From Audio Primate
One of the most popular and critically acclaimed digital audio players (DAPs) in audiophile circles over the last few years has been the QP1R from Questyle Audio. Audio Primate have been lucky enough to be given a sneak preview of the successor to Questyle’s current flagship (the QP2R), which is due for global release in the next few weeks. The below are my initial impressions of the QP2R, along with a few notes on the basic sound and design. A more in depth write up will follow in a couple of weeks once I have had chance to spend some more quality time with them, but if you are interested to get a little idea what the new model is capable of in the meanwhile, please read on.
The Questyle QP2R demo unit used for these impressions was very kindly loaned to Audio Primate by the UK distributors for Questyle – a big shout out to Matt Esau @ SCV Distribution for making this happen, and letting me spend a couple of months with the unit to really put it through its paces. These impressions are based on my own subjective opinion of the sound heard, and Audio Primate and myself have received no financial incentives (or other enticements) to write about this gear, which will have to be returned at the end of the loan period.
About me: recent convert to audiophilia but a long time music fan, also aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Recently started converted my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. My ideal tuning for most IEMs and headphones tends towards a musical and slightly dark presentation, although I am not treble sensitive in general.
Once upon a time, there was a small Chinese company called Questyle, who had a big idea for a new method of amplification. They started thinking about how to do this in 2012, and by 2013 had started to get quite good at it. Fast forward a few products and a few years, and the QP1 and QP1R were born, bringing this technology into the hands of the audiophile DAP market. This was met with some pretty critical acclaim, with the QP1R quickly earning a spot at the top table of portable music players.
Like all good debut albums, Questyle decided their fanbase deserved a sequel, the imaginatively titled QP2R. Reasoning that their customers weren’t interested in new fangled fads like streaming or screens that looked less than 10 years old (that’s so 2016), the engineers instead took some design cues from the American muscle cars of old. They stripped out any excess electronica from the previous QP1R and decided to cram an amp so large into the new model that it takes up almost 70% of the total internal space. Not satisfied with just supercharging the engine, they also squeezed in an improved DAC chip (the AK4490), along with a fully balanced internal topography and accompanying 2.5mm balanced output jack. They even managed to solve the head-scratching puzzle of what to do with the previous model’s iconic scroll wheel, and in a radical departure from previous designs, actually decided to build one that worked (I know, crazy eh?). Joking aside, it seems that the design team at Questyle HQ have managed to take most of the user wish-list items from their existing flagship (decent scroll wheel, balanced output etc) and produced a second iteration of the QP series that feels more polished all round, without losing the basic essence of the player as a “music first” DAP.
So, what do all the above fancy design tricks actually mean for the listener? In one word, music. The new QP2R is all about gloriously dynamic, toe tappingly infectious and just downright enjoyable music. Sure, the AK4490 chip can spit out micro-details and subtle texture with the big boys from Sabre and Wolfson, but that isn’t what the QP2R is about for me. It’s about reproducing that feeling you get when you are hanging out a few rows back from the front of the stage in a sweaty gig at your favourite concert hall, grinning from ear to ear and getting lost in the sound coming out of the speakers. From the robust as Rock Hudson’s jawline metal and glass build to the tactile goodness of the new scroll-wheel and volume knob, this is a DAP that isn’t out to wow you with features, just blow you away with the sound it produces. I can quite comfortably say that this DAP sounds more musical with my current IEM collection than anything else I have heard to date – admittedly, my exposure to high end DAPs has been fairly limited so far, but as a previous owner of the QP1R for a short time, I am familiar with the Questyle “house sound” and this is definitely an evolution to my ears.
As this is a demo unit, it didn’t come with the retail packaging. From what I have seen online, the full retail kit will certainly look the part, but as of right now I can’t confirm what exactly that will be. In the demo pack was included the new QP2R dock (with charging and syncing capabilities but no audio outs) and a high end USB to USB-C cable, both of which exude a nice feel of solidity and high quality build. If I do get to spend some time with the full retail package at some point I will update this section accordingly.
Comfort and design
The QP2R shares an identical design to its sibling the 1R, with just the slightly different colour scheme and the single micro-SD card slot differentiating the latest model from the original design. This is a classic example of “If it ain’t broke”, as the QP2R sits nicely in the hand, and handles pretty ergonomically in day to day use.
One area that owners of the original model will be happy has seen some serious design work is the scroll wheel, which takes up a large portion of the lower half of the unit’s fascia. In contrast to the previous iteration, this scroll wheel actually scrolls (and does a fair bit of wheeling to boot), feeling responsive and solid and allowing a nice old-school navigation through the predominantly list based UI. It sounds like a small thing, but having suffered first hand at the vagaries of the original QP1R and its wheel of uncertainty, this is definitely an example of listening to your customer base.
The rest of the face is taken up by a smallish screen of decent resolution and average to poor brightness, and four capacitive buttons for easy navigation through the menu systems. The buttons are very responsive, and in some scenarios can in fact feel a little too eager to take instruction, leading to some hopping back and forwards between tracks. The knob adorning the top of the device is also nicely responsive, and very smooth when moving through the 60 digital steps of the volume control. Despite being guarded on two sides, it is a little susceptible to random adjustments when listening to the Questyle from your pocket, which can give the listener a nasty surprise when listening through more sensitive IEMs like the Andromeda or Zeus-XR. It is a difficult line to tread as the knob feels very satisfying and “just right” in actual use, but for my money I would prefer a slightly more unwieldy operation and tighter rotation mechanism.
The rest of the design is classic, and undeniably good looking – plenty of non audiophile work colleagues have passed comment over the last few weeks seeing the player sitting on my desk, which doesn’t generally happen with my other DAPs.
Brief impressions on audio quality
When writing up a DAP, describing the sound is paradoxically the hardest part – how do you describe something that is shaped by the items you use to listen to it through? The answer is sometimes a little simpler than it seems: you just focus on the music, and how it feels. How a track you have heard a hundred times on dozens of different setups connects with your inner music fan, and whether it adds or subtracts anything from the tracks you are hearing.
To my ears, the QP2R has a neutral to slightly warm presentation, presenting plenty of resolution and a great sense of dynamics and rhythmical drive. The sound is velvety smooth, but still vibrant, and plays well across most genres. It is reminiscent of the smooth yet resolving Campfire Audio Andromeda (an IEM it unsurprisingly shares a very good synergy with), spitting out high levels of clarity and detail without losing the trademark butteriness and organic nature of the sound.
The DAP presents without too much emphasis on any particular part of the frequency spectrum, apart from a slight tilt in terms of overall presence in the lower mid-bass to my ears, adding a very physical thud to the sound. Pairing the QP2R with a good dynamic driver IEM like the Vega or A&K AKT8IE Mk2 (try saying that after a few beers) can really bring out the beast in the bassline, with a feeling of solidity and grip to the lower end that plants the sound firmly in the listener’s ears. The rest of the range is pretty transparent, not adding or subtracting too much in terms of character or colouration to the sound, with just a hint of warmth overall due to the juicy bass presence.
As you would imagine with the pedigree of its predecessor and the punchy pricetag, the technical capabilities of this DAP are top notch, making very good use of higher bitrate and lossless files to maximise the capabilities of higher end listening gear. The bespoke amplification technology originally pioneered by Questyle in its earlier models is still present here, and provides more than enough power to drive most low to middle impedance gear without any additional assistance. Hooking up the Vega, the QP2R has no trouble taking the thirsty diamonds in Campfire’s flagship single dynamic driver for a sonic ride, pushing them hard and really highlighting what the IEM can do when fed some serious power. That seems to be a common theme, with the ability of the gear being attached being the limiting factor to the sound, rather than any ceiling imposed by the DAC and AMP combination being used.
Balanced output adds the usual benefits of increased power and a better crosstalk figure, which translates in my ears (and in ears) to a slightly better feel of separation and a little tighter grip on the bass frequencies. I haven’t done any proper A/B comparisons at this stage (that will be coming in a week or two), but for me the balanced output definitely seems to add a small but noticeable uptick in the technical performance of the AKT8IE and Vega, so is my preferred output option fort those two IEMs when listening. The fact that Questyle have managed to nail this down with a single AK4490 DAC chip is testament to the expertise used to design the rest of the audio chain, and the quality of the included amp technology.
We will go further into the sonics and usability of the player in the second part of this review (coming soon to a simian-friendly audio website near you), but for now I’ll leave you with some thoughts on how well this unit plays with others. Synergy is a somewhat overused term in audio reviews, and unless your audio gear has a particularly low or high impedance or significant swings in the frequency response, is quite often attributed to good old fashioned expectation bias (item X sounds WAAAAY better with source Y because… well, source Y is more expensive!).
In the case of a revealing and clean sounding DAP like the QP2R, I was surprised to notice that certain gear does actually sound markedly better (over and above any slight improvement in detail or dynamism that can be attributed to the DAC and AMP setup). The Campfire Andromeda is a good example, the pairing taking the smooth yet detailed sound of the Andromeda to the next level, providing a more physical feel to the bass and enhancing the clarity of the note reproduction while keeping the trademark signature and balance to the sound. It even manages to keep the hiss down on the notoriously noisy green monster, giving the faintest whisper in low gain. It doesn’t rewrite the signature or remake it in its own image, it just seems to accentuate the strengths of both items to bring out the best parts of each.
In contract, the Zeus-XR exhibits some more unusual behaviour – while the sound is sweet and gloriously detailed, I find that the QP2R actually lessens the effect of the tuning switch on the XR to quite a noticeable degree compared to other (admittedly lower end) DAPs currently in my possession like the Hifiman Supermini or Aune M1S. It also hisses more with the QP2R than the M1S (the Hifiman can make a pair of plastic cups on a piece of rope hiss, so there wasn’t any point comparing there). Whether that says more about the other gear or the QP2R I am yet to decide, but it was an interesting discovery for a DAP with output impedance of less than 1 Ohm in single ended output.
Overall, I would say that this DAP plays nicely with most gear in my collection (as expected), but it definitely has the capacity to pick favourites – I will delve more into that in the next instalment.
This set of impressions follows on from my previous blog post about the QP2R (which you can find here), and concentrates mainly on the sonics and some comparisons with other gear. If you want to get the full picture, feel free to go back and read the first chapter – if you are the sort of person who reads the last page of a book just to see if it’s worth reading, feel free to carry on.
Note about ratings – normally in a review like this, I would post ratings in the various areas on our scoring chart. As this is a demo version of the final retail gear, and was running a Beta version of the OS, I don’t think a rating is appropriate at this stage. Micah (Glassmonkey) will be writing a sister review of the full retail version in due course, so once I have obtained confirmation about the final look and feel of the interface I will update this article with my overall scores. Now, without further ado, back to the impressions…
The interface on the QP2R has apparently been designed in collaboration with a major player in the electronics industry (powered by HiBy Music is the tagline). If so, their forte must be simplicity, as it is a slick but simplistic Linux based interface, with a few small icons and one tiled screen, relying on scrollable lists for pretty much all other functions. I’m not a touch-screen snob, so the fact that you need to use the scroll wheel or the touch sensitive buttons on the front of the unit to navigate doesn’t bother me—I veer pretty much to the function over form side of the street in most walks of life, although in comparison to other players in the same bracket some may be expecting a slightly more “luxurious” user experience.
The player boots into the main menu on first loading (after a few splash screens highlighting the Questyle logo and their Current Amplification tech), and then boots into the “Now Playing” screen once you start listening to music through it. The initial menu structure looks like the below:
Playing / by Category / Playlist / Browse Files / Settings
With the “by Category” section broken down into Tracks, Artists, Albums, Genres and DSD, all carrying a little running total on the right hand side to let you know how many entries are in each list.
The “Artists” and “Albums” sorting are where I start to struggle with the UI, with the Artists presenting each one individually in an Apple-esque “Cover Art” style, so you flick through one name at a time on the page. Two issues for me on that one – with my full 200Gb travelling card full of 320kbps and FLAC files, there are almost a thousand artists on my removable media, and no way to search for individual artists (so I’m @!*% out of luck trying to find someone starting with L or M without some serious button mashing or scroll wheel rotation, for instance). Also, the artist has a little silhouette that looks like it is meant to have a picture of the artist, but is left blank – granted, this is very much a Beta version of the firmware so may be changes substantially before official release, but in its current form the Beta just looks a little unpolished here.
Flicking to “Albums” is slightly better, but still suffers from the 1 listing at a time in the centre of the screen issue as Artists, so again not really usable to find albums in the middle of your alphabetical collection without taking a few hundred revolutions off the redesigned scroll wheel’s lifespan. There is a pop up option accessed from the haptic menu button option to add or remove albums (adding takes them to a playlist, removing them deletes them from the player), but again, without an alphabetical search function (which could live quite nicely in that little sub menu), this feels like an awful lot of work to be done to achieve the desired result. As before, please bear in mid these are impressions on a Beta release, so I will be looking on with interest to see what improvements the first official release firmware brings in this regard.
Fortunately, Genre and DSD are fully list based, so behave like various other list-based players out there and afford a far quicker way of getting to the type of music you want. The Genre menu could do with an Artists subdivision if I’m nitpicking (it just lists all tracks in one looooong list), but as I mainly use that for shuffling artists in the same sort of musical style, that isn’t too much of a necessity for daily use.
The “Browse Files” menu settings is by far the easiest, and will again be easily familiar to anyone who has used a Chinese or Asian DAP in the last 10 years. It keeps the internal and external memory nicely segregated, and loads into an easily navigable list structure based on the folders on your memory card. Again, search is lacking, but this can be worked around by simply organising the sub-folders on your card into sections like “A-D”, “E-H” etc, or however you want to do it. I won’t waste any more text on this – it’s simple, it’s robust and it just works, and is by far the easiest way to get around the music on this particular player.
The final UI section to discuss is the “Settings” menu, which opens into another list based structure from the main page. A nice touch is the configurable nature of this screen, with the first option (confusingly labelled “+ Regular Setting”) taking you into a list of all the options, and provides the opportunity to turn them on or off on the actual settings screen. It sounds simple, but taking anything that you don’t normally use (like the option to choose which way to turn the volume know to raise the volume) out of the main firing line allows for a streamlined and simplistic settings menu, which can only be a good thing in my book.
When you actually get to the meat of the menu, it’s a well designed and pretty thorough effort, allowing you to configure most aspects of the simplistic UI to your preference. Things like language, font size and cover art placeholders can all be selected at the click of a button. You can switch the way the digital volume knob works when you turn it to cater for left and right handed users, turn the volume wheel off when the screen is off (an absolute necessity of you don’t want to blow your brains into your lap when the uber-sensitive wheel mechanism ignores the nice looking chassis guard and rotates in your pocket when you move your leg – I just managed to get my T8IEs out before I ended up permanently hearing in monochrome before I discovered this setting) and make various other tweaks to start up volume, track positions on start etc. Suffice to say, if it is a working part of the UI and worth including, you can probably do it or tweak it slightly on this DAP. While some of the options might seem like overkill, once you have set the player up how you like it, you can just turn off the now-redundant menu settings as described above. This probably wouldn’t work as well for a touch based and more icon-reliant UI, but it is an approach I wish more manufacturers would consider, as it really adds a sense of polish and customisation to the whole user experience.
The more useful audio settings are all there as you would expect – three gain settings (low, mid and high), a DSD gain setting allowing up to 6dBs variance on DSD recordings and a BIAS setting to switch between standard and high. As divulged below, I couldn’t actually discern any audible difference with this mode on or off with my gear, but most things I ran through the player were IEMs without any major driving requirements so this may be different for more demanding over-ear gear..
Onboard EQ is of the 10-band variety and very easy to use, again allowing up to + or – 6dB adjustment in each frequency band. There are only 2 saved EQ “preset” slots, so for the diehard tweakers/Cowon users out there this may not provide enough customisation to allow for a different setting for each pair of cans you own or allow drastic differences in the soundscape, but it is a nice inclusion. Some of the more “purist” audiophile DAPs seem to be moving away from EQ in favour of presenting sonics exactly as recorded, but even though I don’t tend to use any, the ability to slightly tweak signature to allow for variances in source material or listening gear to make things sound best for me is an important tool to ensure maximum enjoyment of the whole listening experience.
Ability to adjust L/R balance is another nice inclusion for those with wonky ears (or gear), and an adjustable lineout setting to allow external amping without forcing the full output is another valuable option. I have an IMS Hybrid Valve Amp, and while beautiful sounding, it has a tendency to distort when the input voltage is too high (well documented in the reviews on Head-Fi), so keeping the output of the source at around 75% is usually the sweet spot to avoid introducing any noise into the output and still get the benefits of the wonderful tube harmonics. Again, it seems simple but isn’t universally adopted, so kudos to Questyle for making it an option.
The USB connector allows for the QP2R to be used as a pass-through DAC (another setting). My laptop likes allowing this about as much as the kite eating tree likes Charlie Brown’s kites in Peanuts, so I will be honest and say that I didn’t actually spend any time trying this due to time constraints when writing up this review. I will leave other reviewers to comment, but presuming it works as intended, this should be another nice option in tandem with the USB-C charging dock included as standard for those who like sitting at their PC and listening to music.
As I may have mentioned in previous DAP reviews, trying to describe the tonality of something that is basically defined by its output device is a tricky proposition. With the Questyle, I think it is will be easier to describe the generalities of what it brings to the table rather than proclaiming any absolute truths.
Firstly, the basic sound is pretty much neutral across the board, apart from the previously mentioned slight uptick in bass. In fact, it is more a sense of thickness in the lower end of the spectrum rather than actual volume increase that seems to be the one solid takeaway from my pairings with different monitors. This is a sound that has body, not being afraid to add some serious weight to music when called for, comfortable that this won’t deaden the underlying resolution being pumped out from the single AK4490 powering their amp section. This weight isn’t the dead variety, swinging around the soundscape as directed by the DAP and contributing to the sense of dynamism that the QP2R brings to any sort of music that isn’t written by Morrisey (some things just can’t be un-depressed). Overall, there is a sense of gravitas about the music that just sounds right, staying musical rather than analytical but not leaving any details on the cutting room floor in the process.
Speaking to people more familiar with the QP1R signature (I only had access to it for a month or so), there seems to be a tradeoff in absolute terms between the more “lively” and dynamic sound of the QP1R and the more laid back but sophisticated sound of the QP2 model. They are both definitely cut from the same cloth, but from my own audio memory the encore model has a better sense of resolution and clarity at the expense of a little smidgen of rhythmic drive and shade.
Frequency extension is fine on both ends of the scale, the slight bass thickness giving way to a very good reach down into the lowest of lows, and treble holding firm right up to the limits of my IEM-and-age ravaged hearing.
As with all gear in this sort of price bracket, these are the finest of margins we are talking about here – the QP2R is certainly streets ahead of my entry level players like the Aune M1S, and firmly deserves a place at the head of the mid-tier price bracket out of all the various DAPs I have spent time with or heard recently.
Aune M1S (balanced with Trinity Hunter)
The Questyle QP2R has more sub bass, and a warmer and thicker sound overall. Slightly more fullness to vocals, with a more forward stage positioning. Aune feels a little less organic, more air between notes due to the thinner overall structure. Detail levels are similar, with the thicker sound of the QP2R still extracting very high levels of detail. Overall, the QP2R is just a little more dynamic sounding for my preferences, but given the price differential the difference in performance on balanced output is small rather than massively noticeable. Build goes to the QP2R – usability is roughly equal, with the QP2R feeling more polished but losing out to the elegant simplicity and speed of use of the Aune’s 1960s style text based UI. Battery life is similar, with the QP2R having a significant advantage when driving higher impedance or sensitivity hardware due to the extra grunt and technical prowess of the amp section. Noise floor is actually lower on the M1s, producing noticeably less hiss with my Zeus-XR than the Questyle as soon as the amp engages. The Aune is simpler but more reliable for on the go use, not suffering from the hyper-sensitive front screen buttons or the easily turnable volume dial that can leave the Questyle scooping out the inside of your head with a sonic boom after an unfortunate pocket adjustment.
Audio Opus Opus #3
This is the mid-tier offering from the makers of the well-received Opus #1, which confusingly sits in between the #1 at “entry level” and their current flagship the #2. The Opus #3 is an Android based player with a solid metal build and full touchscreen. Overall, the build is far more industrial and less refined than the elegant glass and metal lines of the QP2R, feeling less solid in the hand and more angular in the pocket. One thing it does have over the Questyle in this area is multiple textured surfaces to hold on to for the user – the QP2R is so slippery it could probably run for public office, and has a tendency to slip off any surface at alarming speed if it isn’t 100% flat and covered in glue. In fact, if Questyle ever wish to branch out, designing bobsleighs for the Winter Olympics would easily make them a lot of money.
In terms of sonics, the Opus comes off a little more dry and overtly textured than the more liquid QP2R, with more “in your face” detail retrieval at the expense of a little dynamic heft. In practice, the QP2R pulls the same amount of detail out of tracks I know well as the Opus, but does so in a slightly different manner, with softer edges but a tiny bit more clarity. Neither are lacking in this particular area, so it is more a question of preference over performance here. Driving power on both is more than adequate for my entire IEM collection, and I don’t have any voltage monsters like the HD800 to test the far limits of the onboard amp performance – for in ear gear, both players have more than enough gas to get the job done with headroom to spare.
Usability is an interesting comparison – the Opus uses a “walled garden” interpretation of Android, cut down to a basic “now playing” style menu structure and a few options for Wifi and Bluetooth. The touchscreen does make it very intuitive in the main, but in some areas it does feel a little more laborious than the Questyle to get to the end result. They both share a curious lack of search options, but the Opus comes out better on that front due to the faster scrolling and ability to use a screen slider to move quickly from one end of the list to the other on Artist or Album categories.
(A note on high bias – the Questyle comments I have read suggest this is like a “supercharger” for the amp, but to my less highly trained ears, there is no obvious change to dynamics or volume/resolution in either standard or high mode. For sake of getting the best sound, I have left the DAP in high bias for all comparisons just in case).
Campfire Audio Andromeda
This is one pairing that absolutely sings with the QP2R, achieving normal listening volumes for me with a very slight hiss on around 20/60 on low gain. The sound is full and rich, and despite the slight warmth in the low end of the Questyle, doesn’t flavour the sound of the Andromeda too much from the carefully tuned balance achieved in Campfire’s co-flagship. Where the pairing really excels is in bringing out the best of both tunings. The Andromeda is smooth and musical, but capable of very high levels of detail retrieval/clarity at the same time. Paired with the QP2R, this takes this to the next level. The smoothness and substance are still there, but the tiny details you know in your favourite tracks are just that little bit more clearly separated from the background with this pairing, not having any extra emphasis as such, but just being presented on a slightly clearer and blacker background. As with all high end audio, we are talking about fractional improvements rather than “Oh my God, someone is playing a tuba on this track – who knew?!” levels of sonic step-up, but if you are in the market for a £1k+ DAP and similarly priced IEMs to listen to it through, these are most likely the sort of improvements you are likely to accept in the never ending search for “endgame”.
Empire Ears Zeus-XR
The QP2R again makes a wonderful pairing with the non-ADEL flagship of the Empire Ears line, but behaves slightly differently. I don’t understand enough about the proprietary amping tech and how it will interact with things like impedance curves on high sensitivity/low impedance gear yet (I’m trying!), but the XR does exhibit some notably more exaggerated behaviour when hooked up to the Questyle compared to my lower quality gear. For instance, on the Aune M1S, the difference between the two crossover modes on the XR is small but easily identifiable, bringing the warmth up around the mids and adding just a quarter more Keith Moon to the drum impacts. With the QP2R, the difference is far more subtle. Yes, it is still noticeable, but to my ears the two modes are definitely closer together in signature to start with, almost as if the output is forcing the two configurations to behave more similarly by accentuating or damping some frequencies that are otherwise kept in check by the 7 or 8 crossover circuitry in the shells.
Notes about crossover convergence aside, the QP2R does a similar job on the XR as it does on the Andromeda, maximising the otherworldly clarity that the Zeus is capable of with well mastered high bitrate files without removing any of the smoothness and zero-fatigue presentation that makes it so enjoyable. Smoothly detailed is a phrase I’ve seen coined by a few other reviewers over the last 18 months to describe various things, but it really does apply to this DAP and this matchup.
Campfire Audio Vega
This was a matchup that I remember from my time with the QP1R as another great pairing, and true to form sounds very impressive with the 2nd generation model. It requires more gas than the Andro, idling at around 30/60 on low gain but not showing any appreciable hiss as a result of the slight increase in driving requirements. The thing I really remember about the QP1R pairing and the Vega was the dynamics on classical music when the taps were fully open. Ken Ball at ALO/Campfire also suggests giving the Vega as much power as you have on hand to really get the diamonds in the driver glittering, so I cranked up the gain to high and dropped the volume (between 18 and 20 on the high gain setting) to see if that made a difference. It is suitably sweeping and majestic, but didn’t quite give me the same sense of extreme light and shade that I remember from the QP1R. Audio memory is notoriously fickle and I have been spending time with some new flagship level gear since then which has limited listening time with the Vega and its rare talents, so please take that with a pinch of salt, but for me the QP1R may just have the slight edge in this pair-up in terms of dynamics. In the rest of the spectrum, the Vega sounds exceptionally clear and vibrant with the Questyle, the meaty low end exhibiting serious levels of grip and control and not altering significantly under the signature of the QP2R. In terms of transparency, that speaks highly of the Questyle product for me, able to maximise the strong points of three top level and very different sounding IEMs but not subtracting or altering anything from their baseline quality and what makes them unique. One track I feel really shows the Vega in its most awe-inspiring light is a non-audiophile track, “Freak On A Leash” by Korn. It’s not massively clear or particularly well mastered, but the first time I heard this through the Vega, the bass drop that hits in the middle of the song took me by the scruff of the neck and shook every single goosepimple out of hiding. Kicking it off on the QP2R, the effect is just as I remembered, Fieldy’s bass and the subterranean riff hitting square in the middle of my chest and giving my forearms the appearance of a really long gooseberry. For me, that is what good gear is supposed to do: take you somewhere else, finding the soul of the music and bringing it into focus in your ears.
Balanced vs Unbalanced
This is always a controversial topic, but from my experience over the last month or so, this is a player that can definitely maximise the potential of a balanced headphone/IEM. The sound shares the similar baseline qualities, but balanced output at the same volume level seems to bring a little more dynamism and snap to proceedings, along with widening the overall stage area for me (probably due to the increased crosstalk figures). I’m no evangelist for either cables or balanced output, but my suggestion would be that if you have a balanced connection you can use in the QP2R’s audio chain between you and the music, you should definitely be using it.
When coming to write up my final verdict, I struggled with a way to sum up the overall experience of listening to (and using) the QP2R over the last few weeks. After writing and unwriting a lot of flowery words, it all comes down to this: this is a damn fine… no, damn great sounding digital audio player. It has a sense of dynamism and solidity to the sound that evokes a good old fashioned speaker system, giving weight and emotion to your music but without distorting the essence of the sound. This DAP simply sounds good with everything I have tried it with, giving a full-bodied sound and an effortless sense of detailing that just allow me to drift away into the music. Yes, there are a few rough edges to be polished off the firmware, but it is a major improvement on the OS for its predecessor, and some of the usability touches already baked in show some real thought and care has gone into the design.
Bottom line – it won’t make your $150 IEMs sound like $1500 IEMs, but if you happen to have a set of $1500 ear candy hanging around, it will certainly make the most of what they can provide, and put a dirty great smile on your face in the process. If you are looking for the most analytical, or most powerful, or most feature packed DAP on the market in this pricerange, you will need to look elsewhere. If you are just looking for something that sounds amazing with your music collection and will pretty much power most portable gear without needing another amp, then the QP2R is hard to beat in this price bracket. The sound is slightly more refined than its younger brother, but capable of a similar level of dynamics through the balanced output, so for me, it is an easy recommendation. It just sounds great.