Even in this summer (and autumn) of Trump and his blatherings about China, the Chinese soldier on and refine products that were once only private members of the highest end audio. I still suggest to my students that they stay away from Chinese flutes — oh yes, the case looks good, but the instruments in the here and now are still shadows of the great American and Japanese instruments. But that will change.
Korea has made the transition. Remember the Hyundai Pony? A disposable car. Jump 15 years and we have the Sonata and the Equus. Splendid and easily comparable with Japanese makers. As for audio, the Koreans have Astell & Kern, sounding more like a New York law firm, but maker of super high end portable digital audio players. I reviewed their AK120 and was very impressed by the superb sound and superior build quality.
Along comes Questyle, a Chinese manufacturer dedicated to produce only the very best high end products.
When I received the package with the Questyle Audio Engineering QP1R Portable Digital Audio Player, I did not know the box's geographical origin. What I found was a nicely packaged block of machined aluminum. The player felt beautifully tactile in the hand. Add a great screen, haptic feedback (easily as good as the Apple Watch and 3D touch on the new iPhone), a wonderful scroll wheel, and you’ll be sporting one of the best looking players in the market segment. Price is US$899.00.
If you've ever used an Apple music product, you'll be familiar with the Questyle navigation. It was even made at the same factory as Apple products, Foxconn. There is no touchscreen (a very expensive add on), but navigation is so intuitive that one would seem superfluous. Think Apple hardware and Android software. As such, you'll get haptic Home, Back, Reverse and Forward buttons. A beautifully machined volume scroll and a side on/off button.
My player came loaded with high end files. Got to love professional, caring distributors. The unit was broken in and took but a short tour to get the hang of it. You'll be playing files in no time. I used two sets of headphones for the review. The Masters & Dynamic MH40 and the Bowers & Wilkins C5 In-ear Headphones. Both are very comfortable in position, have elevated highs, beautifully balanced midrange and outstanding, resonant bass.
The player comes in two versions, QP1 as standard, and the reference version I'm reviewing, the QP1R. The QP1R uses higher quality components, as well as a 'more critical approach to the audio circuit'. It is said to produce lower distortion (QP1R THD+N=0.0006%, QP1 THD+N=0.0015%) and superior sound quality. The QP1R also employs a different circuit board, a larger internal storage chip, and a different version of the software.
Playing any type of file is no problem. Both the standard and the ref players support ALAC, APE, FLAC, AIFF, WAV, WMA Lossless up to 24bit/192kHz and highres audio files such as DSD128 and DSD64. Internal memory is 32GB and the unit can accommodate two 128G external SD Cards. Charging and file import is via micro USB.
As I don't regularly listen to mobile audio, it always comes as a shock how far the art and science has progressed with each new generation of players. The files are the files. They exist. How the electronics interpret those files is where the real art is.
In direct comparison, the look of the Astell & Kern AK120 is right up my street. Gorgeous in every detail -- screen, touch, with superlative sound. The QP1R is almost there as a looker, but seems slightly derivative of the Astell. That said, what little the Questyle gives up in looks, it recaptures and surpasses in sound.
The sound is truly spectacular in delivery, musicality, balance and resolution. It also draws you into the music as only the best mobile can. If you listen solo on the couch late at night looking out at a night sky, you'll be transported some place magical. I was nightly.
The intimacy does not overpower the thrill -- if your thing is well recorded, full orchestral, you'll feel the oomph right through the couch cushions and the bass response will have you reaching mistakenly for the sub volume control on your main system remote. As realization dawns, throw on some Vilde Frang Mozart Violin Concertos (a contender for Audiophilia record of the year -- CD and Tidal HiFi) for the tingle and thringle. Her paying is so tactile -- audiophiles, you'll hear her fingers depressing the strings of the fingerboard, the resolution is that good, and musicians, you won't give a damn because she is such a magician.
Vocals sound tremendous -- incredible immediacy and emotional connection. The distributor downloaded a few albums from artists hitherto unknown to me. Na Yoon-sun is a very fine South Korean jazz singer. The crispness of her diction, vocal technique and style were very impressive. The album was her eighth, Lento. There was that intimacy again. You'll feel the QP1R is akin to a time machine in that time can be suspended. The stress will float away.
I assume all the new, expensive players can suspend time and place given the right recording and circumstances. Both the Astell and the Questyle do it easily. If design is as important as sound, then you may well choose Astell if pushed, but if sound is trumps, then the Questyle QP1R is the kit for you. If the Astell & Kern players are the Rolex of the digital audio player world (and Astell is now up to its AK380 and four times the price of the QP1R), Questyle is surely the Omega. A wonderful product and very highly recommended.
Further information: Questyle Audio Engineering