Questyle M12 mobile headphone amplifier with DAC delivers high-resolution lossless sound

If you are listening to music on your phone using earphones or wireless headphones, you can probably skip this review. However, if you still physically connect to your phone to get the best possible audio quality, you will be interested in the Questyle M12. This is an ultra-compact mobile headphone amplifier designed to make your headphones sound even better. Perhaps more importantly, the Questyle M12’s built-in DAC is superior to that of your phone. This means that you can enjoy the high resolution lossless audio that streaming music services like Apple Music and Amazon Music HD now offer.

Unboxing and first impressions

The Questyle M12 makes a good first impression. The mobile headphone amplifier is tiny. The size of a USB flash drive is tiny. If you don’t mind having a wire plugged into your phone, I doubt you would be upset with adding the M12 to the mix. Both ends of the M12 handle I / O duty, so it is part of a garland. Your headphones plug into the 3.5mm audio output jack on one end. The other end is a USB-C port. It connects to your device (smartphone, tablet, laptop or other) for audio input and power.

The amplifier is not only small and powerful, it is also attractive. Housed in an anodized aluminum shell, you have the choice of a black or silver finish.

There are tiny LED indicators that light up if any MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) files are being processed, and to show whether it is operating with a low or high gain output – the amp automatically adjusts this setting by depending on your helmet.

Questyle includes several USB-C cables in the box, but if you’re an iPhone user, you’ll want to get the optional USB-C to light cable. I tried Apple’s USB-C to Lightning cable and couldn’t get it to work …

Wired headphones sound better

Wireless Bluetooth headphones are great for listening to music without the hassle of a wire. However, those who are serious about the experience know that bringing the wire back into the equation improves sound quality.

I have found that adding the Questyle M12 headphone amp to the equation can make a difference in making the audio sound even better. I tested with a pair of Dali IO6 headphones (they are wireless but can be connected using a wire), a great set of headphones which made my gift guide for music lovers 2020 and a pair Audeze LCD-1 Planar Magnetic earphones that Forbes contributor Mark Sparrow reviewed last summer.

The difference was subtle – more defined bass and music that could be played at higher volumes without distortion – but it was there. These are both low impedance headphones, so the M12 wouldn’t perform as hard. If you plug in a pair of high impedance headphones (these push the capabilities of a phone), the amplifier would make an even more noticeable difference.

I have to be clear here that if you plug in some basic headphones like the $ 59 promotions that are flooding Amazon, you won’t notice any difference. A headphone amp is not a magic box, and an enhanced audio signal cannot overcome the limitations of inexpensive drivers.

High resolution lossless audio support

The real win for me came when I tried out Apple Music’s new Hi-Res Lossless option. These tracks are encoded at a maximum resolution of 24 bits / 192 kHz. However, if you try to listen to these songs even with Apple AirPods Max using a wired connection, you will see a disappointing message on your iPhone.

Apple claims that the DAC of its iPhone and iPad models can support a maximum audio resolution of 48 kHz. You can stream this music in Hi-Res Lossless, but you won’t actually hear it on your headphones, no matter how good they are.

However, Questyle M12’s built-in DAC can decode files up to PCM 384kHz / 32bit and DSD256. Plug in your headphones and you can enjoy all the Hi-Res Lossless audio qualities. This is where I really noticed the difference. In general, this meant a great improvement in detail and better separation. With the Audeze headphones, the planar speakers responded with even more impressive bass. In short, Hi-Res Lossless audio is the gold standard in music streaming, and the Questyle M12 lets you enjoy it with your headphones, even if your smartphone’s DAC is unable to support this resolution for the music. exit.

Again, you’ll need a decent pair of headphones to enjoy the Hi-Res Lossless audio upgrade.

Questyle M12 key specifications:

  • Frequency response: ± 0.1dB (20Hz-20kHz)
  • THD: 0.0003%
  • Intelligent impedance detection (8Ω to 600Ω) and self-adjusting gain
  • DAC (ESS ES9281AC flagship USB DAC chip) supports 32 kHz – 384 kHz (16/24/32 bit)
  • MQA rendering technology
  • 2.0 x 0.65 x 0.32 inches
  • CNC machined anodized aluminum in classic black or sleek silver
  • Includes USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB Type A cables
  • Supports Android 5.0 and above, iOS, macOS, and Windows 10
  • MSRP $ 139.99

Questyle M12 recommendation

If you’re the type of person who’s ready to physically connect your headphones to your phone for the best possible music listening experience, you’ll want to check out the Questyle M12. The amplifier makes the most of the capabilities of your headphones. And with its built-in DAC – which is far more capable than the one built into your phone – you’ll actually be able to take full advantage of the Hi-Res Lossless audio that streaming services like Apple Music now offer. Not bad for a device the size of a USB stick.

Disclosure: Questyle provided an M12 for the assessment, but did not contribute to this review.

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