AXPONA 2016: ENIGMAcoustics and Questyle declare war on tubes and Class-A amplification

Something wicked this way comes.

axpona[Something witty here.]

That’s what I first wrote as placeholder text when I started putting this post together, but looking at it now as I write this, I think I’ll just leave it as a reminder to not always try to be funny. I wanted to start this post with, well… something witty, but the more I thought about the ENIGMAcoustics Mythology M1 ($14, 690 USD — reviewed here) hybrid loudspeakers the less witty I felt, and the more seriously impressed I was becoming. These speakers exude a real visual sense of both refinement, and muscular authority.

Whether it’s the Sopranino supertweeter on top ($3,690 USD, available separately), or the deep, glossy black cabinets, the design was impressive to my eyes, and unique enough to stop me in my tracks as I casually glanced in while walking past the hotel room on the third floor of the Westin O’Hare.

Then I sat down, and heard them.

Really. Super. Tweeter.

Wei Chang of Irvine, California’s ENIGMAcoustics was feeding the M1s a steady diet of 16/44 WAV files via Questyle Audio‘s gorgeous handheld QP1R Digital Audio Player (DAP, $1,000 USD) through their dedicated 5.4 Ghz T2 Transmitter, and R200i wireless receiver/monoblock amplifiers ($4,000 USD paired, FCC-approved!), and the sound was incredibly deep, rich, sweeping in scope, organic, and HUGE. The crazy, massive speaker cabling were Magnan Signature speaker cables ($1,000 USD per 7-foot pair)  featuring 4 1/2″ wide, flat copper ribbon for each polarity. Cardas spades were on this set, but they’re available with banana plugs or WBT connectors as a $360 USD upgrade.

AXPONA coverage brought to you by Underwood HiFi, Exogal and Emerald Physics

From the Questyle website on the T2 transmitter:

The Questyle Audio T2 Wireless Transmitter/Controller receives digital signal through USB, Coaxial, and Optical inputs, as well as, Analog signal through RCA inputs (which is converted to digital via a dedicated ADC circuit). User friendly design, allows for simple plug and play operation, and it will start working as soon as you plug in the power cord, no need for any complex setup procedure.

The wireless transmission supports high resolution, 24bit communication, which employs a FIFO cache and digital PL technology, reducing Jitter to undetectable levels. The Questyle Audio 5GHz Wireless Audio System also supports multiple receiver applications, allowing one transmitter to connect with up to 8 receivers.

From the Questyle website on theR200 mono blocks:

The Questyle Audio R100 and R200 Wireless Amplifiers are actually an integration of wireless receiver, DAC and amplifier. The Questyle Audio R100 Wireless Amplifier is a 50W per channel stereo amplifier, whereas, the Questyle Audio R200 Wireless Amplifier is a 200W Mono block switchable between left and right channel via a switch on the bottom of the R200. The Questyle Audio R200, with its high power output (an incredible 20A output current capacity), is able to drive even the most demanding of speaker systems. The Questyle Audio R100 and R200, both feature modified Danish ICEpower Class D amplification modules with an ultra-low distortion of 0.004%, and a Signal to Noise Ratio of 104db, as well as the legendary Wolfson DAC chip to ensure the highest sound performance possible.

From the Questyle website on the QP1R DAP:

Three years ago, we sparked upon a plan to design a high-resolution portable music player (DAP). For our first DAP, we set ourselves an almost impossible goal. That was, to make it possible, for true music lovers and professional audiophiles, to enjoy the same Hi-Fi listening experience achieved in state of the art home based systems, in a portable body. This means, the circuit design, the device, the system architecture, as well as, the industrial design and processes, must all be reconsidered all. We looked forward to it, as not just portable Hi-Fi equipment, but, as the future of Hi-Fi itself.

An Impressive arc body with a twin steering wheel design, supporting DSD128 & 24/192kHz PCM files, pure class A, discrete transistors and components, headphone amplifier, incorporating Questyle Audio’s patented “Current Mode Amplification” to ensure warm and powerful sound, which makes the QP1R masterpieces of portable DAPs.

Full disclosure: I’m a tube geek of the highest order, but I’ve developed a crush on digital for the punchy, and dynamic sound I’ve heard previously from Devialet’s amplifiers (which feature a unique, and patented amplification topology of Class-D output modules slaved to a master Class-A input section), and what I was hearing from this combo instantly reminded me of the Devialet 200… only at half the price (and the R200 is not an integrated, I know, and no phono stage, I KNOW, but you get where I’m going… RIGHT?). Also, I like the idea of super-short speaker cables connecting the mono blocks (because of the close-placement option mono blocks afford) to whatever speakers they’re driving, something not possible unless you bridge the Devialet 200 with another 200 (creating a Devialet 400 dual-mono), which then doubles its $9,495 USD price to $17,495 USD. The Questyle system, does lack the Devialet’s phono stage — but this doesn’t bother me at all, since I’d have no interest in trying to make this set-up perform any other task than delivering wireless high-res streaming. YMMV.

The 5.4 Ghz band of dedicated wireless makes for gobs of bandwidth.

In discussing this room with a few tube friends of mine, much scorn has been heaped upon me, yet I will not backtrack on my assertion (wait for it…) that this was one of the best rooms I heard at AXPONA 2016, perhaps even the best (gasp!). How is this possible you ask?  That a directly-heated triode, Class-A amplification certified neophyte, vinyl collecting, analog snob like me could possibly find emotional connection via 1) digital files, 2) wireless digital, 3) Class-D amplification, and 4) a portable digital player?

The proof, as they say (they say soooo much, don’t they?), in the proverbial pudding is in the eating. Or in this case, the listening. And listening to this combination, I couldn’t find anything to fault. It was musical as all hell, and just owned the room. Not sure about DSP in the future of Questyle, because if they go that route, sh*t is going to get real awful fast for other manufacturers looking over their shoulders. It’s digital! Class-D! Gah!

But this, my dear readers, was a f*cking Christmas miracle in April.

award-sighting-smI cannot recommend these speakers, or this wireless digital streamer/DAC/amplifier system, highly enough. I know that, once again, I may be calling my SET/analog credentials into doubt with this room review, but I’ll be damned if I won’t give credit where credit is due. In my most humble opinion, this should be a warning to many audiophiles that Class-D is making rapid, and deeply disturbing (to some) inroads into territory once solely considered (and rightly so) the domain of Class-A amplifiers, and DHT, SET tube amplifiers in particular.

Wei Chang reconnects the Sopranino super tweeters during an A/B comparison of with/without them.