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.
Coming in part 2
Our intrepid reporter delves further into how the QP2R sounds paired with the Campfire Andromeda, Vega, A&K AKT8IE, Zeus-XR (CIEM) and a unique custom-custom IEM from CustomArt. He will also see if he can put words to electronic paper to more accurately describe the sound and user interface. Tune in soon to find out how he gets on!