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Questyle NHB12 In-Ear Wired Earbuds for iPhone: Review

Products like the Questyle NHB12 wired earbuds should have been released years ago. Fortunately good things come to those who wait.

Questyle NHB12 In-ear Wired Earbuds for iPhone with Lightning

iPhone 15 and Android smartphone users can continue listening to their Christmas holiday playlist and look away from this one. That might sound like a rather ominous way to start a review, but for any iPhone or iPad user with a lightning port — the Questyle NHB12 In-Ear Wired Earbuds might be a rather interesting option.

What makes the Questyle NHB12 unique is its claim to be the first certified MFi (Made for iPhone/iPad) true lossless earphone for use with Apple Music lossless via the iPhone lightning port.

We were slightly surprised to read that claim but after some research we can verify that it is accurate.

None of Apple’s own offerings are certified lossless, even when using the lightning cable provided with the AirPods Max. Apple Support confirms this:

“The Lightning to 3.5 mm Audio Cable was designed to allow AirPods Max to connect to analog sources for listening to movies and music. AirPods Max can be connected to devices playing Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless recordings with exceptional audio quality. However, given the analog-to-digital conversion in the cable, the playback will not be completely lossless.” To read the entire discussion, see About lossless audio in Apple Music – Apple Support.

What is the Questyle NHB12?

Questyle NHB12 In-ear Wired Earbuds for iPhone with Lightning connector

The Questyle NHB12 is really two products in one — an in-line dongle DAC and earphone combination. Users only need to connect it to their device and start listening. There are no apps or other adapters required.

The NHB12 supports up to 24-bit/192kHz lossless audio, which includes hi-res audio from Apple Music, as well as FLAC files from Qobuz.

The $399 USD retail price is likely to raise a few eyebrows but we have already seen it on sale for those who might be wondering if it really makes sense to add this kind of accessory to their existing iPhone or iPad.

The “magic” occurs inside the DAC/amplifier section, which is the rectangular box embedded into the cable. It is encased in the same polished metal housing as the earpieces with a window showing the internals on one side.

Amazingly, it contains a USB/lightning control chip, master clock, CMA SIP module, a pair of indicator LEDs, and power management circuitry. 

The signal first reaches the USB controller before being passed to the custom SIP module. The SIP module combines a 24-bit/192kHz PCM DAC and a current mode amplifier into a tiny package.

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Questyle NHB12 In-ear Wired Earbuds in the box

It is the largest of the modules visible through the window and is still small enough that four of the SIPs would fit on a dime. The whole process uses 3mA @ 2 Volts making for an extraordinarily low battery draw.  

Add to that an impressively low THD+N of 0.0002% and you have a master class in miniaturization of audio components.   

Needless to say, this is not a setup that is going to be usable for anything but highly efficient IEMs which may explain Questyle’s hesitancy to divulge too much information about the drivers as it might give away some proprietary trade secrets.

A single LED is illuminated for AAC or CD quality input, whilst a second LED indicates the decoding of a 24-bit/192kHz file. Testing with Qobuz confirmed this to be the case.

Build quality is very high for both the dongle DAC and IEMs, but we suspect the dongle might be a tad susceptible to being scratched.

The NHB12 is extremely compact at 44 mm x 11 mm x 5 mm and only weighs 4.8 grams.

The earbuds weigh 13 grams apiece, offer 27dB of passive isolation, and have an impedance of 38 ohms.

The 48 inch cable is made out of silver-plated OFC and there were no issues with microphonics or build quality; it proved to be extremely robust and lightweight.

In the Box

Questyle NHB12 In-ear Wired Earbuds and accessories in the box
  • NHB12
  • OFC silver-plated cable with the CMA SiP module and a Lightning (8-pin- plug)
  • OFC silver plated cable with a classic 3.5mm plug
  • 5 sets of eartips (extra-small/small/medium/large/extra-large)
  • Leather storage case with two compartments
  • User manual 

Listening Notes

We used an iPhone 14 and an iPad Air with a mix of Apple Music, Qobuz, TIDAL, and Spotify to evaluate the sound quality.

The low end had solid depth, but it is the type of bass impact that one hears as opposed to experiencing a genuine visceral punch. Creating that level of impact in a pair of earbuds requires a lot of power and it is clear to that Questyle decided to forego that level of impact in order to preserve battery life.

As we move into the mid-bass, the level of impact increases and there is more of a punch that one genuinely feels.

The bass range is generally rather clear sounding with only a slight thickening in the mid-bass and it is clear that Questyle decided to play it somewhat safe to avoid running down the battery.

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Questyle NHB12 In-ear Wired Earbud Nozzle

Male vocals are delivered with excellent tonal weight and clarity and not pushed forward of the instrumentation. Detail and texture are present throughout the range and there is no noticeable dip or uptick in presence into the lower treble.

Guitar notes have a strong edge and higher strings have just enough energy and detail to sound realistic into the upper midrange.

Piano notes are delivered with excellent accuracy and tonal weight; that aspect of the performance was the most impressive for me because it represents a genuine challenge for almost every IEM to get right.

Female vocals are clean, detailed, airy, and not pushed forward of the instrumentation.

The treble is clean as well with good percussion snap and cymbal hits are delivered with a great deal of accuracy and detail.

Roll-off is somewhere above my upper limit which gives the NHB12 a rather open top end with enough air and sparkle to keep from sounding closed in.   

Questyle NHB12 In-ear Wired Earbud bottom

The toughest challenge for a sealed IEM is always the soundstage, because it has so little physical room to work with.

The NHB12 did rather well in that regard; there is some depth and proportional width with enough height to allow each instrument its own space in the mix. 

Instrument separation is above average and movement around the soundstage is easily tracked as a result. The soundstage certainly isn’t the biggest I’ve heard in an IEM, but the NHB12 certainly makes good use of what is available to it.

There is some mild compression in the low end as tracks being more complex and the dynamic shifts are quicker.

Questyle NHB12 In-ear Wired Earbuds Box Front

Final Thoughts

Questyle is a unique company in the high-end headphone space. The company’s founders have a strong track record in the high-end audio industry with successful careers at OPPO and IAG (parent company of Wharfedale, Mission, Audiolab, Quad, Leak) and the brand has a fantastic reputation from building some of the best products in the personal audio category. Their factory in Shenzen is second to none and they do not skimp on quality.

The company has released a number of premium products we’ve recommended included the CMA Fifteen desktop DAC/Headphone Amplifier, and M12 and M15 Dongle DACs.

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The convenience factor is extremely high with everything connected together and there were no concerns in regard to the robustness of the IEMs, cable, or Dongle DAC.

The Questyle NHB12 is a niche product and one that will lose some of its utility in a few years with the transition to USB Type-C on Apple’s iPhones.

Until that happens, it may be one of the best all-in-one Dongle DAC/earbuds packages on the market and it certainly raises the bar when it comes to sonic performance with lightning-equipped iPhones and iPads.

Where to buy: $399 at Amazon, but it’s only $259 at Questyle

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. James A Noyd

    December 24, 2023 at 2:33 pm

    • Ian White

      December 24, 2023 at 9:51 pm

      Jim,

      Great to know. TY for the update.

      Best,

      Ian White

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