The Questyle CMA Twelve was released to commemorate the twelve year anniversary of Questyle’s Current Mode Amplification technology launch. The CMA Twelve represents the culmination of Questyle’s product design and amplification research, and it has an excellent DAC built in to complement it. Let’s take a deeper dive into the CMA Twelve’s design and capabilities.
The Build and Design
The CMA Twelve has a sleek black look that would look at home in virtually any hi-fi setup. It feels weighty and solid, and the jacks, switches, and knobs are all pleasing to use and feel high quality. It includes a fairly standard remote which allows you to switch sources or adjust the volume.
The front of the unit features balanced XLR, unbalanced 6.3mm, and balanced 4.4mm outputs, and there are also RCA and fully balanced XLR outputs on the back of the unit. For inputs, you have AES, SPDIF, Optical or USB. The outputs are switchable between 14dBu and 20dBu to match the commonly expected power output for home or studio respectively. You can switch between using the CMA Twelve as an amp only or as also as a DAC using a switch on the front. In addition, if you’re using the CMA Twelve in a loudspeaker system, you can use it as a DAC/preamplifier or just as a preamplifier. I should note that the CMA Twelve has Bluetooth capabilities, but based on my experience trying to pair other devices, and the information in the manual, the Bluetooth is only designed to work with Questyle’s Digital Source System.
For use with IEMs, there are four Standard/Low gain switches on the bottom of the unit. Switching them all to Low will enable IEMs to be used without any background noise. The switches are ostensibly for positive/negative polarity and left/right channels, but the manual instructs you to always have all four switches in the same position, so I’m not 100% sure why there are four switches instead of one.
After carefully examining the exterior, and figuring out which switches I needed flipped in which directions, I got to actually listening to some music. All I can say is, “Wow.” The CMA Twelve blew me away right out of the gate. The detail and resolution are simply out of this world, and the soundstage is excellent too. Even as it’s delivering incredible levels of detail, it never feels clinical or cold. It provides a neutral, transparent, crystal clear delivery of the music that’s very natural.
For my testing I used a number of headphones and IEMs, but spent most of my time with the Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 and the Meze Empyrean to get a feeling for how it sounded with more bright/analytical headphones on the one end, and with warmer, more musical headphones on the other end. I tested using both the balanced and unbalanced inputs. First off, they both sounded great no matter how I plugged them in, and the CMA Twelve provided plenty of headroom for both. On the Standard setting, I don’t think the volume knob ever got anywhere near the halfway point during any of my listening sessions.
I’ve recently spent some time with a number of DACs and amps with a warmer tuning, and I frequently use the Empyrean for testing. While, I often prefer warmer signatures and bass heavy sounds, it was refreshing to pair the Empyrean with a device that didn’t feel the need to add anything to the Empyrean’s already amazing signature, and that brought out the best in it by simply delivering the music in excruciating detail. The CMA Twelve’s soundstage was also a boon to the Empyrean, and helped expand the Empyrean’s more intimate stage.
Speaking of excruciating detail, pairing the CMA Twelve with the ATH-ADX5000 was almost like information overload. Every single detail and texture of complex pieces – whether orchestral or electronic is laid out for you to carefully examine. While the pairing certainly isn’t something that bassheads would be satisfied with, it’s certainly something that any careful listener of complex music could get lost in.
I also tested a number of IEMs, including the 64 Audio Nio, Campfire Andromeda, and Noble Sultan. Each of the IEMs played nice with the low gain mode, and the Nio was actually fine even on standard. The combination of the Sultan’s electrostatic drivers and the incredible transparency on the CMA Twelve created some absolutely transcendent air and space, and all of the IEMs specifically felt like their soundstage was strongly enhanced.
Comparison: Burson Conductor 3X Performance
The Burson Conductor 3 series is one of our favorite desktop amp lines in the office, so the 3X Performance seemed like a good comparison for the similarly priced CMA Twelve. They both provide a premium design, build quality, and sound, but they take different routes to get there.
In terms of design, with features like a “cool case” that is also a heat sink the Conductor 3XP has a more practical, industrial look to it. While it could stand in as a prop at MI-6 headquarters, in a classic James Bond film, the CMA Twelve’s smooth black lines would probably be more at home in the villains lavish estate. Ultimately the look is more a matter of preference, as depending on your setup, either might be the perfect fit.
For features, the CMA Twelve performs a bit stronger, but it will still probably be a case by case situation. While the Conductor 3XP can be used as a headphone amp or as a DAC/preamp, it doesn’t have the ability to run as a standalone amp, nor does it have the same level of input or output options. As a point for the 3XP, it offers a greater degree of customization through configuring filters and other options in its menu than the CMA Twelve is able to offer. The 3XP also provides Bluetooth connectivity, which, while the CMA Twelve has Bluetooth built in, it seems to only work with the Questyle’s media hub, and not with any other devices.
The technical aspects of the sound is where the CMA Twelve truly shines. While you may prefer the Conductor 3XP’s raw, slightly warmer sound, it just can’t quite match the level of detail, transparency, and resolution that the CMA Twelve delivers. While the immense air and clarity provided by the CMA Twelve was revelatory, it could present as slightly sharp in the treble when paired with a bright headphone. For example, with the CMA Twelve the ATH-ADX5000 was a touch fatiguing, while the Conductor 3XP was a better pairing for longer sessions.
The Bottom Line
The Questyle CMA Twelve provides levels of detail and resolution that are simply out of this world. The fact that it can deliver strong technical performance with such a high degree of versatility makes it a strong value. Overall, the Questyle CMA Twelve is a stylish, technically refined masterpiece of hi-fi engineering.