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October 2016
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Superior Audio Equipment Review
Best Audiophile Product Of 2017 Blue Note Award
North American Premiere Review!
Questyle Audio Golden Reference System
CAS192D, CMA800P, And CMA800R.
Setting a high bar in summit-fi.
Review By Dave Hanson

 

Questyle Audio Golden Reference System CAS192D, CMA800P, And CMA800R Review

  In the past year, we have seen many manufacturers in the personal audio category launch "statement" products – not just the normal impressive summit-fi fare, but ambitious products that truly push the limits of their engineering capabilities. The uber-priced Sennheiser Orpheus II and the excellent Chord Electronics DAVE are two prime examples. Alongside these cost-no-object offerings, manufacturer Questyle Audio has decided to push the limits of its existing (and quite impressive) technology with an intriguing four-piece statement product of its own: the Questyle Audio Golden Reference System ($12,495).

Upgrading their fantastic CAS192D DAC, CMA800P preamp, and CMA800R monoblock-capable amplifiers with hand-picked components and ultra-low-distortion Rodgers Ceramic PCB boards, the Golden Reference stack is easily one of the cleanest sounding headphone systems I have ever heard. It is so clean, in fact, Questyle had to order special equipment just to measure the CMA800P Golden preamp's preposterously low 0.00022% THD+N.

For the purposes of this review, I have evaluated the Golden Reference primarily as a single 4-piece system (with two CMA800R amplifiers running in dual-mono mode), but I did listen to each of the components individually, and I will start by sharing some insight into their individual performance and value relative to their respective price points.

 

CAS192D Golden DAC
I have long been a fan of the CAS192D, and the Golden Reference edition carries the torch quite well. Built around the Wolfson flagship WM8741 chip, this DAC features a three-clock integrated circuit, with separate clocks to individually control multiples of 44.1kHz, 48kHz and USB signal transmission. The CAS192D offers a user-selectable 4X upsampling feature, scaling up to 176.4kHz or 192kHz, as appropriate. I found the upsampling feature provided a nice increase to the sense of space and body in the recording. What's more, the CAS192D Golden offers True DSD capability, as opposed to the common DoP format (DSD over PCM) used by many DACs with DSD "support". This means the DSD bitstream data is delivered unmolested to the DAC, without the additional compression and buffering used in DoP. Whether or not the difference is audible remains a somewhat controversial issue, but when I compared DSD on the CAS192D against the popular Chord Mojo (which uses DoP), the CAS192D offered better timbre and texture, leaving the Mojo sounding a bit plasticky, in comparison.

 

Questyle Audio Golden Reference System CAS192D, CMA800P, And CMA800R.

 

During testing, I found the CAS192D Golden performed its best with high res and DSD files. Those who rely heavily on a catalog of mostly 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality files may want to look to a DAC with a multibit resistor ladder (R2R) architecture, instead. A good R2R DAC will be smoother and more transparent if you are playing with its bread and butter: CD-quality files. That being said, the CAS192D is still quite capable with these files, and if you have a mix of 16-bit/44.1kHz, 24-bit high res music and DSD files, it will serve all of your needs very, very well. The DAC also comes equipped with a wide variety of user-selectable digital filters, including the common FIR (finite impulse response) filters, and the less-common IIR (infinite impulse response) filters, which eliminate pre-ringing in the impulse wave. Some people find the elimination of the pre-ring improves tone and transparency, and I tend to agree, as I found myself listening to the "IIR Soft Knee" filter the most of the seven available options.

Overall, I would say this is a really nice and very detailed DAC at $2,999. It might even be my favorite single component of the Golden Reference system. If you are looking for a strong performer in this price range that can really deliver with your high res files, it is definitely worth an audition.

 

CMA800R Golden Amplifier
Utilizing Questyle's current-mode amplification technology, the CMA800R Golden also represents a strong value at its $2999 price point as an individual amplifier. I compared a single CMA800R Golden head-to-head with my Cavalli Liquid Crimson amplifier (also priced at $2999), and it showcased impressive performance. Compared to the Liquid Crimson, the single CMA800R offered improved clarity, better separation and tighter bass response. In terms of spatial technicalities and imaging, both offered similarly strong performance. However, the Questyle did not showcase the same intoxicating midrange and musicality as the Crimson. It was a little dryer, but by the same token, cleaner sounding. A fair tradeoff, which comes down to subjective preference. It definitely has that "studio monitor" reference-type of feel, which some people really like.

 

 

With two CMA800R amplifiers running dual mono mode, performance makes a very compelling leap forward. Imaging becomes laser-focused with an incredibly strong center image and extremely precise depth across the enormous soundscape. Tone becomes fuller and more powerful. Even though the mids retained their über-clean "reference" type of feel, I found myself much, much more emotionally engaged with them. This is, undoubtedly, the way the system was meant to be heard.

 

CMA800P Golden Preamp
One of the newest additions to the Questyle family, I found the CMA800P preamp ($3499) to be utterly transparent and colorless. A pure class-A device, those who abide by the philosophy that a good preamp should "do no harm" and "let you hear your gear", will love the CMA800P. I had fun playing with this piece of gear, and kept it hooked up to my two-channel Virtue Audiophile 2.2 and ELAC UB-5 bookshelf speakers via the single-ended output. The uncompromisingly precise volume attenuator gave me a lot of play I wouldn't normally have with the Virtue's somewhat clunky and overly-sensitive knob.

 

 

Comparing the Golden Stack with and without the CMA800P, I didn't find much was gained or lost sonically with or without it in the chain. In the context of the stack, it is more of a convenience than anything, as you don't need to manually match the channel volume from song to song, allowing you to concentrate on the music. It's definitely a convenience I would want, budget willing, as few components would provide the same service without compromising the sound of this ultra-resolving system in some way. To really optimize the value of the CMA800P within the context of the stack, I'd definitely consider the possibility of running the preamp out to a nice power amplifier and set of speakers, making the Golden Stack the heart of your home setup.

 

Making Sweet Music Together
Once combined, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Each of the four pieces fits into a handsome, low-profile 330 x 300 x 55mm chassis. The subtle gold finish is quite tasteful, and unpretentious. Each piece feels quite solid, and they sit comfortably and securely on top of one another. Powering up the system reveals a background that is dead-silent, even at full volume. Additionally, heat-sinking is very good, and the system runs quite cool, even after several hours of operation.

In terms of tonality, the Questyle Golden Reference system touches perfection quite often. The neutrality on display is unquestionable, presenting a sound that is completely void of any coloration. It doesn't add to or subtract from the sound in any way, so those who prefer some extra tubey sweetness with their music may not be totally satisfied. But those who desire absolute accuracy to the source recording should be quite elated. And even though the sound is somewhat "solid state" sounding, it should be noted any sense of harshness is expertly tempered by the outstanding control offered by Questyle's current mode amplification.

 

 

Up and down the frequency response, the Golden Reference stack displays absolute benchmark performance. Treble is extremely well-controlled and extended, even on the finicky Sennheiser HD800. Sibilance was rarely present, particularly on high-res tracks. The midrange is delivered with ease and supreme detail. While "reference" and "musical" are sometimes considered polar opposites, I felt the Golden Reference stack delivered superbly on both fronts. Down low, the mid-bass and sub-bass are both presented with remarkable clarity and authority. This is probably the tightest, most well-controlled bass I have heard on a non-electrostatic system. If I had to nitpick, I would only note that the deepest sub-bass was just a pinch more defined when the CAS192D was running directly into the monoblocks than with the CMA800P in the chain, but we are talking about a difference of less than 1 or 2 percent.

Attack and decay on the Golden Reference system are beyond reproach. The sense of transient snap is quite remarkable, especially in True DSD mode. Decay is also reference grade – never hanging around beyond its welcome. This control, largely attributable to Questyle's current mode amplification, is one of the largest contributors to the Golden Reference system's exceptionally clean presentation. Combined with the system's ultra-low distortion and incredible soundstage, it creates a formidable benchmark for end-game transparency.

 

50% Reference System. 50% Teleportation Device
Moving on to the transparency, imaging and soundscape aspects brings us to the thing that makes Questyle's Golden Reference system so spectacular: its ability to truly transport you into the recording. Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn's Grammy Award-winning rendition of "Little Wing" in DSD put me right there in the studio with the band. I am sitting there in my chair. Right in front of me, Stevie Ray is standing comfortably front and center, pouring every ounce of himself into the guitar, while the gentle hum of his Tube Screamer distortion pedal buzzes subtly through his amp in the background.

Just when I think it can't get any more immersive, drummer Chris Layton comes into the fold. The shocking inner resolution of his tone and the stunning spatial imaging on his drum kit help to unveil a perfect three-dimensional view of the enormous soundscape and a keen sense of the acoustic properties of the recording area. Running in dual mono mode with my Sennheiser HD800 via the excellent DanaCable Lazuli balanced cable, I am not sure I have ever heard a headphone system perform better in terms of soundscape size, dimensionality and imaging performance. It easily scores perfect marks in all categories related to spatial performance.

No less impressive is the performance of bassist Tommy Shannon. The Questyle Golden stack captures the intent behind his performance masterfully, in terms of both resolution and dynamics - laying back a bit on the bass, always ensuring Stevie remains the center of attention, pushing where it is needed, but taking care never to step out of turn. Gaining so much insight into such a nuanced background performance says quite a bit about the excellent resolution and powerful dynamics the system has to offer. It is truly something special.

I played the system for dozens of non-audiophile friends and relatives, both via headphones and with the CAS192D and CMA800P on the front end of a two-channel system. The response I heard over and over again was, "I've never heard music like this before. It's like you're there!" I couldn't agree more.

 

Final Thoughts
The Questyle Golden Reference system is truly one of the finest headphone systems on the market today, earning a perfect 5/5 Blue Notes in 12 of our 16 categories and never scoring below a 4.0. It is most certainly in rarified air. While it won't add the extra sweetness of a high-end tube amp, it is absolutely the benchmark for neutral performance, and I would add that this is one system that can make you really appreciate how emotional, riveting and engaging true musical accuracy can be. For those who are looking for the absolute best-of-the-best, this is one system you absolutely must audition.

 

Equipment Used During Review
Sennheiser HD800
JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266
ZMF Omni

ENIGMAcoustics Dharma D-1000

DanaCable Lazuli Headphone Cables

KimberKable Balanced Interconnects
KimberKable Power Cables
KimberKable USB-AG

PS Audio Duet Power Conditioner
JRiver Media Center

DanaCable Onyx RCA Interconnect
Cavalli Audio Liquid Crimson Headphone Amplifier
Audio-GD DAC-19
Chord Mojo

Virtue Audio 2.2 Speaker Amplifier
ELAC UB-5 Bookshelf Speakers
Pioneer SW-8 MKII Subwoofer

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
CAS192D Digital / Analog Converter
File Formats: PCM up to 24-bit 192kHz / True DSD
Digital Filters: Seven
Inputs: Asynchronous USB, S/PDIF, and TosLink optical
Outputs: One pair balanced XLR and one pair RCA unbalanced
Size: 330 x 300 x 55mm
Price: $2999

 

CMA800P Preamp
THD+N: 0.00022%
Operating Mode: Pure Class A
SNR: 131dB in balanced mode / 124dB single ended
Inputs: One pair balanced XLR and one pair RCA unbalanced
Outputs: One pair balanced XLR and one pair RCA unbalanced
Max Output: 13Vrms in balanced mode / 6.5Vrms single ended 
Size: 330 x 300 x 55mm
Price: $3499

 

CMA800R
Max Output at 300 ohm: 710/mW balanced dual mono / 180mw single ended
Max Output at 50 ohm: 4.25W balanced dual mono / 1.0W single ended 
THD+N: 0.00026% balanced dual mono / 0.00038% single ended 
SNR: 118dB
Inputs: One pair balanced XLR stereo and another mono, plus one pair RCA unbalanced
Outputs: One pair balanced XLR and one pair RCA unbalanced, one preamplifier output
Size: 330 x 300 x 55mm
Price: $2999

Complete Questyle Dual Mono Reference System
Price: $12,495

 

Company Information
Questyle Audio Technology
12D, Xuesong Building Block B
Tairan 6th Road
Chegongmiao, Futian District
Shenzhen, China 518040

Voice: +86-755-82835670

 

Questyle North America
7848 West Sahara Ave
Las Vegas, NV 89117

Voice: (702) 751-9978
Website: www.QuestyleAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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