Questyle CMA Twelve Master-incredible

Sigh…alas the 12 Master has been sent along to the next lucky person. Here are my thoughts, which will become a formal review over the weekend. The Questyle deserves it.

Questyle CMA Twelve Master-$2000. A headphone amp, which is so much more.

Todd the Vinyl Junkie:

Questyle site

This makes the fifth or sixth audition tour of Todd’s that I have been lucky enough to participate in. Ranging from the Grado GH-2 Limited (bought one…) to the Apex Pinnacle II (didn’t have a spare $12,000 sitting around…) I have been privy to some of the best portable audio gear around. As this was my second Questyle product (besides the QP2R…bought it…), I was anticipating typical brilliant Questyle build, quality, sound and all in between.

As luck would have it, I have the iFi Pro iDSD also on hand, so naturally a comparison is in order. That said, I would caution that while both are a “headphone amp,” both are MUCH more and approach this thing we call sound differently and with different options. Needless to say, I was quite giddy upon receiving the Master.

I thank Todd for the yet again tremendous opportunity. The Questyle is stunning at which to look and has the credentials to back those looks up.

Unfortunately, due to constraints of holding a 1350+ student Science Olympiad meet during my time, I was limited to utilizing this fine piece as a headphone amp in various iterations. I would point you to other reviews for more on the additional functions. That said, this is a stellar headphone dac/amp, period.


Whole Device:

· Finish:Black | Golden
· Chassis Materials: special CNC tooled Aluminum
· Dimension: 12.99”(330mm)[ W ]×7.87”(200mm)[ D ]×1.38”(55mm)[ H ]

· Working Status: Pure Class A
· Voltage:100-120V or 220-240V,the voltage is switchable.
· Power Consumption: 17W

DAC+Headphone Amplifier Section:

– Outputs:
4.4 mm balanced headphone jack
4PIN balanced headphone jack
6.35mm headphone jack
– Max Output Power(Po):
247mW @ 300Ω; 900mW @ 32Ω(6.35mm headphone jack)
825mW @ 300Ω; 2W @ 32Ω (balanced headphone jack)
– THD + N:
0.00070% @Po=100mW, 300Ω
0.00167% @ Po=50mW, 32Ω
– Frequency Response:
DC-20kHz(+0, -0.4dB)@0dBFS, 24Bit, 192kHz
DC-80kHz(+0, -3dB)@0dBFS, 24Bit, 192kHz
– SNR: 112dB, non-weighting

DAC+Pre-Amp Output Section:

– UCB Type B Input:
Support 44.1kHz-384kHz/16Bit-32Bit PCM and DSD Native DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, as well as DSD64, DSD128, DSD256 of DoP format
(Note: support Win XP, Vista, Win7, Win8, Win10 and Mac OS)
– Digital Input & Output:
SPDIF input and output, Optical input, AES/EBU input
Support 44.1kHz-192kHz/16Bit-24Bit PCM
– Pre-Amp & DAC Section:
Balanced XLR x1 pair, unbalanced RCA x1 pair
STANDARD 14dBu: XLR: 5.084V RCA: 2.549V
STUDIO 20dBu: XLR: 8.887V RCA: 4.475V
THD+N@STUDIO 20dBu: XLR: minimum at 0.00085% RCA: minimum at 0.00115%
SNR: XLR:>112dB RCA:> 109dB (non-weighting)
(Note: FIX/ADJ: Fixed Output Mode or Adjustable Output Mode of the pre-amp.)

Gear used:

DaVinci X
Mr. Speakers Ether-C Flow
Campfire Audio Cascade
Campfire Audio Atlas
Hidizs MS4 (pre-production)

MacBook Pro
iPhone X (through Lightning)
Shanling M3s (through micro-USB)

Songs used:

Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

The new twenty one pilots album, Trench

More intro:

Named the CMA 12 Master since it has been 12 years since the excellent Current Mode Amplification sound came about, the architecture of the Questyle is well, typical Questyle. Superb. I do wish Questyle had a larger following as it tends to eschew trends while focusing on their detail-laden big picture. As such, they have produced some superb items. I own one, and audition another. Lucky, I am!

Upon seeing another audition/tour option from Todd, I quickly did the math…I would have on hand the iFi Pro iDSD at the same time and be able to compare. Lying at roughly the same price point the two approach listening from a bit different perspective. The Questyle is true solid state, automatically choosing format response. The iFi comes with tubes, adjustability in frequency response (tailoring your sound) and oh my that goodness oozes so very nicely. You need not worry, as this is not a slam against the Master. Just purporting my love of tube sound.

A nice conundrum with which to have.

So, I read what I could find (not much other than the official stuff), and the 1-2 two reviews posted on Head-Fi. I will openly admit that some of the features go well beyond what I have, and I would never need them. And since time did not afford, I could not insert the 12 into my TV set up. Not to worry, for those who value the use strictly as an amp or DAC this is a very good critter.


Coming in a rectangular Questyle box, you open to find another rectangular Questyle box…in white. It is inside here the goodies lie. Protected in its own soft cloth-like bag, I undid the Velcro pulling the black box out. There seems to be a dearth of silver, so I was hoping for the black. It does not disappoint. The unit looks stunning. Also included would be the owner’s manual, the power cord and a very nice remote, which can change all of the features and even substitute for your TV remote, when thrown into the mix.

Across the front lie the yellow connectivity lights, a toggle, which switches between headphone amp and DAC, another which switches between standard and high gain (it allows you to switch between pure Class A (high bias) for sonic purity and Class A/AB (standard bias) for greater power output), the headphone inputs and the volume knob.

I will openly admit that I still find it cool that the volume knob moves when you use the remote. It’s like a ghost hand, and I do enjoy that!


The headphone inputs number three: one 4.4bal, one 6.3mm standard, and one 4-pin XLR bal. That is the route, which Questyle chose and most of us have numerous adaptors on hand. Low-slung, sleek and stylish the front looks like any fine home audio kit.

The back is home to numerous connectivity options not the least of which is USB-out. Able to run 3-pin digital as well as SP/DIF and optical; you also get left and right 3-pin stereo out, if one desires to use this in a studio set up. RCA out can also be used. Again, I failed to use more than the USB, but the performance was stunning to say the least. You can also go wireless with WIFI and BT options. So, as you can see connectivity is not a problem. Unless you want to simply hook your DAP up through a 3.5mm cable. This cannot be done. There are no analog inputs. But since many work through their USB-C you need not worry too much.


Most of my time was spent hooked to my MacBook Pro. For the last bits, I ran the Shanling M3S and iPhone X for connectivity purposes. Running Tidal Premium and Pine Player (on the MBP) provided my source music with decent quality.

Once I dug the right adaptors out, connecting was easy. Using my iFi Gemini 2.0 USB cable, most of the time gave a good cable to the mess, err mix. Easily recognized on the MBP, I was able to adjust the format frequency, but I will openly admit that differences might have alluded my hearing.

Running the Clear Tunes Monitor DaVinci X through the MBP/12 set, the sound was of a crystalline sound the likes of which have been heard in small batches. The X is already airy and fruity (see my review:, with a crystalline sound of its own. The 12 Master simply adds to that sound. Detail retrieval is incredibly top notch. Each snare hit from Josh in Heathen’s is crisp and clear. Without sibilance, either. Bass decay is fast and concise. You get the sense that this would be the model for an analytical sound, but it is more than that.

Moving to the Campfire Audio Cascade, the bass is almost as prominent as ever, but the overall quality is raised. The Cascade has never quite sounded this clear and crisp. The 12 Master does give a sense of clarity to all that plays. I find this change to the Cascade quite refreshing. On Van Morrison’s Take It Easy Baby, there is an almost reference quality sound as the neutrality of the amp shines. This is not for the bass lover in you. No, this is for the purist.

That is verified once the Ether-C Flow is played. Already giving a fairly neutral tone (I do wish it had more bass…) the pair are almost too reference in tonality. This would be the baseline by which you judge other to me. And in that regard, the Flow is fabulous. The live version of Clocks comes across in laconic sound. This is like the music teacher who demands precision and perfection. My high school drum instructor demanded that. Practices were brutal, extending an hour each day after the rest of the band had gone home. But he knew the importance for setting the tone. We set the limits by which the rest of the band performed. And we were the best damned drum line in East Texas. That precision is perfectly present in the Flow/12 Master combination. Detail of marvelous proportions. A perfect melding for classical music.

A new addition, the pre-production Hidizs MS4 was thrown in due to deadlines for their Kickstarter program. Retailing for $350-400 but Kicked at $249 (I think) the MS4 represents Hidizs attempt at going upscale with a single DD and three BA’s. As a hybrid, it just works. So, why not throw it on! And, for the most part it did not disappoint. Not as deep or clear a bass reach as the X (well duh), the Hidizs held its own presenting all of the above songs with a melodic manifestation fitting for its slightly warmer signature. To put that in perspective, the MS4 and my older Shanling M5 are a wonderful combination, even if a bit dark. The sound permeates the dark side, getting down and dirty. Here the Questyle opens that sound up like a the sun coming out after a winter ice storm.


It’s Just My Heart Talkin’ is one of my favorite Los Lonely Boys tracks and an outstanding track for judging detail retrieval and clarity. Along with that, if there is any sibilance in the source/amp/headphone chain…it shows. And the Questyle passes with the self-assurance of a Le Mans 24-hour winner. There really is not anything terse to say about it. It performed admirably in any set up.

Finished stuff: conclusion…OK, too professorial, but the precision fits. Sound stage is quite good, bordering on a square. But the air between notes certainly makes up for any perceived “deficiency.” There are wider, there are narrower; but to combine an adequately big sound stage with that air is truly wonderful. Some might find the sound too analytical, but I say it is the neutrality that is driving that verbiage. This is probably the most neutral amp I have heard (again sample is limited to about 20).

That said, most often neutral bothers me for to me it lacks any real presence. There is definitely presence here. Throw on Los Lonely Boys Heaven and that song alone dispels any thought of analytical and dry. Bass is rich, vocals crisp like a Grand Forks, North Dakota -35 F morning and a soul, which belies its neutrality. Want more neutrality? Switch the bias toggle up for pure class-A albeit a bit less power. This is one damn fine headphone amp. It really is. But it is so much more than that with all of its capabilities that to simply think of it as an amp would be an egregious error. I just wish I had made time to explore more of its options. Others have, and I invite you towards their reviews, it will be worth the addition. Link to Headphone Guru’s detailed repose:…amplifier-wireless-receiver-look-ma-no-wires/

I want to thank Todd, AGAIN for running an audition tour on something, which I would most likely never had the opportunity to audition. He has done that quite a bit for me. And I have come home with some pretty cool gear as a result. Whomever gets the CMA Twelve Master will also get a pretty cool amp, which will perform in many other capacities. Thanks, Todd!

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