The sound is ridiculously good. I listened to the QA350 directly through its headphone out using the JH16Pro, and I was truly blown away by what I’m hearing. Throughout my review of the JH customs, I always get bummed in being stuck on using the lousy Ipod Classic 120GB as my only portable source. Not anymore. The QA350 was finally able to give me the proper sound quality for the JH16 Pros while remaining friendly on the wallet. After all, my wallet still hasn’t recovered after that JH Audio review, so I can’t really afford to get a HM-801.
The Ipod Classic is inadequate in so many ways when you are listening through a high end IEM like the JH16. Congested soundstage, roll off on low bass and the top trebles, midrange lacking clarity, and a bunch of other “distortions” on the sound. The QA350 is an immediate upgrade from the Ipod. Soundstage, separation, top and bottom extension, refinement, I really won’t waste time comparing the differences because it’s not even close. If you are looking for a high quality portable, but don’t really have the budget for a HM-801, you’l learn to accept the looks and size of the QA345 because the sound is worth it.
I did compare the DAC section of the QA350 to our favorite sub $200 DAC, the Audinst HUD-MX1 (both uses the same WM8740 D/A chip). The comparison was done with the Audiotrak ImAmp and the HD800, and I find the QA350 to come very close to the DAC section of the HUD-MX1. Just a little less treble extension, air, and low end presence than the HUD-MX1, but otherwise the QA350 sounds very very good.
The headphone out on the QA350 by itself is fairly powerful, definitely more than the standard Ipod Classic headphone out. It was able to drive both the Beyerdynamic T1 and the Hifiman HE5LE to very loud levels (albeit at near maximum volume), and playing some bass heavy Prodigy songs from “Fat of the Land”, bass was clean with no distortions present.
The QA350 is fairly cheap at $200 shipped, though you need to shell out some extra cash for a 16GB or a 32GB SDHC cards, considering that the QLS takes strictly WAV files only. Yep, no more uploading the entire 1,000 CD library to your portable player. But at the end it’s still worth it. 32GB gives you plenty of music, and you can always buy an extra 32GB card, seeing that they don’t cost that much these days (~$90 from Amazon.com).
If there is one problem, it’s the LCD display that’s far too short to display album and song information. So you have to sort of remember the structure of the folders you have stored in the memory card. To my surprise, the navigation is fairly intuitive: up/down to scroll between albums, left/right changes tracks within an album, and the center button to play/pause.
Other than functioning as a portable player, the QA350 also can function as a digital transport. Digital signal is sent through either the coaxial or the toslink interface. I prefer using the Onkyo ND-S1 dock due the nicer Ipod user interface, but the QA345 performs quite to the ND-S1 & Ipod Classic combination. There is also a line out for using a portable amplifier with the QA350, but it’s really quite big on its own, so it’s not something that I’d recommend.
Hurray for a new high quality yet affordable portable player!
Equipment for review:
Headphones: JH16, Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD800.
Amplifier: QA345 internal amplifier, Audiotrack ImAmp, Burson HA-160.
DAC: QA345 internal DAC, Audinst HUD-MX1.
Transport: Onkyo ND-S1 & Ipod Classic 120GB, QA345.