Questyle CMA Fifteen Review

Questyle has been the driving force in the development of current mode technology, and their latest flagship product, the CMA Fifteen, brings the pinnacle of Questyle’s innovation to the market. Following up on the excellent CMA Twelve, can the CMA Fifteen bring a new level of power and performance to deliver Questyle’s best DAC/amp yet?

Build and Design

At first glance, it’s going to be hard to tell the CMA Twelve and CMA Fifteen apart. They come in near identical black boxes, with essentially the same options and outputs up front. The power and various functions are controlled by dip switches on the front. You can toggle between HP Amp and DAC mode as well as Standard and High Bias. DAC mode disables the headphone outputs on the front to use the device solely as a DAC/Preamp. Bias Control determines where the cutoff is between Class A and Class A/B operation of the amp. High Bias will run hotter, but give you a longer range of Class A operation, while Standard is more efficient, but with a lower cutoff. In most of my listening, I couldn’t hear much difference between the two, though there was a bit more headroom in the High Bias mode in some cases.

Questyle CMA Fifteen

There’s also a button to toggle between your Source options: USB, Optical, S/PDIF (digital coax), Analog (RCA), and Bluetooth. Unlike the CMA Twelve, which was designed to pair via Bluetooth with other Questyle products, the CMA Fifteen is fully capable of connecting to any number of devices via Bluetooth. In addition to the digital connections, the CMA Fifteen also features an analog input, allowing it to function as a standalone headphone amp. CMA Fifteen also includes a remote which can manage your input/output needs, as well as volume control, but it can’t manage any of the settings with analog hardware controls.

Along with the various inputs on the back of the unit, you have XLR and RCA analog outputs, as well as a few other controls. When using the CMA Fifteen as a DAC/preamp you can set the output to 14dBu (HiFi) or 20dBu (Studio) mode. Which to use will depend on the specs of the device you’re connecting it to. You can also set the output to fixed or variable. If you’re using the CMA Fifteen as a preamp, you would need to use variable mode to maintain the volume control, while fixed mode locks you at standard line out voltage. There’s also the Pairing button for Bluetooth which allows you to pair with a source that supports LDAC, AAC or SBC. In my testing, the quality of the Bluetooth receiver was excellent, providing a level of performance that felt very close to CD Quality over USB.

Sound

To me, Questyle’s sound has always been a reference-like studio tuning with an added dash of musicality to it. The delivery is clean, highly detailed, and transparent. The bass extends deep, and those frequencies feel well supported in the headphones. The mids are likewise full and well realized, and the treble extends with excellent upper range air. With all that, there’s just a touch of extra polish – a bit of liquidy smoothness at the very top, and a little bump in the midbass to bring out the impact just a little more than your typical reference tuning would. In some ways the tuning reminds me of the Astell&Kern SP2000 expanded into a desktop DAC/Amp combo.

Questyle CMA Fifteen

The soundstage is broad and expansive, and if you give it headphones with a big soundstage, like the HIFIMAN Arya, the CMA Fifteen delivers a deep, wide sense of space. The 3D image also delivers accurate imaging, and presents instruments in weighty, concrete positions, with a holographic feeling.

CMA Fifteen can flex into a number of roles in your stack. As an DAC/Amp combo, it delivers both exceptional detail and strong performance with a wide range of headphones. The max output at 32 ohms is 2W balanced and 1.5W unbalanced, so not optimum Susvara numbers, but more than enough for most headphones out there. It also provides a low gain mode (via switches on the bottom of the unit), and a rock bottom noise floor with a pitch black background. Both IEMs and over-ear headphones absolutely shine with the CMA Fifteen. It’s also worth noting that the volume operation and range is well balanced, providing a clear signal without any hints of distortion at much louder than my comfortable listening volume, and without feeling like you lose anything at very low volumes with IEMs and very sensitive headphones.

Questyle CMA Fifteen

Paired with a separate amp, the CMA Fifteen delivers the same detail, clarity and 3D image, and you get that without having to worry about peaking out with harder to drive headphones. With a Burson Soloist GT, for example, you can get an absolutely massive sound. Paired with the iFi Pro iCAN, you take that detail and clarity and add just a little more smoothness at the top and impact at the bottom.

Comparison: iFi Pro iDSD Signature, Chord Hugo TT2

The DAC market is certainly one where, once you reach a certain level, it can be hard to differentiate the specific differences in quality between DACs. DACs will have one or two features or characteristics that command a higher price tag compared to other DACs that have otherwise similar performance, but lack those features. In this case, the Questyle CMA Fifteen compares quite well with the more expensive iFi Pro iDSD Signature and even the Chord Hugo TT2, despite being the lowest priced of the three.

In terms of features, they all have many of the same input and output options. The TT2 has the least, with no XLR or 4.4mm outputs, while the Pro iDSD has 4.4mm, 3.5mm, and 6.3mm, but no XLR. CMA Fifteen covers all of your bases (as long as you have a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter). Chord has always been more focused on sound than features, which explains why the TT2 features probably the best selection of input option, but lacks any kind of wifi or Bluetooth connectivity. Pro iDSD has a wifi option, as well at the option to stream from an SD card via DLNA, and Questyle has Bluetooth. While Pro iDSD’s wifi support has the edge on paper, it’s a little tougher to setup and lacks the seamless simplicity of CMA Fifteen’s Bluetooth.

In terms of the overall tonality, the CMA Twelve is closer to the TT2 than the Pro iDSD. Both the Questyle and the Chord adhere to a more reference signature, while the Pro iDSD is more lush. CMA Fifteen is perhaps a step on the lush side of reference, but still is still more neutral than warm. Paired with something like a Utopia, the TT2 ends up a couple steps closer to “clinical” sounding than the Questyle, while the Pro iDSD does the most to actively tame Utopia’s treble.

Questyle CMA Fifteen

The microdetail that the TT2 provides is tough to match though, and while it’s twice the price, its imaging capabilities and overall level of detail are as good as it gets without moving into the $10k range. Likewise, the Pro iDSD’s performance coupled with the lush presentation makes it a tough competition. What the CMA Fifteen does well is provide elements that are competitive with both. The detail isn’t quite as strong as the TT2, nor is the 3D image as immersive, but it’s certainly getting close. Likewise, next to the Pro iDSD, the CMA Fifteen isn’t as lush, but it delivers a slightly euphonic bend on a reference sound that delivers more detail than the Pro iDSD if not the same level of emotion. 

The Bottom Line

The CMA Fifteen is the total package for a DAC/Amp combo. It has the flexibility to function as a standalone DAC or amp, along with Bluetooth connectivity and a wide array of other features. It delivers a clear upgrade to the CMA Twelve, and is strongly competitive in its price range. Altogether, the CMA Fifteen is a clear winner that should position Questyle as one of the brands to beat at this level.