On a single-ended connection, the output does not offer a huge output rating. You won’t feel the signal being strong in power but instead, being more polished and controlled. Questyle emphasized that an adequate, but not excessive amount of current is supplied to the load to do them justice.
At 16Ω the output is maxed out at 46.11mW, enough to make sensitive IEMS go really loud and punch solidly in the bass. Doubling the load at 32Ω we are getting 26.71mW in the output and the output is smooth with ample punch in the bass.
When going higher than 70Ω the output will automatically switch to high gain, and beyond 600Ω the device will be switched to 2Vrms lineout for pairing with external amps.
Practically, the M12 drives sensitive IEMs like the Shanling ME700 Lite and Etymotic ER2SE impactfully with good density in the bass and decent control in the treble.
The natural, full-bodied, and well-rounded signature is consistent and neither of them sounds overly fat in the lows. Bass is well pronounced with a moderately slow decay and some good warmth is added to the more analytical or fast, bass light IEMs.
With the Final A8000 which is rather current demanding, the M12 is able to deliver lush mids and just enough resolution to sound relaxing and not bunching up in the lows. Despite fast and intensive larger assemble works that may sound slightly cramped, the tuning is absolutely enjoyable with pops and lyrical tracks.
IEMs like the Earsonics STARK or the ddHiFi Janus with higher impedance will sound more smoothened out in the midrange, with elaborated bass punches that deliver some nice PRaT to R&B and other bass intensive tracks.
Since there is a tilt to the bassy side IEMs that are more textured with a splash of treble boost have better synergy and resolution with the M12. Hybrids that use BA drivers for treble will be more favored than insensitive single DD IEMs in terms of resolution.
Heavier loads like the HD600 will get good SPL from the output and enough dynamic to not sound insipid, though you can’t expect it to come close to a desktop amplifier setup. Nevertheless, the SE output on the M12 is very friendly with sensitive IEMs and may struggle from 32Ω onwards.
Luxury & Precision W2
The TOTL W2 dongle packs dual CS43198 DACs, a dedicated clock, FPGA DSP, and discreet regulators. Distortion is as low as 0.00012% on the W2 while the SE output still goes as high as 230mW at 32Ω. It is quite a bit more powerful on paper compared to the M12 which outputs 46.11mW at 15ohm and 26.71mW at 32ohm.
The bigger output comes with a bigger power drain so if you are listening on your phone and need it for work, it may still be more practical to power sensitive IEMs on dongles like the M12.
We can see two contrasting designs from these manufacturers and both are pleasing to the eyes. The W2 displays the brand’s usual masculine aesthetics and comes with a cool carbon fiber insert. In contrast, M12 takes a simpler form with a minimalist approach and rugged housing.
Both items look alluring in their own ways and considering the price they charge both manufacturers are doing a great job in creating practical and distinctive designs.
Interestingly, the M12 doesn’t sound too far behind in terms of driving power when testing with sensitive IEMs with the pronounced and rather well-controlled bass, but it is a far cry when throwing in a headphone that needs big swings.
On most pairings, the M12 is rendering the mids more upfront and with a stronger body, giving vocals a lot of presence in the foreground and sound smoother but not blurred.
The W2’s tuning feels like a gentle V shape with cleaner, more intense vocals, and the M12 a wavier W shape that charges the vocal and overtones with energy and fullness, painting the output more harmonious and vivid.
Both W2 and M12 have low enough output impedance to match sensitive IEMs. Despite the W2 having more power in the SE output on paper, the M12 has ample punch in the mid-bass and with sensitive IEMs like the Shure SE846, you may not notice much difference in power and musicality.
The power and hardware offer the W2 more headroom and better definition, this is unquestioned and I am still impressed by the W2 every time I revisit its sound.
Despite this fact, M12 takes a very different route to infuse sweet colorings, lushness, and intimacy in the vocal, the more expressive tuning pairs well with very sensitive, uncolored IEMs while the slimmer profile maximizes portability.
Lotoo PAW S1
The S1 with AKM AK4377 DAC chips packs in lots of features including tons of DSP profiles and a Pentaconn 4.4mm socket. With 70mW power @32Ω the PAW S1 packs in more punch than the M12 on its 3.5mm SE output.
Similar to the W2, its key strength is with the 4.4mm output and when it comes to SE, the power is weaker and the tuning is flatter and not as polished.
The soft-edged, pebble smooth design on the S1 looks super sweet and different from squared designs like the M12. While I love the design on the PAW S1 it is a lot thicker with the 4.4mm port encased and the M12 almost feels like half its size.
If you prefer sticking the dongle at the back of the phone, the M12 will be a lot more suitable since the PAW S1 doesn’t really lay flat so it has to be dangling out of the pocket.
While output figures vary, when putting them to a practical listening test the two come quite close in terms of SPL and perceived firmness in the bass.
With dynamic IEMs, the S1 punches cleaner and lighter, and the M12 sounds lusher and meatier in the bass, more on the natural-sounding and engaging side with R&B, pops, and any vocal works.
Testing with the Final A4000 works I am getting decent performance out of both units. The colorings on the M12 sound more natural and dynamic, while the PAW S1 gives the output a more modern touch sounding thinner in the midrange.
The SE846 and PAW S1 pairing sound thinner in the mids as well, a contrast to the fuller performance on the M12. Despite the possibilities to brush up the musicality with DSP on the PAW S1 it may take time to get to the right profile that sounds as organic and natural as the M12.
At the forefront of current amping technologies, the M12 is a unique proposition putting together competitive, smoothly articulated output in an extremely compact design.
The M12 clearly targets those who stream or want more defined sound with their sensitive earphones. It offers decent decoding power with MQA support that will fit a wider range of users.
Not everything is perfect and power constraints put limits on staging size, also it lacks GUI and balanced outputs compared to the L&P W2 and PAW S1. However, if you run your IEMs on 3.5mm only and want a more relaxing presentation with sweet and pronounced vocals, the M12 is a great fit.
Questyle M12 Technical Specifications
Frequency Response: ±0.1dB (20Hz-20kHz)
Impedance smart detection (8Ω to 600Ω) and self-adjusting Gain.