Another portable headphone amp/DAC has made its way into the world. This time coming from the company Questyle, which is focused on providing a solution for both computers and mobile devices alike. This is the Questyle M12 Mobile Headphone Amplifier with DAC. Similar to a few other models in various ways while also being unique in itself, the new DAC brings a lot of power with it while being no larger than a small USB thumb drive.
Being a mobile solution, it is a USB-C connected device with a pair of adapters that allow it to easily work with USB-C and USB-A devices right out of the box.
The M12 makes use of ESS’ ES9281AC DAC chip and is capable of up to PCM 384kHz/32bit and DSD256. This covers a very large range of hi-res music and allows this amp to compete within the higher ranks of small portable solutions.
As mentioned, this DAC is small. You will find no problem with carrying it around. Heck, you might even be worried about losing it. So it would be smart to find a small case or bag to carry it around with. It is 2-inches long, around 0.65-inches in width, and around 0.32-inches thick (depth). It really is quite small.
The body of the DAC is made of CNC-machined aluminum for a nice solid feel. It should last a long time as long as the electronics inside as just as reliable.
One side of the DAC features a 3.5mm headphone connection for either headphones or a line-out to an external speaker solution (this one is best used with headphones though). The other end features the USB-C connection which connects to whatever device you’d like to use with it.
As mentioned, it does come with two USB-C adapters. One of which is for connecting to USB-C devices, like smartphones or tablets. The other is for running to a PC or Apple computer. An additional (OTG) adapter would be required for iOS devices that make use of a Lightning connection, which should be the only other adapter you’d have to buy for it.
The DAC features two LEDs on the top that break its current operating condition into two categories.
The top represents the current gain structure. This is how much amplification is being used to deliver audio to the connected headphones and is usually dependant upon what you have plugged into it. It will either be red for high or green for low. It will switch to high if you plug a pair of headphones into it that are 70 ohms (impedance) or greater.
The bottom represents the level of data that is being fed to the amp. Green represents PCM audio, while red represents DSD, and magenta represents MQA.
MQA is a popular format amongst audiophiles as it allows a track to be delivered “as the artist originally intended”. However, you need a setup capable on both ends of handling this format. This DAC takes care of the hardware side where on the computer or mobile device, you will also need an app capable of handling MQA as well. There are a few options out there, but in most cases, users typically rely on something like TIDAL’s streaming service (Tidal Masters hi-res library of music). This allows the track to unfold and be delivered to your ears properly.
As popular as MQA is though, it is still catching on within the audiophile community. For now, you typically find other high-res formats like DSD, FLAC, WAV, and AIFF. All of these able to be listened to right out of the box without any special software since most players will support these formats now. At least, with the exception of DSD which we still make use of Foobar2000 for (with the DSD plugin installed).
As you change sources or headphones, the LEDs on the DAC will bounce around to reflect it. We made sure to throw a number of headphone models against it, working our way up to a few 600-ohm models (including the Beyerdynamic DT 880) that always end up putting something like this to the test. Thankfully, the amp delivered quite well with even the highest impedance models, providing all sorts of volume to play with and clean audio.
We did find a few Android models that had some noise. It was similar to the clicks and scratches you may hear on a record album. It still functioned quite well, but that shouldn’t be there. It could be cheaper hardware inside the phone. However, these were Samsung Galaxy devices ranging from 2-4 years in age, so that likely isn’t the case.
This DAC is quite small but offers a lot of power despite its size. It can drive nearly any pair of 3.5mm headphones that you can throw at it and works with virtually any device. The only adapter you need to invest in is for iOS devices.
Price vs power feels well-balanced with this model. It compares well with similar models (in size), like the Dragonfly and HELM Audio Bolt You can see a side-by-side comparison with a few of these amps we grabbed off the shelf, in one of the images in the gallery below. Performance-wise, it’s more about the amplification than for harder-to-drive headphones than anything else. When it comes to audio quality, we have heard better. It, at least, does very well for its size nonetheless.
We do feel that plenty more testing is required before we completely settle our score and decision as being permanent. We found that the LEDs don’t always switch, despite switching between media like FLAC, DSD, and MQA. Everything sounds absolutely fantastic, but this could affect the score in the future.
Material: CNC machined aluminum
Color: Black / Silver
Size: 51[L] X 16.5[W] X 8.1[D] (mm)
Operating System Required: Android: Android 5.0+
PC: Win10 1803+
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)
Output Power: Built-in smart detection circuit will automatically self-adjust the output power to fit different
impedance of headphones RL=16ohm, Po=46.11mW;
When the detected impedance is less than 70ohm, M12 will self-adjust to low gain output. When it is more than 70ohm, M12 will self-adjust to high gain output. When it is more than 600ohm, M12 will automatically switch to 2V RMS line-out.
Frequency Response: +/- 0.1dB(20Hz-20kHz)
DAC: ESS flagship USB DAC chip ES9281AC