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Review: Questyle CMA800 Current Mode Amplifier

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by project86, Dec 1, 2013.
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  1. project86 Contributor
    Sure it can! I've got many terrabytes of music on my server, covering pretty much every genre you can think of. Love me some Chet Baker, Big John Patton, McCoy Tyner, Ernie Watts, The Bad Plus, Hiromi, and many, many other jazz artists. I grew up listening to Charlie Parker and Miles and Coltrane on vinyl with tube amplification and horn speakers, so this stuff is like recaptured youth for me. 
    For classical? Pretty much everything. I never had a good education in that area when I was growing up (except for the usual vague notion of popular works from Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky) so I've had my work cut out for me trying to learn more about it. Thankfully my wife is a fan and got pretty much the same (non) education as I did, so we have had fun over the years attending as many performances as possible. 
  2. eantala
    Interesting I figured he6 would be great for rock/electronic but if you prefer for classical/ jazz also  that is quite an endorsement
  3. project86 Contributor
    HD800 probably still has an edge with some classical/jazz but HE-6 (properly driven from Taurus) is not that far behind. And may even surpass it with heavier/more dynamic orchastral works like Stravinski and Holst. 
  4. Sanlitun
    These days I am actually listening through the HD800 more and more, and I guess it has to do with the exceptional sound from the NAD. Prior to this I was using the X-Sabre, and it had a slightly "whooshy" quality to treble that could be difficult with the HD800.
    As far as the LCD3 and LCDX go I found that the LCDX just had more air and soundstage and seemed to be more in line with what I was used to hearing from my other phones. 
    I've never heard the HE-6, but I own the HE-500 and they are not in the same league as the LCD-X.
  5. Vangelis
    Anyone seen better pricing on the CMA800R. The retail appears to $1400.
  6. Zkadoush
    Hi project86,

    I'm really serious about pulling the trigger on the CMA800R or the Violectric V200 for my HD800s. The only thing I consider to be a trade-off when going for the CMA800R vs the V200, is the higher gain of the CMA800R and perhaps the extra juicy bass of the V200.

    My main concern is if the relatively high gain of the Chinese will be hissy vs the dead silent V200. I've gotten used to the bass performance of my V100, but I would be prepared to sacrifice it for the detail, accuracy and resolution of the CMA800R. That is ultimately what the HD800s are made for, and what I appreciate them for.

    Do you experience any audible hiss with the CMA800R using the HD800s in comparison to the V200? With some recordings, like Haddad/ White/Sherman's "Explorations in Space and Time", I can listen to some tracks with the volume fully cranked up and hear no distortion whatsoever with my V100 and HD800s ,I wonder if this is possible with the CMA800R?

    Also, I'm in New Zealand at the moment, and there's no distributoer for Questyle here or in Australia. Is it safe to get the CMA800R on e-bay?

    Thanks in advance for any directions regarding these topics.

  7. project86 Contributor
    I don't experience hiss with HD800, at least not at any sane listening level. If I crank it to max volume there can sometimes be a faint noise, but that's potentially a ground loop or other system noise anyway. Questyle is not alone in this - most amps act that way under extreme conditions. V200 may be the exception due to the (optionally) lower gain. Same deal with V281 - if I drop pre-gain to -6 it is pure black, but if I run +12 I imagine there would be some slight noise (I haven't actually tried +12 yet). 
    You're pretty much right on with your description of the differences - detail and resolution of the Questyle versus juicier bass with the Violectric. That's an extreme nutshell summary but it's close enough.
    Buying from eBay could be good or bad depending on the seller involved. Check feedback for sure, and maybe email Questyle to see what they recommend. 
  8. Zkadoush
    Thanks for your valuable impressions, Project86, much appreciated.

    I luckily have some extra cash at the moment, so I decided to find the best Amp out there for my HD 800s. I have a chance to compare my V100 with a Taurus and with Sennheisers HDVA 600 Amp using balanced cables, and fortunately I'll be able to do audition Firestone Audio's Audio Bobby as well, but at another dealer. I would love to have the chance to audition Violectric's new V281 and Questyle's CMA800R, but there's sadly no dealer who has those at the moment.

    Last week I had a chance to listen to the Taurus with a pair of hifiMAN HE-500s and a pair of Audeze LCD-3s using my V100 to compare, and although the Taurus' titanic power impressed me - it dwarfed my V100 as much in sheer output power as in size - the Planars didn't. I was unable to get past 12 o'clock on the volume knob even with quiet tracks. I tried them out with both outputs, and although both headphones image better and offer a better soundstage in balanced mode, the imaging, soundstage, accuracy, detail and speed of my HD 800s simply blows the planars out of the water. I was frankly dissapointed. The planars are simply not for me. I was actually considering the LCD-3s as a good counterpoint to my HD 800s, but not anymore. I know it's a personal thing and ultimately a preference issue, but I have the constant feeling that something is missing with the LCD-3s, and I just can't get over the unease and start to enjoy the music. Imaging was very poor even with tracks from MA recordings and Chesky's binaural recordings. In my case, I believe I would do better buying a new DAC or a portable solution for that money.

    In conclusion, I now appreciate the merits of my HD 800s even more, and decided it's the perfect opportunity to give them something better than my V100. I have yet to hear them in balanced mode, and I will have the chance to compare them in balanced mode using both the Taurus and the HDVA 600, and see how much of a difference that brings. And speaking of balanced, I recently read your last comment about the V281s balanced output, and obviously being a Violectric fan, I would certainly consider it as an option as well. In the same thread, Fried insists on the V200 as the most transparent Amp compared to the V281 and V220, and recommends to go for the V200 + V800 combination when it comes to ultimate fidelity. My obvious question is if the balanced output of the V281 could be worth it in comparison to the V200, and wring out even more of the HD 800s qualities?

    I have the money to go for either the CMA800R, the Taurus, the V281 or the HDVA 600 - although I have no chance to audition the CMA800R -, and if the balanced output brings some more to the table, I'm certainly willing to go for the Taurus, the V281 or the HDVA 600.

    I know you said you needed more time with the V281 to arrive at conclusions, but my question to you would be if there's an obvious improvement from the V281's balanced output vs the V200?

    Fried posted a chart with the most recent measurements of the V220, V281 and V200 in the thread mentioned above, and although the V200 is the clear winner, I would be interested in the difference that the balanced output could offer. I know you said it was on par with the Taurus, but that it is too soon to conclude anything beyond that, but more of your impressions would nevertheless be valuable.

    Until now, but only from what I've read about it and the characteristics you describe, the CMA800R is at the top of my shortlist, but as I have the chance to audition the Amps I mentioned, I will certainly take the time to do it. I also have the chance to listen to a BHSE with a pair of SR009, but only out of curiosity, since they are beyond my budget. But I suspect the electrostatic rig will be the ultimate comparison point with my HD 800s powered by a top tier Amp.

    Another question I have is regarding crosstalk. The V200 sports a crosstalk of -122 dB at 1kHz, vs the Taurus -80 dB @ 1kHz. This should be an important difference, but I am not familiar with how that works from a balanced output, and if there's an obvious improvement there. Fried said that "everything lower than -80 dB is more than any source can deliver", but I guess it's still a valid question. Also, Questyle doesn't list any crosstalk measurements for the CMA800R, any chance they could provide that detail?

    Sorry for the extra long post.

  9. project86 Contributor
    I think if you love the HD800 and its unique characteristics then the Questyle CMA800R might be the way to go. I'd choose the Violectric or Taurus for firming up the low end and giving it more authority..... but it doesn't sound like you really find them lacking in that area. If you favor speed, delicacy, and imaging, the CMA800R/HD800 combo will do the trick like few others.
    I'm not sure where Fried was going with those comments about V200 being the most transparent. I'm not hearing any coloration with the V281 in balanced mode, nor in SE mode (which is basically a V220). In fact I think they both do better than V200 at sounding open, which points to a more transparent experience.
    Where are you located? Seems to me there must be some way of auditioning some of these, even if it requires a deposit or something. 
  10. Zkadoush

    Thanks again for your answer, project86.

    I do find my HD 800 to have more than sufficient bass, and most importantly, accurate and tight bass. I do however use my V100, which is perceived as a transparent yet relatively warm Amp. My logic question is if you perceive radically less bass extension with the CMA800R in comparison to your V200 (or G109P), or if it is a rather subtle difference?

    The difference Fried mentions regarding the V200 vs the V220 is basically a larger power supply. Nevertheless, I remembered Fried's comment wrong. Here's the quote I was thinking of:

    "If you want superb D/A conversion and a (nearly) perfect unbalanced headphone amp stay with HPA V200 + DAC V800
    If you want more flexibility concerning inputs/outputs, some more hopefully helpful features and a perfect headphone amp go for V220 / V281."

    As you probably noticed, the difference is between a "(nearly) perfect" (V200) and a "perfect" (V281) Amp.

    The following comment alludes to the "openness" you mentioned, and the different power supply.

    "I can say from my experience with V220 that it has a bit more beef compared to V200. The sometimes mentioned issues with the sound stage I have never realized myself. Generally spoken V220 is very close to V200. Its the same amp by design with a more powerful supply and lots of comfortable features."

    I'm currently located in Auckland, New Zealand, and there a couple of dealers that have various Amps, but ordering something for a trial period is out of the question. Everything you buy online from abroad will be taxed from NZ$ 60 upwards, and elctronics have extra duties that apply. If everything works out, I will be auditioning the Taurus, the Headamp GS-X MkII, the HDVA 600, the Audio Bobby, a Canor HPA TP10, and if I'm lucky a Resonessence Labs Invicta, a Cypher Labs Prautes, a Bryston BHA-1 and a a Cavalli Liquid Glass and liquid Gold, so for the first time I will be experiencing a significant difference in amplification with my HD 800s. It will also be a first for me with balanced Amps. I will be sharing my impressions if they are significant, and some pics.

  11. project86 Contributor
    It's more of a subtle difference, not massive.... but as you know, the HD800 is adept at making small difference stand out once you really get to listening. But I wouldn't call it a radical difference.
    Your corrections on Fried's comments make more sense. I don't think he really likes describing the sound of his own equipment in the public forum, so he is very careful about it. Combined with MOT restrictions and the slight language barrier, I can see why it might become confusing at times. 
    But yes, if you can listen to at least some of those amps, even under meet conditions, that should be illuminating. 
  12. Zkadoush

    Thanks again for your response, project86.

    I was reading the CMA800R review, and I noticed that the pictures of the CMA800R and CMA800 show a different Volume pot. I guess you have looked under the hood of both, so my question is if you know what the difference is between the two? A pic of both would also be a nice feature. There appears to be other internal differences as well, besides the PreAmp outputs, but the Potentiometer is the most obvious one.


    Another question I have is if you have some experience with the Bakoon HPA-01 or HPA-21, and how they comopare to the CMA800R? The HPA-01 costs virtually the same, so that should be an interesting comparison.

  13. project86 Contributor
    If you look real closely, there's an extra capacitor (blue in color) in the CMA800R where the potentiometer used to be on the CMA800. So there's not enough room for it to stay in the same place. It's kinda hard to see due to the opposing angles on those pics, and the new stuff doesn't completely fill up the entire space, but it does take up enough to block the spot. 
    I've spent very limited time with the Bakoon HPA-21. I thought it sounded good but I didn't spend enough time with it to go any further than that. From that limited impression, it didn't blow me away as being better than CMA800R.... but it's hard to say. I never heard the HPA-01. 
  14. Zkadoush

    I did notice the extra blue capacitor, but I was unaware it robbed the pot of space. Do you know if the ALPS pot they used on the CMA800 is different from the one used on the CMA800R?

    Are there any other significant component changes introduced by the CMA800R?

    Thanks again for your response

  15. project86 Contributor
    I don't notice any difference between the ALPS pots in each unit. Just the placement and the corresponding shaft extension on the old model. It looks like they could almost fit the pot in the same spot, but due to that extra capacitor it would be a really tight squeeze. 
    There isn't much visibly different in the R model. Obviously there's more components to facilitate the preamp outputs, and the front panel XLR. And there are some minor tweaks to the circuit itself for very slight improvement, but it's nothing very obvious that I can spot. 
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