Questyle Audio QP1R hi-rez portable player Page 2

Consistent throughout my auditioning of the QP1R was a sense of ease to the sound, coupled with clarity. I never got the feeling that recorded detail was being unnaturally spotlit, but I could hear deep into recordings. Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond's clam in the second verse of "Blue Rondo à la Turk," from the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Out (DSD64 file, CBS Legacy/Acoustic Sounds), was more audible than I'm used to—I have never understood why this take was used for the master (footnote 1), given this problem, nor have I read anyone commenting on it. Similarly, there's a clumsy high-register trill on the concertino trumpet in the first movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto 2, performed a whole step lower than concert pitch by the Academy of Ancient Music, directed from the harpsichord by Richard Egarr (24/88.2 ALAC file from Harmonia Mundi HMU 807461.62). This had been one of my 2010 Records to Die For," but I hadn't been aware of the problem with the trill until I listened to it with the Questyle player driving the Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors. Now, of course, I hear it all the time, no matter what gear I'm using.

The QP1R dug deep into recorded acoustics. My favorite set of the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas is by Augustin Dumay accompanied by Maria João Pires, which we made our "Recording of the Month" for February 2003. In the Sonata 10 in G, Op.96 (ALAC rip from CD, Deutsche Grammophon 471 495-2), Dumay's violin sounds as if recorded in a smaller, drier hall than was Pires's piano. By contrast, playing the performance of this sonata by violinist David Abel and pianist Julie Steinberg (24/192k needle drop from Wilson Audio W-8315), our "Recording of the Month" for February 1984, through the Questyle revealed that while Abel and Steinberg were closer to the mikes, both instruments were clearly being played and recorded in the same space. But with both recordings, the QP1R got the tonalities of the instruments correct.

Catching the PBS broadcast of Simon and Garfunkel's Concert in Central Park, from 1981, during Pledge Week reminded me that it had been a while since I'd played Paul Simon's 2012 album, Live in New York City (16/44.1 ALAC files ripped from CD, Hear Music). This is possibly the best live band Simon ever put together, with guitarist/saxophonist Mark Stewart acting as music director and the extraordinary multi-instrumentalist Jim Oblon on drums. And while the late Phil Ramone couldn't resist the pressure to mix this album loud, listening to bass guitarist Bakithi Kumalo reprising his part in "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" with the Questyle driving the Audeze headphones was as good as it gets. The bass had the right combination of articulation and weight to its sound.

The song premiered, of course, on Graceland, and in 2012 I'd bought the 25th-anniversary reissue (24/96 ALAC file, Warner Bros./HDtracks). In general, I was disappointed at how this classic album, too, had fallen victim to the Loudness Wars. Given that the people who would buy this edition would be old farts like me, who loved the original's openness of sound and lack of overall compression, why was it felt necessary to reduce its dynamic range for the reissue? But an unexpected bonus on this edition was the demo version of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," with Kumalo's virtuosic bass line front and center under the voices in the deconstructed mix. Again, with the Questyle, this was as good as headphone listening can get.

But as impressed as I was with the QP1R, it was time to hear how it stacked up against the other portable hi-rez products I've reviewed.

Against the Aurender Flow
Last June, when I reviewed the Flow D/A headphone amplifier ($1295), I liked its sound a lot, but felt that its light tonal balance would be a better match with relatively dark-sounding headphones like the Audeze LCD-Xes than with headphones, such as Sennheiser's HD-800, that have a similar character in the treble. As the Flow has a TosLink input, it would be easy to compare it with the QP1R, using an optical cable to drive the Flow from the latter's optical S/PDIF output and switching the LCD-X headphones from the player to the DAC.

Or so I thought. It turned out that the Questyle's Line and Headphone outputs can't be operated in parallel—inserting the TosLink cable in the Line Output mutes the QP1R's Headphone output. The first ¼"-to-3.5mm adapter cable I tried to use with the Audezes was fouled by the flange around the Questyle's output jack, meaning it played in mono unless I held it in place—and every time I unplugged the headphones from the Flow, the latter's volume was reset to "0."

But once I'd worked out how to overcome those operational difficulties, I could compare the two, matching the levels by ear. Using the 24/176.4k AIFF file of David Abel and Julie Steinberg's recording of Brahms's Violin Sonata 1 (Wilson Audiophile)—I was pleased to find that the QP1R's TosLink output did operate at this sample rate—the Questyle's and Aurender's treble balances sounded very similar. The piano's low frequencies had slightly less weight through the QP1R, a touch more authority through the Flow. This was with the LCD-X headphones.

Through the AudioQuest NightHawk headphones, the Aurender's low-frequency weight with "Heart Is a Drum," from Beck's Morning Phase (24/96 ALAC file, Capitol/HDtracks), became too much of a good thing. Even with the EQ bypassed, the Questyle's lighter lows allowed me to hear a bit deeper into the mix with this bass-heavy track, although, paradoxically, I ended up preferring "Lose Yourself to Dance," from Daft Punk's Random Access Memories (24/88.2 ALAC file, Columbia/HDtracks), through the Flow, which had a tad more midrange presence.

Against the Astell&Kern AK100
The first high-end portable player I reviewed was the Astell&Kern AK100 ($699), which I wrote about in August 2013 and subsequently purchased. Through the Audeze LCD-X headphones, Beck's "Heart Is a Drum" sounded lighter in weight with the A&K than with the Questyle. This may well be due to the first-generation AK100 having a higher source impedance, though this character added to the player's sense of low-frequency articulation. More important, the midrange was more fleshed out with the Questyle QP1R, Beck's voice sounding better separated from the other instruments in the mix. The Questyle's top octave also seemed slightly more extended when I switched to the NightHawks.

Against the PonoPlayer
I reviewed the PonoPlayer ($399) in April 2015. Sticking with the NightHawks in conventional single-ended mode, the double bass in Dave Brubeck's "Three to Get Ready," from Time Out (DSD64 file, Columbia/Acoustic Sounds), had a touch more low-frequency weight through the Questyle than through the Pono, though the Pono reproduced the piano with more midrange body. The instrument sounded slightly more ethereal with the QP1R, though the hint of room acoustic around the stabbed piano chords just before the final statement of the theme was more developed with the Questyle. In "All or Nothing At All," from Diana Krall's Love Scenes (DSD64 file, Verve/Acoustic Sounds), Krall's voice sounded a little more three-dimensional through the Pono, though again, the double bass with which she duets at the start of the track had a bit more low-frequency weight through the Questyle.

With Beck's "Heart Is a Drum," the Pono sounded too thick in the upper bass, the Questyle doing a slightly better job of delineating the individual elements in this complex mix. This was with the AudioQuest NightHawk headphones; the more open-sounding Audeze LCD-Xes worked better with the PonoPlayer, though the Questyle still had greater low-frequency weight with these headphones.

I enjoyed my time with the Questyle QP1R, though I never got entirely comfortable controlling the player with its scroll wheel. And with the slightly-less-than-optimal performance at the top and bottom of its dynamic-range envelope (see "Measurements"), users should make sure they use the gain setting most appropriate for their specific headphones. But the QP1R is beautiful in appearance, and equally beautiful in sound quality with both hi-rez PCM and DSD files—I can confidently recommend it. And unlike the PonoPlayer, it does fit in my shirt pocket. Just.

Footnote 1: Subsequent to the publication of this review, a reader emailed me to let me know that unlike the rest of the tracks on Time Out, which had been recorded in Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York, "Blue Rondo à la Turk" had been recorded by a very young Richard Majestic during rehearsals at Brubeck's house, in the sun room. Columbia edited the two hours of rehearsal tapes for "Blue Rondo" to produce the version released on Time Out.—John Atkinson
Questyle Audio Technology Co., Ltd.
US office: Questyle North America Inc.
7848 W. Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89117
(702) 751-9978

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Unlike these expensive Las Vegas copycats, the iPods seamlessly interface with the iTunes in my Macs. My iPods find most use in a TEAC DS-H01 docking station, which sends digital signal directly from the iPod hard drive to a TEAC 24bit/192 kHz Burr-Brown processor (not to mention that they work flawlessly in the 4 other docking stations in my home and car, including a Wadia).

Strange, how the snotty hi-end press totally ignored this mid-fi TEAC product, while singing the praises of the vastly inferior, supposedly "hi-end" Wadia 170i docking station.

Maybe, as I've been saying all along, digital is just inherently mediocre mid-fi, a compromised signal for which big, hi-end bucks are overkill. Maybe, as I've been saying all along, digital and hi-end are entirely antithetical.

hollowman's picture

My topical comments on inexpensive (but high-performance Chinese DAPs (digital audio players, "ipods"), like those by Teclast, Colorfly and QLShifi) have been on (forum) for years; but here is a post from a few mos. ago:
(You can also search or just Google these manufs/models)
Compared to the genuine Apple iPod/iPhone, the Chinese DAPs are about 1/2 the price but with important sonic improvements. E.g., the Teclast T-51 uses two Wolfson top-grade DACs (2x WM8470; one for each channel), high-quality opamps and a decent Philips headphone-amp chip. All for less than $150 (2010 prices!!) Colorfly's $140 CK-4 DAP uses CS4398 DAC, the best from Cirrus, along with AD opamps and other goodies. These Chinese DAPs were designed for/by audiophiles on a budget (similar to NAD, Cambridge, etc.)

John Atkinson's picture
hollowman wrote:
My topical comments on inexpensive (but high-performance Chinese DAPs (digital audio players, "ipods"), like those by Teclast, Colorfly and QLShifi) have been on (forum) for years...These Chinese DAP were designed for/by audiophiles on a budget

I Googled these brands and it appears that the only models available from US-based retailers are priced similarly to the Questyle. Yes, the cheapest models from these manufacturers are available from direct sellers in the Far East, but as Stereophile is a US-based publication, our focus is on products that are formally distributed in the US.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

hollowman's picture

eBay or Alibaba (Taobao) usually carry these (and other) non-US-based brands; Amazon also sells them.

China's "new" audiophile market is getting quite large & there are quite a few good-quality brands -- as noted -- that are decent but stay mostly within PRC.
I can confirm that from my own experience in owning and using Chinese DAPs, early models (before 2010) had reliability issues. Most of the early bugs have since been worked out, and I will continue to use these and similar brands/models.

All that said, "formal US distribution" -- e.g., tradit. brick-and-mortar retailer -- is an important and legitimate quality metric.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Seeing as you have reviewed the Questyle DAP, seems like it's time you reviewed one of Fiio's offerings. I don't how much of a distribution base you consider appropriate for reviewing a product—got my Fiio X1 DAP from Amazon [Prime, so Amazon was vendor] and the Fiio Monte Blanc 12a from B +H photo, each for less than $100. You are the only reviewer of DAPs that does real tests on these devices. I find it fascinating that some of these pocket portable players outperform some expensive full-size components. You might want to check out the Fiio X7 DAP, has many features that rival the Astell & Kern offerings.