Questyle M12: Questyle enters the portable market
Pros: Questyle build
Rich, detailed sound
Ease of use
Typical Questyle excellent product
Cons: Not as well known as others
No volume control
Some might think it expensive?
Not much else
Questyle M12 ($139): Questyle enters the portable market
Intro: Todd The Vinyl Junkie runs an excellent shop. I have never set an actual foot into the shop, but through his review tours, I have had pricy to some of the best gear out there. I have also spent some of my hard-earned on the gear after the auditions. The service he provides is a very valuable one, and one in which other shops now aspire to mimic. But to me, he was the first or near the first in the last 10-15 years to share his shops wares, even at the ultra-expensive realm. To call his tours a boon to our hobby would be like saying Leo Messi is a pretty decent Futbol player. I am ever thankful for the loan of the M12 and have auditioned some of Questyle’s finest goods. I still have the QP2R and value the purity of its sound among all of my other DAP’s. It is for that reason, that I believe I can provide an open and honest review of the M12. For if it does not meet the lofty Questyle standards to me, then it may not hold its place within the lineup.
I thank Todd again for the loan and upon completion the unit will be sent back to him.
Material: CNC machined aluminum
Color: Black / Silver
Size: 51[L] X 16.5[W] X 8.1[D] (mm)
Operating System Required:
Android phone and pad: Android 5.0 and above
PC: Win10 1803 and above
Apple cellphone: iOS (You need to buy an OTG cable for Lightning to Type-C.)
Apple computer: Mac OS
DAC Capability of M12:
PCM: 32kHz – 384kHz (16/24/32Bit)
DSD: DSD64(1Bit 2.8MHz) , DSD128(1Bit 5.6MHz), DSD256(1Bit 11.2MHz)
Built-in smart detection circuit will automatically self-adjust the output power to fit different
impedance of headphones.
When the detected impedance is less than 70Ω, M12 will self-adjust to low gain output.
When it is more than 70Ω, M12 will self-adjust to high gain output.
When it is more than 600Ω, M12 will automatically switch to 2Vrms line out.
Frequency Response: ±0.1dB(20Hz-20kHz)
DAC: ESS flagship USB DAC chip ES9281AC
In The Box:
USB-C to USB-C cable
USB-C to USB cable
iPhone XS Max
Campfire Audio Dorado
Campfire Audio Vega
Tommy Emmanuel & David Grisman
Big Head Todd & The Monsters
In traditional Questyle humbleness, the box is not much. It is inside the box that is of interest. The nicety here is that the box is small as it should be so there is little excess packaging. Slide the inner box out, take the instruction sheet off and there it is, protected in a soft foam cutout. Remove the cutout and protected below are the two USB cables.
First and foremost, this is a Questyle. So, you would expect top end quality on the insides. And you would be correct. The ESS ES9281AC DAC chip was a combined Questyle ESS two-year process that can process PCM up to 32 bit, DSD 256 & MQA (now Master). The auto impedance detection switches gain between low and high depending upon the impedance of whatever headphone/IEM you are using. Run a high impedance headphone and gain is on high. Most IEM’s run on low gain so you won’t blow your ears. LED color concurs with whatever data is being transmitted. PCM is Green, DSD Red and MQA (Master) Magenta.
Running anywhere from 12.26 mW to 46.11mW, the M12 is not the most powerful portable headphone amp, but it is meant to be one of the best sounding, quality-wise. That is the true genius of pretty much any Questyle product. They may not be the most powerful (the desktops have plenty, trust me), but focus on providing the best quality sound.
As mentioned above: When the detected impedance is less than 70Ω, M12 will self-adjust to low gain output. When it is more than 70Ω, M12 will self-adjust to high gain output. When it is more than 600Ω, M12 will automatically switch to 2Vrms line out. That last option is an insane amount of power, so one hopes Questyle has done their homework (they have).
Over the years, I have been privy to some wonderful dongles/portable Amp/DAC’s meant to be meant mostly for your smartphone. Some have been extremely powerful without much control. Some have focused on portability or the DAC aspect since at the time many smartphone DAC’s were considered inferior to the portable audio market. Now though, many smartphone manufacturers have taken sound into consideration by utilizing quality sound chips and more powerful internal amps. As such, manufacturers need to up their game, ensuring the dongle/DAC/amp is better than stock. Since smartphone manufacturers were behind the schedule so to speak, raising the bar is not that bad; but when you think that companies such as Apple, Samsung & LG are behind the better smartphones do smaller companies really stand a chance? Based upon my previous experience and the M12, yes.
Since the audio manufacturers are focusing on sound quality, they can fine tune their wares to meet the demanding needs of audiophile hobbyists. But the real gain could be from those users who don’t understand that they can get better sound from their phones with minimal additional charge. Especially when compared to what most smartphones cost these days.
The M12 follows Questyle’s typical cleaner sound, emulating what some would call “crystalline” in quality; but less so. This does of course cost 10x less than the budget offering in desktops from Questyle. Coming through the CFA Dorado, the bass is tight and rich, with excellent reach. Mids seem a bit forward to me, but other than that solid. Treble has excellent reach, without becoming tedious. Acoustic Alchemy’s Lazeez is sublime in presentation across the spectrum, with excellent width of stage. Height and depth are amongst the best of the dongle crowd I have heard. Questyle works their magic here, giving a near-holography to the sound signature. I am impressed with the rich nature of sound, that also comes across as melodic and emotive. Not syrupy, but rich in tone and full sounding. Granted, the Dorado plays a large part of this, but that makes the M12 all the more impressive.
Some dongle/DAC/amps focus on power without providing the necessary increase in audio quality, to me. When a company such as Questyle realizes that a trend has become more mainstream and throws their weight into the category; others should take note. Power without control is not good. Control without power isn’t either. A mix of both is needed, and to me sound should take preference over power. As stated earlier, many smartphones come with quite good DAC’s now. In fact, many on social media scoff at items such as this, promoting their smartphones as better than even expensive DAP’s. Well, that is their right and if that makes them happy, good on them. But turning on the M12 makes one realize that it is so much more than power, which is needed. Taking two years to develop a chip with one of the giants in the industry is serious business and worth a thoughtful look.
I really won’t break this down like a normal review, but post what I hear. First and foremost, to me is the rich tonality pervading my senses. Enveloping that sound is a richness wrought from Tidal Master and the Dorado/Vega/in20. Making a circling of sound, the sphere of what I heave soundstage-wise is quite good. From the sound you also get very good layering & separation, with placement of the instruments true to the recording. Depth of the stage is very, very good as well. I find that sphere to be larger than my head, so the outer limits are grand in proportion but not so cavernous to lose definition and detail. Clarity of note is exemplary to me, amongst the best if not the best in this category of accessory.
Thrown in here are some items, which do not fit into a normal category.
Battery drain from this is amongst the higher of the ones I have tried. Even in pause mode, it draws power from what I can tell. That can be a factor if you use your smartphone a lot for business or other items. Getting a full day out of a phone, which you normally could will be nie on impossible using the M12. This could be a deal breaker for those who work on the go and may not have adequate access to recharging options. While traveling this weekend, I have to take that into consideration and switched to TWS BT buds on the plane. At the airports, I was able to use the M12 in conjunction with an adapter so I could charge my phone as well. But, said phone did not charge as quickly due to the competing drain of the M12. To me this is not that much of a hinderance, but to those on the go or with limited access…
Another reviewer mentioned the lack of “wow factor.” To me (even though I mention it here…) this is a non-factor. I really do not care what it looks like, only how the unit functions and fits into my daily use. With regard to that, it was superb. Fitting into my pocket without fuss, the M12 functioned without fuss.
Accessories can seem limited, especially to someone who runs an iPhone. During my time I used the excellent DDHiFi TC05i cable. A small case/carrying pouch would be appreciated, but that is not a deal breaker.
I am struck by the level of detail and clarity of sound wrought from the M12. It is a superb example of Questyle’s craftmanship trickling down to the mass-produced product. While not on par with the desktop amps, but not meant to be; when a company invests heavily in the R&D, over two years such as they did; you should take notice. To me, it hits all the right buttons and spots with regard to the “needs” and functions of a portable dongle. Plenty powerful save for those, which really should not be driven off your smartphone or laptop; the M12 puts sound first on the quality list and delivers. More expensive? Sure, but at what point does one draw the line? If you are happy with the lesser priced models within this segment, fine and dandy. But if you crave something akin to your portable DAP or desktop set up, then the M12 delivers. This is one model, which allows you to enjoy the music for the better and reminds you of not only how far we have come, but how your desire to listen makes you nearly forget about your better-quality system for a bit. And using this throughout the day will give you plenty-o-smiles to drive your day towards coming back to your home system. That is the point to me. Well done yet again, Questyle.
I once again thank TTVJ for providing the loaner sample. This is a fine example and should be on your list if you are serious about making your smartphone better on the sound front. This is a good unit.
Cheers and good listening.