It is no secret that I have been a fan of the Questyle Current-Mode amplifier for many years, it is simply one of the best sounding solid-state amplifiers out there. Always questing for the right niche market for their designs Questyle in conjunction with USI Shanghai developed a series of audio SiP chips implementing Questyle’s Current-Mode Amplification which first saw light of day in the Questyle QPM(aster) DAP (the latest generation of their famous Questyle QP2R DAP), then followed up with the Questyle M12 inline DAC/Amp and eventually the Questyle M15 inline DAC/Amp. Now they have taken that technology to its next stage offering Questyle’s first ever entry into the IEM world the Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone.
I can hear you asking “When everyone else is doing True Wireless Bluetooth, why a wired solution?”, and the answer is straightforward, sound quality. The only way to get lossless 24-bit/192kHz from your phone currently is via wires. I can see myself using this on airplanes to watch films and listen to music through my iPad. Almost as intriguing as the fact that they are the first ever Questyle IEMs, is the fact that they use a standard 2-pin connector, meaning I can use them with my Nobles. They also come with a standard 3.5mm cable for use with non-Apple products.
Uniquely the Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone was launched via a Kickstarter which met its goal on the first day: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/338111799/questyle-nhb12-tls-earphone-for-apple-lossless-audio?ref=discovery
The Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone:
The list of Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone features is as follows:
- Questyle Lossless CMA SIP
- World’s First Apple MFi Certified Lossless Earphone
- 192kHz Studio Quality DAC
- 2V & 3mA for Less Power Usage / 50% lower power usage than TWS Earphones
- Silver-Plated OFC Cable
- High-Resolution Dynamic Driver
- Precise Control Over Air Movement & Damping
- Comfortable & Seamless Wearability via Innovative Ear Simulation Technology
- Sample Rate Indicator
In appearance, the Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone is quite simple and elegant. The IEM itself consists of a tiny smooth polished ear-shaped metal casing and the DAC/amplifier sits mid cable and is about a quarter of the size of the M12, measuring 3/16” x 7/16” x 1 11/16” and again is of a polished metal with a black glass inset on the front with a small window exposing a bit of the circuit board and the indicator lights.
Good news for Android users is Questyle’s response to announcements that the next-gen iPhone will switch to USB-C:
“NHB12 supports cable swapping. We are closely monitoring Apple’s official announcement regarding the next generation of iPhone. Once the new iPhone is released with a USB-C port, we will offer a free upgrade of the True Lossless cable to USB-C Only for Kickstarter backers of NHB12. If you wish to proceed with the upgrade, please contact us at Info@questyle.com with your address and contact information. We will provide you with the shipping details for returning the lightning cable. Please make sure the lightning cable is free from scratches or damage.”
Implied in this announcement is that a USB-C version of the NHB 12 will become available.
Living with the Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone:
After burning in the Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone using my iPad and my burn-in playlist on Qobuz, and then burning in the 3.5mm cable using my FiiO M11 DAP, I went back to the iPad and cued up Andy Partridge’s new collaboration with Jen Olive and Stu Rowe, The 3 Clubmen on SoundCloud and listened to “Aviatrix” which showed up as Standard Resolution Lossless on the NHB 12. The performance was musical with a heavy bottom end and a pulsating beat.
Switching to Qobuz I selected “Frontier’s Edge” (24-bit/88kHz – Qobuz) by The Budos Band which indeed did show up as High-Resolution on the NHB 12. The resolution and tonality were exceptional for an IEM/DAC/Amp combination selling for less than $300. The instrumental horn based band was set in a large slightly distant soundstage. The horn section was slightly to the rear with the bass taking center stage ahead of the drums and the organ and guitar taking the middle ground. The timber and tonal balance was essentially neutral with a musical top end and warm bottom end. I noticed at this time that the iPad listed “Hi Res Headset” as the output device.
Next up was “Joni Mitchell at Newport (Live)” (24-bit/192kHz – Qobuz). Again it was easy to picture the large outdoor amphitheater as the sounds echoed off into the distance capturing the nuance of the sound system. Even though it was a bright recording the sound was smooth and natural. Interestingly the piano and guitar had an intimate feel.
Selecting Alice Sara performing Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15” (24-bit/192kHz – Qobuz) with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Karina Canellakis conducting. Once more the sound was musical and natural with excellent imaging and extreme dynamic range. The piano was robust with a Yamaha vibe. And as before, there was a great sense of the hall. The tonality and volume remained consistent across the full range of the keyboard, emphasizing the neutrality of the tonal balance.
The appropriate next move was to test with the NHB 12 with the 3.5mm cable which I first listened to through the FiiO M11 choosing “Non Mi Lasciare” by Dario Baldan Bembo (16-bit/44.1kHz – Qobuz) which while it showed the excellent bottom end of the NHB 12 IEM, was slightly too harsh on the high end (I did a quick listen with the FiiO M15S but this was worse) so I switched to the Questyle M15 (which proved to be more musical than the Questyle M12), which one would expect gave similar performance to the NHB 12 DAC/Amp cable though with quite a bit more power.
Interestingly running directly from my Motorola Moto G Power (2022) the bass was significantly stronger though not well controlled while the midrange and high end appeared to be suppressed.
Overall the best performance was with the NHB 12 DAC/Amp cable which offered extremely low sub-bass response with the above track.
So having returned to the NHB 12 DAC/Amp cable I brought up “And You and I” by Yes (“Close to the Edge” – 24-bit/192kHz – Qobuz) as a test with a high-resolution track with which I have great familiarity. As with all the previous tests, the sound was awesome, exhibiting resolution, musicality, and dynamic range belying its modest price point.
As a final test, I connected the NHB 12 DAC/Amp cable to my Noble Audio Viking Ragnar IEMs to see if it would scale up to $4,000 IEM. For this I choose Dean Martin and “Everybody Loves Somebody” (24-bit/96kHz – Qobuz). While the bottom end was slightly suppressed, understandable since the DAC/Amp cable was designed to rein in the copious bass of the NHB 12 IEM, the sound was musical and resolute. While not my first choice for the Ragnar, perfectly acceptable for the uses to which I’ll put it, and quite amazing given its price point.
The Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone with the NHB 12 DAC/Amp cable vs. the Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone with the 3.5mm cable and the Questyle M12:
The major advantages of the NHB 12 DAC/Amp cable over the Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone with the 3.5mm cable and the Questyle M12 are the fact that the NHB 12 DAC/Amp cable is presumably designed specifically to complement the NHB 12 IEM and of course cost. Conversely, the advantages of the M12 are MQA (which, of course, is not lossless) and DSD (which by definition is lossless as it is not compressed) support along with universal application (it will work with Apple, Android, Windows, or Linux).
Conclusions on the Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone:
The Questyle NHB 12 True Lossless Earphone is a phenomenal product at a great price, especially for those who were able to get in on the ground floor of the Kickstarter and pay the early-bird price. It is musical and dynamic, with bass strong enough for bass heads, yet well controlled and tonal, an excellent soundstage, and able to produce volumes louder than you will want to listen to (I did most of my listening at about half volume on my iPad).
My only complaint is that it would occasionally lose digital sync, though I don’t know if this was due to Qobuz or the iPad, as I don’t have Apple Music I was not able to test any other music sources.
All in all, the NHB 12 is an exceptional product and I expect to get a lot of use out of it as I fly several times a year for HiFi Shows. Congratulations Questyle, well done.
Manufacturer’s Website: https://questyleshop.com/products/questyle-nhb12