If a big stack of gear is your idea of “divide and conquer” in the world of personal audio, then Questyle is your one-stop shop.
Truly impressive was their “Golden Reference Stack”: two CMA800R Golden amps (dual mono, dontcha know), fronted by a CMA800P Golden preamp, with a CAS192D Golden DAC feeding them.
The upcharge for the “Golden Reference” version of these guys is $1,000 each ($1,500 >> $2,500), which gets you a ceramic circuit board (!) and a suite of upgraded bits-and-bobs, as well as the gold finish and bragging rights to audio awesomeness.
I’m going to need a whole lot more time to pass any sort of judgment that is clearly separable from gas, but my brief interlude was impressive. Also impressive was the real-estate needed — not a system for anyone faint-of-heart, this.
A bit more in line with my desktop (and wallet) was the new integrated, the CMA600i, an integrated DAC and headphone amplifier:
Baby brother to the award-winning CMA800i, the entry level CMA600i utilizes a USB port that adopts a unique 3X Clock structure. This ensures a proper sync with the premium AK4490 32-bit DAC chipset from AKM. The chipset includes a newly developed switch capacitor filter “OSR Doubler” that greatly reduces sound degradation from noise shaping, achieving a flat noise floor up to 200 kHz! The AK4490 chip obtains first-class sound performance by also reducing jitter and pre-ringing to undetectable levels. The CMA600i also features a 4-pin balanced XLR stereo output, accommodating balanced headphones with a single integrated DAC/headphone amp. Apart from the USB input, the CMA600i is also equipped with XLR and RCA pre-amplifier outputs–all supporting 24-bit/192-kHz transmission and allowing for a power amplifier to be connected, thus allowing the CMA600i to be used as a premium DAC/Preamp. The CMA600i is available in space gray now for $1,299.99.
A little bird told me that this new guy is the value-leader in the current lineup — sporting significant trickle-down tech and some additional tweaks, making it something of a steal.
Also in-room, I found a whole bunch of Dharma headphones ($1,190) from ENIGMAcoustics— these are dynamic/electrostat hybrid headphones that do not require a specialty amplifier to drive. Neat trick, that.
John Grandberg has a set in for review, so I’ll hold off on my comments for now, other than to offer — “very exciting”.
Last but not least, Westone dominated fully half the room with their IEMs scattered about like jewels ready for a swap meet.
The newest twists on an old theme? The Skeleton IEM.
As the name suggests, it’s a 3-D printed IEM that’s been … hollowed out. Yes! Skeletonized, baby. It’s what happens after all the flesh-eating beetles are dumped into a bucket of in-ear monitor shells. Okay, no, but maybe it helps to think of it that way. Okay, no, but it is the way I think about it …. Hmm.
The Skeletons have up to a dual-driver complement — there’s not a lot of room in there — and retail for $249.99 for the S10 single driver, and $349.99 for the S20 for the dual driver version. Given that they’re customs, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of an audio tour but I can already feel how minimal these would be — and for those that play with the newest in in-ears, this is kind of huge. No, not for letting ambient noise in, but instead, for simply being comfortable. “Modern” in-ears add more and more stuff into the shells, making them bigger and heavier — the Skeleton, by contrast, goes exactly the other direction. And that, my friends, is audio winning.
On a related side note, Weston will be releasing a new “ambient” IEM utilizing a tech they call “SLED” (“Sonic Low Pressure Equalization”), which is designed to maximize bass response — an issue with most ambient-sound-friendly in-ear monitors. The new models, the AM10, AM20 and AM30 (with single, dual and triple balanced armatures and $189.99, $339.99 and $439.99, respectively), are due “soon” — as in now; the AM10 became available on 3/29 — the rest will be start moving out in about 30 days.
Also new, the Westone Bluetooth audio cable. The cable features an 8-hour battery life and support for the aptX Bluetooth codec. Any IEM that’s got an MMCX connector is compatible. Availability will June — expect to see it at $149.