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Amp/DACs item created by MikeyFresh, Mar 22, 2014
Pros - Extremely versatile, plenty of power
Cons - Mids could sound a bit smoother
Pros - Power to drive headphones, connection options, soundstage, sound tuning options, 'portable'
Cons - Battery life & power needs, driver needed for Windows
Review of the CEntrance HiFi M8 LX LX model = Optical input
The CEntrance HiFi M8 has a lot of connection and feature combinations. This is the LX / XLR version.
What is the CEntrance HiFi M8?
The CEntrance HiFi M8 is a DAC+AMP combination, so you cannot use it as an AMP alone. This M8 LX features a USB and an Optical (SPDIF) input, combo toslink/3.5mm audio out jack, 6mm audio out jack and an XLR balanced output connection. It is a portable / transportable unit. It is small enough to carry in a small carrying bag, but to put it in trouser pockets you'll need army trousers with big side pockets.
24-bit (Also supports 16-bit)
44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.2 kHz, 192 kHz
10 ppm precision, unmeasurable jitter
iPad, iPhone, iPod, Mac, PC, Andorid
20 Hz...50 kHz (flat EQ circuit)
113 dB (A-weighted)
0.002 % (mid gain position)
-103 dB (at 1kHz)
1, 2, 11 Ohm, selectable
1.4 W (max), 1 W (typical)
-2 dBV (nominal, max gain) use with less-sensitive over-the head headphones
-10 dBV (nominal, mid gain) use for connecting to line-level consumer audio equipment
-22 dBV (nominal, min gain) use with ultra-sensitive IEM headphones
Why did I choose for the CEntrance HiFi M8?
I got the M8 LX to combine it with my PC or with my Astell & Kern AK 100 II (my review) on the move. A the time of ordering I also just ordered my MrSpeakers Alpha Prime (see my review). Dan Clark, MrSpeakers himself, informed me that the AK100 II on its own might not have enough power to get the best out of the Alpha Prime, so I looked for options to power my new headset.
After a while of considering, reading-up on head-fi, and sniffing around on YouTube I decided that the CEntrance M8 might be the best solution for me, the LX version so I can use the optical connection from the AK100 II to the M8. So, decision made, order placed ....
Now I ran into the question of how to connect the DAP and DAC/AMP, luckily Jude had shown his setup on the Head-Fi YouTube Channel. He showed the very nice cable made by Sys Concept inc in Canada, so I got into contact with Sys Concept. They provided excellent input and advise, so I ordered the tiny, tiny custom made cable... another purchase on the way. Things where coming together.
Sys Concept inc "Super Short"
43mm long, SPDIF turned 15°
Perfect fits AK 100 II and the CEntrance M8
All came together .... and I was astonished!
Once all the elements where in place I could get to the listening, using all the bits an pieces I have. Testing with all the headsets I have, although not impressive there was more then 1 difficult bugger in the list. I started out my Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro at 250Ohm, the CEntrance M8 had not difficulty what so ever in pushing these high impedance headphones.
(Selector settings: output impedance, gain, bass, treble, input selector USB/SPDIF)
The M8 has a very nice 3 position gain selector so it is easy to find the setting that best fits the head gear. With the setting on -2 dBV (nominal, max gain) the DT880 ran great. Wonderful open, precise and open sound. But the DT880 is a bit light on base, so ... of to the base setting, +1 on the bass setting was perfect. Nicely filled bass without changing the mids or trebles. Big smile and very happy with the CEntrance M8 and DT880 combination. Next in the list where my Sennheiser Momentum (over ear) and AKG K551. For these two last headphones all settings can return to default, the lowest gain and no bass enhancement.
MrSpeakers Alpha Prime with CEntrance M8 LX
Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro with CEntrence M8 LX, 6mm jack
Now ... connecting the CEntrance M8 to my PC to use it as DAC ... I found it a bit strange that I needed to install a driver to get it to work. My FIIO E18 works without driver, so does the AK 100 II in DAC mode. So, up to the CEntrance website to download and install the driver. It might seem strange that I'm not happy with this ... but it means I cannot use the M8 on my work PC as we cannot install drivers on those controlled corporate machines. That made me a bit sad ... hence my remark about the driver.
Note: I found a solution to the driver problem, when my AK 100 II is connected to the Centrance M8 the AK serves as pass-trough for the M8. So no driver needed in this combination, but I need to take my AK 100 II to use the CEntrance without drivers ...
I've been listening to the M8 for some days now with the DT880 Pro's even using the M8 as DAC for gaming. The M8 provides my DT's with a great wide, open and deep sound. My DT880 was very happy in delivering a great Battlefield 4 game sound. Very good imaging and it was easy to hear the enemy sneak up behind a wall. Spatial perception is very good presented.
THE day of my musical 2014 year ... the MrSpeakers Alpha Prime got delivered!!!
This wonderful day my listening experience changed drastically. The combination of my completed set, the Alpha Prime with the Balanced XLR cable, AK 100 II and the CEntrance HiFi M8 combination. Was this a surprise!!! I had never experienced sound being projected so wide, profound, clean and clear. The CEntrance really made my Alpha Prime sing. Such a wide sound stage as the M8 could present was projected by the Alpha Prime's. The Alpha Prime is a closed back planar magnetic headphone. It is not easy to push although the impedance is not high, it needs a lot of volts to be well pushed. The CEntrance, as Dan Clark had said, pushed the Alpha Prime wonderfully. Gain is on medium setting, all the other settings are on default.
I started my listening sessions, Classical music, a bit of pop, moving to Trance/Dance ...
Absolute pure and clear sound is produced by the M8. The combination with a wonderful headset is quite an experience to behold.
The most remarkable is how the bass is powered and produced. It is like a very delicate sound but with such a deep vibration. You can hear the strings move, the very fast Alpha Prime makes the whole sound as if you're sitting in between the instruments. Of course, without the fantastic input from the M8, the Alpha's would be limited. No headset can produce what is not put into it by the source.
I can say the combination is solid, great sounding, provides a very wide sound stage, fast and deep bass; delicately presented. The mids and treble sound great.
Without trying to fall into huge words or descriptions ... this is the best I have experienced.
Now ... there are also some drawbacks
Size and portability
The CEntrance HiFi M8 is portable, but that is to take with a grain of salt. Yes, you can carry it and it fits is a small carrying bag, but you will not put this into any pocket very soon.
So its size limits its portable use. I use a "man bag" type of little carrying bag with a good solid shoulder strap. That holds my CEntrance M8 and the AK 100 II.
The device operates well on batteries, but of course pushing things like an Alpha Prime eats quite some power.
I estimate the battery life to about 6 hours or so, maybe a bit more.
Power Consumption & charging
The M8 comes with many options to power and charge it, however, they all demand serious power.
Simply charging by USB is possible, but not while you use it. You have to turn it off to charge over USB. This will also be a slow way to charge it.
The power brick (about the same size as the M8) that comes with the unit that pushes out 19V and 2630mA, that is 50 Watt!!!
That is a lot of power ... a USB port typically can deliver 2.5Watt.
The M8 is flexible in its charging specifications, so you can look for smaller or alternative charging devices. Specs: +9...+20V DC (3A)
This means that you charge straight from the 12V of your car.
The M8 does NOT have an analog in, so you can not use is pure as an AMP (like you can with a FIIO E18 for example).
Although I do not really miss this feature now, it could further future-proof the M8 in my eyes.
USB Connector Size .... HUGE:
The M8 uses an USB type B connector, it is HUGE! Let alone for a portable device.
If you want to combine it with a phone (like a Galaxy S5) the cable is bigger then the phone.
I'll probably get to soldering my own Type B USB to Micro USB OTG cable for this one.
Windows Driver is needed
I found it a bit strange that the M8 needs a driver to function in Windows.
My FIIO E18 DAC/AMP does not require a driver, neither does my AK 100 II in DAC mode.
Verdict, what do I think about the CEntrance HiFi M8 LX?
Well, simply put, I love it.
I love it because it makes my headphones, and in special my MrSpeakers Alpha Prime fantastic!!!
Without a great source they could not be great headphones.
Sound is pure, very well balanced and with a very wide sound stage.
Note: There now is also a CEntrance Mini M8, a device more tailored to in-ear headphones. Smaller, flatter, more portable, but strangely also with full-size USB Type A and Type B connectors.
Greetings to all,
Pros - Fully balanced DAC/Amp, Numerous control features and output options
Cons - No audio input
Almost the only DAC/Amp I need to drive all of my headphones and IEMs, as a portable solution or on my desk.
Pros - Excellent overall balance. Wide Soundstage. Bass boost does not muddy the sound. Treble lift is very subtle.
Cons - Battery life?.
I am the average Mr Nobody who has been into Hi fi from the age of 12.I am now 74.I am currently using JDS labs C5,a Fiio Mont Blanc,and the HiFi M8 LX.I had been hoping for great things,and have not been disappointed.I use Westone 4R,and HD 800. Music is Dance, Jazz,and some Classical.For portable use,I use the iPad mini retina,and a very modified iPod classic,with a 128 ssd. (Please get to the point!.) The M8 has a wide soundstage,a wonderful overall balance, a good depth,and also Instrument separation.With some badly recorded music,where the Bass seems to have one note,I can now hear a Bass line.Use the bass boost,and it does not muddy it,nor does it seem to bleed over. The treble seems to add clarity,but no shrillness.Drawbacks?. Battery Life.Would be wonderful to charge it in the Car!. Please remember my hearing is not the same as yours.and at my age is not at its peak anymore!. Highly recommended.
Pros - Tons of features -- tone controls inc. impedance and gain. 2x input options & 4x output socket combos. Desktop power in a portable device.
Cons - Power sacrifices battery life. Too bulky to use with just IEMs. A bit of hiss with low impedance cans even on low gain.
When Michael Goodman first told me he was going to make a portable device that used full-sized XLR jacks for balanced headphones, I thought that it was going to be too big and bulky. Wisely he asked the community for feedback on the design (maybe more so because it got a lot of people excited about it). When people were asked what they wanted, the answer was, inevitably, everything and the kitchen sink. And with two full boards of electronics alongside a large battery crammed into the case, that's what we got, with 8 different combinations of inputs and outputs available and the ability to handle everything from sensitive IEMs through to demanding full-sized headphones.
The only thing we didn't get was a long battery life, as that ended up being sacrificed for power instead. And power it has aplenty, presenting a wide and spacious sound through everything from low-impedance and low-sensitivity planers through to high-impedance HD-800s, with audio sourced from either a computer through its asyncronous USB input, or its second input, which at the time of purchase you have to choose either an iDevice-compatible USB socket or an optical digital input. While the former can be used with Apple's devices, the latter can be used with anything that has optical digital output, including quite a few DAPs these days, such as the Astell&Kern series.
The other choice you have to make at purchase time is what outputs you want. For that 4 different output selections are available:
The 4XL with a 4-pin XLR and large and small headphone sockets (the latter of which doubles as an optical digital output for USB passthrough -- didn't I tell you "everything and the kitchen sink!);
The RSA, which puts an "RSA"-style balanced headphone socket in place of the 4-pin XLR (such as used by Ray Samuels Audio, ALO Audio and Cypher Labs);
The original "Combo" which uses Neutrik Combo jacks which can either be used as regular headphone sockets or as a balanced headphone output;
and the Pro version with regular male 3-pin XLR sockets for DAC/pre-amp use.
Given that Michael Goodman has a background in pro audio, the sound from the M8 is very nothing-but-the-facts neutral, but I wouldn't call it unpleasant in any way. It uses an AKM DAC, which I'm particularly fond of as they are, to me, some of the least digital-sounding type of DAC out of all the Delta-Sigma types available. However, the options don't stop there, as Michael has included both a bass and treble booster switch, both of which have two positions: A bit and a fair bit. That allows a bit of fine-tuning of the sound, something we often *cough* do with expensive aftermarket cables.
That allows great portable, or compact desktop sound, though there are two caveats here: First, it isn't suited to long-haul flights, due to the battery life. If you're thinking of taking the power brick to plug in between the seats, it is pretty large and bulky. Second, it has a bit of hiss with sensitive IEMs, even on the lowest gain and impedance settings, so I'd wait for the Mini-M8 if that is all you're going to use it for.
If not second-hand, the M8 is sometimes on sale. I picked mine up in a Valentine's Day sale for 30% off, but I had to wait a few months for it! That meant it arrived about the same time as a loaner Hugo! Regardless, despite using the vastly more expensive and sophisticated, Hugo I am still impressed with the sound quality from the M8, so I've decided that I will keep it. It looks like it will have some challengers in the near future though, especially from iFi with their new Micro...