One of the best, but at what cost?
Pros: Great Sound
Lots of inputs and outputs
Sturdy, good looks
No USB B cable included – for why?
Up for review today is the Questyle Current Mode Amplification (CMA) Fifteen (not 15.) This was sent to me by Todd at Todd The Vinyl Junkie, from https://www.ttvjaudio.com/. This is a loaner only, designed to make me want to spend $2,799.00 on one of these. I mean…mission accomplished Todd, this is a compact and amazing-sounding DAC/amp all-in-one. The price is certainly a bit prohibitive, but if you can afford it, this is a really good-sounding DAC/amp.
Build Quality / Design / Specs (18/20):
The build quality is excellent and feels like multiple plates of aluminum put together into a DAC/amp box. It’s a bit large horizontally, but far smaller than my Cocktail Audio HA500H. It’s really well built, but picks up fingerprints like it’s going out of style (I know because the previous person who reviewed this left them everywhere (bleh.) The bias control switch appears to do nothing. Literally, nothing, so that’s odd. I can switch it on in the middle of playing music and nothing changes. The function switch changes the CMA 15 from a DAC/amp to just a DAC if you want to power it with some more different amp. This only seems necessary if you need nuclear power plant levels of power – it’s plenty powerful on its own.
The overall design is good if you like black monolithic boxes made from aluminum with orange glowy lights. Admittedly, I prefer the looks of the Headamp GS-X mini, etc. since you can pick a color other than black. The blue on those is fantastic and I wish more companies moved away from everything being black – it’s not an attractive product, just functional.
The CMA Fifteen comes with just about all of the specs you could possibly need from a DAC/amp (except a tube amp.) 32bit/768k output? Check. LDAC Bluetooth connection? Check. Apple Music Lossless? Check. Balanced 4.4mm and 4-pin XLR? Check. MQA? CHECK! DSD?! CHECK-aroonie. There are a ton of inputs and outputs as well. It will also preamp for you, hook up to your powered speakers, and it has ugly orange LEDs as well (and one cool blue one for MQA, which should be magenta.) Oh, and a TON of power – it has that too. I have it powering my JM Audio XTC-Os from the 4-pin balanced jack at 2/10 volume. There is no gain control, so you get what you get. Possibly even Susvara power levels here. It’s only 2W at 32 ohms, but it feels MUCH more powerful than that. It feels more powerful than the Burson Conductor’s 6W of power, even if it’s not (on paper.)
Not great. The remote is really nice, but the only other thing it comes with is a power cable. That’s it. A remote and a power cable. What is with companies selling something for crazy money and not including any accessories? The $450 Topping DX5 (Here) comes with tons of accessories, heck, the Burson Conductor 3XP comes with more accessories than that at $1,400 retail. Yet the Cocktail Audio HA500H and the Questyle CMA Fifteen come with a remote and a power cable and nothing else. Oh, my bad, it does come with a Mini-CD. Yes, those things that are half the size of a regular CD, that no one has placed in their computer for the last 10 years (who still has a CD drive?) – way to stay in tune with technology Questyle (USB drives are really cheap now.) That’s it. But WAIT! Cable Rant.
CABLE RANT!!! Yes, a power cable is important to include with your product. Do you know what else is important to include? A cable to connect to your computer. No one uses USB B cables anymore, except in the audio world for some reason. Very few people just have one laying around because printers, the only thing that ever really used USB B cables, are all wireless now! So not including one is a cardinal sin in my opinion. Luckily, I had an extra one laying around from a printer I got YESTERDAY…which I use wirelessly. So, I didn’t have to pull the one off my HA500H, which also did not come with one. At least the Burson Conductor 3XP came with a USB C cable (a common connection type in the 2020s), though it was the shortest cable ever (1.5ft.) Do you know what came with a good-length cable intended for use with it? The $450 Topping DX5! Add a USB B cable – it’s not hard, and not expensive, and it won’t annoy your customer when they have to go buy one, especially a crappy one from Best Buy, or a $50 AudioQuest Pearl from Amazon (Here) and wait for it to arrive in a day or two. Cable Rant Complete.
Software / Setup / Ease of Use (20/20):
Best. Ever. I’m not kidding. Maybe it’s because I’ve installed so much other software before from all the DAC/amps I’ve used on this computer for reviews. But, I didn’t have to install anything, it even beats the HA500H’s easy installation and it kicks the crap out of the DX5 and Burson 3XP’s software installation. I literally just plugged the CMA 15 into my computer and selected it as the audio output on Tidal. BOOM! That was it – easiest ever. It also automatically knows when to MQA if you have it set to Exclusive Mode and Software Bypass (which you should do automatically if you have Tidal HiFi.) So yeah, max points here. I have nothing to add, weird – not a single complaint.
Performance / Sound (20/20):
Oh yes. It’s really good, and the only real reason to buy this DAC/amp other than the easy install. It sounds fantastic. Running through my test tracks playlist with my JM Audio XTC-Open blows my mind at how good it sounds. There is so much body and soundstage and everything just sounds fantastic. It even sounds a little better than my HA500H. Just…not much better. The CMA Fifteen feels a little bassier, and a little less “thin,” and that’s it. Realistically, all you have to do to change that is turn on the tube on the HA500H and they sound basically the same. Is it worth 2x the price for the CMA Fifteen? No. More on that in the next section, but the reality is that the CMA Fifteen sounds as good as the HA500H, and better than a lot of cheaper options, but probably not good enough that it’s worth the price.
Comparisons / Price (10/20):
Yes, the price. $2,800 is a stupid amount of money. You can get a REALLY nice set of headphones for that much. I’d recommend you do that and get a much cheaper DAC/amp. The Cocktail Audio has everything the CMA Fifteen has, with a tad less power, and no 4.4mm jack. But it’s been on sale for $1,400 for as long as I can remember (normally $2,400.) That’s quite literally 50% of the cost for basically the same performance, but with TUBE technology KYLE! If you want a 4.4mm jack, grab a Shanling M6 Ultra DAP with the money you save by not buying the CMA Fifteen, or an IBasso DX320 – whatever, you do you. Even the Burson Conductor 3XP and the Topping DX5 make a good argument for getting one of them. Yes, the Topping won’t sound as good or have the 4.4mm jack, but it’s 1/6th the price. For most people, it’ll get the job done. The 3XP has a TON more power if you need it, even though the setup is a PAIN and it doesn’t sound quite as good as either the HA500H or the CMA Fifteen. But really, as long as the 1.8W of power is good enough for you, just get the HA500H, it even has a screen. Yes, the HA500H is huge, and it may not fit your system, so there’s that. Also, it’s a relatively unknown company out of Korea, so there’s that. Also, the remote’s not great. But it’s HALF as much – simple math.
This is very simple, if you want the best DAC/amp, get the Chord Dave. It’s like $14,000. It’ll probably make you hear angels on your Susvara. If you have the money, do it. If you want the best under $5k, the CMA Fifteen might just be that, especially if you want to listen to 4.4mm IEMs for some reason on your desktop setup (don’t blow them out.) If you have a Utopia or a Susvara or an Expanse, and you really want to make sure your source is as good as it can get, the CMA Fifteen should be at the top of your list. Realistically though, for half the price, you can get 99% of the performance (and still no USB B cable) from the HA500H.
Wolfhawk’s Rating: 73/100