Questyle M15 DAC review: Essential for high-res music streaming
Posted onAuthorRobert W. EvansComments Off on Questyle M15 DAC review: Essential for high-res music streaming
In one look
Incredibly transparent sound
Balanced and unbalanced headphone jacks
Switch to drive low or high impedance headphones
Glass window provides a view of the M15’s internal electronics
Draws significant power from your phone’s battery
Provides less stream quality detail than the competition
A high-performance DAC is essential for streaming high-res music, and the Questyle M15 delivers exceptional quality at a lower price than the competition.
Best Prices Today: Mobile DAC and Questyle M15 Headphone Amp
A DAC is a device that supports digital-to-analog audio conversion from your phone, tablet, or computer. A great one – like the Questyle M15 reviewed here – will sound an order of magnitude better than your iPhone or Android device can produce on its own.
But there’s a trade-off: a portable DAC/amplifier combo will inevitably complicate easy daily carry as you add a device, some adapter cables and wired headphones. Why bother with all that? Bluetooth doesn’t have the bandwidth to deliver a true lossless high-resolution stream, and anything less is a compromise.
This makes wireless headphones a compromise. If you listen to a lossy stream from Spotify and like what you hear, there’s no reason to investigate the investment and hassle of a dedicated DAC. That doesn’t mean a good DAC won’t improve the quality of a lossy stream, but you’ll be expending too much firepower for the limited improvements possible.
The math changes a bit once you get to lossless streaming (aka “CD quality”) which has become the minimum quality available with streamers like Apple Music, Tidal, and Qobuz. Most users of wireless Bluetooth headphones will easily be able to hear the difference between a lossless stream and the lossy streams of Spotify or YouTube Music Premium. And the gap between Bluetooth and DAC listening becomes even more pronounced at this level.
Where you really start to hear the difference is with the hi-res audio tracks included with an Apple or Amazon music subscription or with the higher tiers offered by Qobuz or Tidal. This is where a dedicated DAC starts to shine. You will never hear the detail available from these masters unless you are using a dedicated DAC.
What components are inside the Questyle M15?
The Questyle M15 is extremely easy to use. Once you’ve hooked up your source device and plugged in your headphones of choice, there’s only a gain switch to set the M15 to work with either low or high impedance headphones. There are two jacks, one for unbalanced 3.5mm headphones and one for balanced 4.4mm headphones.
The Questyle M15 measures 2.43 x 1.07 x 0.5 inches D (LxWxH) and weighs about one ounce, about the same size as a packet of chewing gum. Its machined aluminum casing gives a sense of weight to something so small and light.
Questyle chose to build the M15 with the ESS ES9281AC DAC, which can decode a wide range of formats including 16, 24 or 32 bit files at 44.1-, 48-, 88.2-, 96-, 176.4-, 192- , 352.8 or 384 kHz. The M15 can also handle DSD 256 and it fully supports ALAC, FLAC and other lossless formats. It can also render MQA streams.
Two LEDs are visible on the device board. The one on the left lights up green when the Questyle M15’s gain switch is set low and red when set high. The other LED lights green when the sample rate is 48kHz or less, red when it’s a high resolution lossless file, and magenta when the M15 is performing the final deployment of an MQA stream.
These are less specific details than what you’ll get from the more expensive AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt or iFi GO Bar dongles. If you’re obsessed with knowing exactly what signal is coming from your source device, there are other options to consider.
The Questyle M15 comes with a USB C to USB C connection cable for current Android devices, laptops and iPad Pro. A USB C to USB A cable is included for use with older computers.
Apple users purchasing from Questyle will want to include the additional iOS adapter for an additional $20. One of the great joys of using the M15 with an iPhone is the slimmer profile that comes from not having to use the Apple Lightning to USB 3 camera adapter required for Dragonfly’s excellent DAC and headphone amp combos. ‘Audio Quest.
The device comes with a drawstring bag, but anyone who wants to protect the finish of the M15 will want to add a black, brown or red leather case. It’s available as a $25 add-on when you buy directly from Questyle.
Listen to the Questyle M15
I tested the Questyle M15 with an iPhone using the USB C-to-Lightning adapter sold by Questyle. I listened with Focal Celestee headphones, Periodic Audio Carbon in-ear monitors, and Sony MDR-7506 headphones all under $100.
hey baby doll, a new compilation from the Everly Brothers, was released on baby blue vinyl for Record Store Day but also on high-resolution 192 kHz streams on Qobuz and on lossless high-resolution Apple Digital Master on Apple Music. No matter how good your turntable setup is, it won’t provide the nuance and detail you’ll hear when listening to “Cathy’s Clown” through the M15 and IEM Carbon. The sound is truly spectacular and a testament to what can be accomplished when remastering classic recordings from the original tapes.
A contemporary recording like the new Perfume Genius album ugly season, which broadcasts at 96 kHz on Qobuz, could be even more impressive. Composer Mike Hadreas explores frequencies from the top down in a way that could never have been replicated in the days of vinyl or even CD. The exquisite detail in these songs only reveals itself when processed by something like the Questyle M15. Listening later through Apple’s Lightning to Headphone Adapter is a massive downfall.
If you’re a Tidal fan, the Questyle M15 does a great job with the service’s MQA encoding. Beyoncé’s new single “Break My Soul” is streaming as an MQA master at Tidal, but just as a lossless track on Qobuz and Apple Music. The tidal stream sounds better than the others by a considerable margin.
The Questyle M15 is fabulous for critical listening
Not everyone really hears the difference between lossless streaming and hi-res streaming, but a quality DAC is an essential purchase for anyone who can. If that difference doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, a Bluetooth receiver for your home system and a great pair of wireless headphones are all you need.
If you’ve invested in quality wired headphones, the Questyle M15 delivers incredibly detailed and neutral sound with almost zero background noise. Its sound compares favorably to AudioQuest’s flagship Dragonfly Cobalt and costs about $80 less before considering the adapters iPhone users will need. If you’re looking to commit to hi-res audio, the Questyle M15 will be a great link in your wired audio chain.
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