Fifteen is no exception. The space on the PCB is well-utilized with the DAC, Amp, and PSU components having their separate “grouping”. The components themselves are sourced from reputed brands, e.g. WIMA film caps, Nichicon Fine Gold series caps, DALE resistors, Plitron/Noratel toroidal transformer etc.

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The USB controller sits on top the motherboard on a separate “daughterboard” and is connected to the main PCB via a ribbon interface. It’s an XMOS controller, as is the norm nowadays (apart from Schiit who make their own controller).

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Another interesting inclusion is the Linear PSU within the unit itself. The CMA-400i lacked this while the CMA Twelve/Twelve Master included a linear PSU as well (though smaller in size). As a result, you won’t have to shell out extra money on external PSUs or “noise filtering” devices.

IMG_8601.jpg


Finally, let’s have a look at the discrete four-channel current-mode amp section. The voltage-rail caps are on the right whereas the individual amp channels have the DIP switches directly coupled with them at the bottom. This is why you have to switch four different switches just to go from low to high gain, or vice-versa. On the left, you see the ES9038Pro DAC chip, which is the highest performing Sabre chip on the market right now. To learn more about Current-mode amplification, have a look here.

IMG_8606.jpg


Speaking of the DAC chip, Questyle picked the ES9038Pro since it’s a current-mode DAC chip, and coupled with Questyle’s Current-mode Amp topology, this system can negate the need of IV conversion between the DAC and the Amp, resulting in a more direct signal path. Does this improve the sound quality? Well, that’s hard to gauge, but this is cool from an engineering perspective anyway.

Finally, a list of the technical spec, taken straight out of Questyle’s CMA Fifteen page:

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TONALITY AND TECHNICALITIES

Listening setup: Questyle CMA Fifteen connected directly to a desktop gaming PC and alternatively an Apple Macbook Pro (M1 Max). The Macbook Pro ran on battery during listening test. There was no noticeable difference between sound or noise level between these systems, proving that the noise filtering on the CMA Fifteen is doing a good job.

To describe the tonality in one word: Super-transparent. I’ll describe some general traits here, and then move on to pairing with several headphones/IEMs since when talking about sources, pairings are the only way to judge them properly.

The mids are intoxicating, every slight nuance of vocal delivery or guitar strumming being vividly portrayed. The highs are very resolving without a hint of edginess or grain. Notes are slightly rounded but not overly so.

Soundstage is engulfing and stage depth is exemplary. Imaging is precise and differs slightly from most DACs in terms of panning from center to left or right. It’s hard to describe but center imaging is better on the CMA Fifteen than most solid-state DAC-Amps I’ve tried in the TOTL space.

Bass is not as spectacular as the rest of the stuff, given the uncolored, neutral presentation on that front. That being said, even on headphones with relatively “poor” bass e.g. HD650 the mid-bass punch and note delivery was spot-on. Bass is mostly focused on the dexterity of the delivery rather than having a rich, dense bass response.

This highly resolving signature comes at the cost of one detriment: CMA Fifteen is unforgiving to poor mastering or recording flaws. Moreover, peaks and dips in the frequency response of IEMs and headphones are laid bare to the listener. If you want your source to be on the forgiving side, CMA Fifteen ain’t it.

MQA hardware decoding works, and MQA tracks sounded somewhat better with the HW decoding turned on than off (in the desktop Tidal app). Make of that what you will, but I did a blind A/B and it was that.

PAIRING NOTES

Let’s address the noise level first. There is very faint hiss with the likes of Andromeda or Final FI-BA-SS. Most IEMs are hiss-free and has excellent dynamics. Generally, the CMA Fifteen pairs especially well with planars and high-impedance dynamic drivers (with high bias on). Note that the high bias mode ensures a longer operation in pure class-A mode.

with Sennheiser HD650​

One potential issue I found was that the HD650 would sound slightly shouty in Standard bias mode. Turning on high bias solved that for me (and I did a blind A/B testing just to be sure it’s not a placebo). This was the only time when high bias mode made a very noticeable difference, so I think other high impedance headphones might benefit from this mode as well.

Other than that: exceptionally balanced sound from the HD650. The mids were intoxicating in high bias mode, and the treble was extended without being too subdued or up-front. The bass roll-off isn’t addressed, and bass is the weakest link here (to fix that you really need an OTL amp with the HD650). As far as solid-state pairings go, CMA Fifteen drive and pair with the HD650 as well as anything out there.

with Final Sonorous III

The Final Sonorous III are quite susceptible to source changes, and also very efficient to drive so it’s easy to “over-drive” them on a source that’s just all about grunt and little about “finesse”. The CMA Fifteen handles low impedance loads very well, Sonorous III did not have any edginess in the treble (which appears on subpar sources or when being over-driven). As an aside: Meze 99 Classics also paired extremely well with the CMA Fifteen with the bass being less bloomy and bloated than out of an iFi Zen Can, for example.

with HiFiMAN HE-6se V2​

The HiFiMAN HE-6se V2 are notoriously difficult to drive with a sensitivity of only 83dB/mW. People are often using speaker amps to drive them (at times in a monoblock config which is nuts) so the CMA Fifteen are up for a challenge.

And fortunately, they pass that challenge with aplomb. The bass slams hard, with the treble being bright and sparkly but not grainy or super-aggressive (which is the case when the HE-6se V2 are underpowered). Staging was improved noticeably over my CMA-400i and the SMSL SP-400. All of this without having to go past the 12 o’clock position in the volume knob (which is very loud for me).

If you own planar magnetic headphones, very few DAC-Amps will perform as well as the CMA Fifteen.

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with Dunu Zen

Dunu Zen is a single dynamic driver IEM that’s very susceptible to background hiss/high noise-floor on the source side. Fortunately, CMA Fifteen has a mostly quiet background, with subtle “hum” being evident when no music is playing. Once the music starts playing even that fades away.

In terms of sound, the Zen had excellent dynamics and also benefitted from the midrange transparency that the CMA Fifteen offers. I do find the pairing with Cayin C9 to be even better when it comes to Zen, but that is a different class of device altogether.

SELECT COMPARISONS

vs Questyle CMA-400i​

Being my daily driver, I am fairly accustomed to the CMA-400i sound signature. To summarize, the CMA-400i is less resolving, with the mids being not as engaging. The staging is less expansive as well, though imaging is largely similar.

The bass has slightly more weight on the CMA-400i though faster bass sections are better rendered on the CMA Fifteen. Output power is also noticeably higher on the CMA Fifteen with nearly double the current. CMA-400i also has more background hiss with sensitive IEMs.

Overall, the CMA Fifteen is an upgrade over the CMA-400i, though the 3x increase in price make the CMA-400i an even better value-for-money.

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vs Questyle CMA Twelve

In terms of feature-set and output power, these two DAC-Amps are largely similar. The CMA Fifteen have analog input which is a plus.

As for sound, CMA Twelve has slightly more warmth and less expansive stage, and the treble is a bit more rounded. The bass has more weight and slam on the CMA Twelve, but the CMA Fifteen can give the sensation of better “separation” between notes. Mids are also more engaging on the CMA Twelve with even better transparency.

In essence, the CMA Twelve is not too far off the performance of the Fifteen. It’s mostly the stage size and the space between instruments that are larger, grander on the CMA Fifteen, and the bass being more nimble than weighty.

vs iFi Pro iDSD SIgnature

The iFi Pro iDSD Signature has more tuning options and better output selection but it sounds less resolving with a more intimate presentation. Separation of instruments are also not as outlined as the CMA Fifteen. Moreover, planars fared better with the CMA Fifteen, with the HE-6 having more slam on the CMA Fifteen while sounding somewhat anemic on the Pro iDSD Signature in default configuration (no bass boost engaged).

That being said, with the right pairing e.g. bright headphones, the Pro iDSD can sound magnificent. Also the bass boost and tube modes are really well-implemented, so if you are into tweaking the sound of your headphones, Pro iDSD Signature has more to offer there.

CONCLUSION

Questyle CMA Fifteen is a solid all-rounder. It sounds great with almost any headphones and IEMs out there, and it sounds exceptional with planar magnetic headphones. The build is very good, the output power is more than enough for almost any headphones, and the size of the unit is petite enough to be put on the desk alongside your PC and powered monitors.

The only complaint I have is the crowded front-panel, a lack of XLR input, and perhaps inclusion of analog tone-control. Other than that – nothing, really.

It’s rare that I come across a device so complete, and something that may stop you from purchasing further gears because it does everything so well. The Questyle CMA Fifteen earns my highest recommendation as one of the best standalone units you can buy right now.

Job well done, Questyle!

macdonjh

Headphoneus Supremus
Questyle CMA Fifteen DAC / amp
Pros: Sounds good, powerful, compact, accepts lots of digital signal formats
Questyle CMA 15
Introduction: I am not affiliated with Questyle. I do own and enjoy a QP2r DAP, and I was part of the CMA Twelve tour. I am happy to be included in the CMA Fifteen tour. I wish I had a CMA Twelve on-hand so I could compare the two directly.

There are several features Questyle DAC/ amps provide which I can make limited use of at most. I don’t have any MQA or DSD files. I have a few high bit-rate files, and listened to a few, the correct LED lit up when I listened to 96kHz files, for example. For purposes of this review, I listened only to the USB input. In fact, I spent most of my time listening to the CMA Fifteen as I would if I owned one: using both the DAC and amp sections and listening to over-the-ear head phones.

Unboxing: Questyle provides a nice white box, dense foam with a couple of custom cut-outs, an instruction manual and a mini-CD-ROM. I’m not sure who can make use of the CD-ROM these days, but luckily the driver is available from the Questyle website. I was a bit let down by the instruction manual. Most of the functions of the CMA Fifteen went unexplained. Not that I had any trouble hooking it up and getting music to play, but I’d like to know what the front-panel bias switch is intended to do. I didn’t notice any change when I switched between “standard” and “high”.

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Both the display box and the outer shipping box.

What I Listened to: I used my long-term home reference gear. My two main systems are:
  • Laptop (USB out) -> Schiit Gungnir multi-bit -> Schiit Mjolnir I
  • Laptop (USB out) -> Schiit Gungnir delta-sigma -> Schiit Sys -> Schiit Aegir
My long-term reference head phones are HiFiMAN HE-500 and Stax SR Lambda, and more recently a pair of HiFiMAN HE-6 (6-screw). Since the Stax can’t be connected to the CMA Fifteen, they won’t play any part in this review. I found I like the Questyle sound when I paired my QP2r DAP with my Meze Rai Penta IEMs. So I tried the Pentas with the CMA Fifteen to see if it has similar magic.

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Ready to come out and warm up.

Soundstage: I am not a big sound stage guy when it comes to head phone listening. However, I did take some notes when listening to Ravel’s Daphne et Chloe. There was absolutely some weirdness in this recording. What is a wood-wind doing way deep in my right ear? How come the trumpets span from stage-left on stage-right on occasion? Why are the harps behind the basses (at least our symphony places the harps behind the second violins). As is usual for me, the sound stage was contained within the ear cups. Height extended from my eye brows down to my upper lip. Placement within that field was generally pretty good, except for the weirdnesses mentioned earlier. The brass were stage right and a bit above the basses, which did sound a bit further to the right as they should. Typically, the wood winds were center and center-left. The violins were left, but sometimes sounded like they extended all the way right, crowding the basses off stage. Must have been in the recording.

First impressions: the first songs I listened to were: “See, Sea, Strut” by Doug Smith, “Salty Dog” by Mississippi John Hurt and “This Feeling” by Alabama Shakes. All small-scale songs to be sure, but the CMA15 rendered each in a relaxed and natural way. The inner light released by Smith’s right hand and Brittany Howard’s voice were richly supported by Smith’s left hand and the bass, respectively. These first impressions from my HE-6.

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Highs: One of my all-time favorite songs, and one I use in gear evaluation, is “It’s for You” from Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. The strummed acoustic guitar, Pat’s electric guitar, the triangle span quite a bit of the low to high treble range. With my HE-6, note separation was good, but not spectacular, the music seemed a touch congested. Tone; however, was lovely. Switching to my easier-to-drive HE-500, that inner detail when the acoustic and electric guitars plus the triangle were all playing together shone through with more authority. Switching again, this time to my Gungnir/ Mjolnir gear, my HE-500 emphasized the electric guitar and triangle at the expense of the acoustic guitar. The sharp attack of the leading edges of Pat’s electric guitar notes was rendered better by the California gear. My HE-6, with the volume knob turned suitably farther clockwise, emphasized the electric guitar and triangle as well, but didn’t push the acoustic guitar as far back as my HE-500 did. In addition, the separation between instruments and notes, in short, articulation, was better with my HE-6 driven by the Schiit gear.

Mids: Something I didn’t expect: the drums in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Riviera Paradise” sounded hollow and artificial with my HE-500/Schiit combination. Not so much through My HE-6 when powered by my Mjolnir. With all four combinations, Stevie Ray’s guitar sounded wonderful. Rich and full and soulful. I think the CMA Fifteen did a more convincing job with those troublesome drums and emphasized the leading edges of guitar notes just a bit more than the Gungnir/Mjolnir.

Frank Sinatra’s voice in “One for My Baby” was achingly smooth through my HE-6 and the CMA Fifteen. This combination also revealed a detail I’ve heard through a few other systems: on the first word of several verses, Frank sings the beginning of the first syllable at a low pitch which he allows to rise through the rest of the word. Kind of like a roller coaster at the bottom of a hill just starting to climb up the subsequent rise. In comparison, My HE-500 were a skosh more 2-D than the HE-6 with the same vocals. I had a very similar reaction to “One for My Baby” with my HiFiMAN powered by my Schiit gear, except the difference between my HE-6 and HE-500 was even more pronounced. This was a distinct win for the Questyle gear when powering my HE-500. It’s a tougher call with the HE-6: the Questyle did a better job with Frank’s voice (the CMA Fifteen got that leading low-pitch-thing, the Schiit didn’t as much), but the Schiit electronics made the strings sound way more like strings.

My standard audition songs which have female vocals include Emmylou Harris and Margot Timmins. Emmylou’s voice in “Deeper Well” was thin but worn, just right for the character she sings in this song. Bravo. Margot Timmins, in Cowboy Junkies The Trinity Sessions, light and breathy and “purer” than Ms. Harris’.

Lows: I found myself having to kick the CMA Fifteen a bit to get strong bass from my HE-6. Granted, I wasn’t surprised, the HE-6 require a lot of juice to get going. My first test was “Right Off” from Miles Davis’ A Tribute to Jack Johnson. I had to bump the volume up a couple of notches, from 10:00 to noon. Same thing with “2049”, “Sapper’s Tree” and “Flight to LAPD” from the soundtrack to Blade Runner: 2049. I had a similar experience with Rush’s “Limelight”: volume too low = mushy drums, volume just right (or louder) = satisfying drums.

Back to “It’s for You”, the electric bass has proven impossible to reproduce in a satisfying way via head phones for me, though the HE-6 come closest. The HE-6 plumbed the depths, extending as deeply as I’ve heard, but I still wish for more level to bring the bass up even with the alto and soprano instruments. The HE-500 through the CMA Fifteen didn’t extend as deeply, but did bring the low- and mid-bass up in level slightly. With the Schiit duo, frequency extension was similar through the HE-500, but there was more subtle detail present. With my HE-6, bass again extended deeper, was happily louder and presented the same level of detail as the HE-500.

Another litmus test song for me is “Deeper Well” from Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball album. The CMA Fifteen muscled my HE-500 through this song well. Bass requires good extension and control for the “menace” of this song to come through, and it did.

Frankly, I was floored by the bass in both “Riviera Paradise” and “Chitlins Con Carne” by Stevie Ray Vaughn. In this case HE-6/Schiit > HE-500/Schiit = HE-500/Questyle > HE-6/Questyle. “Riviera Paradise” especially had full, round, warm, wet bass and finally at a level high enough to support Stevie Ray’s melodic playing. I’ve been frustrated with this song with other gear in the past.

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L to R: digital inputs, RCA analog input, analog outputs, voltage selector

Dynamics, transients and articulation: the detail present in Geddy Lee’s bass in “Limelight” was astonishing. The CMA Fifteen even did a good job of sorting out Geddy’s bass from Neil’s kick drums at the beginning of the song. Kudos. As I’ve experienced before with my QP2r and the CMA Twelve, Questyle takes control of drivers. The CMA Fifteen is no exception. Transient attacks, especially with the Beyerdynamic DT-880, are very sharp. Notes, when recorded this way, stop on a dime. Conversely, hall sound, reverb, decay (think vibraphone), are all allowed to bloom. Fun and engaging.

Other head phones: you’ve no doubt guessed I’ve become a planar junkie. I was abashed to realize when the CMA Fifteen arrived I had not a single dynamic head phone in my house. To rectify that, I called a buddy and he came to the rescue with a trio of dynamic head phones. The Sennheiser HD-600 sounded pretty good. Bass was extended and full, but over-all the sound was let down by the muffled top end. Certainly not a problem with the electronics based on my experience with other head phones this week. The HD-600 were significantly easier for the CMA Fifteen to power: not quite to 9:00 on the volume knob. Not bad sound to be sure, but not involving, either, compared to other head phones I have on hand. So, on to a pair of Beyerdynamic DT-880. These were the inverse of the HD-600: the top end was much improved, but the bottom end reticent, not terribly extended, and the bass which is present is pretty muddy. Giving them a kick (from 8:30 to 10:30 on the dial) improved the bass presence some, but got into “too loud for my preference” territory and lead quickly to fatigue. From the mids up, the DT-880 were enjoyable: bright, fast, articulate and involving. On a lark, I tried the DT-880 single ended (I spent 99% of my time with the CMA Fifteen using the balanced outputs). Other than having to crank the volume knob all the way to 1:00 to match the loudness from the balanced output, I didn’t notice much difference. Perhaps if I valued imaging more than I do… Onward to the Focal Clear Pro. Now, if I could combine the bass of the HD-600 with the mids and highs and details of the Clear… The Clear allowed the CMA Fifteen’s control of the drivers to shine, as did the DT-880, but tone of the midrange instruments (trumpet for example) provided a win for the French over the Germans.

I also spent some time listening to my Meze Rai Pentas through the Questyle. I left the CMA Fifteen in normal gain and it was, of course, way over powered for IEMs. That said, the music was crazy dynamic, even with the volume knob turned down a lot. Mids were more hollow-sounding than I’m used to from these IEMs when played through my QP2r (my normal on-the-go gear). What the CMA Fifteen brought, in spades, was the articulation and separation between the notes which makes me prefer my QP2r to my A&K AK70 Mk II when listening to the Rai Pentas alive. The Questyle amplifier technology turns the Rai Pentas from laid-back and sleepy to liverly and engaging. If being pumped up by your music is what you’re after, the CMA Fifteen can help you get there. No relaxing with the Rai Pentas driven by the Questyle desk top. Oh, that hollowness in the mids I mentioned: a few minutes’ brain burn and I nearly forgot about it. I was busy grooving to the rhythm so ably presented by this combination. I would have to switch head phones, though, if I wanted to be lulled by some silky vocals.

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Other electronics: I switched the switches and connected the cables and tried my Aune X7S amplifier being fed from the CMA Fifteen analog output. In my opinion, the Aune a close to giant-killer status, I am always amazed by how well it powers head phones, even my old HiFiMAN. To keep this sort of short, the most revealing song, by far, was “Deeper Well”. Emmylou’s voice sounded good, but less traveled, some of her bite was missing. Likewise, that menace in the low frequencies was a bit less gritty compared with the tension the CMA Fifteen is able to conjure. Mind you, these differences belie the price difference, but if you’re a hobbyist, they are differences we strive to hear. The Questyle also has better dynamic control and faster transients. Music sounds a bit more 3D, more in-the-room with the current-mode amplifier, but again, small, hobbyist level differences. Oh, how important, though. A final win for the CMA Fifteen: it better sorted the bass from the kick drums in “Limelight”, let’s hear it for bass articulation and detail retrieval.

Then I tried connecting my Gungnir multi-bit and using the CMA Fifteen as an amp. My first impression was it didn’t make much difference, and I couldn’t shake it. Truth be told, I didn’t try all that hard: if I was to buy a CMA Fifteen there is no way I would use it as an amp only (or a DAC only for that matter). What I was listening for was a big change in the character of the sound, a big difference between the “halves” of the CMA Fifteen and the gear I’m familiar with. I didn’t hear anything to make me think anything about the CMA Fifteen other than it’s really good at what it does.

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Reviewing can be an untidy business which drives your wife to distraction.

What I Didn’t Like: I have to admit, I experienced some fatigue listening to the CMA Fifteen. I think, but can’t point to a specific song as a concrete example, there’s a bit of harshness in the upper mids and treble I reacted to subconsciously. The longer I listened, the smaller my HE-6 sounded. They never sounded congested, but often constricted, as if there wasn’t enough power available to allow them to open up. Oddly, I got this impression even with relatively small-scale songs from time to time. Sure, Pete Fountain is backed by a big band on “St. Louis Blues”, but it’s not as “big” as Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Still, the jazz orchestra sounded distant and Mr. Fountain didn’t sound as present during his solos as I imagine he did in life. With everything the CMA Fifteen is capable of, one negative seems forgivable. But sometimes I listen to my head phones for a few hours at a stretch and I’d hate to have a head ache part way through.

What I Like: The list is long: it’s compact, it’s powerful, it’s smooth, it’s articulate, it reveals details in your recordings. It’s revealing enough to make differences in head phones with a definitely similar house sound distinct from each other.

What I think it all comes down to is the Questyle CMA Fifteen is a very good package. Compared with my HE-500, I think it runs out of steam a bit with my HE-6; which, to be fair, sound most satisfying powered by my Aegir, a speaker amp. While the Sennheiser HD-600 sounded pretty good through the CMA Fifteen, better head phones sounded better, the CMA Fifteen sound scales with more capable transducers. Of the head phones I tried I liked my HE-500 the best. My theory is they are a bit easier to drive than my HE-6, and so showed off more with the Questyle.

At both the beginning and end of my time with the CMA Fifteen, I simply listened to songs picked at random by my computer, like a juke box. Here are some of the songs I listened to, in case you’re sick of my audition music:
  • Weird Al Yankovic, Dare to Be Stupid
  • Keith Jarrett, The Koln Concert
  • Queensryche, Promised Land
  • Weather Report, I Sing the Body Electric
  • Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, It Feels Like Christmas Time
  • Booker T and the MGs, Best of…
  • Stan Ridgeway, The Big Heat
  • Don Shirley, Best of…
  • Frank Sinatra, Songs for Young Lovers
  • Sonny Rollins, Worktime
  • Richard Wagner, Gotterdamerung (OK, not the whole opera…)
  • Robert Schumann, Klavierquintett
  • Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II
  • Barefoot Servants, Barefoot Servants
... and like that...
Cessnas172
Cessnas172
Good review. It seems like the unit has a small bias to planars over dynamic driver headphones.
macdonjh
macdonjh
I certainly have a bias toward planars over dynamic head phones these days. I like the Focal Clear well enough, the Utopia more (but not enough to bear the freight). I recently got to hear the ZMF Verite, both closed and open, and liked them a lot.

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
Divine current
Pros: + Naturally musical and engaging
+ Very convincing tonality and timbre
+ Crystal clear and transparent
+ Pitch black background
+ The lowest possible digital glare
+ Wide open soundstage with sharp imaging
+ Excellent Bluetooth sound with the LDAC codec
+ Powerful headphone amplifier both from the balanced and unbalanced outputs
+ Line level analogue input
+ Headphone amplifier, preamplifier and DAC
+ Two gain settings and bias control
+ High quality anti-resonance feet
+ Excellent build quality
+ Remote control
Cons: - Gain switches are located at the bottom of the chassis
- Bluetooth doesn't support aptX HD and aptX.
- Soundstage is lacking in depth and proportions when used as a standalone DAC
- The faceplate has two, slightly extending, sharp edges
- Limited functionality of the remote control
The CMA Fifteen was loaned to me for the purpose of this review and is now shipped to the next reviewer.
The review reflects my honest and subjective evaluation without intervention from the manufacturer.
I didn't receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don't use affiliate links.
The price is $2499 and you can order it from here.

Questyle

With so many reviews and awards floating around I don't think that I should be wasting your time with lengthy introductions.
Questyle is one of the best and highly regarded manufactures of high end audio gear, their previous flagship the CMA Twelve, not only won many awards and positive reviews but also earned a place in many audiophile desktops.

Questyle CMA Fifteen

Commemorating the 15th anniversary of Questyle’s revolutionary Current Mode Amplification Technology, the CMA Fifteen is the company's new flagship DAC/Headphone Amp.

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The CMA Fifteen is a versatile all-in-one device that offers balanced and unbalanced headphone outputs with 4.4mm, 4-pin XLR and 6.35mm jacks.
You can set high/standard bias through the bias switch on the front panel of the headphone amplifier, and select between standard and low gain through the four gain switches on the bottom of the headphone amplifier.
The location is not very handy for switching the gain on the fly but there is a good reason for the location.
The amplifier is differential and in order to avoid channel imbalance the engineers decided to include one gain switch per phase and the only suitable location that could accommodate them was at the bottom of the chassis.
There are also balanced and unbalanced line outputs (XLR and RCA jacks) that can be configured as fixed or variable with two output levels, standard and studio. (RCA: 2V/Standard, Studio mode output up to14dBu and XLR: 4V/Standard, Studio mode output up to 20dBu).
It has four digital inputs, USB x 2 (Including a high-priority USB Type-C interface and a USB Type-B interface), coaxial and optical.
The unit accepts high resolution signals up to 768kHz/32bit PCM, Native DSD 512, DOP DSD 256 and is a Full / Core MQA decoder.
Additionally there is also an RCA line level input where you can connect an external analogue source like a phono preamp.
High resolution Bluetooth connection is also supported with the SBC, AAC and LDAC (96kHz/24bit, 990kps/909kps) codecs but no aptX HD or aptX.

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Current Mode Amplification

At its core, Current Mode Amplification uses current, instead of voltage, to amplify audio signals. It is a state-of-the-art technology in audio amplification, leading to tremendous performance differences when compared to traditional audio amplifiers. As the “engine” of the audio system, Current Mode Amplification features a fully discrete and topological structure, and can achieve ultra-high sound performance that reproduces music so faithfully, it feels like you are in the original recording room. Using Current Mode Amplification technology, listeners can attain a much better listening experience, even when using consumer-grade headphones and speaker systems.
To chase extreme performance, almost all high-end DAC chips from world-renowned manufacturers feature current-type output, which in most traditional amplifiers, is then coupled with an IV converter and classical amplifier architecture.
But Questyle wondered: if the DAC’s output is already current-type, why don’t we also amplify that signal in current-mode?
And that’s exactly what they did in the CMA Fifteen: they used the ES9038PRO current-mode DAC, and coupled that to four Current Mode Amplifiers, which together operate in fully balanced mode to achieve “system-level lossless” purity.

Build quality and layout

The CMA Fifteen is identical to the CMA Twelve as they share the same design and compact size that doesn't occupy too much space especially if we consider that this is a high-end all-in-one unit with an internal toroidal transformer and a linear power supply.
The black chassis is made from 10mm aircraft-grade aluminum 6063 with excellent build quality and finish.
The appearance is neat and minimalist but the slightly extending and sharp edges to the left and right of the front face might not appeal to everyone.
Special attention has been paid for addressing the unwanted resonances by carefully balancing the internal layout and adding high quality CNC foot with high density absorbing rubber.

The power and various functions are controlled by dip switches and a button on the front.
You can select the input source, the function between headphone amplifier and DAC output and the headphone amplifier bias.
High Bias will give you a longer range of Class A operation, while Standard is more efficient, but with a lower cutoff to class AB operation.
Another three switches at the back are used to toggle between fixed or variable level output, select the line gain between standard and studio, and enter Bluetooth pairing mode.
Finally, a remote control is included which can only manage input source and the motorized volume potentiometer but not the functions that are assigned to the switches.

The headphone amplifier

The headphone amplifier max output is set at 2W/32Ω balanced and 1.5W/32Ω unbalanced, so the single ended output is actually usable and the total power is more than enough for most headphones out there minus the very inefficient ones like the Susvara.
The low gain mode has a totally inaudible noise floor, making it suitable for sensitive IEMs.
The headphone amplifier is an excellent performer and the perfect match for the DAC, there is absolutely no reason for an external amplifier unless you need considerably more power or add tubes to the equation.
Regarding the bias operation, I am not going to lie, differences - if any - where under the placebo realm, I thought that the high bias paired better with the Sennheiser HD8XX and the HiFiMan Arya V3.

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Associated gear

The CMA Fifteen was tested both with the embedded headphone amplifier and as a standalone DAC hooked to a two channel speaker system consisting of the Audiophysic Step 35 bookshelf speakers and Kinki EX-M1 integrated amplifier in a dedicated room.
The digital front end consists of the Silent Angel Munich M1T streamer with the linear power supply and the Bonn N8 Ethernet switch.
Everything is powered through two iFi power stations.
As for headphones I mostly used the Focal Clear Mg and HiFiMan Arya V3 with the Lavricables Ultimate, the Meze Audio Elite with the copper upgrade cables and the Sennheiser HD8XX.

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Listening impressions

I believe that the general consensus about the ESS ES9038PRO is that it is a highly capable chip more focused on top technicalities and slightly less on musicality and naturalness of timbre.
Right?
Well, yes, until you hear something like the CMA Fifteen where the engineers have managed to squeeze out every last drop of musicality while retaining the excellent technical performance and even more, making it work in favor of the engagement factor rather than for absolute measurements.
This is the type of music playing machine where top of the line transparency and linearity meet together with impressive musicality and reward the user with a complete and immersive listening experience.
The CMA Fifteen combines the raw power, bass control and dynamic range of a solid-state with a tube-like warmth and sound expansiveness in a very convincing and realistic audio performance.
With headphones or speakers alike, the CMA Fifteen has a wonderful tonal accuracy with impressive naturalness for an ESS DAC chip with an almost complete absence of digital glare.
Maybe this is why the user is not offered the option to choose a digital filter as it seems that the engineers have opted for the best possible solution for the less digital sound.
The Fifteen is extremely clean and transparent with deep detail retrieval but not at the expense of naturalness, this is not an analytical sounding machine and everything sounds perfectly balanced and well integrated as a whole.
The presentation is impactful and full bodied but with excellent control and definition while dynamics are wholly convincing.
Listening to large scale symphonic works is a pure joy especially when the Fifteen is hooked to the two channel system.

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Mid-range and treble consistency are excellent, everything is heard with a wealth of overtones and deep harmonic expression with an analogue like texture, no sharp treble, no shouting mids, no rough edges.
This is among the most analogue sounding ESS implementations I have ever auditioned together with some other great stuff from companies like Violectric or the eye watering expensive Ideon Audio.
Soundstage is pretty impressive with sharp imaging, grandness of presentation and holographic sculptured relief.
Mostly from the headphone output because as a pure DAC, the CMA Fifteen is great but it cannot match the field depth and proportions nor the image size of some other dedicated DACs, like the Denafrips Pontus II or the Ideon Audio ΙΩΝ.
Here again classical music was the perfect example for showing the soundstage properties.

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Vs the Violectric V380² (€2300)

The Violectric V380² is another excellent sounding all-in-one unit with four ES9026PRO DAC chips (two per channel) where the engineers have managed to combine top tier technicalities with immense musicality.
There are three digital inputs (USB, coaxial and optical) and two line level inputs but it doesn't have wireless Bluetooth connectivity and it doesn't support MQA decoding.
You get three headphone outputs with three different output jacks (4-pin XLR, 4.4mm and 6.35mm) and two line outputs (balanced and unbalanced) that can be set as fixed or variable.
The headphone amplifier is more powerful with 5000mW50Ω and 21VRMS into 600Ω.
No remote control for the V380² but it has a higher quality potentiometer with a massive aluminium knob.
Build quality and appearance are on the same excellent level for both units.

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Both sound equally impressive, engaging and musical with some differences here and there.
The V380² is just a little cleaner and transparent with a more open and layered sound presentation.
They share the same harmonic wealth and naturalness of timbre that gets a touch more convincing in the case of the Violectric.
Soundstage is a bit more holographic in the V380² while it retains the same level of performance both from the DAC and headphone outputs.
Finally the V380² has the more visceral and fuller bass texture while it is more dynamic but fading is just a bit faster than the more relaxed and naturally decaying CMA Fifteen, especially in the treble.
The battle is fierce and it can continue till the end of times without a winner.

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In the end

The CMA Fifteen is proof that top class electronic components alone don't make something sound good but it is rather a matter of proper design, clever implementation and painstaking tuning by the ear.
There are a lot of ES9039PRO based DACs but only few sound as good as the Questyle CMA Fifteen which combines top notch technicalities with the most natural and musical sound signature you can think of in an inclusive all-in-one device that can form the center of your music listening set-up.

Test playlist

Copyright - Petros Laskis 2022.

Voxata

Headphoneus Supremus
Questyle CMA Fifteen, a worthy successor
Pros: Sound quality, features, powered pot w/remote, input selection, output connectivity and build quality
Cons: Quality demands a greater price
CMA Fifteen Review:
Today I bring you a glimpse into experiencing the new Questyle CMA Fifteen current mode amplifier and ES9038Pro DAC/Pre. While this new unit from Questyle at glance is strikingly similar to the previous flagship model, the Twelve, similarities stop there. There are some stark differences under the immaculately crafted hood that we’re going to be going over today.

Before we start however let’s get some disclaimers and information out of the way. Questyle as a company has undergone some major changes at a management/customer service level recently. I’ve been fairly critical of this in the past however I've had a recent experience with them that has instilled major confidence in where the company is headed going forward. I’m excited to see this change as a Questyle customer. I’ve never had a unit fail (I’ve sold my old 400i&600i to friends and they are still going strong to this day) but if by chance an issue came about I know I’d be well taken care of. I’ve ordered parts however prior to this review and the service displayed was expedited to a level that was blistering by any company standard. So, kudos to Questyle for stepping up.

Secondly, I am not being paid for this review. I have no incentive to pull any punches and even went as far to take this review unit to the local Denver head-fi members meet for others to experience and share their impressions, so let’s dive right in.


Fit and Finish:
One word says it all here, and that is Foxconn. Quite possibly the highest quality company when it comes to manufacturing electronic components in the world. The CMA Fifteen, like the twelve before it is manufactured in the same facility that churns out iphones and ipads. Every piece on the Fifteen is milled and fits together perfectly. This is hands down the highest build quality of any audio product on the market – and by a significant amount.
Heat transfer is significant and sinking is done properly within. I honestly can’t find a single fau.. oh.. oh wait, what is this on the front? Personal distaste for MQA aside the logo branding above the headphone output sockets would be better placed on the bottom of the unit. Sort of makes me liken the Fifteen to a Mercedes SLR with some Turbonetiks stickers slapped on the front windshield. On the plus side these logos are simply screened on and quite easy to remove. There are gain switches as well, inconveniently placed on the bottom. They are however significantly easier to toggle than the twelve. These are positioned at this location as to have the least impact on sound quality I’m assuming. I never felt the need to fiddle with them unless using ultra-sensitive IEMs, which I don’t use on desktop gear anyways.
Power switch is on the front and convenient. Strange this still has to be mentioned in 2022. IR receiver is nearby for use with the included remote which controls input switching and the motorized alps potentiometer. Very nice. Simple flip switches on the front also enable DAC/Pre or AMP modes with a bonus Bias control toggle just as the Twelve before it has.

QueFront.jpg


Inputs/Outputs:
Gone is the useless proprietary wireless module in the Twelve! This is replaced by my preferred BT protocol LDAC and it works flawlessly. I didn’t experience any disconnects or stutters from my Oneplus 7T during testing. They even added a simple pairing button for ease of use. Other inputs include USB C, USB A, Optical and Coax SPDIF. I’d consider this extensive considering the size of the Twelve. Next to the digital input section is the inclusion of RCA analog input which is akin to the previous generation 600i. I’ve heard many complaints about this not being included on the Twelve and Questyle has obviously listened. BAL amp input would be great but again, given the size of the unit this would not be possible. The input that is there works flawlessly though, but given the performance of the DAC section you may not need it. Still, great to have for comparisons.

The most interesting output for me is the Stereo/Pre section which consists of the usual RCA and XLR variety that output simultaneously. Questyle has included toggles for both fixed and variable volume control modes on the back and even has a toggle for use with both consumer and pro grade power amplifiers. Having this selectable allows users to use true pro gear to its full potential. This puts the Fifteen into a rare category for features.

Headphone outputs are the usual fare albeit of very high quality. The XLR is recessed so that it is screw mounted into the front panel for rigidity and it’s something that I can feel. On many other amplifiers when I socket XLR cables I can feel some ‘wiggle’ in the connector. Not so on the Fifteen, this possible wear point has been eliminated. Other outputs are 4.4 BAL and 6.35mm SE. I was pleasantly surprised that the Fifteen’s SE performance was above the Twelve – not sure what they’ve done to achieve this but it is welcomed.

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Sound Quality:
Here we are, time to talk about PRAT, Dynamics and character! Just kidding, I won’t go into too many flowery terms without contrast and reason, albeit subjective in nature. I’ve heard many headphones, DACs & amps in my audio review and ownership journey. One thing that has become more frequent as of late however is gear that eventually induces fatigue. The quest for aggressive dynamic swings seems to never end. When I listen to my Twelve I am instantly captivated by the detail, power and engagement it offers. This eventually subsides however when fatigue eventually sets in. Depending on what I'm listening to, it could be sooner than later.

We’ve all experienced this to some extent, really you can only listen to headphones for so long before things get grading eventually... or so I thought until trying the Fifteen. Dynamics are present but they aren’t harsh and don’t make me wince at times like the Twelve does. I thought this would result in the Fifteen being ‘softer’ however vocal shifts on my favorite tracks still retain bite and warmth. String plucks and drum slams sound more ‘grand’ and come across with awe as opposed to being aggressively present.

Compared to the Twelve I heard significant sound signature differences between these two units. The Twelve has more aggression in the upper mids while the Fifteen had a more genuinely prominent and detailed midrange, tighter bass and smoother highs. Speaking of, Bass is fantastic on the Fifteen. It retains the current mode flesh while skipping the exaggerated boost the Twelve had in the lower mid and sub region. This notation continued on as I compared the Fifteen to other stacks/gear. Mids are more fleshed out, detailed and engaging on the Fifteen thanks to the new Sabre chip. Highs are more convincing and again, grand when compared to the Twelve and my other DACs. It’s there to enjoy and it's presented in a way that can be enjoyed as long as you'd like.

As a comparison Gustard’s X16 is what I consider the most non-offensive DAC ever made and is the one that I could previously listen to for the longest without fatigue. It’s also fairly flat and relatively dull in respect to transient performance… I don’t know how or why, but I can listen to the Fifteen indefinitely with all of my headphones and it remains engaging and again, I can’t overstate this – retains this ‘grand’ sound to its presentation. Soundstage is wide and deep, without any holes and instruments are articulated well while still carrying warmth and precision - a rare feat. This is a flagship showing for any DAC/Amp by itself and is an astonishing performance for an all in one.

Cutting the fat aside, this is the best DAC/Amp combo I’ve ever heard and the shocking cherry on top is that it is also the only one I can comfortably listen to long term indefinitely. Questyle says they engineered this unit for over three years – and it has paid off. It'll be hard to top this unit going forward as you’ve already struck solid gold with the Fifteen. Oh, and on a side note the Fifteen also has enough power to push the HE6 without issues. It’s quiet with sensitive IEMs in low gain mode as well. I tried 9 headphones with the Fifteen ranging in design and power requirements. I never ran into any situation where I felt the need for more power.

Pre performance was exemplary with both pro and consumer gear. My crown amp put out more power than I've ever heard thanks to the voltage toggle on the back. With my Akitika the soundstage was massive and and my system was incredibly engaging. I'm using LS50's that are very sharp with certain DS dac pairings, I'm happy to report the Fifteen had no such issue and pushed my LS50's better than I've heard before.

Pricing & Conclusion:
Aaah the pain… Quality and performance always comes with a price… for the Fifteen it’s over 2 thousand. Is it worth it? For the functionality, performance and quality the Fifteen possesses I’d give it a resounding absolutely. Keep in mind this would replace your: Dac, Amp, Pre & Pro compatibility gear. All in a single easy to keep on the desk aluminum chassis with remote & powered pot.
On top of that I’ve never heard a unit present sound like the Fifteen has. If my budget allowed I’d already have bought one before sending this review sample back. Heck, I may just have to ship them back a brick and fall off the planet because with the Fifteen my personal audio journey would be a wrap. Having this in my collection would relegate a LOT of gear and prove to be an almost impossible uphill battle for future review pieces to climb. I don’t think I’ve ever given such a glowing review and recommendation on a piece of gear, and as a reviewer it's exciting to see pieces like this release. Just don’t forget to scrape the stickers off this Mercedes.

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Bonus:
Several participants were able to compare the Twelve to the Fifteen at the Denver Head-Fi members meet. I’ll be summarizing their notes comparing the two and adding my personal thoughts on them. Remember, these are meet conditions so shorter listening sessions. Both units powered through all headphones tested on them, which included some demanding ones. Attendees noted clear differences between the two.

Thoughts on the Twelve: More perceived dynamics and frequency range, big bass, can be fatiguing but is also very engaging.
- Personally I agree with all of these impressions
Thoughts on the Fifteen: Cleaner sounding, slight compression, much higher quality bass, more forward midrange, very engaging.
- I agree with quite a bit here, less the compression part. In comparison to the Twelve’s much boosted subbass range the Fifteen may seem more polite and make one automatically think compression – however the bass is very present and incredibly detailed. It’s only when I spent more time with the Fifteen that I was able to really pick this comparison apart. The Fifteen’s bass is much like other kits of gear that I have except again, more fleshed out and engaging. It’s only when compared directly to the Twelve that it’s quite boosted bass gave me this same impression.

You’ve stuck around this long.. I want to thank you for the read and wish you the best in your audio journey. A huge thanks to Questyle for not only the big changes they’ve made to their company recently but also for hosting this Head-Fi loaner tour. A big thanks also to you, members of the community for keeping this hobby alive and thriving during difficult times.
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macdonjh
macdonjh
I was a participant in the CMA Twelve tour, and commented to the Questyle representative in a PM I wish I had a CMA Twelve during this tour for a direct comparison. Lucky you.
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Voxata
Voxata
Both are really great units, but the Fifteen is definitely a step up - as it should be for the price.

bobfa

Head-Fier
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.

ngoshawk

Headphoneus Supremus
Questyle CMA Fifteen: I loved the CMA 12Master...is this better?
Pros: Questyle build
Questyle sound
Questyle quality
Near sound perfection
Cons: Switches are still hard to use
"Gain" switches on the bottom
Not mine
Questyle CMA Fifteen ($2799): I loved the CMA 12Master...is this better?

Fifteen


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Intro: When I reviewed the CMA 12Master, I was floored. I was floored that this slim, unobtrusive critter could sound so darn good. Then I remembered (makes a good story...) that this was why I purchased the QP2R some years before. And why to this day, I still rate the QPM as the best pure DAP I have heard. My QP2R does not see much use, but I refuse to sell it, simply because the occasion comes around when it is called upon. Called upon to realign my senses as to the lack of need for bells and whistles allows one to focus on the sound. Purely. I stated as much in my QPM review as well. Does one truly need a touchscreen for their DAP? Honestly, no if it is meant for sound. No, neither can stream but I do not care. They are for pure sound, and the CMA series is as well. It does have the bells and whistles, and I shall do my best to subscribe all. That said, I may focus more on the sound alone in various platforms, for the intricacies have been described in detail by others more versed than I. Needless to say, the Fifteen is another stella product from Questyle. Period.


Specs:

AC Input: 100-120V / 220-230V (switchable)
Power Consuming: <30W
Size: 330*200*55mm (Jacks are not included.)
Digital Input:
USB x 2 (Including a high-priority USB Type-C interface and a USB Type-B interface.)
PCM: 44.1khz-768kHz/32bit
DSD: Native DSD 512; DOP DSD 256
MQA: Full / Core decoder


USB input supports UAC 2.0. It supports Win XP, Vista, Win7, Win8, Win10, Linux, MAC OS and other operating systems. It also can be connected to smartphones supporting OTG audio output.


Note: Windows system under Win10 will need to install the ASIO driver developed by Questyle. Win10 system supports DOP DSD 256 without installing the driver and supports Native DSD 512 with the driver installed.


Optical Input x 1: PCM: 44.1kHz~192kHz/24bit
Coaxial Input x 1: PCM: 44.1kHz~192kHz/24bit
Bluetooth Input x 1: SBC, AAC, LDAC (At the highest level of 96kHz/24bit, 990kps/909kps)
Analog Input: RCA x 1, 2Vrms standard level


Headphone Amplifier Output Interface:

6.35mm standard headphone jack x1
4-PIN balanced headphone jack x1
4.4mm balanced headphone jack x1


Note: You can set High/Standard bias through the BIAS switch on the front panel of the headphone amplifier and set Standard/Low gain through the four Gain switches on the bottom of the headphone amplifier.


Pre-Amp Output Interface:

XLR x 1
RCA x 1


Note: The output level can be set by Standard/Studio switch and volume can be controlled by ADJ/FIX switch on the rear panel.

Pre-Amp Output Specs:

Max Analog Output Amplitude:
RCA: 2V (Standard), Studio mode output up to14dBu
XLR: 4V (Standard), Studio mode output up to 20dBu
THD+N:
RCA: 0.0004%
XLR: 0.0003%
Frequency Response: ±0.2dB (DC-22kHz @48kHz/24bit)
SNR:
RCA: >116dB
XLR: >119dB


Headphone Amplifier Output Specs:

Max Output Power:6.35mm: 188mW @ 300Ω 1.5W @ 32Ω
4.4mm balanced / XLR 4-PIN balanced: 765mW @ 300Ω 2W @ 32Ω
THD+N:<0.0003% @300Ω, <0.001%@32Ω
Frequency Response: ±0.2dB (DC-22kHz @44.1kHz/24bit
SNR: 6.35mm: >117dB, 4.4mm balanced / XLR 4-PIN balanced: >120dB


Gear Used:

MBP
Shanling M6Pro
Questyle QP2R
iPhone 13 Pro Max

Kennerton Rögnir
Audeze LCD-3
HiFiMan Edition XS
Empire Ears Legend X (Eletech Socrates cable, 4.4bal)


Songs used:

Yes.


Unboxing:

I opened the box. Took it out. Hooked it up. Turned it on.


Build:

Another short section. Questyle quality. Questyle function. Questyle perfection.

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Functions:

Having just moved my Linn Axis turntable to our cottage up north, I was unable to test this aspect, but when combined with active speakers, this makes the Fifteen even more versatile. Many are now going to active speakers for their desktop set ups, and with the wonderful resurgence of vinyl, this makes for an almost cheatingly-good set up. Imagine you can go from your headphones to vinyl and very decent active speakers either via RCA or BT. For the price of a decent mid-fi headphone or IEM, you can get some superb powered desktop speakers.

The industry seems to be moving that way, and why shouldn’t Questyle accommodate the user’s needs? This make sense, and one does not mind added functionality.

Automatically gauging the rate, like the other CMA models allows you to set the unit and go listen. Analog via the RCA input is limited only by the bitrate coming from your source. One thing I do wish Questyle would change is the ability to change the Headphone Gain Control functions from some place other than the bottom of the unit. Going from a sensitive headphone to a less sensitive one means you either leave it alone, or picky the unit up and change the switch placings. I found an easy way to accommodate this was to carefully set the unit on a platform, which did allow me access to the switches. Truth be told, while it is cool to see the sampling rate on the front, reading those from afar is impossible and this space might have been better utilized by the gain switches. Mind you, I love the clean look of the unit, harkening back to my old home system integrated amplifier, which was also minimalist.

That said, their reasoning is sound, and for most purposes, you will leave the switches alone. If you do change them, turn the unit off first; AND unplug it. Then switch all four, lest you have a channel imbalance. Then reverse the process.

A 4.4bal & XLR balanced switch lie either side of the 6.35mm SE headphone jack, so there are plenty of headphone options. Using the excellent DDHiFi DJ65A, I could hook up my 3.5se IEM’s. Or plug in the DDHiFi DJ44A into the 4.4bal for 2.5bal connectivity. I like DDHiFi connectors, and they fit with the Fifteen perfectly.

Again, supporting MQA, Apple Lossless and LDAC BT, Questyle selected the flagship DAC ES9038PRO, the decoding chip with the most powerful performance of any DAC invented to date, jointly launched with ESS, supporting 32bit/768K and DSD 512 master band formats. Having a USB-C on the back afforded me the ability to hook up my iPhone 13 Pro Max and experience my iTunes Apple music. Also available SP/DIF and optical hook ups along with XLR outputs makes this on par with others in this class. Multiple hook ups for input and outputs are a must in this game, and Questyle indulges us.

All switches, and knobs functioned as expected, with no problems or loose connections. I am still careful with small toggle switches, but the last couple of desktop items I have had with them are without worry. For more details on the technical aspect, @wiljen’s excellent review is available here.

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Sound:

Instead of a summary like more of late that I have done, I feel a source-by-source breakdown will be more relevant. Also, changes in the switches on the bottom will be noted. If not, they are unchanged (kept on low setting). That said, to summarize: The Fifteen is astounding. Simply put, a pure pleasure to indulge my senses of listening to the fullest. Period.


MBP/Tidal/QoBuz/RCA:


First up was the easiest. My MacBook Pro running Tidal Premium and Qobuz through various output items, but mainly with my Rögnir & LCD-3. Astounding purity comes from both streaming formats, with Tidal coming across as slightly warmer and richer in tone. I knew this going in, as to me it has a warmer signature to start. Peter Frampton’s Isn’t It A Pity is sensuous, rich and full of detailed clarity. With each strum, you feel like you are there in full concert mode, but a small venue. Until the orchestra adds their wonderful part. Then the expansive soundstage allows you the Full Monty experience, so to speak. Pure, crisp and detailed. I replay the song numerous times with both headphones. The LCD-3’s open the sound markedly better, since they are an open back, but the Rögnir is fantastic as well. The ability of the Fifteen to let the headphone in use shine is a wonderful Questyle trademark to me. No coloration at all, only the headphone showings its wares.

On Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Tuesday’s Gone, vocals are sublime, with succinct staccato notes and deep reaching bass lines; giving me the impression of being in the studio as the band plays. One of my all-time favorite songs sounds superb through the Fifteen, with excellent detail in the busy orchestral sections, allowing me the pleasure of simply enjoying the music.


iPhone 13 Pro Max/USB-C:

Hooked together, the sound emanating from the iPhone is brighter than simply running a dongle through my Tidal collection. Brighter, but with an airier note as well. Bass seems a bit recessed as well. On my MBP, Tidal provides a richer tonality than here. Even with that brighter signature, there was nothing too analytical of the sound. Too clinical did not come into my verbiage as well.

While this makes for a nice sounding unit combination, unless you have a long enough cable, hooking your smartphone to BT makes more sense.


iPhone 13 Pro Max/ BT:

I had no problem connecting and the sound was as expected, quite nice. Not as good as cabled of course, but there was a certain warmth to it, which I did not expect. You can easily pair the Fifteen by using the “pairing” button on the back, by the LDAC module. Volume is controlled by the Fifteen only, and like the LO on my Shanling below, volume above 0900 became much louder. I enjoyed Tidal and Qobuz through my iPhone very much and would rate this as just about, if not the best the iPhone has sounded. Granted you are pushing it through a near-$3k unit; so it had better...


Shanling M6 Pro/RCA/USB-C:

This connection was better than my MBP, as it should be. With a better DAC, and that warmth of sound emitting from within, I really like the Shanling’s sound. Better bass depth, broader soundstage and with a more vibrant tonality as well. The versatility of the Fifteen shines yet again. Of course, I pretty much knew this going in, after the CMA 12Master. To have one unit, which can do all of this is the way of the market and should come as no surprise.

Running the USB-C to USB-C, the sound was the best yet, moving up the food chain so to speak. It was also my favorite outside of the optical hook up. As much as I liked the ease of use with the RCA cables (2 into one), the sound from USB-C to USB-C was such that I would invest in a longer cable of equal quality to the DDHiFi cable I used. Due to running LO on the Shanling though, the volume could not go above 0900. That is all right, as it was quite sufficient.

Other functions:

I wish I had my turntable here as well as my powered speakers. From their advertising on the site, the Fifteen can be used in this manner, which would be quite nice. Simply hooking the turntable into the RCA input would suffice, but I do note that if your turntable has a ground wire (like my Linn Axis), you will need to come up with a solution...a small price to pay.

I’m not sure what else I can say, other than the usual breakdowns of sections, but to me that is rather pointless. The Fifteen handled all sources and options without fuss or bother. Exactly what I expected.


Finale:

I mentioned early about the front layout, and the headphone gain switches on the bottom. How I wished those gain switches had been on the front. Well, after trying both low and standard, I can say that I would most likely leave the switches on low and forget about them. Who am I to question Questyle’s wisdom here? It worked on the CMA 12, and 12Master; and yet again on the Fifteen.

Questyle has also lassoed in the use of the ESS chips, which in many iterations of sources can come across as cold or analytical. Not here. That “clinical” sound comes across as detailed, crisp and airy; but without that cold loss of depth. As others, I was not surprised in the treatment given to the sound, which mimics my QP2R or QPM, but in a desktop unit. Many speak about “house sound,” and that holds true here. I often speak of the Shanling house sound as richer and warmer (to me). Here the Questyle house is one of purity and detailed crispness. I rate the quality of the sound as good as it comes. Had I not already owned the fine duo from iFi the Pro iDSD and iCAN; I would most likely purchase the Fifteen. Together both the iFi units give me more options with which to change sound, including that wonderful tube sound; but when it comes down to it, the Questyle would nestle wonderfully into my system as a replacement. Would I miss the added bass the iFi can give? Most certainly, but the gain would be in additional detail and clarity. The iFi duo is meant for the warmer side of life, which I love. But the Questyle products continue to pull me back away from that into the purity of sound element. And at some point, it may just lasso me completely into that meld.

The cost of admission here is not cheap. There are alternatives at lower prices that may provide 75-80% of the performance (to me). But at some point, you reach a level of satiation, and call it quits. You throw in the towel of spending upon your system. And here is where you need to decide at what monetary point that is. If one wants a near or end-all point, then the Questyle Fifteen should be well in that mix. Not only for its connectivity options, but above all others; the sound, which emotes from within. This is as good as it gets, and I do wish more would audition Questyle products. They may just agree.

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S
syazwaned
Hi sir, how is cma 15 compares to M8v2+ampersand stack, if I using it for desktop only
ngoshawk
ngoshawk
Ah, yikes. I really like the CMA15 for its clean, clear & crisp sound. It is an exceptional desktop item. On the other hand, it is hard to fault the sound coming from the Centrance duo, either. Warmer, richer and just as vibrant I could happily live with either the Questyle or Centrance duo. If it came down to having only one set, I would probably go with the Centrance, but would be missing cleanest of sound and a few connectivity options (which I use often for reviews). I am a sucker for warm, rich & vibrant; but carry a soft spot for the way Questyle treats the sound. It is just crisp and clean, with no hiding anything.

Both have made me think about replacing my iFi Pro iCAN/iDSD, but yet I haven't...yet.
S
syazwaned
thanks for you thought sir

tutetibiimperes

100+ Head-Fier
All-In-One Powerhouse
Pros: Puts out way more power than specifications would indicate
Clean sound
Extremely well built, dense, and heavy for its size
High quality switchgear on front panel
Had most major inputs and outputs you'd want to see
Come with a remote control
Cons: Experienced some audio syncing errors
Remote is very busy with a lot of buttons that don't apply to this unit
Gain switch placement is inconvenient
Volume steps from using the remote are too large
No XLR inputs
Thank you to Questyle for providing the CMA Fifteen unit for the demo tour and giving me the opportunity to test it out in my home.

I've been curious about Questyle products for a while, having often read about them, but have never had the chance to hear any of their gear until now.

Through my review period my source was a Bluesound Node 2i using Apple Music Lossless and FLAC CD rips on USB stick for music.

qstack.jpg


Build And Features

Picking up the CMA Fifteen from the local UPS office I was surprised at how heavy the box was. Getting it home and setting it up it became clear all of that weight was in the unit. The CMA Fifteen is medium-sized (see comparison above with the Schiit Ragnarok 2) but very heavy for the size. It exudes quality in the hands, and that follows to the switchgear on the front of the unit which all feels solid and clicks with precision.

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On the front you see support for a wide variety of sample rates, a switch to use it as a pure DAC or as a DAC/Amp, and a Bias Control switch that changes the point at which the unit crosses from Class A to Class AB (I did my testing with the bias set towards more Class A). Headphone outputs cover all of the bases with a Pentaconn jack, a 1/4" single ended jack, and a 4-Pin XLR jack.

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On the back you see digital inputs in the form of UBS, Optical Digital, Coaxial Digital, and unbalanced analog in. Outputs to use the unit as only a DAC include both balanced and unbalanced options. There's also a Bluetooth receiver.

I'd personally have rather seen balanced inputs than unbalanced, even if that meant removing the unbalanced outputs to make space.

The power transformer is built into the unit, for people who like that (I'm personally agnostic about built-in power supplies vs those that use a barrel connector and a breakout box).

qgain.jpg


One particularly baffling design decision was placing the gain control on the bottom of the unit, which due to the rather short supplied power cord, meant that switching gain meant having to unplug the unit to flip it over and switch the gain. Having four separate switches instead of one universal switch that could be placed on the front and activate a relay or something to switch gain also struck me as odd.

In practice it turned out to not be as big of a deal as I'd have thought though, as due to the tremendous output power of this unit I never had to take it out of low gain.

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A greatly appreciate feature is a remote control. Since my stack sits across the room from where I sit remote control functionality is a must-have. The unit is plastic with a faux-metal finish, but feels solid. One thing that I don't like about it is that it's apparently the same unit that ships with all Questyle products and thus has buttons for features the CMA Fifteen does not have. For the price of this unit I'd like to see a dedicated remote control with only the buttons that directly relate to the unit.

One other quibble I had with the remote control is that the amount of increase/decrease you get with each tap of the volume button was too much, leading to headphones being either slightly too soft or slightly too loud.

Listening Impressions

I tried the CMA Fifteen out with a variety of headphones that I own, some of which it showed excellent synergy with (details below). One big limitation of having everything integrated into one unit however is that I couldn't use EQ while using the built-in DAC, as in my setup that's normally supplied by my RME ADI-2 DAC. I tested the unit using both the built-in DAC as well as using the analog inputs to use my RME ADI-2 as the DAC.

The power output of the CMA Fifteen seemed to also be much greater than I would have expected from the published specifications. I never had to take the unit out of low gain, even with power hungry headphones like my HE6se, and even then never had to turn the volume knob past the halfway point. On many headphones just two or three clicks from the silent position on the volume knob gave me more than enough volume.

One issue I did encounter is that when using Apple Music Lossless as a source the DAC section on the CMA Fifteen would occasionally lose sync, leading to the music stuttering in and out for a bit before locking back in. I'd experienced this once before when testing the Cyrus ONE HD DAC/AMP, which also uses an ESS chip, so this may be an ESS related issue. I've never experienced with my AKM based RME ADI-2 DAC or with my previous speaker preamp/DAC the Emotiva PT-100 which uses an Analog Devices DAC chip.

Sennheiser HD6XX

The Sennheiser HD6 series of headphones are known to scale well with better electronics, and out of the CMA Fifteen was the best I've ever heard it. Bass had some legitimate slam to it, treble and upper midrange were clear, and there seemed to be smidge more definition to the soundstage than I typically hear with it.

Fostex TH909

These are one of my newest additions and at only 25 Ohm and 100db sensitivity they're easy headphones to drive. These showed one of my quibbles with the unit - even on low gain the difference between one volume click and the next was the difference between a bit too quiet and a bit too loud. The 128 step volume knob on my usual Schiit Ragnarok 2 amp gives far finer control over volume level.

Aside from the volume issue however these sounded great with the unit, showing that it's adept at handling both low and high impedance loads. Bass was strong and treble sparkly just how these should sound.

Hifiman HE6se

One of the most notoriously difficult headphones out there to drive, with a lot of owners preferring to use full-on speaker amps, I was skeptical about the CMA Fifteen's ability to drive these satisfactorily.

As it turns out my skepticism was entirely unwarranted, as even on low gain with the volume knob shy of 12 O'Clock the CMA Fifteen made the HE6se sing, with deep slamming bass and great definition to the sound. There must be some magic sauce in this current-mode amplification, because on paper I never would have expected it to do so well.

In fact, while I usually use EQ with the HE6se, I could be totally satisfied with it just out of the CMA Fifteen.

Audeze LCD-5

Speaking of EQ, while I absolutely love the LCD-5, it's resolution being unparalleled, it's a headphone that I need some EQ to really love. Since my normal setup has EQ baked in that's not a problem, most headphones sound better with EQ IMO and the RME ADI-2 DAC makes it easy to save individual EQ profiles for each of them.

Since I couldn't EQ using the built-in DAC on the CMA Fifteen the experience with the LCD-5 was disappointing. They sounded extremely clean and detailed of course, but that deep thunderous bass and extra bite in the lower treble that I get with EQ was missing.

Switching to using the CMA Fifteen as just an amp being fed from my RME ADI-2 DAC via the unbalanced analog inputs however and those issues vanished - with the CMA Fifteen providing tons of clean power and bringing the LCD-5 to life wonderfully.

Beyerdynamic T1.2

I wanted to test this because it's a very high impedance headphone, and one I haven't gotten around to buying a balanced cable for yet. Using the unbalanced 1/4" output on the front of the CMA Fifteen the unit had absolutely no problem driving these, again only a few notches on the volume knob is all it took.

One of my favorite things about the T1.2 is the extreme precision of its imaging. That came through easily with the CMA Fifteen. It became clear to me that this is an amp that doesn't try to alter the sound, you just get a clear window into the music and the capabilities of your headphone.

Comparisons

My primary DAC and Amp setup is the RME ADI-2 DAC fed into the Schiit Ragnarok 2 amp. While the Schiit is enormous, it also packs an enormous punch, and since I also use it as a speaker amp it's nice to have everything in one box.

On the DAC side I can't say I could hear a clear difference between my RME ADI-2 DAC and the DAC chip inside of the CMA Fifteen. The RME however does have a multitude of additional features such as parametric EQ, crossfeed, a spectrum analyzer, and macro-keys on the remote that the CMA Fifteen DAC does not have.

On the Amp side, while subtle, I do believe the CMA Fifteen sounds a bit cleaner with a blacker background compared to the Rag 2. Points in the Rag 2's favor though include a dedicated purpose-built remote control that feels better in the hand due to being milled from solid aluminum, and a much better volume control knob, a 128-step resister ladder with much more fine-tuning capability and guaranteed perfect channel matching from the very softest to the very loudest volumes.

Conclusions

The CMA Fifteen is a high quality product that impressed me with its performance and built quality. For anyone looking for a premium high-performance all-in-one unit it's something that deserves their consideration.

For my personal use case since I need to use a different DAC to provide EQ having a built-in DAC and only unbalanced analog inputs makes this a somewhat poor fit.

However the amp section greatly impressed me, and should Questyle release a product like this without the built-in DAC, so a 'just an amp' version, with XLR balanced inputs (and maybe one or two pairs of XLR outputs so it can be used as a preamp for other things, similar to the Benchmark HPA4) I'd be extremely interested.
Midnight Marauder
Pros: Captivating presentation of sound
Feature rich
Small footprint
Excellent build quality
Sounds identical to the CMA Twelve Master when volume matched
I loved it enough to seriously consider parting with my Burson C3XR or TEAC UD-505
Cons: The CMA Twelve Master has better amplification
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[Obligatory Sophisticated & Bourgeois Glamour Shot Of The Scrumptious Questyle CMA Fifteen With Professional Lighting And Photography:heart_eyes:]

No cap, you would really have to be reaching to find other reasons to knock this DAC/Amp. I'm almost certain Questyle has mastered sonic Vodun. There could be no other possible rationale for being fortunate enough to participate in the US Tour for the Questyle CMA Fifteen, and almost being cajoled into parting ways with my beloved Burson CX3R or TEAC UD-505. If that isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

Firstly, I have to commend Questyle for publicly acknowledging the elephant in the room regarding their customer service in the past. I think they have done an admirable job of community engagement, technical support, and customer service thus far with the launch of the CMA Fifteen. That being said, my experience with Questyle has been top notch since 2019. I was first introduced to their products with the Golden Reference System, then the QP1, CMA-400i, QPM, CMA Twelve Master and finally the CMA Fifteen. I developed an immense respect for Questyle's engineering prowess. It was very apparent to me that Questyle's wares seemed to have this otherworldly synergy with Planar Magnetic Headphones. Audeze happens to be my Headphone Manufacturer of choice. I ended up purchasing an LCD-2 Closed Back, The CMA-400i, and QP1. Experiencing a loaner QPM shattered my expectations of how high-end audio should sound. Ultimately, I parted with the LCD-2 Closed Back, CMA-400i, and QP1 seeking greener pastures. A few months ago [Christmas 2021], I spent hours comparing the CMA Twelve Master to the Burson Composer 3X Reference. The Burson won out as it had a little bit of versatility and amplification horsepower that I appreciated. However, I felt like I may have rushed to judgement a little too quickly....

The opportunity to audition Questyle's latest creation came to fruition. I patiently waited for my turn to spend two weeks with the CMA Fifteen; receiving a tour kit on 3/25/22. After a mentally draining work week I had my heart set on listening to music all weekend.

My initial thoughts after 1 hour of listening with the DCA Aeon Noire 2 was this is Aural Obeah, Sonic Sorcery, I continued playing random songs...Stick 2 the script... Hearing DJ Clue shouting at me "REMEMBER WHERE YOU HEARD IT FIRST, STUPID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"... that slight reverb on the vocals and instrument separation made me feel personally attacked...

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At that exact moment I decided that I would try my hand at comparing all the DAC/Amp units I own and some I had access too. I had to know if this was a case of New Shiny's, Confirmation Bias, or Buyer's Remorse associated with my Burson C3XR.

Annnnnnddddd just like the Prodigal Son I return..... So here we are... The Most non-technical comparison and stream of consciousness review of the Questyle CMA Fifteen Ever written....

Time to get @$#*^& Diabolical!!!

Equipment used:

DAC/Amp:
Burson Composer 3X Reference
TEAC UD-505
Questyle CMA-400i
Questyle CMA Twelve Master
Questyle CMA Fifteen


IEMs/Headphones:
Audeze Euclid
Audeze LCD-i4
Audeze LCD-X [2020]
Audeze LCD-XC [2021]
Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire
Dan Clark Audio Stealth
Hifiman Arya Stealth
Meze Empyrean Elite
Westone W60 V1
Westone W80 V2

All impressions take place between 3/25/22 @ 8:58 PM PDT - 4/8/22 @ 12:20 AM PDT

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[Fresh out the box as the 4th participant on CMA Fifteen Review Tour -USA Group 1]

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[Lightshow courtesy of an unreproducible Roon Bit Rate Error - This issue was quickly resolved by Questyle's Engineers. This issue did not hinder my user or listening experiences]


Seven times out of ten we listen to our music at night, thus spawned the title of this program....The word, maraud, means to loot...In this case, we maraud for ears ....That is exactly what Questyle's Engineers must have had in mind when they developed the CMA Fifteen. I wondered how the tuning would turn out as the AKM4490 DAC Chips used in the previous Questyle devices were supplanted by the ES9038PRO DAC Chip. It became evident after 2 hours of listening with the DCA Noire and Audeze LCD-XC that Questyle's Engineers do not miss.

Oh My God Yes!!!! Oh My GAWDDDDDDDDDDD!!! The Crispy Snares and Busta Rhymes Hyper Animated Enthusiasm told me so...I don't make these rules...

On and On and On with the rhythm variation ...The presentation of music is spacious, detailed, ludicrously speedy, infectiously snappy, and engaging. [3/26/22 @ 1:06 AM PDT]... A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders LP remains timeless and amongst the greatest Hip Hop Albums Ever Recorded (Don't @ Me!!).

An Angel In Disguise She Was, But Somehow I fell for her .... 4 hours in Brandy Norwood never lied...It became evident that I'm going to have to explain to my wife how I ended up with another thingamajiggy on my desk. If you only get one chance to make a first impression; my initial impressions were the CMA Fifteen is a must buy and a keeper.

Listener fatigue has not set in but heavy eyelids did... 5 hours in sleep is needed... on that note BeatKing - Get Up Off Me was the last song for the night. (listen to him at your own peril... You Might Be Ratchet!!!) This is how I test Bass Response. 808s are magical... If you know you know! [3/26/22 @ 1:58 AM]

This is surpassing I should have never signed up for this tour because I'm definitely buying this levels of listening enjoyment. Off to bed to dream up a scheme to smuggle my personal CMA Fifteen into the house without the Mrs. noticing.

3/26/22 @ 2:57PM PDT Let's Get Away...Starting off my listening today with the venerable Hifiman Arya SE that I recently purchased on 2/18/22 - [12.5 listening hours at the time of this listening session] and Norman Brown's latest album

***Playing random songs and initially noticed a faint hint of spiciness in the treble on some poorly recorded music and low quality MP3 files with the Arya SE that I never heard on my TEAC UD-505 or Burson C3XR. This settled down as this listening session went on.

Undocumented Listening in between life happening occurs on 3/27 - 04/1/22.

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4/1/22 @ 7:06PM - 11:27 PM today's critical listening session was a little more structured. Music is something soul stirring to me. Music has always been a companion for me and holds a certain significance that can rarely be defined. Music rejuvenates and replenishes my mind, body, and essence. Music is life!!!

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[This was ridiculously fun comparing the CMA-400i, CMA Twelve Master, and CMA Fifteen]

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[Lost my ever living mind listening with the DCA Stealth.. This was a magnificent pairing to my ears]

Foreign Exchange - Come Around
SNAP! - The Power
Tidal-->Roon-->BlueSound Node2i-->CMA Fifteen/Twelve Master/CMA-400i-->DCA Stealth [Mind Blowing Magnificence]

Settings S/PDIF + Standard Bias + Volume Matched + Low Gain

Song 1 & 2- No discernable differences other than the CMA Twelve Master has more forceful sounding amplification than the CMA Fifteen. I played Come Around 5 times and while the CMA-400i is an excellent DAC/Amp... Music just sounded more detailed and enchanted on the CMA Twelve Master and CMA Fifteen. I heard all I needed to hear from the CMA-400i and shut it down for the rest of my critical listening session.

Then there were two... I continued listening and getting the feeling that the CMA Fifteen and CMA Twelve Master were either the same device or... Questyle's Engineers figured out how to make an ES9038Pro sound very similar to AK4490 with respect to what my ears considered to be Questyle's house sound. This was the moment when I confirmed the CMA Fifteen had enough differentiators to clearly be billed as a successor.

Tidal-->Roon-->BlueSound Node2i-->CMA Fifteen/Twelve Master-->Meze Empyrean Elite [Lush & Gorgeous Pairing]

Settings S/PDIF + Standard Bias + Volume Matched + Low Gain

Too $hort, featuring Devin The Dude, Bun B of UGK, Big Gipp of Goodie Mob - Pimp Life
Deborah Cox - Sentimental
D'Angelo & The Vanguard - Another Life
Sade - War Of The Hearts
Sade - The Sweetest Taboo
Big Moe - Just A Dog
Fleetwood Mac - Dreams
Quincy Jones, featuring Tamia, Babyface, Portrait, & Barry White - Slow Jams
Teena Marie - Portuguese Love
Philip Bailey - Children Of The Ghetto
Simply Red - Holding Back The Years

There are very little discernable differences sound quality wise aside from amplification favoring the CMA Twelve Master. To my ears the CMA Twelve Master and CMA Fifteen sound identical when volume matched. The same level of enriched detail is presented. I tended to favor the CMA Twelve Master due to the extra headroom. The CMA Twelve Master and Fifteen are equally engaging. For those who vehemently despise MQA seek a CMA Twelve Master. If you like upsampling to DSD512, Dig MQA and Bluetooth; the CMA Fifteen is a Honey Pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I will certainly be saving up to purchase a CMA Fifteen due to the audio presentation. I have yet to hear another DAC/Amp combo in a single chassis that effortlessly revealed once hidden details like uncredited artists performing background vocals in songs while being ridiculously engaging and exuding House of Blues Mandalay Bay like intimacy in terms of sound staging.

4/2/22 - 4/8/22 - Copious undocumented listening from a Tidal Playlist of 1449 songs from various genres resumed with the Audeze LCD-X, XC, i4, Euclid, Hifiman Ayra SE, DCA Aeon Noire 2, Westone W60, & W80 for the remaining tour loan period. After running through 55 of 103 hours of my playlist; I came to the conclusion that the Questyle CMA Fifteen would be an elegant solution for musical enjoyment. It takes up very little space on the desk when positioned vertically with the stand. The build quality is top notch. The sound is phenomenal. There are a plethora of connectivity options. It's also capable of driving most headphones to ear splitting volume levels if you chose to do so. I also loved using the CMA Fifteen for movies and gaming. The Audio presentation for video games and movies was rather expansive. It was easy to clearly pinpoint certain details like distant background dialog in GTA V for example. I would wholeheartedly recommend the CMA Fifteen to anyone looking for an upper echelon listening experience. Just buy it, mix with Planar Magnetics and contentment shall ensue. The Power Of Music Compels YOU!!!!

Lastly but most importantly, I would personally like to thank Zach Bielak of Questyle for providing this Tour Kit and making this review possible. Extra special thanks to Jamie Zhou of Questyle for expeditiously resolving my support ticket.
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Magol79

100+ Head-Fier
Elegant and confident
Pros: Power on tap, control, blackground.
Build quality, ease of use.
Cons: No XLR input.
Equipment used
Headphones: Arya Stealth, ZMF Auteur, ZMF Eikon
Amp/dac: RME ADI-2 (AKM 4493)
Tubeamp: Feliks Audio Euforia mkII (2019 ver)
Tubes: WE421A, Ken-Rad VT-231

Features
Having owned and daily driven a CMA400i for a few years, I have always been interested in Questyles newer models.
When I learned that the CMA Fifteen would sport analog inputs my interested shot up even more. Compared to the older models, CMA400i and CMA Twelve, the new CMA Fifteen now also offers analog inputs via RCA connectors. This means you can choose between using the built in dac or connecting an external dac. The built in dac is based on an ESS chip, the ES9038PRO.

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Build
Ever since the CMA400i I have been very impressed by Questyle's build quality for their desktop models. There is a very solid feeling to the whole unit. When you pick it up there is some serious heft to it. The previous two models sported a beefy toroidal transformer, which I assume is the case for the CMA Fifteen as well. It's nice to have an amp that stays put when you connect your headphones, without having to hold it down.

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Sound
The first thing that struck me was the grip this amp has on the headphones. There's no slack or looseness to the sound. A prominent quality of the older CMA400i was the blackground, this quality has been inherited by the newer model. Everything is clear and easy to pick out from top to bottom. The low end is clean and carries impressive impact.

The soundstage is wide and well defined, imaging is handled very well. The amp is good at sorting out complex musical passages. Panning instruments don’t blend together with the rest into an incoherent mess.

VS RME ADI-2 (AKM 4493)
The CMA15 gives a wider left-right staging on panning sounds. The ADI-2 is more center focused.

Better imaging, much clearer image placement on the CMA15. The ADI-2 pushes things together in comparison.

The CMA15 has a richer more fleshed out bass response. The ADI-2 sounds like it is lacking some low end body, I perceive it as being more mids focused.

With the ZMF Eikon listening to Peter Zimmermann's “Close To You” from the Let’s Dance album, voices are clearer and sound more present on the Fifteen compared to the ADI-2. This is with both units running on their respective internal dacs.

Listening to RATM “Killing in the name of” with the ZMF Eikon on the Fifteen is pure pleasure. This is how RATM sounds in my mind when I think about their music. Shout out to the Eikons for being such an excellent pair of closed backs.

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VS Euforia (WE421A and Ken-Rad VT231)
Now, this is a bit of an apple to oranges comparison. I don't like to compare solid state amps to tube amps, I rather think of them as separate things. It's like comparing CD and vinyl players. The are different from each other, but both can make music come alive. Some of you may be interested in what you gain/lose when switching to tubes.

I should note that this tube combo more focus on the low end focus and some rolled of treble.

The Euforia sounds even more fleshed out. Less dry. Voices have a more natural presentation. The male vocal presentation on the Fifteen sounds a little bit thin in comparison (“Drama” – Christine, Atom From Heart)

Stronger center image on the CMA Fifteen. More spread out sound on the Euforia.

More up front presentation on the CMA15. Images are closer to you. On the Euforia, things take a step back and are positioned further away from you. (“Bombtrack” – RATM)

Summary
The CMA Fifteen is an excellent amplifier with a competent dac, rock solid build quality and a good selection of input and output options. It has the power and control to drive both high ohm dynamic headphones and planar headphones while delivering great sound quality. If you are looking for a high end AIO, you really can't go wrong with the CMA Fifteen.

SenyorC

100+ Head-Fier
Close to perfection...
Pros: Build, features, performance...
Cons: Lack of balanced analog input, aesthetics won't be for everyone...
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The Questyle CMA Fifteen has been loaned to me directly by Questyle as part of a European tour of the unit organised here on Head-Fi. The only request was that I leave an honest review here, after having the chance to try the unit for 2 weeks.

They have not made any further requests but I will leave the link to the official Questyle page for the product, as it is the least I can do.

The official page is located here: https://questyleshop.com/collections/desktop-dac-map/products/cma15

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Intro…

This is my first experience with a Questyle product but I have heard very good things about their products in the past. They focus mainly on DAC/Amp combo units, both desktop and mobile, with products ranging from just over 100€, in the case of their cheapest portable solution, up to the top of the line, which happens to be the CMA15 I have today, that comes in at around 2300€ (at the time of creating this review).

Now, 2300€ can in no way be considered cheap, at least in my books, but it is true that there are many other options out there that cost a lot more, so what exactly are Questyle giving us in exchange for this amount?

Well, I will get into details as we move on, but straight of the bat they are using an ESS ES9038PRO DAC chip, along with an amplification circuit that can pump out up to 2W @32 Ohms (in balanced mode), along with a huge range of connection possibilities, both for inputs and outputs. So, let’s take a look step by step.

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Presentation…

As this is part of a tour, the packaging has not arrived in the best of conditions, however, the unit is well protected inside two boxes and even though it has travelled thousands of kilometres already, the packaging is still holding up, therefore, I have no doubt that the packaging is more than enough for new units being shipped directly to the purchaser.

Inside the box we receive the CMA15 itself (inside a cloth bag to protect it even more), a remote control, a user manual, a cd with the USB drivers (which I haven’t needed on Windows 10) and an IEC lead.

There is nothing really exciting about the contents (other than the unit of course) and it actually reminds me of the way the majority of pro audio equipment is packed, basic but enough. Maybe they could have included a USB cable in order for it to be usable straight from the box but, to be honest, anyone purchasing a product of this price will already know what cables they are going to need since they will have researched the product before buying. Well, at least I hope they will have researched a >2k product before buying, if they can afford to purchase a >2k DAC/Amp without any research, then they shouldn’t have any issue spending a bit more on cables 😉

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Build and aesthetics…

Let me say that the build quality of the CMA15 is excellent, it is well assembled, made of metal, and seems like it will be able to withstand anything you want to put it through.

As far as aesthetics, this isn’t going to be for everyone. The “pro audio gear” reference I made in regards to packaging also applies to the aesthetics. The looks (and build) are very much a “no frills, just works” approach. It does remind me of many pro audio units that I have used and installed in the past, units that are not meant to look like a centre of attention, they are just meant to sit in their allocated space and do their job.

The whole case is of black metal, with visible hex screws on the top of the unit and a machined faceplate on the front, sporting multiple LEDs and toggle switches. There is also a lot of text on the front, including some oversized (in my opinion) logos, which add to the industrial look.

Personally, I am someone who has a 22U rack in my living room and have been surrounded by pro (industrial looking) equipment for many many years, and while I do appreciate good looking equipment, I have absolutely no complaints about the looks and build of the CMA15. It is right at home located between patch panels and processors.

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Functionality…

There is a lot of functionality included in the CMA15 but once more it takes on the pro/industrial theme. Things are simple to use and to access, there are no menus, screens, or any other hidden settings (except for the gain switches that are on the bottom, which I guess could be considered hidden), it just keeps up the “no frills” way of getting it done.

Starting on the front, from left to right, we have:

On/Off toggle switch - Pretty self explanatory and it has an LED above it to show status.

14x indicator LEDs - Yes, 14! There is an indicator LED for each state, the only one that changes colour is the MQA light, which changes depending on if it is a Studio Master or not. If you are wondering why there are 14 LEDs, it is easier if you just take a look at the photo above rather than me listing them all.

Source button - This push button allows you to cycle through the inputs, which are USB/Optical/SPDIF/Analog & Bluetooth (each of these is indicated by its own LED (part of the 14 mentioned above).

Function switch - This allows us to select Headphone Amp or DAC mode. By setting it to the HP AMP, the unit works as both a DAC and a headphone amp, while selecting DAC mode deactivates the headphone outputs. We get another 2 LEDs above this switch to indicate state.

Bias Control - I must say that I have no idea what this switch does. The switch allows selection of High or Standard. I played around with them and while I sometimes felt it made a difference, other times I could tell absolutely no difference. Another 2 LEDs show the state of this switch.

4.4mm Balanced output - This is pretty explanatory also I believe, here is where your headphones with a balanced 4.4 connection get plugged in.

6.35mm Unbalanced output - Same as above but for the unbalanced output.

XLR4 Balanced output - Another balanced output, using a 4 pin XLR in this case.

Volume wheel - A nice large and smooth volume control.

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Moving around to the back of the unit, once more from left to right, we get:

USB Inputs - The unit has both a USB-B and a USB-C input, although both of these are linked together, so only use one or the other.

Optical input - For optical cables.

S/PDIF Input - For coaxial cables.

Analog input - An unbalanced input on two RCA’s.

Preamp Output mode switch - This allows you to toggle between “Studio” and “Standard”, the difference being the maximum output level (14dBu for Standard and 20dBu for Studio).

Preamp/Fixed mode switch - This allows you to select if you want the volume control of the CMA15 to control the output level from the analog outs or if you want them at a fixed level.

XLR Outputs - Balanced analog outputs

RCA Outputs - Unbalanced analog outputs

Bluetooth pairing button - To enter pairing mode

Bluetooth antenna - This is actually a square box and does not have anything sticking up above the top of the unit (a good thing in my opinion). I can’t say how much this affects reception, if at all, as I only tried bluetooth briefly while the unit was sitting on my desk.

Voltage switch - Set to 220v or 110v depending on your location.

IEC input - The power input for the unit.

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Finally, on the bottom of the unit, we have the gain switches for the headphone amplification output. For some reason there are 4 switches that all need to be set in order for the gain to change, these are labelled as L+ L- R+ and R-. I am guessing that it is due the way the amplifier is implemented but I really haven’t done much investigation on the subject. I just found it strange that they wouldn’t opt for a single switch that activates a relay that can change all four of them at once, but I am far from an expert, so I’m sure they have their reasons.

That is it for the unit itself, however, we still have the remote control that is included with the unit.

The remote is actually a universal remote that works with other Questyle products, so there are quite a few functions on the remote that don’t actually do anything on the CMA15. The basics are there, like input select and volume up/down, but that is about it. To be honest, my headphone related equipment is nearly always within arms reach anyway, so I don’t use a remote very often, and when I do, input select and volume is enough functionality for me anyway.

As far as how all of this works, well, there isn’t really much to explain. You connect the cables you want, the headphones you want, you turn it on, select the input, and away you go. The most complicated thing is probably connecting to bluetooth for the first time as you would need to press the pairing button on the back, but even that is too simple to need an explanation.

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My use case…

Usually when testing a DAC, Amp or combo, I will use it on my desk at work for a few days and then move it to my desk at home where I have the possibility of patching it into the rest of my system.

In the case of the CMA15, I also used it on my desk at work for a week or so and then I moved it home but, instead of just sitting it on my home desk, I actually installed it inside the rack to get a feel for what it would be like to have this as my only headphone amp and DAC in my system. Well, not quite only DAC, as I still need other units for my various speaker set ups etc. but certainly as my main DAC, the one that is used for all of my local listening.

My only complaint with the unit as far as an all-in-one for desktop use would be the fact that you need to lift up the unit to access the gain switches. As someone who uses different products each week, due to reviewing items, I switch between IEMs and headphones quite a lot, and also between items that have very different sensibilities. This means that I need to switch the gain depending on what I am testing but this is more of an inconvenience than anything else.

The CMA15 has more than enough power for anything that I have thrown at it this week (admittedly I don’t have any headphones that are extremely difficult to drive, such as a Susvara or HE-6), and it also works well for controlling the speakers that I have set up in my office, using the balanced output to drive a QSC amplifier (that powers my ceiling speakers and subwoofers) and the unbalanced output to feed a JDS Labs Atom (an amplifier that I always use as a reference point).

When moving it to my home set up, with it installed in the rack, things are a little more complicated. Here the gain switches are even more difficult to access, as it is impossible to change them without removing the unit from my rack (which is not the most enjoyable of tasks), but I don’t need to change them as much at home due to having multiple setups that I can use depending on the headphones or IEMs (although, if this were to be my only DAC/Amp unit, it would be more of an issue).

My biggest issue with using this as my only unit at home is the lack of a balanced input. While I am happy to feed the CMA15 with a digital input for music listening, when I am actually working with music or playing bass etc., my main output is via balanced XLRs. This means that I need to either run something like an RDL converter to turn these into an unbalanced RCA signal, or come up with some other form of “making do” with the CMA15.

Obviously this is not something that will affect the vast majority of users looking at this unit, as they will be using this for music enjoyment and not music production, but it is something that affects me personally and would stop me from saying this is a perfect studio option.

Other than that, I have no complaints as far as functionality, the unit does everything I need and want, keeping up with the “no frills” way of doing it.

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Sound…

As I have said in the past, I really don’t like trying to explain the sound of amplifiers and DACs, as I am never sure what I am actually hearing and what I just think I am hearing, but at the end of the day, as long as my brain enjoys what I am hearing (true or not), that is the only thing that is important for me.

I have tried the majority of headphones that I currently have available, along with a selection of IEMs.

In general, my impression is that the CMA15 is just as clean and detailed as anyone could ask for. There is no specific “sound” to the output, at least to my ears, although I could see some people referring to it as too analytical, if those people are looking for “warmth” or “smoothness” in their systems.

Personally I am a fan of clean chains, even though I do enjoy things with a bit of smoothness to them for music enjoyment, and I have no doubt that the CMA15 allows you to hear 100% what the headphones are doing, without adding anything into the chain.

As far as IEMs, with the gain set to low, I have had absolutely no issues with any of the ones I have used with the CMA15, however, I will say that it is a little too powerful for my preferred listening levels. All of them sounded like they should and as long as the unit was kept in low gain, with the volume at a low level (around 10-15% on the dial), I don’t think that I could ask for a cleaner test tool for IEMs and I experienced no channel imbalance at these levels.

As far as headphones, the first ones I plugged into the CMA15 were the Arya Stealth. With these, I did find that I found the highest frequencies to be a little bright on some songs. Now, this could just be due to the fact that I mainly use the Arya v3 with the Asgard3, which does make them smooth out a little. This was certainly not terrible, it was just a hint of brightness that maybe stood out more because of it being my first experience with the unit, as I have not experienced it on many tracks since, nor with other planar headphones.

The next day, I gave the CMA15 a whirl with the HD6XX and I have to say that this is the best I have heard from the HD6XX in the years that I have owned them. I have said before (and discussed it back in my review of the HD6XX) that they are a set of headphones that I have a love/hate relationship with, loving them one day and hating them the next, even with the same source, but in the case of the CMA15, I tried them on various days and was happy with them each time. This is quite an accomplishment with me for the HD6XX :)

Keeping up with a headphone a day (while using the CMA at work), the next up was the Hifiman Edition XS. I actually expected these to have the same hint of brightness that the Arya Stealth exhibited but it didn’t turn out that way. I found the sound to be nicely balanced, exhibiting the strengths of the XS without pushing them over the limit (something that I do find happens on occasions with the 789).

Over the following days, I tried multiple other headphones, such as the Ananda, HE400se, HE1000se, Arya v2 and the DT1990 Pro. None of them seemed to have anything strange going on when paired with the CMA15, they were just clean and sounded like they should. In the case of the Arya v2, I found that they paired very well with the balanced output of the CMA15 and it is one of the best pairings I have heard with them also.

When moving the unit to home, I did try a few more models but I mainly used the unit as a DAC to feed speakers and other headphone amps. It again did a very good job, without any issues, nothing standing out, just a clean and detailed signal, nothing to complain about at all in this regard.

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Conclusion…

My impression of the CMA15 is that it is much closer to a professional piece of audio equipment than something aimed at the home audiophile. That doesn’t mean that it won’t make hifi lovers very happy with what it offers, but it doesn’t seem to be aimed at those that want fancy looking amps with particular sound signatures.

I feel that it could be easily used as a reference unit for any studio and only the lack of a balanced input stops me from saying that it is perfect for that task. If the studio is willing to feed it with a digital input, then it would fit this use case no problem, but if the main output is from a mixing console or interface via XLR, then this is the only limit to the functionality.

The aesthetics are also very “pro” looking, with a bit of an industrial touch, something that I have absolutely no issue with, although I am not overly fond of the large logos in the centre of the unit, but again, if treating this as a pro audio piece of equipment, the aesthetics are irrelevant. In the case of those who like to have their equipment on show in their living rooms, then this is not going to rival some of the artistic designs out there.

Power is ample for anything I currently have available, as is sound quality. There is no lack of detail and other than the brief experience of excessive brightness with the Arya v3, I have no complaints at all.

So that just leaves the question of price. 2300€ is a lot of money for a headphone set up, even though it is far from the most expensive options out there, but it is not a crazy price if we compare it to professional solutions that are out there, which is really where I feel the CMA15 competes. You can easily drop over 1k on a DAC with similar technology, plus another 1k on a similar quality amp, so it is not really overpriced in the grand scheme of things (well, everything is overpriced, but you get my point). Would I personally spend this much on an all in one unit, probably not, but that is because I am constantly swapping things in and out. If I were looking for an all in one solution, to replace all of my stuff, then I would consider it a little more.

As a closing note, a big thank you to Questyle, I am very grateful for them allowing me to test out this unit and I have enjoyed using it. I will certainly be paying more attention to their products moving forwards.

As always, this review can be found in Spanish both on my blog (here) and on YouTube (here)

PACSman

Head-Fier
Pros: + Beautiful for looks and listening
+ Highly functional with robust inputs and outputs
+ Remote control for easy enjoyment across the room
+ Rich bass with essential detail
+ The cost is easy to justify if expecting no-compromise sound
Cons: - Cost may discourage some from fairly auditioning or considering
- ESS midrange and treble presentation are sometimes a crowd favorite and sometimes not.
- If you need to change from headphone to IEM, the gain switches are under the unit. (This is not a con for me. My opinion is that IEMs are for pocket devices and are not practical for desktop units.)
Thank you to Questyle for organizing the tour and facilitating the various stops. I am delighted that I was included.

Inputs:
The Questyle CMA Fifteen features: USB Type-C, USB Type-B, optical, co-ax, Bluetooth (LDAC support!) and analog inputs (I did not test but I believe the analog inputs are intended for a record player input).

Headphone Outputs:
I used the 4.4mm balanced headphone output for most of my listening. There are switches on the bottom to make it favorable for IEM/CIEM listening. I use the Audeze LCD-i4 IEM with tips customized for my ears. The LCD-i4 requires EQ. When properly EQ’d, it sounds great for my ears. My critical listening was with the Dan Clark Aeon 2 Closed and without EQ.

Line Outputs:
I used the line outs with my bi-amped ADS L1290 speakers with recapped crossover. Due to my limited available time, I only auditioned this configuration briefly. It was lively, exciting, and engaging. The bass was awesome. It easily outperformed the PS Audio DAC I’ve used the past five years.

Critical listening:
My primary use case is with my Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 Closed headphones and a Windows 10 laptop. The Questyle USB driver installation was easy and intuitive. No drivers were necessary for my Samsung S21 phone and Samsung Tab S6 with UAPP. The result was awesome. The seamless Android experience begs the scenario of the reuse of an old Android device to serve music to the Questyle CMA Fifteen.

I’ll say up-front that the bass has wonderful texture. The detail is without bloom. Control is perfect. Anyone who might think of the Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 Closed as a bass-shy headphone will have a new opinion when listening with the Questyle CMA Fifteen. Only after I auditioned and wrote my impressions, did I play with EQ. Wow! The tight control of the Questyle CMA Fifteen is unlike anything I have previously heard.

Impressions:
King Crimson’s 1975 U.S.A. 40th Anniversary Edition Remastered (24bit 96khz 2013), “Exiles” and “Improve Asbury Park” were the tracks I started with. It was incredible. I imagined sitting 35 feet out and at stage level height. John Wetton’s base had a weight and substance I had not appreciated previously. Robert Fripp’s guitar growled with the ferocity of a tiger that had just escaped. Setting the volume at 8 o’clock gave a concert-like performance. I expect the Questyle CMA Fifteen will light-up less efficient headphones!

Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out (1959, 2012, APJ 8192-45) [DSD256], “Blue Rondo A La Turk”. Until now, I underestimated Joe Morello’s deft and delicate rhythm balance with the other musicians. I now hear the detail of every note from Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright. It sounds like an all-new performance.

Paganini, 24 Capricci, Op.1, Salvatore Accardo (2021) [DSD64], “101 Andante in mi Maggiore” reveals a large empty room. I hear everything from the rosin on the bow to the walls of the room reverberating from the performance. Exhilarating!

Billy Childs, 2014 Map to the Treasure - Reimagining Laura Nyro (2014, Masterworks) [24bit 44khz], “The Confession” is a song that can be overlooked when heard with lesser equipment. Lesser equipment makes it sound congested and confused. The CMA Fifteen keeps up with all the moving parts just fine. It is at this point that I begin to think that I should consider summit level / flagship headphones 😊

Bernstein conducts Copland SACD DST64, “Appalachian Spring – Allegro” is a torture track. If the reproduction fails, it shrieks and sounds harsh. In this case, it was reproduced with perfection. The size of the room is revealed as well. There is a separation and a blackness between the notes that makes the music ever more engaging. A few technical recording flaws are revealed and enjoyed, which might be missed with other equipment. Fun!

Hoff Ensemble, 2018 Polarity [SACD] DST64, “Innocence” features a jazz trio at the top of their game. Scandinavian Jazz proves to me that there are still brilliant musicians creating thoughtful and moving music. Jan Gunnar Hoff’s piano notes linger in the air, delicate and sustained. The CMA Fifteen offers up each note whole, complete, and without inhibition.

Talk Talk, 1988 Spirit of Eden [SACD] 2003 Remaster DSD64, features empty spaces between lovely notes. The bass has more substance than I have heard with other DAC/Amps. The pedals on the organ are spot on without any bass-bloom. Mark Hollis’ vocals perfectly accompany the recording without shouting above the notes as is sometimes the case with other equipment.

Select comparisons:
The Cayin n6ii R01 paired with the Cayin C9 is my daily driver. Cayin does not endorse this match because R2R introduces too much distortion to be properly run at a line-level output. Begging forgiveness for my unorthodox use, I enjoy it. As my impressions above suggest, I mostly listen to acoustic music, and Cayin’s R2R excels at this. Questyle’s greater power reserves will reward those with difficult to drive headphones.

I owned the Burson Conductor 3XR. I no longer have it available for direct comparison. I mention it because it was good, but it didn’t keep me engaged. When I decoupled the DAC from the Amp, I understood why. The 3XR DAC is a tad harsh and the amp is a just a bit warm. Together, it sounds very good, but it didn’t sound “better” when played “louder”. The Questyle CMA Fifteen has better bass control and performs brilliantly at any volume level.

Wrapping it up:
The Questyle CMA Fifteen presents texture and detail that exceeds my expectations. I believe those who listen to newer electronic or dance music will be especially impressed. No matter your listening style preference, it is positioned as a foundation audio component. Headphones and other components can change or be upgraded while your Questyle CMA Fifteen remains as a reference component.

The Questyle CMA Fifteen is one of the best ESS based DAC/Amps that I have heard.
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Olumm

500+ Head-Fier
Current Mode, All-in-One, Tank.
Pros: Superior Build, Great I/O, Fantastic Volume Pot, Basically Everything on this is incredible.
Cons: Price - that's honestly about it.
First I would like to thank Questyle for sending out their latest TOTL all-in-one out for a review tour. It has been an immense pleasure to spend my time with the CMA Fifteen.

Build
The CMA Fifteen is built like an absolute tank. The first thing I noticed as I unpackaged the unit was how heavy the device was for its size. This is not a tiny device by any extent, but seeing the dimensions that are posted on the Questyle site gives you some idea as to the potential product weight, but man is this device a brick. I should have known that Questyle would go out of their way to create yet another multi-mm thick device, and it surely does feel like a quality device. Every aspect of this device feels quality. The switches on the front make a very satisfying click when flipped, and that volume pot has the best amount of resistance I have felt on any volume pot to date. What an absolute joy to use. Even the SPIDF connection on the back makes a satisfying click when engaged. There are too many SPIDF connectors out there that either don't click in to place, or feel like you have just broken them when plugging in your cable. Thankfully, that is not the case with the CMA Fifteen... just an absolute joy to interact with.

Use case
I primarily used the CMA Fifteen in my listening room connected directly to my iPad that was running Tidal HiFi Plus via USB. I also used the CMA Fifteen in conjunction with my Shanling EM5. I used the optical out of the EM5 directly in to the CMA Fifteen to access a lot of my stored media. I can honestly say that the CMA Fifteen is the perfect device for my use-case, and one that I would be truly honored to have/use on a daily basis.

Gear Used
I primarily used the CMA Fifteen with either the iPad direct, or as stated above... in conjunction with my EM5. The headphones that were primarily used are as follows:

  • Hifiman HE6se v2
  • Hifiman Edition XS
  • Sennheiser HD650
  • Focal Elegia
  • Meze Liric
I will say that a nice piece to the Shanling EM5 (I know I am not reviewing that item) is that I can run my CD transport directly in to the EM5 and then output that via optical to the CMA Fifteen. I know I could plug the D transport directly in to the CMA Fifteen, but I do enjoy using the EQ section of the EM5... what a treat.

questyle-cma-fifteen-headphone-amp-dac-desktop.jpg

credit to eCoustics.com for the wonderful image

Listening Impressions
While the CMA Fifteen reminds me greatly of my time with the CMA Twelve... I can say with all honesty that it doesn't sound at all like the CMA Twelve to my ears. I always found the CMA Twelve to be a little on the warm side. The CMA Fifteen does not sound warm to my ears... it is probably the most 'neutral' sounding dac/amp that I have heard. There is little coloration happening at the dac/amp section to my ears. While I have been skeptical of ESS chips in the past, the ES9038PRO chip here is doing some fine...fine work. I realize that the implementation of a DAC chip matters much more than the actual chip, but I have to tell you that I have heard a lot of horrible ESS based dac/amps in the past. The CMA Fifteen isn't even on the same planet as those other ESS based systems.

The sound coming through the CMA Fifteen is truly absent of...well...anything. Being mostly a headphone guy I had to call on a close friend of mine to bring over his insanely sensitive CA Andromedas over to test the noise floor. I am happy to report that the CMA Fifteen offered up none of the hiss that comes with a lot of these types of devices with super sensitive iems.

Another party trick that I was very anxious to test out was the ability of the CMA Fifteen to drive the Hifiman HE6se v2. Now, while there are better ways to give the HE6se v2 more voltage... I wanted to hear how well the current mode amplification would handle a headphone that I know loves to be fed voltage. Well, to my surprise it did quite well with the HE6se v2. At high gain... I got to 3:00 pm on the dial and really didn't need more than that. I could hear that the bass wasn't as fully developed as from the back of the speaker amps that I have used, but all-in-all it was a very enjoyable listen. Midrange, treble... all very well controlled. Typically, with the HE6 lineup if underpowered the treble will be some of the most sibilant garbage out there. This was not the case at all with the CMA Fifteen... well, at least for this unit. I cannot speak to all of them, but I feel fairly confident seeing as Questyle is well known for the quality control.

I am not 100% sure as to what the bias switch is intended for on the front panel, but I used it was an impedance switch between High and Standard modes. The Sennheiser HD650 sounded wonderful from the High setting, while the Edition XS sounded better via the Standard setting. Again. I am not quite sure the importance of this switch... as I admittedly did as little research on this unit before I got a chance to use it, but I could hear a difference between the two modes.

Conclusion
I have very much enjoyed my time with the CMA Fifteen, and will be very sorry to see it go. I was fortunate enough to have both the CMA Fifteen and the Meze Liric at roughly the same time, and this combo was truly an amazing experience. I am currently in the market for a Meze Liric, and once I have acquired that... I will be in the market for the CMA Fifteen. The unit just does everything well. I cannot fault the device...god knows I want to find something to not like about it, but it does everything that I want it to do... and it sounds great.

The purchase price is high, but so are a lot of things in the hobby. I wish the trend wasn't to keep pushing the $$ threshold, but it is what it is at this point. I can see myself owing this piece and then never looking for anything further. To me, that statement means more than any flowering descriptive words that I could use to describe it.

I want to than Questyle once again for allowing me to spend some time with the CMA Fifteen, and I am very sorry to see this unit go out to someone else... BUT I do hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

moedawg140

Grand Master Moe "G"….Don't crossface me, bro!
Ping Pong Champ: SF Meet (2016,2017), CanJams (London 2016, RMAF 2016, NYC 2017, SoCal 2017, RMAF 2017)
Questyle CMA Fifteen Review
Pros: Overall, highly competent sound, various connectivity options.
Cons: Non-optical inputs don't sound as resolved as optical.
Questyle CMA Fifteen Review


Thanks in advance to Jim Noyd and Cameron Black for loaning the Questyle CMA Fifteen for review. The main "MiniHype" review is also posted on hypethesonics.com.


CMA_Fifteen-800x533.jpg


The Questyle CMA Fifteen (hearby referred as CMA Fifteen) is an incredibly versatile desktop DAC/Amp that looks nice and utilitarian, with a clean black finish, appropriate for a family room or even a main bedroom.

The CMA Fifteen offers multiple connectivity options (such as optical, USB and Bluetooth), a ‘bias’ selection and a choice of gain suitable for both in-ear monitors and the most-demanding over-ear headphones. However, it offers no frills and no unnecessary clutter when it comes to audio adjustments (it lacks any built-in EQ or bass/mid/treble adjustment and there is no choice of anti-aliasing filter).

The sound of the CMA Fifteen reminds us of the Gold DAC/amp stack, but at a much more reasonable price point (the Gold DAC/amp stack retailed for upwards of ten thousand US dollars). The CMA Fifteen definitely has characteristic Questyle acoustics, rather similar to that of the portable QPM DAP, which is clearly seen in its measurements.

Most of our tests were performed via the optical input, driven by devices such as the QP2R or Astell & Kern SP2000. We found the sound of the CMA Fifteen via optical output to be good, but we were less impressed with the Bluetooth connection when coupled with an iPhone XS. In fairness, we should note that other (e.g., Android) devices are capable of supporting better codecs than current iPhones, however the sound of the Bluetooth-sourced connection compared to the optical connection was night and day, and we would expect most people would use the CMA Fifteen via a wired (USB) or TOSLINK connection. (All of our measurements used the latter.) The versatility of this device is certainly appreciated, but we feel that if you are going to purchase and use a desktop DAC/amp such as the CMA Fifteen, you will certainly want to experience it with an optical connection for the best possible acoustics.

cma15_2-e1647915830899-1100x500.png


The CMA Fifteen has both (AC mains) hum and hiss that are very audible with sensitive IEMs if used in high-gain mode. It also has an appreciable noise-floor modulation (hiss increases with gain). It’s therefore critical to adjust the gain – this must be done by setting both of the underside switches simultaneously to low, or high, respectively. In low gain mode, most IEM users shouldn’t be bothered with hiss or hum, but the power the amp provides is rather high and IEM users may find they’re limited to a fairly small range of the volume potentiometer to avoid reaching excessively-loud levels. On the plus side, it has plenty of power when driving full-sized headphones or acting as an external (pre) amplifier. (The CMA Fifteen also has the ability to operate as an isolated amplifier without using its DAC.) In low gain setting (both gain switches set to low), we found the CMA Fifteen to give 4 Vrms into 32 Ohm. The standard gain mode (both switches high) gave 6 Vrms into 32 Ohm. Be careful what you wish for – this is more power than many headphone users will ever need!

We noted some minor channel imbalance when adjusting gain via the volume potentiometer at low SPLs, suggesting this device is perhaps best not used with sensitive in-ear monitors (where moving the volume pot just a few degrees will blow out your eardrums, even on low gain).

Our measurements of the CMA Fifteen show a fairly average performance – good enough that most end users shouldn’t need to be particularly worried, but certainly not as good as we would have expected from a flagship ESS DAC. Firstly, we can see that the gain settings have no impact on audio quality:

CMA Fifteen measurements1.png


CMA Fifteen measurements2.png


The same is true for its balanced output. There is no significant audio quality difference with the balanced output, in either gain mode:

CMA Fifteen measurements3.png


CMA Fifteen measurements4.png


This effect, or lack thereof, with respect to gain is perhaps to be expected. Some audio enthusiasts continue to believe that balanced outputs bring improved audio quality, but we have never seen that in measurements. The CMA Fifteen confirms what we’ve seen in pretty much every other device – that balanced output to a short-cable-connected headphone buys very little of any significance, beyond (perhaps, in some devices) extra output power. Channel separation can improve with a balanced output, but is almost never an issue to begin with in single-ended outputs from modern DAPs. Balanced outputs mainly just increase output impedance, and the CMA Fifteen shows the typical pattern of Z-out doubling on its balanced output. Curiously, we also heard no difference as a result of toggling the CMA Fifteen’s bias switch. As with our earlier QPM measurements, we see no difference at all in measurements with low vs high bias. Our research indicates that such near-identical measurements mean no human would tell these signals apart, so it would seem the bias switch (at least on the unit we tested) has no purpose beyond placebo:

CMA Fifteen measurements5.png


CMA Fifteen measurements6.png


The ES9038PRO DAC is a top-of-the-line component from what appears to be (as of 2022) the manufacturer of the world’s most accurate DAC chips. We expected somewhat better accuracy than this, given our past experience with ESS DACs. (The above measurements can be compared with those from our DAP database.) There may be something going on with Questyle’s current mode amplification or implementation that causes some (possibly intentional?) shaping of the sound. If so, we’d generally object to such tweaks, because any such preferences are inevitably subjective, can’t be widely applicable to all types of recordings of all music genres and all hearing preferences. Unfortunately, it seems that very few manufacturers optimize their devices for accuracy. We should note that our main error metric here – the df (histogram) median is a relatively new metric and still the subject of ongoing research. However, it is typically revealing of problems reproducing more complex waveforms, such as actual music tracks.

One benefit of the CMA Fifteen (and indeed of all Questyle devices) is the impressively-low output impedance. The importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated – this can sometimes be a more important metric than the df-median error, as high output impedance has the ability to significantly alter the basic frequency response of certain headphones.

Final Thoughts

The CMA Fifteen is a fantastically versatile Swiss-army knife of a DAC/Amp, capable of driving pretty much anything, from pretty much any source, however it won’t be worth the hype for everybody. Its reproduction accuracy doesn’t exceed that of other (cheaper) devices on our database, but it does have a lot more versatility in terms of usage, with a lot more power output power than most portable devices.
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szore
szore
Just curious, did you actually listen to it with music, or is it all measurements?
moedawg140
moedawg140
Didn’t even take it out of the package! /s
gordonli
gordonli
excellent review and science! hope for your continued df testing in the next years (am using the Hiby FC3 for my IEMs & loving it, thanks to you)

szore

Headphoneus Supremus
HEAVEN ON EARTH
Pros: Superb Sound
Killer Looks
Built Like A Tank
Cons: No AptX Support
HEAVEN ON EARTH

I would like to thank @Questyle for organizing this tour. The opinions in this review are my own.


INTRO

Questyle has launched a new Flagship model, the Questyle CMA Fifteen. Continuing the design aesthetic of the CMA400i and The CMA Twelve, the 15 sports the flagship ESS ES9038PRO Sabre DAC which supports Current Mode output. With the adoption of the Sabre DAC chip, the CMA Fifteen is now able to decode MQA, as well as 32-bit/768kHz and DSD 512. Another new feature is the addition of a USB Type-C input which has priority over the USB Type-B input to eliminate “wire conversion loss”. Construction is top notch with the CMA Fifteen chassis formed from 10mm-thick aircraft-grade Aluminum 6063, with precise machining tolerances of ±0.02mm, and the unit itself is just beautiful to behold.



WHERE I AM COMING FROM

I fooled around with some desktop configurations a year and a half ago, and it culminated with the Questyle CMA 400i. I sold the 400 intending to upgrade to the Questyle 12 and I just never got around to it. I was lucky to be included on the Questyle 12 tour, tho, so I got to listen to it at least. I still didn’t have a desktop setup yet and I opted to try the Ares II, a R2r DAC, with the Schiit Jotunheim 2 amp. I really love the natural analogue sound of the R2r DAC. The soundstage seems ‘3D’; each musical element has its own sonic geography. The Ares II reveals this, whereas other ‘silicone’ based DACS can sound more like a 2D ‘projection, even if that ‘projection’ has amazing sounding 3D holographic sound stage. The sigma-delta DACS translate that 3D effect via a projection, where the Ares II R2r DAC merely ‘reveals’ the sound, naturally. Prior to the purchase of the new desktop rig, I have been using my Shanling M8 DAP. As far as transducers, for cans I will be using my Audeze LCD-2C planar magnetic headphones; IEM I have the new Earsonics Onyx here on tour as well as my custom Empire Ears Valkyries. For the 2C I have a Forza works 8 wire copper cable, and for IEM a PWAudio Monile50s 8 wire hybrid silver/copper cable. I use Roon and JRiver Media center, where I have the 15 connected with true DSD.



INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I burned the unit in for about 75 hours. At first the sound was a bit tinny and brittle, but this beautifully resolved itself by 25 hours play time. I put about 75 hours on the unit before I wrote this review. The only problem I had with the unit was when I tried connecting Bluetooth to my Bowers and Wilkins PI7 TWS, and it would not recognize it…but the W&B does not support LDAC and the 15 only supports LDAC. Kind of annoying. A minor issue but one worth mentioning is that at zero volume you can hear faint music. The last issue, and it is indeed a minor one, is the 15 can come across as a tad over-engineered with an interface that is a tad ‘busy’, unless of course you like that look (which I do). But beyond those three issues, the unit was a breeze to use and setup and a pleasure to listen to.

Upon listening, the amp seems to just disappear and just present the music, very nice. Very neutral. Great PRaT. The sound is highly refined…truly hearing things I never heard before, in a wonderful way. Rich, authoritative sound, full of delicacy and nuance. Highly revealing but revealing the beauty… Heavenly and beautiful…. silky smooth yet controlled at the same time. Rich dynamics across the spectrum, yet relatively neutral in presentation. Overall presentation transcends the sum of its parts. There is an epiphany here. Great clarity and depth. Absolutely superb. The Onyx on the 15 is stunning. Good texture and ‘grunt’. Puts meat on the bones. At the end of 75 hours, the sound stage seems to have opened up a tad, and there is great clarity, resolution.



SOUND IMPRESSIONS

I am going to start my impressions with my Empire Ears custom Valkyries and my PWAudio Monile50s cable. I am plugged directly into the 4.4 port, and bias is on ‘hi’, tho I can’t hear a difference. I’m choosing the Valkyrie for its resolution. It has the W9 dynamic driver and dual electrostatic tweeters. It is U or V shaped depending on how you view it, and it has great clarity and sweet, extended highs. The Monile cable is 8 wire hybrid copper/silver. It has a huge soundstage, and it really opens ups dynamics on the bass, while the silver increases extension and clarity in the highs. And the unit was on and warmed up. I’ll try some other gear too, at the end, just for comparison.

My first impression is the 15 has gobs and gobs of power. On low gain I am in the 9:00 position volume wise and it’s pretty loud. Also, at zero volume I could hear some music, where with my Ares and Jot, it’s dead silent on zero volume… But once engaged, the 15 astounds with its clarity and detail and balance in the sound signature. The highs are sweet and heavenly, while the bass is rich and textured. Transmission of micro dynamics are excellent, while the bass is deep and authoritative, yet airy and light at the same time. In fact, if there was one dominant trait, I would say the ‘airiness’ of the whole presentation…it’s effortless; smooth, controlled, powerfull.

I’ll do individual songs by genre, starting with top 40 type stuff. Starting with Only the Lonely, the female voice sounds like it is enshrouded in a cathedral…the atmospherics are fantastic. The voice itself is rich and smooth, and the bass, tho strong, is controlled and rooted. In I Want To Know What Love Is, the mids are smooth and layered as the synthesizer’s melodies pour out…again, there is that ‘lightness’ or ‘airiness’ to the sound, as well as that layering and texture…but at the same time ‘rooted’ and ‘in charge’…It’s delicacy and power by design, and Questyle balances these two aspects amazingly well. In Listen to the Music, the acoustic guitar sounds amazing…the timbre and clarity…at the same time the bass is present and controlled and cradling everything. The male vocals and backing vocals are, again, smooth and layered. It really sounds fantastic. I was afraid I would lose that meaty, textured sound of AKM DACS, but, again, Questyle did a great job of providing that extra ‘grunt’ and texture while also being airy and delicate and musical. Heavenly.

Switching genres to Jazz, and throwing on the LCD-2C. In Parker’s Mood of the Jazz Piano History album, the alto saxophone sounds crisp and clear, with great timbre (I used to play the sax), and the bass is greatly controlled, but hitting deep as well. In Juice Heady Baby by Charlie Rich, the soundstage is accurate with depth and width, little bit of height, too. The bass is tight and plucky, and the piano is smooth and full of rich tonality. All this is again, being presented effortlessly, with great air and musicality. In Manha de Carnaval by Chuck Mangione, the trumpet intro sounds beautiful, and there is just a beautiful balance, again between ‘control’ and effortlessness. Switching to an ‘old’ recording, let’s hear Vict’ry Polka by Glen Miller. The Q15 just sounds fantastic, very smooth. The voices are creamy and smooth, and the horns retain their timbre. The Q15 brings an elegant musicality, a gentleness, to this old recording.

Switching to electronic music, the Questyle seems to be able to deliver a detailed, neutral, musical sound full of air and delicacy no matter what you throw at it. In Digitaria by Bill Laswell, there is abundant sub and mid bass quantity, control, authority, and slam. In Psychic Life by Jah Wobble, the driving bass line is large and in charge. The Audeze 2C really digs deep, and with the power and delicacy of the Q15, the deepest bass layers are revealed. The female vocals by Julie Campbell, are smooth and rich. The mids are perfectly balanced against the bass and the treble. The sound stage has sufficient width to accommodate all the synthesizer effects, giving them, on my open back planar, ‘out of head’ perception.



The DAC and AMPS

The DAC out of the Q15 into the Jotunheim 2 amp; the sound is a bit punchier, more dynamic, but also less firm. Don’t get me wrong, the DAC out into Jot 2 sounds amazing…clean and detailed, with musicality and power. But I think the amps on the Q15 are more authoritative, and the Jot 2 is more dynamic and punchier. Just a preference, really. I think the Jot 2 makes the Q15’s DAC sound more engaging and less ‘projected’. I think the Questyle DAC is more resolving, but, presented through ‘projection’. For increased resolution of the ESS DAC, the Ares II DAC excels in ‘revealing’; it’s more natural and ‘less processed’ than the sigma delta DACS. There is more texture, layering and depth in the R2r DAC. Has more of an ‘immediacy’ and excitement about it. A naturalness. More engaging. Sometimes when listening to the Q15, as much as I loved it, it felt like I was sitting in a theatre watching a movie. It was as if the music was happening without me, and I was just an ‘observer’, a listener. Whereas with the R2R DAC, I felt much more engaged, that screen was torn down, and suddenly the music has a ‘landscape’ about it; it’s suddenly a sonic world that is not 2D flat projection, but 3D immersion…Sometimes I almost feel like I could “walk into’ the world of the R2R music.



CONCLUSION

Without question, when it comes to things like sound quality and construction, the Questyle 15 is a 5 star winner. But when it comes to functionality, I just can’t get past the fact that I have a $400 TWS set that I cannot connect with a $2,500 DAC/amp that supports Bluetooth. All because the Wilkins and Bowers PI7 is APtX, and the Questyle 15 supports LDHC only. I mean, am I wrong? Is it me? I am rather shocked at this oversite! Unless there is a technical reason why this is so, this has to be the oversite of the year. In any event, the irony is I do not even use Bluetooth, and I have since sold the PI7. So as much as this point is trivial to me personally, I have to put myself in the shoes of a Bluetooth user or enthusiast and think that this issue becomes a potential deal breaker. So, for this reason, as much as it kills me, I have to take ½ a star off the 5star rating this would normally get from me. So, in conclusion, if AptX support is not a critical issue for you and the $2,500 price tag is within your budget, I would put the Questyle 15 at the top of your list. You can’t go wrong with this all in one package!


Q15.jpg
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someyoungguy
someyoungguy
I don’t have the M15 but pretty sure the Bluetooth feature in it is only Bluetooth input, not output; that would be why you can’t connect it to the PI7s.
Questyle
Questyle
Sorry for just seeing this comment now! But yes @someyoungguy that's correct, the CMA Fifteen only supports Bluetooth input, not Bluetooth output.
szore
szore
I see. My bad!

Dynamo5561

100+ Head-Fier
Well engineered all-in-one solution
Pros: Latest ESS chip
No hiss with IEMs
Plenty of power
All important inputs, including USB type-C and Bluetooth with LDAC
All important headphone outputs: XLR, 6,35mm and 4,4mm
Resolution
Cons: Design

Questyle​

Questyle Audio Engineering is a Chinese audio company that specializes in the production of DACs and headphone amplifiers. One of their well-known used technologies is Current Mode Amplification (CMA), which is designed to eliminate metallic sound and supposedly has additional advantages over other technologies.

Demonstrating their innovative drive, Questyle has attended and won over 20 international awards since 2015, such as CES Innovation Award, iF Industrial Design Award, VGP Lifestyle Award, and many others.

With their new flagship, the CMA 15, I am expecting nothing less than a highly sophisticated product. Let’s see if it can live up to expectations.

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Introduction​

So, how did I learn about the CMA15? With the outbreak of the worldwide pandemic, I was looking for a replacement for my Bose QC35 headphones. At the time, I considered these to be some of the best headphone’s money could buy. I had no idea there was such a thing called head-fi :wink:. So, I went from upgrade to upgrade, deep into the rabbit hole, until I finally settled on the Abyss 1266 PHI TC, Hifiman Susvara, and Focal Utopia after a couple dozen headphones (for the time being at least). For mobile listening, I ended up with the Empire Ears Odin and Oriolus Traillii JP.

In order to build a solid basis for my headphone system, I'm now looking for an optimized DAC/AMP combination. In my books, headphones will make 95% of the sound quality that you will get, not the gear, cables or other stuff. Of course they are important, but it was more important for me to find the headphones first and then the remaining pieces to complete the puzzle. It's not an easy chore because I have to cater to all ends of the spectrum, from my really sensitive Odins to the powerful Susvaras. I've already put the JDS Labs Element II, RME ADI-2 DAC, Topping D90SE/A90 stack, Niimbus US4+ and Chord Hugo 2 through their paces. At the moment, I own the Shanling EM5, Felix Euforia MKII and WA7 3rd generation. In addition, the CMA15 will be a part of my exploration as I finalize my DAC/AMP setup.

I was interested in learning more about the CMA15 before, but it wasn't accessible in my country. I could have ordered it online, but there were no reviews or any information at the time, so I passed. Fortunately, Questyle planned a head-fi review tour, which I signed up for. And by a stroke of luck, I got chosen, which turned out to be a wonderful coincidence.

So here we are, with the goal that I can provide you with some useful information on the device and my personal experience with it.

Build Quality​

Let’s start with the basics.

The CMA15 is a hybrid device that combines a DAC and an amplifier. It is bigger than something like the Topping A90/D90 stack it, but smaller like a Niimbus US4+. So it's possible to use it on your desk, but it will take some manageable space.

The build quality is excellent. The switches function properly and have a luxury feel to them. Nothing is wobbly or unstable in any way. The surface coating is good, but not exceptional. I believe it is past time for Questyle to catch up to some of the competition in this area and modify their devices to make them more appealing. The design is rather functional, and you can tell that the design was pushed by engineers, with the technology taking precedence over the design. I’d rather have something like the Shanling EM5 next to my PC on my desk than the CMA15, considering only on the looks.

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ES9038PRO​

You'd probably think that an all-in-one device would have to make concessions in some areas. The DAC section is most certainly not the one in the CMA15. When looking at the device's DAC section, you'll see the use of an ES9038PRO chip. It's ESS's latest flagship chip, and it's built for audiophile and studio use. It’s literally one of the best chips you can get at the moment when following the delta-sigma route.

Current Mode Amplification​

This is the area I don't feel qualified to talk lot about because I'm not an engineer and don't fully comprehend the underlying technology. As a result, I'll quote Questyle on the subject:

“At its core, Current Mode Amplification uses current, instead of voltage, to amplify audio signals. It is a state-of-the-art technology in audio amplification, leading to tremendous performance differences when compared to traditional audio amplifiers. As the <<engine>> of the audio system, Current Mode Amplification features a fully discrete and topological structure, and can achieve ultra-high sound performance that reproduces music so faithfully, it feels like you are in the original recording room. Using Current Mode Amplification technology, listeners can attain a much better listening experience, even when using consumer-grade headphones and speaker systems.”

This technology is patented by Questyle, and numerous Questlye products are named after it (CMA). It is Questyles' unique selling point and distinguishing feature in comparison to the competition. I'm very curious to see how it sounds in practice.

Connectivity​

I won't go into great depth here; you can find all connectivity information on the data sheet or website. It offers everything you need, including XLR and RCA outputs, RCA analogue inputs, USB type-b and USB type-c, optical, and S/PDIF inputs. It also has Bluetooth input with the LDAC codec, which is really convenient. It's also compatible with Apple Music.

I really like that it provides a USB type-C input. It's very incomprehensible for me that many manufacturers still do not provide a USB type-C input and launch products in 2022 with micro-USB :slight_frown:.

You will also get all standard outputs for your headphones and IEMs: XLR, 6,35mm and 4,4mm. It will drastically reduce the amount of adapters you will need 😊.

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Sound​

Ok, let’s talk sound and performance :).

I'd like you to give some background on how I assess sound quality. As previously stated, I believe your headphones will determine 95% of the sound you hear, not your gear, cables, or other accessories. It's quite fine if you disagree with me. Finally, it's a hobby for all of us, with different people focused on different aspects of the hobby. That’s just my take on the topic.

I will volume match my devices with a sound meter. I use a 1KHZ sine wave and adjust it to 80DB. I usually listen at lower volume but for testing I turn the volume up a bit. I can’t do that with IEMs unfortunately, thus the impressions are more subjective with them.

I also made a collection of short loops with cymbals, beats, hi-hats, and other instruments so that I could compare them on different devices. I can keep the sound information brief with these loops, making it easier for me to remember the sound when moving between devices.

In general, the CMA15 produces a sound that is highly clean, detailed and clear across all frequencies. Nothing stands out as particularly noteworthy in a positive way. That’s representative of how I would like my devices to behave. It moves out of the way, allowing my headphones to shine.

The Susvara provides its absolute natural timbre and real-world sound reproduction of instruments. The 1266 TC presents you a ton of details within its industrial timbre and impactful bass. It has enough power to easily drive all of them. You will find nothing lacking with the headphones, it was a very joyful time listening to the CMA15 with my headphones.

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A device must pass my IEM test before I consider it for purchase. I had a variety of devices here that produced hiss when used with my IEMs, ranging in price from low to very high. For me the absence of hiss is a mark of performance and good engineering.

The CMA15 does not hiss with my IEMs which I really appreciate. It was a delight to listen to the Traillii and Odin with the CMA15. The Odin was extremely detailed with its superb bass texture and the Traillii was fast like a formula 1 driver and the electrostatic treble shined through as I like it :ksc75smile:.

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Conclusion​

In general, I was very pleased with the CMA15. It contains all of the necessary inputs, including a cutting-edge USB type-C port and Bluetooth with the LDAC codec. It has all of the headphone outputs you'd expect: XLR, 6,35mm, and 4,4mm. It makes advantage of the latest ESS flagship chips which you can clearly hear. Everything is detailed, has black background and sounds natural, just as it should be. The device does not alter the identity of your headphones by adding its own flavor. And it has plenty of power.

My only criticism is that the design is a little old, and I can't see myself putting it on my desk next to my other design-oriented devices. That’s a very subjective criticism as everyone has a different taste and counts for a lot of other devices as well (looking at the Niimbus US4+). Other than that it has everything I'd expect from a device in terms of sound and connectivity, and I can definitely recommend it :v:.
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ra990
ra990
Gorgeous pics. I'm considering this at the moment, so appreciate your detailed review.
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