Okay, no kidding, but this is definitely not portable to be tagged under Bus Ride Impression. But I humored Cholo that I will pit the Questyle CMA600i against the Asus Xonar Essence One as the DAC paired with the Stax SRM-353X no to see which is better per se but which has better synergy.
I was wrong in doing so. I am poisoned and confused at the same time.
You see, the thing about higher end gears is that they may offer little increment on the sound quality yet for those who have keen ears, this may spell a difference between dropping more than $1000 and keeping to what you have. This is the dilemma that I have. In a nutshell, I loved them both for their own unique qualities, yet I have some apprehension of dropping that much (or even more) for another gear. Yet I would like to. Damn, I would love to.
But with all these talks, what really gave me the confusion anyway? What made me fall in love with the CMA600i that made me question whether I will replace or keep the Essence One all of a sudden. Trust me, it ain’t just about the budget. Let me go through this to help you understand my predicament.
The Strength of the Beast
I first tried the CMA600i sometime in the last quarter of last year, and as much as I enjoyed it, I was not really in an ideal environment to listen to it closely. It was during an enthusiasts meet and as it was crowded with people, it wasn’t really perfect to listen. However, I was given another lease to try it as Cholo allowed me the loaner of CMA6001 so I am taking all chances to give it a closer listen-in. So far this is the third day I have the DAC in my possession so I have already had some ample time to appreciate its beauty.
Great thing about the CMA600i is as the name itself states, offers current mode amplification. But what is it exactly? Here is an excerpt for CMA from Questyle’s website:
Basically, it eliminates TIMD or transient intermodulation distortion which simply lowers sound quality and gives the sound a harsh element caused by the fast audio signals. This is corrected by current mode amplification. However, this is a lot more pronounced with cans with dynamic drivers, which means cans like Sennheiser HD800 and Beyerdynamic T1 will benefit the most out of current mode amplication.
As for the sound, the primary thing that stuck in me was how crisp it was. Details were nigh far from Essence One especially when using dynamic driver cans such as the Beyerdynamic T1 and Sennheiser HD600, the ones I tested at least.
Sound Test, Check
I tried to fool around with the CMA600i and even tried to pit it up against my Essence One and I must say, as much as it may be a bit cumbersome to go through between the two DACs (plugging and unplugging multiple cables like the USB cable, XLR interconnects and power cable for Stax SRS-5100), I had so much fun like a kid unwrapping gifts for Christmas.
However, I still did away trying to compare the two using Beyerdynamic T1 and Sennheiser HD600/HD6XX for extra measure and to better see how CMA600i fare with different output and so far here’s my findings:
Your Smiling Face (James Taylor, JT [DSF 2.8MHz])
Drums are more aggressive using the CMA600i compared to Essence One, whether paired with T1 or with SRS-5100. Guitars sounded a lot more pronounced as well, but vocals felt a bit for forward with Essence One. Overall air of the track felt smoother with CMA600i though, but I liked it better using T1.
December (Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest [DSF 2.8MHz])
This has to be the track that exploited how much better the CMA600i against the Essence One. Essence One was dwarfed by the technical capability of the CMA600i. While Essence One sounded more mellow, CMA600i is more aggressive, providing a no-holds-barred attack using very crisp notes and punchier bass. CMA600i also sounded more antiseptic compared to Essence One.
Wicked Garden (Stone Temple Pilots, Core [FLAC 44.1kHz])
Guitars sounded livelier with CMA600i. I liked how raunchy was the attack for the guitars by Dean DeLeo, it felt energetic and raw. Splashes on the cymbals by Eric Kretz was shimmering yet very clean and was not harsh. The CMA600i maxed out the frequencies without going overboard, harmony was just perfect to exploit each frequencies and channels.
In the big picture, Questyle CMA600i performed quite well especially with the T1s, although I would explore further using other dynamic driver cans. As with SRS-5100, it did yield even more details even if I was just using my Onkyo DP-X1. The dynamics presented by CMA600i is fantastic, however, I would love to give this a bit more spin, probably trying it out how it does with a planar magnetic can. I am aware that it may not be as good as using a dynamic driver, but I will only truly find out once I have given it a try.
The CMA600i retails for $1299 in Amazon but will it be a good buy. I will say it is. Comparing to others in the market like the Grace Design M920 that retails for $1895 in Amazon, I think the CMA600i will hold its own quite well especially with the balanced XLR output for headphones. If you are given a chance to grab one, I suggest you do; I think this will have to be the best deal you can get out of the price, and probably even more.