Review: Questyle CMA18 Portable

Closing thoughts

For the longest time I’ve been wondering why audio gear vendors haven’t seen a gap in the market for high-end portable devices that eschew the overheads of large screens and modern operating systems, and create standalone DAC/amps that match and exceed the sound quality and output power of TOTL DAPs.

With Questyle’s CMA18 Portable, I have my answer. That’s not to say this is the first portable DAC/amp equipped with the hardware to challenge high-end musical players, and even surpass them for driving less sensitive IEMs and headphones. iFi has a number of devices that fit this description, some surpassing desktop power output, and others, like Gryphon, adding features like Bluetooth and analogue DSP that help close the gap with DAPs for usability.

But in CMA18 Portable, Questyle has created a device that, for me, is closer to a bridge between DAP and desktop than it is between dongle and DAP. With the most powerful iteration of its current mode amplification technology in a portable device to date, CMA18 Portable delivers sound quality that, above everything else it does, gives it pride of place among a collection of high-end DAPs that cost two, three and even four times more than its suggested retail price. 

Combine this quality with functions such as ADC for studio recording, and impressively clean and artefact-free LDAC Bluetooth reception, and you have a device that not only looks like a work of modern electronic art, but makes a compelling case for consideration ahead of some seriously impressive products for seasoned audiophiles too.

Does it have any shortcomings? Yes of course; volume control could be more granular for one. Battery life could also be more generous if the device were made slightly bigger to fit a larger battery, which would in turn support a more advanced DAC than the single AKM its currently equipped with. Throwing in a free case to protect that beautiful glass exterior wouldn’t go amiss at this price either.

But these small quibbles aside, and even with its so-called ‘non-flagship’ DAC, CMA18 Portable still outperforms some of the best DAPs I’ve heard to date with my collection of rather decent IEMs. Either Questyle engineers are really, really good at implementing this particular DAC, or their current mode amplification negates any potential DAC limitations. In my opinion, both are likely true. 

Regardless of how they’ve done it, in CMA18 Portable, Questyle have set the bar for what’s possible from an easily-pocketable portable device like this. You miught think it flies too close to the $1,000 mark to be competitive with dongles and many of the high-performance midrange DAPs we’ve seen of late – L&P’s W4, Cayin’s RU7 and N3 Ultra, and HiBy’s R6 Pro II, to name a few. 

But make no mistake, this is a step or three above any of those. No, it’s not as easily poprtable as a dongle, nor as versatile as a standalone DAP, but it knocks all these other devices out the park when it comes to the two thing that matter most: sound quality and driving power. That it looks like something you’d want to put out on display doesn’t hurt either.

As such, I’m giving CMA18 Portable my highest possible recommendation, with distinction. If you’re after a device that won’t break a kilobuck budget but performs well above it, and don’t mind tethering to your phone wired or wireless, this has to be at or near the top of your list right now. It surely has to be an early contender for portable product of the year.

Questyle’s CMA18 Portable is currently available at a discounted price of $699, a 22% saving. Buy yours today from Questyle Shop direct or from Amazon.com

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Guy Lerner

Guy Lerner

An avid photographer and writer 'in real life', Guy's passion for music and technology created the perfect storm for his love of portable audio. When he's not playing with the latest and greatest head-fi gear, he prefers to spend time away from the hobby with his two (almost) grown kids and wife in the breathtaking city of Cape Town, and traveling around his native South Africa.

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