CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 Review
The CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 is a 2nd Gen portable DAC and headphone amplifier featuring 32BIT/384kHZ decoding and up to 1.6W of output power. It is priced at $749.99.
Disclaimer: The CEntrance HIFI-M8 V2 sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion in this review. Many thanks to CEntrance for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about CEntrance products reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2
CEntrance has done a great job with the HiFi-M8 V2, it is indeed a multi-tool. It isn't geared for very warm headphones or speakers if you use it as a source, but overall it is well geared for the natural/neutral spectrum of products out there.
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The CEntrance M8 V2 is a powerhouse of a $749.99 DAC and amplifier combo. Sometimes, Swiss Army Knives come in the variant form of an Audiophile piece of gear. That is my favorite type of knife!
Today, we will be hunting the wild CEntrance M8 V2, a new version of the classic M8, but with some serious upgrades. To the wilds! Grab your bow. You will need it.
Good lord. The exterior of the HiFi-M8 V2 is a solid metal chassis that feels immensely weighted and dense. Sometimes, you can tell when cheap metals are used and when they feel very hallow. This M8 V2 feels super-premium, as a thick boi‘ (internet Meme slang for hefty) naturally would house in appeal.
The HiFi-M8 V2 is by no means pocket-friendly for your pants, but it fits perfectly fine in my jacket and hooded sweater pockets without a problem.
I have to admit, the knobs and wheels on this HiFi-M8 V2 feel very premium. What I love about them is that they do not stick out far and are purposely designed to be as streamlined and narrow as possible, so you don’t accidentally bump them.
Thoughtful Design Elements
Oh, dear audio gods, I love CEntrance for this. I have issues with extremely free-floating volume knobs that are easily brushed up against, that will hike up the volume and blast your ears out of your skull. But this HiFi-M8 V2 has thought of that and designed the volume knobs to be almost flush with the metal chassis, as well as designed to house some physical resistance.
Here is a quote from Michael Goodman, the founder, and CEO of CEntrance that he wanted me to relay to our readers!
“CEntrance wants to thank the enthusiastic HiFi community, which helped shape this product through an extensive crowdsourcing effort. HiFi-M8 V2 would not have all the features it has without the feedback of passionate headphone enthusiasts, whose contributions during the design process are highly appreciated!” –Michael Goodman, Founder, and CEO of CEntrance”
I subjectively feel negative thoughts toward symmetrical design in products that house symmetry as the priority over usefulness. If you look at the rear of this HiFi-M8 V2, you will see a plethora of text and switches, inputs, and outputs without any real method to the madness.
And you know what? This is how it should be. There is no “there must be 3 on the left and 3 on the right, we must cut out the other functions and knobs, because customers only want 3 on the left and 3 on the right, with ample space between.” CEntrance learned this lesson well with the HiFi-M8 V2. I am so happy there is so much going on here.
Functionality is more important than symmetrical design every day of the week for me. What a great design, and mad respect to CEntrance here for understanding how we want our features. More stuff equals me rating it higher. Sure, it looks daunting at the moment of the first contact. My first impression was “whoa, that’s a lot of stuff back there!”.
Starting at the top left, we get a gain switch. This HiFi-M8 V2 is a monster in power and can produce over 1w of power in balanced mode. I keep the high gain on because I often mostly use it in Balanced mode. More power equals better Hifi points. Right? That is how it works, at least I thought.
Next to that, we get a standard 3.5mm output for normal headphone usage. Right next to that, we get a 2.5mm balanced output.
I use this often with my Sennheiser HD800’s custom 2.5mm balanced cable, but because I am a weirdo and I like big thick adapters that look awesome for photos, I slap a balanced XLR on this cable and run it out of the front, ha! I’m an audiophile now! Look!
Right next to those outputs are two switches for some boosting options on the top and bottom end. You need to poke them with a pen or a small object.
I am not a fan of the treble boost, but I see the value if you have some headphones that can benefit from it. The HD800 doesn’t need it, so I don’t use it. However, my Audeze Euclid benefits from a slight treble boost, so it meshes really well with the treble boost
Down yonder in the HiFi-M8 V2 middle row, we have a standard USB-C DAC input for usage with a PC or a source DAP that allows for it. Beyond that is a dial for raising and lowering the LED brightness on the top of the unit, as well as a volume dial.
On the bottom row, we have an Input selection button that toggles between Bluetooth and USB input. A Charge while using the toggle, and also a toggle for battery saving mode. The far-right side houses a power button that will blink with an LED above it to denote what mode the unit is currently operating in, as well as the battery life.
Flipping around to the front side of the HiFi-M8 V2, we get the serious output side that is “not supposed to be used with IEM’s”. This side has a much higher output voltage so best to only use them for the inefficient headphones, or Planar’s. You get a standard ¼ output and next to that is the big boy balanced XLR.
Packaging & Accessories
Standard packaging here for the HiFi-M8 V2. Nothing special to report, the box is relatively neutral in appeal. Typical cardboard and nothing to boast over. What the box contains is far more important to me. It came with a standard USB-C cable and nothing more.
Thankfully, CEntrance offers some add-ons for extra cash that include a quick charger, a waterproof case, a tripod stand, and a clamping mount. I do not have any of those, so I cannot speak of what they are like. I have the standard product and nothing more added on came with my package.
The package also comes standard with a small pouch, some rubber feet, and a multi-tool to use on the switches, as they are all recessed.
HiFi-M8 V2 Sound Impressions
I can safely say that this HiFi-M8 V2 is one of the more pure-sounding DAC’s I’ve experienced in this price range and that is including the newer SMSL M400 DAC that is roughly the same price as this.
The DAC they’ve selected in the AK4493, which in this implementation is very, very good! CEntrance has always had this slight metallic sheen in their house signature sound, but it was never harsh. I reviewed a few of their amps in the past and they all share similar sound tonalities to this HiFi-M8 V2.
Bass is pure, quick, and friendly to the ear. Meaning, it is not harsh on physical tactility and impact. It is moderate in that regard, plentiful in engaging factor but never boring or annoyingly painful.
While the tone is on the clinical side, physical tactility is on the musical and fun side, especially so due to the excellent bass booster switch-mode. Stock, without the low-end boost active, the HiFi-M8 V2 is very balanced sounding. You can, of course, alter that with the switch activated.
Bass Depth and Response
As mentioned, the low-end toggle adds a few extra dB’s to the bass experience and with that in mind, I am much happier with the Euclid from Audeze, which IMO sounds better boosted.
This also really helps the HD800 in XLR balanced mode too, I feel no quality drop there with it active vs not active. That is really saying something, as usually bass enhancing muddies the sound. But, not so in this case.
CEntrance has done a great job making sure to control that function and not let it go overboard. This switch really makes the HD800 a headphone that I actually want to use often.
The CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 offers a bit of a forward sound signature, it feels ever so slightly more relaxed than Ultrasone’s Panther, another great DAC/amp that I’ve reviewed recently.
Yes, it feels more relaxed, but it is still in the world of what I consider a forward sound signature. I’ve heard a few others that were a bit too forward, so I classify this placement of vocals and mids a “moderately forward” in appeal.
As far as fidelity goes, this takes the win for the purest sounding sub $1000 portable source that I’ve heard. True, the Ultrasone Panther is right behind it though. But, there is no doubt here, of course, that the lower tier xDuoo XD05+ has finally met its end. And that is a product I felt to offer quality on par with the $500 tier.
This HiFi-M8 V2 doesn’t feel like a portable source at all. It has such high output and coherency that I feel like it operates and offers more of a desktop sound signature and vibe. Is it worth nearly $800 big ones? Yes, I think so. I think considering its size and what it can offer in output options and power, it is worth such a price.
Mid Recommendations and Thoughts
No, this isn’t the source I’d be using with my lovely ATH-ESW series, due to its immensely forward and intimate sound. But, I would be using it with the likes of Audeze and Hifiman. Something more middle ground in the physical setup.
I think the best overall companion that I’ve stumbled on for this HiFi-M8 V2 was the Audeze Euclid, a $1300 IEM that was released recently in 2021. While the mids are not overly forward and in my face, they are instead a step or two back, but not what I would call recessive in nature. And it is with those types of headphones and speakers that I would say would match well with the HiFi-M8 V2.
For example, I am sourcing my Magnepan LRS speakers with it through a Cambridge AXA35 speaker amplifier and the result is stunning to say the very least. The Maggies are not highly engaging in forwardness, but instead, loom with excellent depth of field and realism in stage depth, and that pairs supremely well with the HiFi-M8 V2. A great combo here.
I am happy to report that the treble offered on this product is top-notch for the price. In fact, I’d say it sounds very similar to the SMSL M400 (one of the best DACs out there paired with the SP400 Amplifier from the same company) and that combo sounds quite similar in tone and texture to this small CEntrance M8 V2.
The sparkle factor is important to me, I love a gentle sheen and brightness, but without physical bite force that is wince-worthy. I got exactly what I love in this HiFi-M8 V2. Some gentle sparkle, but tamed and not harsh to listen to.
It is accurate in tone, but also refreshing in physical tactility factor and never painful, even on harsh tracks. So, I rate this as clinical in tone only, but not in strike factor. I think they designed it to be a bit reserved in physical quantity and bite slam effect. At least, that is, to my ear.
Does anyone ever listen to the older Astell and Kern AK120? The original? I loved that DAP, I had mine outfitted with a Red Wine mod and the result was stunningly similar to this HiFi-M8 V2 that came years later.
That RWAK120 had the same amazing tonality, but with less fidelity, than this HiFi-M8 V2. I am so happy to see that more and more products are taming the hostile treble while remaining relatively neutral/clinical in tone. See, it can be done!
Coherency is the prime factoid to be taken away from the staging experience of the CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2. Well-formed. Pristine in execution.
The width factor with the HD800 as my benchmark is noticeably different when I A/B with the Ultrasone Panther, and in turn, with the Xduoo XD05+. Quite amazing to hear the subtle changes in physicality between all three, using the same track and the same headphone.
I consider the Ultrasone Panther to house better depth than it does width in its own imaging experience. This is the same physical setup in the CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2, depth of field is noticeably superior to the width and height factor. That excellent sense of stage depth is quite good. Better than the Panther? I don’t think so, I feel like they are pretty much equal in imaging prowess.
However, the air factor of the upper midrange and treble experience of the M8 V2 makes it sound slightly more spacious and effortless overall. So, I rate imaging properties as very good for the price. CEntrance does Imaging well. Most who own their products know that depth of field is their prize-winning specialty.
HiFi-M8 V2 Wireless Performance
Bluetooth vs USB
The HiFi-M8 V2 shells out BT5.0 and that is a godsend to us in the audiophile community over the past year or so. Bluetooth has upgraded to the point where it is a viable HiFi option and I am more than fine running a cheap Hidizs AP80 Pro as my music source and outputting it to the M8 V2 via Bluetooth, than using the Sennheiser HD800 in balanced mode.
Sure, it doesn’t sound as good as a direct USB connection, but my god, we’ve come so far in the world of Bluetooth and I am so happy that it is now a legit HiFi possibility. Well, now it is a reality.
I run my phone often via BT out to the HiFi-M8 V2 and I get to enjoy podcasts in brimming quality. I prefer to go totally wireless, running my PC right off Bluetooth into the HiFi-M8 V2 and forgetting about it afterward. I hate cables. Truly.
What is even more lovely, I can just pick up the HiFi-M8 V2 and move around the house now and listen while I am cooking, or doing any other manner of things nowhere near my computer or phone.
I can take this anywhere. I can go for a walk and have incredible sound quality. Often, I sit in the park and play Pokemon Go in my car with an HD800 on my noggin’ and this HiFi-M8 V2 sitting next to me. I can safely tell you that the experience is quite stunning to say the very least.
I haven’t had any connection problems, both my sources and my iPhone SE2020 pair easily. I also pair the HiFi-M8 V2 to my TV and have cut the wires entirely. No more cables running down my floor all the way to my chair. I’ve gone totally wireless.
We’ve hit that era and the HiFi-M8 V2 is proof of that. I am beyond happy when I adhere to my Pokemon Go addiction and sit in my car in the park near the Poke-stops now. I tote the HiFi-M8 V2 and my HD800 with me, or something like my Empire Ears Nemesis customs, and just relax in the car while I play.
It is little things like this that I love most about the current era of HiFi. Everything is getting easier to use and offering a higher fidelity on the go.
The CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 is quite stellar. Sure, it is a bit bulky, but it is a ‘chonk’ with a ton of options and power as well. I can run sensitive custom IEM’s and then swap to a balanced HD800, then back to a Planar IEM from Audeze and not think twice about tone matching. This HiFi-M8 V2 has everything I’ve ever wanted and needed in a portable source.
Battery life is between 8-11 hours depending on what mode you are in, but that is a solid option considering it has a quick charge function too, all things considered.
Bluetooth Mode will offer the lower end of that and if I am playing in balanced mode, that number will drop a bit more. The lower voltage outputs will of course let you run longer than the higher output.
CEntrance has done a great job with the HiFi-M8 V2, it is indeed a multi-tool. It isn’t geared for very warm headphones or speakers if you use it as a source, but overall it is well geared for the natural/neutral spectrum of products out there and what it does offer is fantastic in purity factor and available toggle switches that can tailor the sound to your preferences.
CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 Specifications
- Response 20 Hz…20 kHz ±0.2 dB
- THD+N 0.0063% (0 dBFS, 1kHz, under load)
- Noise Floor 6 µV RMS (A-wtd), max gain
- Output Power, XLR 1.6 W (max total, 75Ω) (this is dangerously high, please take care of your hearing)
- Output Power, ¼” 532 mW (max total, 32Ω)
- Output Power 2.5mm 360 mW (max total, 47Ω)
- Output Power 3.5mm 130 mW (max total, 32Ω)
- Max Level, XLR 6.1 V rms / +17.9 dBu
- Max Level, ¼”1 V rms / +12 dBu
- Max Level, 2.5 mm 2.9 V rms / +11.5 dBu
- Max Level, 3.5 mm 1.5 V rms / +5.5 dBu
- Output Impedance, XLR 2.5 Ohm
- Output Impedance, 1/4″ 2 Ohm
- Output Impedance, 2.5 mm 0.3 Ohm
- Output Impedance, 3.5 mm 0.5 Ohm
- Supported Headphones 8…600 Ohm, practically any headphone made
- Gain Switch 20 dB pad (set low for IEM)
- Resolution: USB 24-bit, 32-bit
- Sample Rate, USB 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz, 352.8 kHz, 384 kHz + DSD
- Clocking Two custom, mil-spec clocks, 10 ppm precision, 1 ps jitter
- Compatibility iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac, Linux, PC. Driver not required for Windows 10
- USB Input USB-C, fully compatible with USB 3.1
- Bluetooth Balanced audio: APTX, AAC, MP3, SBC
- Number of Outputs 4 total (2 Balanced (XLR and 2.5 mm) and 2 Unbalanced (1/4″ and 3.5mm)
- Number of Amplifiers 8 total (4 on the Cool side, 4 on the Hot side)
- Headphone Amp Custom, Class A, AmpExtreme™ technology with bipolar power supplies
Battery Run time
- Bluetooth input: 11 HRS, USB input: 8 HRS (Stamina Mode ON, 4 amps active)
- Bluetooth input: 8 HRS, USB input: 5 HRS (STAMINA Mode OFF, 8 amps active)
- Charge time ~4.5 hours using a 2.4A USB charger.
- DC Charging +5 V from the USB adapter, such as iPad charger. 2 A or more recommended
- Battery-isolated, ±10 V analog power supply rails with microsecond transient response time
- Unit Dimensions 121 mm (4.76″) (L), 70 mm (2.76″) (W), 36 mm (1.42″) (H)
- Unit Weight 250 grams (8.9 ounces)
This is a series of posts on Head-fi by long term member (and quietly a legend) HeadphoneAddict on the CEntrance Hifi-M8v2.
For specifications see (10/2020): https://centrance.com/hifi-m8/
May 18th, 2020.
I still enjoy my Hi-Fi M8 V1 and BlueDAC a lot these days with my laptop rig. Plus my less expensive DACportable and DACportHD are quite good after many years, and hold their own vs newer gear like NuPrime Hi mDAC and Fiio BTR5 via USB.
May 24th, 2020.
We have the kids home for the holiday weekend, so I only got to listen to ONE song with my JH13Pro before their demands for my full attention took over.
May 24th, 2020.
Imma throw about a dozen different IEM and another dozen different full size headphones at them over the next week... So far with the JH13Pro I had in my to-go travel bag (I worry less about losing them when I throw my bag around than my ES60 and Roxanne) the M8 V2 sounds incredibly transparent and invisible. It just freaking gets out of the way, with BT or USB!
May 27th, 2020.
Because people have been so eager for information, I'm going to add some impressions here now, and add to them as I go along as needed. I didn't want to keep people waiting. Mostly it sounds just as as ExpatinJapan says - it's great out of the box with our familiar headphones and IEM.
Yesterday and today I have been focusing on the differences in the hot side vs cold side, and especially the singled ended vs balanced on the hot side. I have kept the M8 V2 in high gain for everything - I know some amps sound better in high gain than low, like our Schitt Audio Magni 3. Also, I have not tried the bass and treble EQ switches yet. I spent 95% of the time listening with USB, but Bluetooth was amazingly good through its upsampling and re-clocking process.
FEATURES: "Cold Side" with 2.5mm TRRS balanced out and 3.5mm single ended out, input switch for USB and Bluetooth, hi/lo gain switch, brightness and volume controls, charge via data port on/off, stamina on/off, power on/off, mild bass boost on/off, mild treble boost on/off. "Hot Side" with 1/4" high power single ended output and 4-pin XLR true balanced output, and PD USB-C port. Estimated battery life should be about 8 hours in "Stamina" mode which shuts off the Signal Meter and Hot Side amps, and about half the battery life with the hot side active for max power output. LED dB signal meter for source output level on top.
This is designed to be a transportable amp that is smaller than the HiFiM8 V1 with better battery life when using IEM and portable headphones, an improved true balanced DAC and amp, and that can charge via the USB-C data port or via PD USB-C port. Even with the data port set to charge, it wont pull power out of your phone via USB data port if you have power connected to the power only USB-C port on the hot side. And you can even use a 45 watt USB-C MacBook charger without harming the M8 V2 (it will draw only what it needs).
It gives up a few features of the Hi-Fi M8 V1, namely the selectable output impedance, iPhone MFI USB decoder port with optical S/PDIF output, and dual inputs, in return for a noticeably smaller package.
GEAR USED: CEntrance Cerene dB, HiFiMan Edition-X and HE-560, Sennheiser HD600, HD6XX, HD800, and HD800s, JH Audio 13 Pro and 16 Pro, and Westone ES70. I have Moon-Audio Silver Dragon and Black Dragon cables for most of the full size headphones that terminate in mini-XLR connectors to pair with a variety of pigtails with different plugs on them - including 2.5mm balanced, 3.5mm single ended, 1/4" single ended, 4.4mm TRRRS balanced, 4-pin XLR, and RSA balanced amp jacks. I also have a pigtail that let's me plug my 4.4mm headphone cables into a 4-pin XLR, and the other way around.
My HD800 and HE-1000se each have their own Black-Dragon cable going to the ear cups, and can be used SE or balanced with the above pigtails. My Edition-X and HE-1000 V1 share a silver dragon cable with 2.5mm connectors at the ear cups, and my HE-560 and HE-6 share a old-style HiFiMan co-ax connector on Silver Dragon cable plus an extra HE-6 balanced cable. All of them can be used SE or balanced by using the pigtails above, except my HD600/6XX that share a APS V3 SE cable and a Warren Audio balanced cable.
For my IEM I have a balanced Black Dragon V2 cable for my JH Audio Roxanne and a Black Dragon V2 3.5mm SE pigtail, plus a balanced Silver Dragon V3 for each of my Westone ES60 and W80 with a 3.5mm SE pigtail but in Silver Dragon. I have not tried these IEM yet, just my JH 13 Pro on a stock SE cable as reported when I first received the M8 V2. I plan to try my Custom IEM soon.
IMPRESSIONS WITH USB INPUT gives same sound via MacBook USB-C as with iPhone Lightning to USB-3 CCK and USB-A to C cable: The M8 V2 is one of FIVE beta units in the wild for testing, with 1 or 2 changes being added to the final version that will only affect functionality and not the sound (mostly in the switching circuit for Input, and in the name that appears when the USB DAC is connected to the source).
My HiFiMan Edition-X sound fantastic with the M8 V2 regardless of the output, as long as I stay away from the stock cable. This amp (with Silver Dragon cable) was made for the Edition-X, making them hit hard and open up in space, and sounding closer to their flagship headphones than they have right to sound. Switching from the HD800 to the Edition-X after acclimating to the HD800 sound signature is not a shock to the system in terms of worsening, as the Edition-X/cable/M8 V2 have excellent synergy that smooths out the Ed-X flaws.
The Ed-X can be easily driven by an iPhone lightning to 3.5mm adapter, so imagine a multitude more of power and quality at your fingertips... They do not require the power offered by the hot side, but I do get a some extra bass foundation and weight from the hot-side, and a larger soundstage from the 4-pin balanced output (the 1/4" soundstage is still very big). If one was just hearing the Ed-X through the 1/4" hot side output you would never know that you were missing anything! They sound incredibly punchy, crisp, refined, and spacious from the M8 V2 with the upgraded Silver Dragon cable. Even with a $40 3rd party single ended replacement cable they sound pretty good, with more natural mids than the stock cable at the expense of a little bass - my son and I agree on the change with cables.
I only just found my balanced 2.5mm Silver Dragon adapter, so I'll try it on the cold side balanced out later, but the 3.5mm output was fantastic with Ed-X. I also plan to try the hot side with Ed-X while in low gain, because frankly the M8 V2 power output with Ed-X is insane, and likely too much for anyone (still alive) to handle. It can play dangerously/painfully loud, and I'd worry that this might damage the headphones if played at max volume unchecked - but you would not be able to tolerate the volume of the Ed-X at levels loud enough to damage them, unless you were using earplugs under the headphones.
The HiFiMan HE-560 V1 sound good on the hot side and can get quite loud when single ended, but they excel with the hot side's balanced output in terms of impact and punch and soundstage. The HE-560 are one of those headphones that can sound strained or closed-in with some amps, but open up and become more effortless with an upgraded cable and a powerful balanced amp (like my Eddie Current ZDT). Usually an amp with 2 watts into 32 ohms are best for these (e.g. the old HiFiMan EF-5 or my ZDT), but the M8 has enough power. Again, the 560 are a bit better in balanced mode than single ended, where the extra power lets them sound a little more effortless and free flowing in their reproduction. I don't think the 3.5mm cold side jack is fantastic with the 560, unless you plan to listen at quiet get-ready-for-bed volumes, and the 1/4" output is still not optimal after trying them out balanced.
NOTE - As soon as I got the HE-1000 a few years back I kind of retired the HE-560. Around that time, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was held outside in a big circus tent in the hotel parking lot while the hotel was being renovated, and the quality of AC power in the tents on several huge generators was iffy at best. The HiFiM8 V1 on battery could drive the latest HE-1000 better than any of the AC powered desktop amps in the tent. So you can imagine how much I am looking forward to trying the M8 V2 with my HE-1000 V1 and HE-1000se this week.
My Sennheiser HD600/HD6XX 300 ohm really like the M8 V2, and I find that they're best on the hot side (voltage swing is about 10v). They can be used on the cold-side 3.5mm jack if you need to conserve power in "stamina mode" for longer battery. In high-gain via the 3.5mm jack on the cold side, the HD600 can still play louder than you'll ever need, but they lose that something special in the process. The M8 V2 still drives the HD600 from the cold side better than a lot of portable amps, and better than the 560 from the cold side, but it's nothing like the hot side or a desktop amp.
Some people would say the HD600 is a dinosaur that should be retired, but switching to the hot side transforms the HD600 into a great headphone that is still relevant today. I definitely wish I could try them on the 2.5mm jack in stamina mode, except my HD600 are the ones that I only have a 3.5mm or 4-pin XLR cable, but not a Moon-Audio cable that can do other size jacks. If you don't have a balanced cable for the HD600 don't worry, they are very good via the 1/4" jack, and the M8 1/4" output drives them better than my DACmini. But plug the HD600 or HD6XX into the balanced 4-pin XLR and it's just WOW!
I handed my HD600 to my son Ben, turned up the volume, and hit play on Katy Perry "Harley's in Hawaii", and he said, "What the?!? they should not have this bass! Wuuut?!... Wuuut!?... Wuuut?!..." Seriously, I typed that quote as he spoke the first time that he heard them with this song. However, the the HD600 are not that punchy with every song if it's not in the music; and HD600 are not what I typically consider a "fun" sounding headphone, rather they are more of a reference headphone. But when playing them via 4-pin XLR balanced from the M8 V2 they can become fun and punchy. Again, I think the spacious soundstage is slightly better with balanced output, but it's nothing to sneeze at from the 1/4" jack.
The Sennheiser HD6XX still have that characteristic increased bass presence, and also the slight "upper bass bleed into the lower mids" issue that sets them apart from the HD600. This M8 V2 doesn't erase that flaw for me like the DACmini does, which has less punch from the SE output than M8 balanced with these high impedance Sennheiser - the reason why I don't like HD800 via DACmini. The HD6XX work better with the DACmini, or Nuprime Audio Hi-mDAC if going portable, because they tame the bass-bleed on the HD6XX/650.
My son's launch day HD800 and my 6 month old HD800s both sound wonderful with the M8 V2 via 4-pin XLR output. A little background - we don't have many headphone amps in the house that sound as good with HD800 as our Pioneer VSX-LX102 or VSX-LX303 AV receivers with an upgraded external DAC. Those home theater amps with a good external DAC (i.e. DACmini, Audioengine D2, Nuforce DAC-100, Perfectwave DAC, R2R2000) deliver a strong bass foundation with weight and impact, as well as a spacious soundstage and smooth highs. We do not use the built-in Pioneer DAC except for 7.2 movie audio, so I don't know how it sounds otherwise.
My $3000 Eddie Current ZDT headphone amp doesn't hit as hard as the Pioneer, but it's very refined and spacious. And my HiFiMan EF-6 has almost as much impact as the Pioneer, but sounds grainier and more aggressive while being more fun and punchy than the ZDT. My DACmini and Nuforce HAP-100 are still a little grainy with the HD800/800s as well, and they don't have as much bass impact as the Pioneers do. The HiFiMan EF-100 doesn't have enough power/voltage swing for HD800, nor does our Millett Hybrid or Schitt Audio Magni 3. The Nuforce DAC-100 DAC headphone out has a nice sonic balance with the HD800, but lacks the power they need for the desired bass impact. The Nuforce Icon DAC, like the DAC-100, also has a nice frequency response with the HD800 but could use more power. So far the CEntrance M8 V2 is the closest thing that we've heard to the Pioneer (that we own). I daresay that it reminds me a lot of the Sennheiser HDV-820 amplifier when driving the HD800, based on memory from listening at the September 2019 RMAF. It's hard to recommend an affordable amp to drive the HD800/800s and now I have one to put on the list.
The original HiFi M8 V1 via 4-pin XLR (with 10 ohm output setting and bass boost turned on) sounds pretty darn good with the HD800, but we both think that the M8 V2 is smoother and more refined sounding, while offering a similar bass without needing to turn on any bass boost. The M8 V2 may not be the best amp in the house for HD800, but it's so good that it could be our ONLY amp in the house for HD800 and we'd be very happy. My son says that the M8 V1 is a "Jack of all Trades, but Master of None" and the M8 V2 is "a Jack of all Trades, and Master of Some", esp in regards to the Sennheiser HD600 and his Westone ES70. He has owned the HD600 and sold them last year when he got my HD800, but he says that he's never heard the HD600 sound this good before.
My JH Audio JH 13 Pro: As mentioned before, the M8 V2 is a fantastic match for my JH 13 Pro, nuff said. Same with the Cerene dB, which I mentioned before sound better controlled and fun as expected, while the bass can get a little out of control with some amps (Hi-mDAC).
Westone ES70 (my son's): My son says, "The M8 V2 is the best portable amp that I've tried with my Westone ES70s". He tells me that his custom ES70 IEM usually sound their best on most amps in high gain with the volume turned down, rather than in low gain with the volume cranked up. His previous favorite amp for his ES70 was the CEntrance BlueDAC and thinks they sound noticeably better with the M8 V2.
He is using a Silver Dragon 2.5mm balanced cable and thinks the ES70 with M8 V2 is the closest IEM to what the HD800s sound like (with the M8 V2 or any other amp). He says they both sound amazing on audiophile music like lossless BB King "Riding with the King" 3 o'clock blues, but with more busy or congested music recordings he says they can sound edgy or brutally revealing. He would kill for a Black Dragon MMCX cable, but they don't make one - other cables he's tried that sound warmer also kill the micro-details. He says the ES70's are what he picks for jazz, country, instrumental, and acoustic like Jack Johnson; but he uses his JH16 Pro for electronic and EDM or classic rock, which he thinks pair better with a brighter and less bassy DAC/amp (such as DACmini or Nuprime Audio Hi-mDAC).
JH16 Pro Freqphase (my son's): He has his JHA 16 Pro on a Moon-Audio Silver Dragon V3 cable with 3.5mm SE plug, and usually needs to use an amp with the right synergy that corrects his particular JH16 deficiencies. He finds that his Nuprime Audio Hi-mDAC gives him a better experience with them, where his previous best amp for the JH16 was the CEntrance DACmini or M8 V1 (and still work well). The DACmini tames the bass and reduces the bass-bleed into the low mids, just like it does with my HD6XX.
He says that the M8 V2 sounds a lot like his BlueDAC when using his JHA16 Pro - fairly good, and better than most portable amps, but not their best. The M8 V2 is warmer sounding than the DACmini, and therefore shows off an existing peak in the bass around 80-100 Hz with some mild bass-bleed into the low mids, and doesn't help his recessed treble (same with his JH16 on many amps). He will still use the HiFiM8 V1 with the JHA, optimizing the output impedance and treble boost switch to make them sound their best when portable, and has my old DACmini to use at other times.
COMING Soon: I'll start working on impressions with my Westone ES60 on balanced Silver Dragon cable, and maybe W60 or W80 on Westone Hi-Res cable, JH Audio 16 Pro Freqphase on stock cable and/or JH Audio Roxanne on Black Dragon V2 balanced cable, HiFiMan HE-1000 V1 on Silver Dragon and/or HiFiMan HE-1000se on Black Dragon cable, and Grado HF-2. I might even throw in a test with the OG HiFiMan HE-6, but if my RSA SR-71b in balanced mode struggled to drive them then I suspect the M8 V2 will also do so - the HE-6 usually sing with a 50-75 watt speaker amp. I might also dig out a variety of V-MODA headphones to try. This is going to take a while.
THOUGHTS and PLANS: The Hi-Fi M8 V2 has enough power to drive a variety of full-size non-portable headphones well, and does so with the authority of a desktop amp with many of them. Knowing the characteristics of each of those headphones and owning most of them for years, I don't think the M8 V2 is imparting it's own flavor on the headphones, and it seems to work well with dark and bright sounding phones equally well. It can sound good with an HD600/6XX or an HD800 without having to EQ one or the other.
This is perfect for the laptop on a TV table next to the La-Z-Boy chair, bedside table, hotel room, or at work. In the summer it's a little bigger than you want for a blue jeans pants pocket, but if your cable is long enough it might be fine in a cargo pants pocket. It would be great in a backpack while using BT and running the cable out to your ears - your phone would be cable free and you can control music and volume from it. I'll probably continue to use my BlueDAC for true portable pocket-usage when I want the lightest device in my pocket for portable headphones. But this is still the best type of wireless solution for those with hi-end custom IEM who want maximum sound quality, and if I already owned the M8 V2 then I would NOT be looking for a BlueDAC to add to it.
The cold side has tons of power for portable headphones and IEM, so you can conserve power and prolong battery life in Stamina mode. And with the USB-C PD port you can connect any old battery pack to the M8 V2 with a USB cable to prolong battery life in full-power mode. The old M8 V1 only trickle charged via 5v USB, and for full speed charging it used a pin and barrel type jack with the same large power brick as the DACmini at 19v x 2.5a.
When playing music via USB on a computer with data port charge mode on, the M8 V2 charges very slightly faster than it would via the PD only port; however, both ports charge at the same speed when the M8 V2 is idle and not playing music. The USB data port is closer to the battery and the circuit seems to allow it to accept very slightly more power via data port when streaming music via USB. The USB PD port always takes priority when both cables are plugged in, so you don't need to turn off data/charge port mode with the laptop if also using the power only port.
I don't know if a noisy PC power supply going into the data port will add noise, but turning off sharing via data port might help if it does. With my iPhone 11 Pro Max, the iPhone battery seems to drain about 2x as fast as normal when I leave it in charge mode while listening via USB with the CCK, at which point I suspect the iPhone and M8 v2 would run out of juice at about the same time. But, BT mode draws less power and the estimated 8 hours of operation is with BT as the source.
VARIATIONS IN SOUND: I am going to be moving to my favorite IEM to evaluate further, and continue to look for changes in sound on the cold side vs hot side, but so far it seems likely to hear fewer difference with easy to drive headphones, and more difference with the difficult headphones. I also want to see if I can hear a change in sound signature between low gain and high gain, but so far with the JH13Pro the two modes sound equally good, while my son thinks the JH16Pro sound slightly better in high gain because their sensitivity kind of straddles the jump from low to high.
BLUETOOTH: Lastly, I will spend a little more time with BT sound quality, but at this point I have to say that I was impressed enough with the sound via BT that I'll probably always use mine in BT mode for iPhone and USB mode for MacBook, even with 100GB of lossless music on my iPhone (plus Tidal).
BATTERY: I'm not sure how much time I will have to test the battery - It can be hard to baby sit a device for 4-8 ours while playing music on a continuous loop until it dies, and not miss the moment it goes dead.
I'm trying to finish my beta testing and evaluation as soon as possible, so that CEntrance can get them into full production and ship to all of you (the 1/4" jacks should be in by now), and I will need to send this back to get it flashed with the latest firmware and any other final changes. I only received the M8 V2 on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, and had my kids home visiting while trying to still social distance, so I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped. Sorry for any typos, but at 3AM I really don't care.
May 29th, 2020.
I found an old hard drive case that was too small for many of my 2.5" SSD in an external case, and it fits the Hi-Fi M8 V2 perfectly with cables.
It's a Canboc EVA shockproof case for Western Digital WD Passport or Seagate Backup Plus Slim from Amazon, and would protect it from drops, unlike the cloth bag or zipper bag, but it is bulkier than a bag. If you roll up the included cable into a small loop, it will fit, but I'm using a 12" C-to-C cable and a 10" C-to-A cable with CCK instead.
I will be busy with my children so I'm going to have to put this on the back burner for a few days before I can post more impressions - I should be able to get to my IEM today, but not the other full size headphones that I listed.
I does NOT look like I'm finding anything new for CEntrance to fix that they don't already know about and plan to implement with production of the final firmware and PC board.
I have tried the CEntrance HiFi M8 V2 with 2 portable full-size headphones (Ed-X and Cerene dB) and 3 custom IEM (JH 13 pro, JH 16 pro, Westone ES70), and 5 difficult to drive full size headphones including HiFiMan planar magnetic HE-560, and four Sennheiser (HD 600, 6XX, 800, and 800s), in balanced and singled ended mode.
And SO FAR I AM THRILLED with the sound and performance of the HiFi M8 V2. The hot side can not only drive difficult 300 ohm Sennheiser headphones but can actually drive them with authority and skill befitting the performance of a desktop amp. And, conversely it is an excellent match for my laid back JH 13 Pro, and energetic NXEars Basso, as well as my son's Westone ES70 customs.
My son complains that his JH 16 pro are often too picky about what amp he uses and that most amps make their bass bloated and highs muted - and the M8 V2 is no different. He can use JH 16 pro with treble boost, but he prefers to use a less warm and more analytical amp with his JH 16 Pro, such as a DACmini or Nuprime Audio Hi-mDAC (or Nuforce HDP). His Schitt Audio Magni 3 also has the problems he mentioned.
So, I think this is enough for people to decide to jump on the sale price before it's gone when the M8 V2 starts shipping, even without my further impressions!
May 29th, 2020.
The HD800/800s need higher voltage swing than planars, and an amp with good synergy that doesn't make them sound thin and shrill (or sound smooth with poor impact such as my ZDT which does do 2W at 32 ohms). I have over 2 dozen portable and desktop amps in the house, and only 3 of them sound proper with the HD800/800s. The M8 V2 is one of them.
It's somewhere between 1.5 - 2W based on my best guess, but they will have numbers for us soon. Their concern is that I think Michael said they can get something like 6 dB more gain before clipping, but it was too much for ALL of the headphone they tested and had to turn it down. They were in genuine fear of harming either headphones or someone's ears.
Yes, the volume control works very well. I think it is digitally controlled.
Sunday May 30th, 2020.
The JHA Roxanne 2.5mm TRRS balanced cable plugged in at the same times as the 3.5mm singled ended pigtail, so I could go back and forth.
After listening last night for a couple of hours, I can honestly say that the Hifi-M8 V2 is now my favorite headphone amp for my balanced JH Audio Roxanne custom IEM.
I have always said that the Roxanne sound best with an amplifier, while they sound a little more bland when played though an iPhone headphone jack (or lightning adapter). So, when using an amplifier with the Roxanne I've found that they can also be a little picky about things like the output impedance and other characteristics of the amp being used.
The Roxanne were perfect with the M8 V1 at the 1ohm or 2ohm output impedance setting, sounding almost identical to using the Roxanne on the Chord Mojo DAC/amp. This caused Dale Lott of Aurisonics (and then Fender and Spear Audio Labs) to head over to the CEntrance booth at RMAF a few years back, to see about securing a HiFiM8 for themselves. When using the OG M8 V1 in 10 ohm output mode, the Roxanne would become a bit warmer and the bass would bleed into the low midrange. The HiFi M8 V2 output impedance is 0ohm (zero) on the cold side and 1ohm on the hot side, which is perfect for all of my IEM.
As stated before, I have the Moon-Audio Black Dragon V2 balanced 2.5mm cable, with a black dragon 3.5mm single-ended pigtail, so that I can use it on both the 2.5mm and the 3.5mm outputs. The problem with comparing the 2.5mm balanced output to the 3.5mm output is that switching from balanced output to single ended sounds much quieter, which is not very helpful with making direct AB comparisons.
The M8 V2 balanced amp section with the Roxanne simply blew me away the first time I tried it! There are almost no words. It's beauty - sonic balance and transparency, refinement and space, micro and macro-detail, black background and dynamics - was so sublime that anything I'd listen to shortly afterwards lost it's shine.
I did have to turn up the volume noticeably after switching to the 3.5mm output, so it's hard to know if it is equally as good in real life. If I started listening to the 3.5mm output after a short break I thought it was fantastic as well, until I would switch to the balanced output again. I have to say, because the Roxanne live on the balanced black dragon cable, I will spend 100% of my listening time through the 2.5mm output.
I then listened to the M8 V2 with my Westone ES60 via the 3.5mm output, which can be easily driven by almost anything, and it was also extremely good with maybe a slight emphasis on warmth and lower midrange body. I didn't get quite as blown away with them because the Westone optional Hi-Res 3.5mm cable they not nearly as good as on the Moon-Audio Silver Dragon cable. I'll have to dig out my balanced Silver Dragon cable tonight to compare with the 2.5mm output today (I'd recently had a short in the 2.5mm jack strain relief repaired and didn't put it back in the case with the ES60).
In low gain mode with the Roxanne or ES60 the volume knob always stays balanced, without favoring one channel orver another at extremely quiet volumes before the sound cuts out when going too low - even on the louder 2.5mm balanced output. Audio cut-out happens at volumes much lower than I have ever tried to listen to music before, so that is great.
In high gain with my custom IEM, the volume control is still very useable via both the 3.5mm and even the louder 2.5mm jack, where I get to not quite as low volumes before audio cuts out. That higher volume at cut-out would still be several dB below my normal quiet listening levels, so I can leave it in high gain to use IEM with the M8 V2 if I want to quickly switch to full-size headphones soon after. I did NOT notice any change in audio quality between low gain and high gain settings, like I do with my Schitt Audio Magni 3 that sounds better in high gain than low gain.
I'd almost say that my job is done here with IEM, but I still need to listen to my ES60 with my balanced cable, as well as try some more universal fit IEM like my Westone W80 and HiFiMan RE-2000, etc.
Yay, I love my job :ksc75smile: (I'm actually retired, but this is what I would want to do). [I also hate autocorrect typos that make me edit posts]
Wednesday June 3rd, 2020.
IMPRESSIONS OF HIFI M8 V2 WITH MY JH AUDIO JH16 PRO FREQPHASE, WESTONE W60 ON HI-RES CABLE, AND WESTONE W80 ON HI-RES CABLE or ALO Audio SXT (lossless with Tidal or ALAC CD rips in iTunes):
So, in my previous impressions with our custom IEM, I reported that with my Westone ES60 customs and JH Audio Roxanne customs that the M8 V2 sounds fantastic via 3.5mm or 2.5mm output (just about perfect); while my son prefers the M8 V2 with his ES70 customs, but not with his JH16 Pro freqphase. He said the M8 V2 is practically made just for his ES70 and it's the best he's heard them sound, and I'd say the same about my ES60 and Roxanne customs with the M8 V2.
With his JH16 Pro freqphase, which he doesn't like quite as much as his Westone ES70, he thought there is a little extra bass-bleed into the mids, and felt that the 16's mids are a little too muddled with the M8 V2 vs on his Hi-mDAC (less warm amp). He has the same issue with his JH16 Pro on his Schitt Magni 3, where the synergy is also not nearly as good on the Magni as it is with his CEntrance DACmini driving the JH16 Pro. His favorite desktop amp for the JH16 Pro has been the DACmini, matched by the CEntrance BlueDAC when he is portable, followed by the iPhone lightning cable since it has good synergy too.
He was using the JH16 Pro on high gain with the M8 V2, since they straddled his needs between low and high gain; but I'm probably listening a good 6-7 dB below the max volume with JH16 in low gain, and don't need high gain like he did. None of the IEM I tried the past few days require high-gain for me, but some like the W80 or JH16 Pro can definitely be used in high gain without any problems, and no hiss.
What I liked about my JH16 Pro freqphase when I first got them ages ago was that they had more weight and body in the lows and midrange than my JH13 Pro; and guess what, the DACmini that my son loves with the 16's was also what I was using back then before I gave it to him. I have played with my JH16 Pro freqphase for the past few days on the M8 V2, with both the stock cable and microphone cable; and I don't think it's as bad with the M8 V2 as he describes. Yes, the JH16 Pro freqphase are fuller sounding in the upper bass and lower midrange than my JH13 Pro; and so with some amps the low mids can be a little much. But the 16's don't quite get to the point of being muddled on most albums, while on some albums or amps it's an issue unlike my JH13 Pro.
On the M8 V2 the entire album "Roadhouses and Automobiles" by Chris Jones sounds good with my JH16 Pro freqphase; but switching to Billie Eilish's album "don't smile at me" then the JH16 Pro freqphase do sound a bit congested and warmish on several of the songs, likely due to the way it was mastered (bedroom). I would not pick the M8 V2 combo to enjoy Eilish's album, while my ES60 and JH Audio Roxanne handle her recordings on the M8 V2 way better than my JH16 Pro. So, it's not really the M8 V2 fault as much as it is the JH16 Pro freqphase which have always been more picky about what amp we use. The M8 V2 and JH16 Pro freqphase combo deal with acoustic instrument recordings better than it does EDM for example, working well with Jack Johnson, or jazz by Guinea Pig album "Kool Cats", or blues by Eric Clapton and B.B. King on "Riding with the King".
Give the JHA16 the right amp and they shine, but pick the wrong one and it leaves you confused - and yet the JH16 Pro freqphase are still much more forgiving of the amp choice than my old Ultimate Ears UE11 Pro. The JH16 Pro freqphase are a funny IEM that sounds worse on a Magni 3, and great right out of a lightning to headphone adapter on my iPhone. And, if we switch to the Hi-mDAC or DACmini then the JH16 Pro freqphase are a completely different animal - well controlled, balanced, powerful and not too warm with better detail and space. I plan to leave my JH16 Pro on the microphone cable with lightning adapter, just as I have for the past several years.
NOTE - I'd rank the 16's below the JH Audio Roxanne, Westone ES60, and JH Audio JH13 Pro on this amp. But give them a less warm and brighter amp and the JH16 Pro freqphase come into their own. On a Nuprime Audio Hi-mDAC or DACmini they get fairly close to my ES60, but not as close as the Roxanne do. The ES60 sound good on any amp that I try them with, and I might say ES60 and Roxanne are on a similar level when the Roxanne are properly amp'd. The Roxanne sound good with most amps, but the ES60 pass then up when both are using a lightning to headphone adapter. The JH16 Pro might pass up the Roxanne when both are using an iPhone lightning to headphone adapter, because the Roxanne really run best when amp'd.
NEXT - I went from using the custom IEM above to my Westone W60 universal fit IEM on the optional Westone Hi-Res cable, and like the JH16 phase they also sound a bit warmer and fuller in the upper bass and lower midrange, and they have similar issues with Billie Eilish bass-bleed as the JH16 Pro freqphase. But the W60 handle it better than the JH16 Pro, and this extra warmth makes them sound wonderful on the M8 V2 with Dianna Krall "Live in Paris" - it adds weight and body to the performance that makes it feel more live. The W60 with M8 V2 or BlueDAC (or DACport HD) are warmer sounding with punchier bass, but more spacious and detailed with the Hi-mDAC, so they are very versatile IEM that can be tuned by an amp choice rather than EQ. The W60 do better with an amp if you want to get strong bass out of them, and while not bad with the W60 with lightning to headphone adapter, that doesn't come close to the performance that I'm getting with them on the M8 v2.
Going to the Westone W80 and Hi-Res cable on the M8 V2 was a big step up, in everything! They actually sound better with the M8 V2 than the JH16 Pro freqphase, and for a moment I forgot that I was using a universal fit IEM on "3 o'clock Blues" by Eric Clapton and B.B. King. I'd say that the W80 sound better with the M8 V2 than what I remember with my DACport HD or BlueDAC, where I would sometimes reach for my Nuprime Audio Hi-mDAC to brighten them up slightly before I got to try the ALO Audio Reference 8 cable.
The W80 synergy with the M8 V2 is great, and a little better with the subtle treble boost switch turned on when using the Westone cable. The Westone Hi-Res upgrade cable that I'm using is slightly more detailed than stock, but darker than the Ref 8 (or my balanced Silver Dragon which I leave on my ES60 full-time). I often enjoy the W80 un-amped right out of the lightning to headphone adapter, or with the Bluetooth V2 cable; but the M8 V2 takes them to a whole new level, even without flipping the treble boost switch. But I see no reason to not use the switch with the W80 on this cable. The Nuprime Audio Hi-mDAC adds a little more air and space, at the expense of bass impact, and while my CEntrance BlueDAC gives me the impact, I think that the M8 V2 opens them up a little bit more.
With the W80 on the ALO Audio Reference 8 MMCX cable with the M8 V2, the highs become more crisp and they sound even better. The ALO cable has four high purity silver-plated copper (SXC) conductors combined with four OCC copper conductors in FEP jackets. The improvement is subtle, like flipping on the treble boost switch with the cheaper cable; but I'm left with little more to desire from this universal when using the ALO cable, regardless of the treble boost switch settings. In the end, I went back to all EQ-off when using the ALO Ref 8 cable and kept it on the W80.
Going back to listen with this combo to the Billie Eilish song "&burn" and "Bad Guy" with Justin Bieber - It's just Wow! It's nothing like with the JH16 Pro which got a bit wooly sounding. Same with Jonas Brothers "Only Human" and Katy Perry "Harleys in Hawaii" - it's just fast and punchy and crisp sounding. Zac Brown Band "Sweet Annie" sounds big and open, and transparent, while with some amps the W80 can sound congested with this song at very high volumes (I'm tried low-gain 100% volume = very clear and very loud).
NEXT UP: HiFiMan HE-1000 V1 and HE-1000se, Grado HF-2, and maybe HE-6 OG V1 (torture test).
June Thursday 4th, 2020.
PART 4 - IMPRESSIONS of CEntrance M8 V2 WITH Grado HF-2, HiFiMan HE-1000 v1 and HE-1000se, and HiFiMan HE-6 V1 OG:
THE Tl;Dr VERSION - it drives all of the listed headphone quite well, as well as the ones I've previously posted about in Part 1, 2 and 3 - some better than others, and depending on the app used for music even the HE-6 V1. The M8 V2 is Highly recommended. Buy one ASAP before the price goes up when they start shipping.
I’ve got my final impressions of the CEntrance M8 V2 and I can now stop gushing about the test unit and send it back for the final version USB switching control mod and final firmware. The primary noticeable change will be it showing up as "CEntrance M8" on your devices' output switcher, instead of being listed as “CEntrance M8 V2”. The 2.5mm jack will also be a little more forward and flush with the case. And, if the M8 V2 USB becomes unplugged while using it for data you won’t have to switch out of USB mode and back to USB to use it again. Everything else was perfect.
They are starting production and everything is finalized, with no changes to the audio and amplification being done before production. The way the M8 V2 sounds for us five reviewers is how they will ship, and I would not have asked for any changes in the sound quality or frequency response - it’s that good.
I spent several hours today finishing my impressions of the M8 V2 using my HiFiMan HE-1000 V1 and 1000se, single ended and balanced, on the cold side and hot side. I also tried my stock cabled Grado HF-2 on the hot side and cold side with a 3.5mm Grado adapter. And just for grins I tried my inefficient HiFiMan HE-6 v1 OG, via 4-pin balanced stock OCC copper cable and stock 1/4” pigtail adapter.
I used Tidal lossless streaming app with everything for the first 6 hours of the day, and then at about 5PM, after chatting with Michael about my HE-6 v1 impressions, I switched to Apple Music in Mac OS Catalina to try some of my lossless CD rips and HD Tracks hi-res downloads with my HE-6. I felt like a fool because I’d written a full page and a half about it’s power output with HE-6 V1 while using Tidal, only to discover that Apple Music on Mac and iPhone has a higher output level going out to the DAC (as well as Tidal for iPhone). That changed a lot of what he and I discussed, for the better. I had to spend several more hours listening, to help me correct my findings.
Therefore, this writeup got very complicated midway through todays review, and I did my best to fix it and clean it up; but please forgive me if I was repetitive or not clear. By 10:30PM I was just getting to the point cleaning up my first draft - I’ve been going at this for about 14 hours by the time I hit the post reply button!
I started out with my Grado HF-2 on the stock cable and pads. I thought that they sounded slightly better on the hot side at higher volumes, rather than via the cold side with a Grado 1/4” to 3.5mm adapter, but not by much. And at lower to moderate volumes I thought the cold side was great with the HF-2.
The Grado house sound signature has a midrange that can be a little “shouty” at louder volumes, and a treble that can be a little grainy at times. A more powerful amp hides some of these flaws at louder volumes, as do tubes. Usually my favorite amps with the Grados have about 2 watts into 32 ohms and tubes to smooth them out and make them sound more euphonic, such as my Eddie Current ZDT. They’re even better on a Millet Hybrid which gives them a nice bass bump as well. But with many SS amps like the Nuforce HDP or HAP-100, CEntrance M8 V1, or DACmini the HF-2 can sound a little lighter and grainier. (I never got around to trying them with our Schitt Audio Magni 3 or HiFiMan EF-100).
With the HiFi M8 V2 the Grado HF-2 actually have a more balanced and neutral presentation, while sounding smoother than on my other SS amps, just like with the HD800/800s. My son owned the HF-2 for a while, but sold them a few years back in favor of the HD600 on the DACmini or Nuforce HDP. But the M8 V2 is warmer and smoother with the HF-2, such that even my son liked them this time around. He would still prefer a pair of balanced HD600 with the M8 V2 if he was on a budget, but he felt the HF-2 + M8 V2 was a good match. I would agree.
I might prefer the Grado’s bass when using flat ear-pads more than the standard pads with the M8 v2, which does give them a little bass boost. But using the flat pads for more bass comes at the expense of a smaller soundstage and a too-forward midrange. So I nixed the flat pads. A better option was flipping the M8 V2 bass boost switch ON, which makes the HF-2 sound nearly perfect with the stock pads, on hot or cold sides at any volume - preventing that typical “wall of sound” and forward mids that I’d get from the flat pads.
The bass boost switch with the HF-2 also makes the HF-2 a lot more fun sounding without hurting the sound, because the bass does a better job of keeping up with the midrange. With the bass switch turned on, I thought that the cold side with the 3.5mm Grado adapter was every bit as good as the hot side with 1/4” jack. Even flipping on the treble boost didn’t make the HF-2 too sharp sounding, but made extreme low volume listening more enjoyable. So the HF-2 is a good match for Stamina Mode, while being slightly better on the hot side (while the HE-560 planar magnetic perk up quite a bit on the hot side).
I then moved to the HE-1000 v1 and HE-1000se with the stock single-ended and balanced cables, and also used my Moon-Audio Black Dragon mini-xlr cable for the HE-1000se, using 2.5mm, 3.5mm, 1/4”, and 4-pin XLR pigtails. I usually prefer the HE-1000se over the HD-800/800s, because the HE1K has more bass impact and foundation, and they are smoother without losing any detail or transparency. In general, the HE-1000se are also more fun sounding while staying true to the recording, while the HD800s tend to be more analytical, airy, and out-of-head. Even with the stock HiFiMan balanced cable the M8 V2 with either version of HE-1000 blew me away!
While the M8 V2 was a great match for the HD-800/800s, it’s an even better match with the HE-1000 v1 and 1000se. The sound is extremely transparent and crisp, with rich tones and textures, plus fast and tactile bass, making them sound simply amazing. The HD-800/800s still have a more etherial and spacious soundstage vs the HE-1000se, but the M8 V2 brings the HE1K that much closer in terms of a large soundstage, while sounding more punchy, exciting and energetic than the HD-800s.
Unbelievably, connecting my HE-1000se to the 2.5mm balanced output was quite remarkable, and the M8 V2 can drive them with ease from any output, including just the cold side in Stamina Mode! The M8 V2 has more power than I could ever ask for with the HF-2, HD600/6XX/800, and Edition-X, and it’s no different with the HE1K v1 and 1000se. With gobs and gobs of power on tap I could not ask for more from a portable DAC/amp when using the HE1K; and like with many other headphones, it could be my only DAC/amp in the house and I’d be a happy man.
After being blown away by the M8 V2 driving the HiFiMan HE1K v1 and se, I rested my ears for a bit and then switched to the HiFiMan HE-6 V1 OG in balanced mode on the 4-pin XLR output. These headphones are notorious for their power hungry appetite, thriving on a 50+ watt/8 ohm speaker amp, with about an 84-85 dB/mw sensitivity. I consider them to be a good torture test any time I try them on a new amplifier.
I started out with HE-6 v1 using the Tidal lossless streaming app for Mac, not knowing that Tidal’s output levels with an external DAC are often a bit lower than when you are using the Apple Music app on a Mac or iPhone. Regardless, I was impressed.
The HE-6 V1 on the M8 V2 sounds good at normal/medium listening volumes. It has good bass and treble extension, solid presence, vivid midrange vocals, good detail and air and space, and the soundstage is open. Overall sonic balance and frequency response is excellent and still closer to the HE-1000se than it has a right to be after all these years - but with a smaller soundstage than the HE1K v1 or se. Yet the HE-6 soundstage still sounds bigger and more spacious than with my HE-5LE, HE-500 or HE-560 on any amp.
At normal listening levels with most music, with my eyes closed I might not know that I was listening to a portable amp, and even with Tidal lossless streaming app the HE-6 gave no sign that the M8 V2 can’t drive them, until I found out that I was already at about 75-80% of max volume - whoops!
Going up from there to 100% volume adds at least 3+ dB with Tidal, where it’s a few dB louder than I would normally be listening with HE-6, although not at levels that would make my right ear tinnitus act up. If listening at max volume for a while, once my ears adjusted to the higher volume then there was no way to go up if I needed more, except via software. This did not happen often, and could be cured with taking a break and letting my ears rest before coming back to listen.
It’s not that big of a problem because most of the time the HE-6 v1 volume levels were more than adequate while using Tidal to play thru the 4-pin XLR output. And the bass depth and “feel” didn’t make me feel like it was struggling at all. but, it just can’t reach slamming impact levels with the M8 v2 like it does with a 50 watt speaker amp.
With some albums like Jack Johnson “Sleep Through the Static” the volume levels in Tidal were close to that of Apple Music. With others like B.B. King and Eric Clapton “Riding with the King” or Chris Jones “Roadhouse and Automobiles” the volume was a little quieter, but still very useable between 60 to 100% volume out of the 4-pin XLR. With Rutter Requiem by Timothy Selig and Turtle Creek Chorale, sometimes with some songs the volume was too low for the HE-6 V1 (e.g. Pie Jesu), more so if I had been listening previously to other music at louder volumes for a while.
Taking that short break to “reset” my hearing allowed me to go back and listen to this quieter recording again. With Tidal and some quiet albums, the M8 V2 with HE-6 V1 doesn’t run out of steam so much as it runs out of gain. Regardless, the 4-pin XLR jack was a must with Tidal for Mac and the HE-6 V1, when using the software as intended.
Rogue Amoeba SoundSource software for Mac - As noted, with Tidal and some classical music with HE-6 V1 I’d sometimes wish for maybe 3-4 dB more gain, but later things got much better by using the Rogue Amoeba SoundSource app, or switching to Apple Music for Mac or iPhone which plays louder. I can use the Rogue Amoeba SoundSource app on my MacBook to bump the gain as much as 400% in overdrive mode, setting the amount to be boosted on an app by app basis. So, I can have it only boost the gain for the Tidal app to 200% but not boost it with the Apple Music app.
With overdrive mode at 200% and using Tidal, the M8 V2 will just continue to give me more and more volume and power thru the HE-6 v1 without complaint, to a limit. With louder masterings the software overdrive will put its foot down and say no more, which helps prevent clipping the signal. So with Infected Mushroom “More of Just the Same” it’s already pretty loud without overdrive, and going to 300% overdrive did not result in the music getting any louder than 200%. But that 200% overdrive resulted in a noticeably louder playback while staying pretty clean, and at a volume that was fairly loud and higher than I would normally listen, without degradation in sound quality or any change in sound signature.
So, with Tidal, some very quiet classical genre recordings that are well below -0 dbfs will benefit some software gain boost with the HE-6. SoundSource overdrive does a good job of predicting how much gain boost is safe before clipping, but it’s not flawless. You might click on the 2x button for 200% boost and then need to turn it down to 150% or 175% manually for the cleanest sound. Note: I did not use the “Magic Boost” switch in the software, which compresses the quiet passages to be louder while giving about 150-200% boost in gain overall.
Again, with most of the music in my Tidal playlists the HE-6 v1 was fine without any software gain adjustment. Despite that, using overdrive could make the HE-6 sound more fun with many songs at higher volumes, like Infected Mushroom, Jonas Brothers and Katy Perry. And the M8 V2 with HE-6 v1 can take quite a bit of bass EQ via the SoundSource app before anything distorts. It was just a little disappointing with HE-6 V1 when trying to play a quiet song in Tidal for Mac, without using a software gain boost app like SoundSource.
Fortunately, nothing like this is needed for Apple Music or on the iPhone. When I switched to Apple Music on Mac to hear my ripped CD’s and hi-res music, everything changed! This is where I found out that different music apps on the Mac can have different volume output levels with an external DAC/amp, even with the same album or songs. While Tidal doesn’t play as loud as Apple Music in Mac OS Catalina, this is not the case with the iPhone, where Apple Music and Tidal both play at the same level, regardless of whether using USB with a Camera Connection Kit (CCK) or Bluetooth Audio.
When I switched to Apple Music on MacBook (or iPhone) and played the same music through the M8 V2 I found that it drives the HE-6 V1 OG noticeably louder than Tidal for Mac, making me check a few times that Tidal’s volume was not turned down. At no time when listening to music in Apple Music for Mac, or on the iPhone, did I need to use any software cheats to get more volume out of the HE-6 v1. I was happy with what I got.
Prior to this discovery, I was trying to talk to Michael about whether there was any way that CEntrance could add another 3 dB to high gain on the hot side, in order to drive the HE-6 slightly better, but it was too late to make that type of change. Adding more gain overall to both hot and cold side might be easier but could risk exposing the noise floor in low gain, harming some IEM in high gain, or allowing the M8 V2 to distort at max volume when the bass boost switch is turned on, so I’m glad we couldn’t go forward.
With Apple Music on Mac or iPhone, or with Tidal on iPhone, the M8 V2 is powerful enough to even drive the HE-6 V1 to good listening levels from the 1/4” singe-ended jack! I actually preferred the HE-6 V1 with it’s lower volumes on the M8 V2 to the listening to the HE-560 V1 at the much higher volumes that they can achieve. (Note - the HD600/6XX/800 on the M8 V2 balanced output also have better synergy than the HE-560.)
Then comes Bluetooth - I have to say that with the previous CEntrance BlueDAC I thought that they did one of the best implementations of Bluetooth audio that I’ve ever heard, through upsampling and re-clocking; and it does the same with the M8 V2 over Bluetooth.
HOW M8 V2 BT SOUNDS - The M8 V2 Bluetooth audio is simply outstanding, whether with AAC on an iPhone or AptX on a MacBook. Today I played a ripped lossless CD via Apple Music through USB on the Mac, and played the same album transferred to the iPhone in Apple Music through the M8 V2 BT input, and switched between the Mac with USB and the iPhone with Bluetooth - I was hard pressed to hear any drop in quality with Bluetooth on any of my open back headphones. I’m not sure that I could tell which was which very easily in a blind comparison, except with my Westone ES60 custom IEM with passive noise blocking that let me hear an increase in air and micro detail. It’s that good.
HOW M8 V2 BT WORKS - When you turn on the M8 v2 it starts up in BT search mode. If you’ve previously paired it with something, it will connect to the last device that it was paired with if it’s within range. If no paired device is within range, then it goes into pairing mode and automatically connects to whatever tries to use it, without needing to enter a pairing code.
First I paired the M8 V2 with both my iPhone and my MacBook Pro. The I used Bluetooth Explorer app on my MacBook to set my Mac to only connect with AAC, or AptX if available, not SBC. When I turn it on the M8 V2 connects to my MacBook immediately using AptX if no other paired devices are around. And the M8 V2 connects immediately to my iPhone 11 Pro Max, presumably with AAC, if no other paired devices are around when I turn it on. And, if several paired devices are nearby when you turn on the M8 V2, then it will automatically connect to the last device that was connected to it previously.
Connections happen super fast. If I'm using BT with my iPhone and want to switch it with my MacBook Pro, I have to go into my iPhone and manually disconnect the M8 V2, and then I can connect to it with my MacBook Pro.
I should mention that with the iPhone that the Apple Music and Tidal apps outputs are volume matched to each other, and using the USB input with CCK also plays at the same volume as when using Bluetooth. On the Mac, switching from BT to USB and back doesn’t result in any volume change, as long as you are using the same app. Also, right now every time you unplug the USB cable on the DAC from a CCK (camera connection kit), you have to switch out of USB mode and back to USB to get USB to work again, and then the iPhone recognizing the CCK might take several seconds - but this is not how it will be with the production units (a small fix was implemented).
It’s only with the Mac that Tidal that plays quieter than Apple Music, and I actually pointed out this Mac vs iPhone volume discrepancy to Michael on the first day of impressions. I just hadn’t compared Apple Music to Tidal on a Mac until today, and the drop in volume with Tidal fooled me into thinking that the M8 V2 wasn’t as good to drive the HE-6 V1 as we’d hoped. Doh!
CONCLUSION: The CEntrance HiFi M8 V2 is now my favorite portable DAC/amp, and it’s quite versatile - my son called it the “Jack of all Trades, Master of Some" and I agree.
I plan to use it often on my MacBook and iPhone with my Westone ES60 and W80, JH Audio Roxanne, HiFiMan Edition-X and HE-1000 v1 or se, as well as my HD600/6xx and HD-800s - via the balanced 4-pin output or 2.5mm balanced output, depending on which cables I am using. I would even sometimes use it with my HE-6 v1. When I some need passive isolation and don’t want an IEM, the light-weight portable CEntrance Cerene dB headphone is also great with the M8 V2.
It’s very hard to find a headphone or IEM that doesn’t sound good with the M8 V2, and we only managed to find one or two. I was a pleasant surprise just how many picky headphones got along so well with the M8 V2. It’s definitely a step up from the M8 V1 and DACmini with my HD-800s, and has better bass with HD-800s than my $3000 ZDT. And it completely took me by surprise with the HD600/6xx by the amount of power and energy it gave them, giving them new life. The efficient Edition-X and the related HE-1000 v1 and 1000se should have been brutally revealing with the M8 V2, and instead they got along so well with the M8 V2 that it could replace my desktop amps. And, it was the best amp I’ve ever used with my Westone ES60/W80 and JH Audio Roxanne, especially with the cable rolling I was able to do.
The HE-560 and HF-2 that I tried work just fine with it, but they are not my favorite headphones these days - they’re good enough that I would not sell them and I’ll keep them paired with my high-power Eddie Current ZDT desktop amp where they sound best. But my primary issue with the HF-2 is not the sound, which is engaging and fun, but the comfort - I cannot tolerate Grado foam-cup ear cushions for more than about 45-60 minutes at a time. I did not try my HE-500 (packed away) but think would be great with the M8 v2.
The Bluetooth is one of the best, if not the best, Bluetooth implementations for AAC and AptX audio I've tried. I don’t have a compatible device for SDHC, LDHC and LDAC, so I wont complain about the lack thereof, but having AptX HD and LDAC would have been nice to have included for android users and to future proof the M8 v2.
The Bass Boost and Treble Boost switches are subtle but work well, and do not make the amp sound bad or distort. The hi/lo gain settings are good for a vast number of different IEM and headphones (+20dB on high). There are so many full size headphones that can be driven by the cold side that we can use easily stamina mode to double the battery life to 8 hours (not tested), as Stamina mode turns off the hot side amps and LED dB meter. Using it with BT input and Stamina Mode at normal volumes (not max) should let you use it for an entire work day. The unit barely got warm for me with the hot side active, and I did all of my listening for Part 4 in high gain.
I comes in a small black cardboard box with a CEntrance sticker, a SIM card tool to operate the switches, a nice 3 foot USB-C to A cable, and a draw string pouch that can hold the M8 V2, USB cable, a CCK, and a second cable of your choosing. I also got a small CEntrance zipper bag, but not sure if that will go out to all the buyers. I don't know if Michael will also be throwing in a USB-C to C cable yet.
It can be charged via USB-C on either the cold side or hot side, while the cold side USB-C doubles as a data input for the DAC; and if power is connected to the hot side USB-C then the cold side USB-C becomes data-only without having to flip the switch on the panel to disable it. You can use the charge switch to turn off charging from the data input so that it doesn’t drain your phone, and that switch off can keep a noisy PC power supply from contaminating the sound as well. You can easily plug in a power bank to the USB-C to charge it while using it mobile with a phone or tablet, to avoid draining power from the source device. You can also charge it with a 45 watt USB-C wall charger for a MacBook or Chromebook - it will only draw the power that it needs and no more, and it can be charged with as little as a 5v 1a charger. I neglected to ask what is the most that it will draw in order to charge.
IF I COULD CHANGE ANYTHING: (1) I’d have liked a separate gain switch for the hot side that could do +23dB instead of +20dB, (2) I’d have liked to be able to change the switch settings with a fingernail like with the M8 V1 instead of needing to use a pointy tool or a pen, although it comes with a SIM removal tool to operate the switches (3) I’d like to have seen it get Made for iPhone compatibility built-in without needing a CCK, (4) I’d like to have seen color LEDs with it going from green, to yellow, to red as input levels got higher.
Number 1 would not be an issue with anything but using HE-6 V1 with the Tidal app.
Number 2 can be solved by keeping a pen in your pocket if you aren’t worried about painting the switches with ink.
Number 3 can be fixed by buying a CCK or a more compact “Lightning to USB-C data" cable from Penon Audio for $40.
Number 4 can be fixed with colored dry erase markers and some clear tape to cover the LEDs?
But if using a USB-3 CCK since there is no native Apple support (#3), then you can charge the iPhone with a lightning cable while using it to play music via the lightning port to USB, for times when you don’t have access to a Qi phone charger (like on a plane or in a car for a long trip).
I have to stop somewhere, as I’ve been going at this for 14 hours straight, so that is all. As the saying goes, "Stick a fork in me, I'm done."
Sat June 6th
While I raved yesterday about the HE-1000se out of the 2.5mm balanced jack in Stamina Mode, I forgot to mention that the M8 V2 also drives the HE-1000se nicely right from the single ended 3.5mm jack as well. I don't know how I left that part out!
Sat June 6th continued
Also, I wanted to trim out some of the crap I wrote yesterday AM about using Rogue Amoeba SoundSource "overdrive" gain thru software when using Tidal on Mac, because software gain overdrive was ONLY for helping to drive the impossible HE-6 V1 with Tidal on Mac via the M8 V1. So, for those using only Tidal I will leave my solution in that big post.
YOU DO NOT NEED MORE GAIN FOR ANY OTHER HEADPHONE. But I spent so much time writing about it that I didn't want to ditch it all after I found out that Apple Music on Mac and everything on iPhone was louder than Tidal on Mac, because I'd worked so hard writing it to help people using Tidal make it work with the HE-6 V1.
But, I fear that people don't understand that the HE-6 V1 are so hard to drive, that the fact that I DO NOT need gain boost most of the time to drive the HE-6 V-1 will get lost on them, and maybe people would not remember that the M8 V1 has TOO much power for almost everything else.
Maybe more to follow...?
Some more impressions by expatinjapan
Today we look at the $750 USD HiFi-M8 V2 by CEntrance, a respected company on the market.
Disclaimer: The CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 was sent to us directly by CEntrance for the purpose of this review. CEntrance is not related to Headfonia in any way. This review reflects my own subjective opinion.
CEntrance – Making audio personal
CEntrance goes back a long way and we’ve looked at several CEntrance Products here on Headfonia in the past such as the DACPORT and DACMINI. But that easily was like a decade ago, we’re getting old! One of the CEntrance products that always fascinated me was the original HiFi-M8, so I’m thrilled to get to review its successor now after all this time.
For those of you that don’t know CEntrance, let’s have a quick look. From the CEntrance website:
CEntrance excels at developing innovative, portable devices with exceptional performance and sound quality. The name (pronounced “sentrance”) means “at the core”. The company’s product line is focused on personal audio, inspiring the tagline: “Making Audio Personal™” and reflecting its dedication to serving customers, quality and perfection. Stereophile Magazine suitably dubbed CEntrance products “Affordable Digital Excellence,” a sign of approval from the worlds’ top golden ears.
CEntrance was born in Chicago and still performs strict quality control of its products in the USA. Dozens of famous recording artists, producers, voice-over professionals, and sound designers endorse our products. With its passion for sound rooted in pro audio, CEntrance continues doing what it does best – delivering innovative recording and playback products that delight customers with their ease of use and great sound quality.
The original CEntrance HiFi-M8 saw the light back in late 2013. It was a time when we were still using iPods and phones to listen to music and the first audiophile DAPs just made their introduction to the market.
I remember seeing the HiFi-M8 for the first time in real when Jude and Tyll brought it to the Philips Lab in Belgium. I myself was carrying an iPod & Cypherlabs/Alo stack. It was also the first time I saw the Astell&Kern AK100/AK120. It was a time when high end personal audio was seeing the light and compared to 2021 we’re basically living in a different audio world.
Back then the HiFi-M8, just like the CypherLabs stack and AK DAPs were revolutionary, delivering a sound quality on-the-go that we never had experienced before. As a result, all of these unit, were incredibly popular and successful. The HiFi-M8, as far as I can remember, was one of the really first all-in-one DAC/AMP units which let you listen to portable and desktop gear at the same time.
Like I said, it back then really was a revolutionary unit. So let’s see what the V2 version now offers and let’s find out if it’s still as jaw-dropping as it once was.
CEntrance calls the new HiFi-M8 V2 the next generation of portable amplifier for the demanding audiophile. So what’s new? Well that’s fairly easy:
In Version 2, we updated the D/A resolution, further improved noise and distortion specs, added Bluetooth input and four headphone outputs (two balanced and two unbalanced). We further added a LED VU meter, a USB-Cjack, and many other improvements! So the HiFi-M8 V2 now has more power, less THD/lower noise. The V2 comes in a smaller case and features more modern components. In 7 years, many things have improved in electronics and battery technology, and CEntrance states have updated the product accordingly.
The new HiFi-M8 V2 is selling for $750 USD. It’s aimed at the audiophile and pro market. Too bad I don’t have the original HiFi-M8 here with me to compare the V2 to.
HiFi-M8 – Closer look
On the inside of the HiFi-M8 V2 we find the VelvetSound™ AKM AK4493. The AK4493 is a popular chip and it’s being used by many popular devices on the market. The same DAC section feeds all amps (four separate headphone outputs, meaning 8 mono amps inside). And yes, it’s possible to use all outputs simultaneously.
Our colleagues over at ASR have done their usual measurements of the device and to be honest, they were not fully convinced by the noise and THD performance. To that CEntrance replied: “HiFi-M8 V2 does not try to be what it’s not. It’s NOT your lowest-THD Desktop DAC. Many of those already exist. Instead, it’s a capable, portable workhorse, a “Swiss Army knife” solution for the audiophile on the move”.
We here at HFN appreciate measurements and the ack of noise but we don’t focus on measurements. If that’s your thing however (and that’s perfectly ok) do head over to ASR to check out the results there.
The HiFi-M8 has a smart power management system that adjusts battery life to match your lifestyle. It uses a rechargeable battery as a buffer, to fully isolate the sensitive circuitry from the noise and interference coming from wall power. The battery circuit reconditions the supply voltages to deliver clean power to your ear/headphones. If 10h of listening time isn’t enough for you then turn on the Stamina mode (no hot side/Meter. See later) and enjoy up to 15 hours of continuous playback.
The professional VU meters on the top of the unit can’t be missed. They according to CEntrance are calibrated to 0dB FS, with over 40 dB of dynamic range. While not really needed, it’s a nice extra for those who like looking at meters. If you don’t like it, you can turn them off or just set the light intensity to the lowest setting. I myself listen to a lot of music at night, and I quite like the LED meters.
The article continues on the next page. Go there by clicking HERE, or just use the jumps below.
Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.
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CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 Review: One of the best devices in 2021
The first M8 was released already in 2013, it became a real legend, but since then the requirements for such devices have changed a lot. And CEntrance, taking into account the feedback and wishes of users, has developed a top-end next generation amplifier. It is called innovative, but also versatile and multifunctional, like the Swiss army knife. And since I collect edged weapons, and at the same time am a reviewer of personal Hi-Fi, I especially wanted to take this little thing for a test.
The price tag of the model is about $ 850, which is quite adequate, taking into account the promised quality. But what do we really get? Today I will tell you about the real experience of use, with all the pros and cons.
Our Swiss knife, also known as a portable DAC, is delivered in a small and dense cardboard box with a green lid. We immediately see the information that “New, eco-friendly packaging” is used, if it is true, then this is a tempting fact for activists, of whom there are quite a few audiophiles. Also on the box is the CEntrance slogan “Making Audio Personal”.
The scope of delivery is rather modest: a Type-C to Type-C cable, an adapter to a full-size USB-A, a velvet pouch with puffs, a paper clip and four rubber feet that you can stick on yourself. In fact, the company offers additional compatible accessories such as a tripod, fast charger and waterproof case, but these will have to be purchased separately. In my opinion, the price tag of the model requires a slightly more generous initial configuration, okay. The main thing is that money should be invested in sound.
The design of the CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 is impressive and brutal. It’s really good for self-defense on walks, but not like a knife, but rather like a brick. However, to me personally, he most of all reminded me of a roomy power bank . With the inscription “20th anniversary edition”. The matte black body of the amplifier is made of anodized aircraft-grade aluminum, the build is excellent, the edges are nicely rounded. It is not very large in size, especially in comparison with the first generation, it weighs only 250 g. But due to the fact that the body is thick, albeit short, it is not very convenient to wear it, I will say frankly. The device is by no means pocket-sized, and it is not ideal for transportation, you will have to agree to a compromise.
Now let’s take a closer look at the new product. It has a slightly intimidating number of connectors, LEDs, and switches, and this shaitanic scheme can get confused at first. I propose now to discuss only the controls, and talk about the inputs and outputs in the next section.
So: buttons for starting / disabling the device and for switching between inputs, wheels for digital volume control and backlight brightness control, toggle switches for activating charging from the data connector, Stamina Modere power saving mode, Gain level selection and two separate equalizers. It is also possible to attach the DAC to a tripod for professional monitoring. There is a clear indication of the battery charge, and on the top of the case there is a light scale for the signal level. I note that all the switches are signed, but they are located quite chaotically, you need to get used to them. The equalizer for the treble is marked with a treble clef, and for the bass – with a bass clef, which is very nice.
Of the minuses – the tumblers are recessed, they can only be switched with a complete paper clip, well, or a similar miniature object. You know that I have always disliked slots for memory cards with trays in Hi-Fi players, but here I have to change settings much more often than rearrange cards in the player. This format of the switches was chosen so that during transportation it was impossible to accidentally touch them and become deaf from the suddenly roaring high Gain, there is definitely logic in this, but it does not comfort me. Most likely, the reason is that I have a lot of headphones in my collection, and tight full-sizes, and sensitive internal channels, you have to adjust various parameters for them regularly. If your situation is different, or the paperclip switch doesn’t bother you, you should be fine.
Interface and functionality
Let’s briefly go through the characteristics. CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 has 2 inputs (USB-C and Bluetooth 5.0 with AAC and aptX) and 4 outputs (2 balanced 2.5 and Neutrik XLR, 2 regular 3.5 and 6.3). An interesting fact: you can connect four pairs of headphones to the model at the same time, and they will play. On the body of the device, the manufacturer has designated two sides, “cold” and “hot”. Accordingly, one of them gives less power, there are 2.5 and 3.5 connectors, and the second is more powerful, there are 6.3 and balanced XLR outputs. But, in practice, the 6.3 connector does not show miracles, I do not advise counting on it with really demanding headphones, choose XLR. I also have a purely aesthetic question, why did 6.3 come out ahead, although this, of course, is a trifle.
Just in case – the Bluetooth input means that you can transmit a signal to the amplifier from your smartphone, computer, tablet, etc.
You cannot connect wireless headphones to it . I know that this is an obvious thing, but I want to clarify again.
The updated CEntrance model received two VelvetSound AKM AK4493 chips. Supports PCM resolution up to 32 bit at 384 kHz and DSD 512. The device is compatible with any operating system (iOS, Android, Windows and Linux), my laptop was connected automatically, but, if necessary, you can download drivers from the official website.
As its name implies, the M8 V2 features 8 ultra-low noise Class A amplifiers with patented AmpExtreme technology and bipolar power supplies, 4 each for the hot and cold side, delivering an audio bandwidth of more than 40 kHz, meaning full Hi- Res. Power through XLR – 1500 mW, through balanced output 2.5 – 360 mW, through 6.3 – 532 mW, through standard 3.5 – 130 mW. With sensitive in-ear headphones at a low Gain level, there is absolutely no background noise, for this special thanks to the developers. At the same time, at high gain, the model will pull even most planars , except for completely stationary ones. During operation, the case heats up noticeably, this drawback is often encountered, for class A this is the norm.
The autonomy of the device is approximately 8 to 12 hours, depending on the volume and input selection. The amplifier lives longer when using Bluetooth. Let me remind you that the model can simultaneously play and charge from a source if you activate this function. A Stamina Modere battery saver is also available, in which the meters and the hot side are disabled.
The main testing was carried out on Focal Utopia , 64 Audio tia Fourte , Noble Audio Khan, iBasso SR2 , Dunu Luna and Dunu DK-3001 Pro headphones.
Well, it has its own atmosphere and its own philosophy. The flow of CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 is natural, even, warm and measured, with good density and weight. It is quite detailed and divided, at the same time melodious, a little lingering. There is no aggression and deliberate acuity, the picture is built in one piece and richly, as if cutting off the rest of the world with a wall, immediately immersing the listener in the music.
Note that here the characteristic feature that distinguishes powerful amplifiers, even portable ones, from most Hi-Res players is fully revealed.- each instrument is authentically delineated, it has volume and height, it can be easily imagined, especially if the recording conveys the acoustics of the room. And, of course, the feeling of internal energy, sweeping dynamics, sound confidence is also an important advantage of the device.
About the equalizer
If you love brightness and maximum drive, the original handwriting of the HiFi-M8 V2 may seem boring to you. Here it will be appropriate to experiment with the bass and treble switches, they just slightly accelerate the melody, make it more emotional and lively. When amplifying the low frequencies, we get additional effect, massiveness and percussiveness of the range, and the addition of high frequencies gives the picture a poignancy and distinctness. There are no critical distortions when using the equalizer, for this opportunity I put a plus, now many more people will be able to adjust the sound of the model for their specific headphones. But keep in mind that you must really be a fan of the spectrum you are going to accentuate, because the underlining is noticeable and the final handwriting can start to tire you. If you are interested in what I personally think, then I would use these regulators.
In fact, testing the new CEntrance has been a pleasure for me. It’s not really my sound, but his damn charismatic disposition, delicate transitions and ability to seriously work with musical material are mesmerizing. If the submission suits you, for this money you will receive an absolutely ultimatum option.
The bass is punchy, punchy and firm. They are characterized by velvety and some roundness, but a clear relief and excellent depth give the spectrum the necessary level of technicality. The beats are strong and dense, in the standard mode without equalization the control of the sub is sufficient to avoid hum, emotional attacks, attenuation calibrated and beautiful. I have no complaints about the spectrum.
The middle is soft, colorful, legible. The detail is decent, largely due to the good resolution. The stage is wide, but not record-breaking in depth, the positioning is close enough to the listener, so sometimes airiness may not be enough. But the vocal practice here is gentle and natural, I liked it. As already mentioned, there are no peaks and aggression at medium frequencies, they are bodily and calm, micro-nuances do not crumble into a dry mosaic, but they are not lost in the general flow either. The parties are intertwined harmoniously and smoothly, with competent coordination. The DAC is almost not picky about the recording quality, as well as about the choice of musical genres. Among the shortcomings – the timbre palette has a warm color, it is charming in its own way, but it seemed to me a little synthetic, and I would also like more expressiveness on the midrange.
The high frequencies are clear, iridescent and plastic, with good length and excellent speed. I can call their level an adult for this class, with complex multi-instrumental recordings CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 copes very skillfully. At the same time, in contrast to the middle, the timbre of the HF is much more natural and cleaner, which pleases. Quantitatively, the top does not cross the line when the sound starts to annoy, except that convinced HF phobes may not appreciate their saturation.
Recently I tested two famous top-class portable amplifiers at once – Chord Hugo 2 and CDM with a large set of replaceable tubes. The hero of the review is inferior to them both in design and in sound quality, but the difference in cost between them is significant, such a fight will not be fair. And in its segment, the HiFi-M8 V2 bypasses absolutely all competitors. Moreover, this unit outperforms portable Hi-Res players with a price tag of $ 300-500 higher, so it makes real sense to think about buying if you are ready to use a bundle from a separate amplifier and source on the road. On the other hand, when looking for a device exclusively for home listening, I advise you to still take stationary tabletop models, they will sound better.
The CEntrance HiFi-M8 V2 has triumphed across the unpaved audiophile field and has taken its place among the best devices of 2021. It offers excellent power, compatibility with a wide variety of equipment and its own battery, but its main trump card is its beautiful and catchy sound. Of course, the ergonomics of the model are somewhat controversial, and the corporate musical style may not suit everyone, but personally I liked the new flagship CEntrance, I definitely recommend it for acquaintance.
M8 v2 hifi
CEntrance Hifi-M8 V2 Review (DAC and headphone amplifier)
The unit strives for a pro/field recorder look:
I was quite surprised that the slide switches for gain and such are completely recessed and cannot be changed without a tool. I used a screwdriver but some paper clip looking thing comes with the unit for that purpose. Why, oh why? I get that you don't want that switch to change while in your pocket but there are plenty of switches that are flush mounted yet you don't need a tool to change them. And why protect the gain switch when the volume control can change easily with a brush of hand?
The side that you see is the low power output which I did not test. The other side is the high power one:
You can't see it well here but the 1/4 headphone jack pokes out quarter of an inch. It is a threaded jack and they left out the nut. You can see it better in this shot:
That thing is going to poke a hole in my pocket in short order and then I will really be mad!
Then there are those white LEDs. They say they are calibrated. Calibrated or not, why would I want dancing VU meter in my pocket when I am trying to conserve battery power? Surely if I want something dancing I have it in my source. And in pro applications, there are ton of other meters elsewhere as to not need a row of LEDs this way.
I just don't understand the focus of this product other than empty appeal to pro market which they say is their motivation.
Mind you, it is not super bad like say, Chord products are. I could use the unit and figure out what it did.
What I could not figure out is the ASIO driver. The Hifi-M8 is one of the few devices which Windows thinks (at WDM level) is only 16 bit, 48 kHz capable. This causes the ASIO wrapper interface I use to get confused and perform a very low quality sample rate conversion which messes with measurements. So I was pleased to see that they have ASIO drivers. First bit of annoyance was that they would only email a link to you to the driver. Why? I tell you why: they really wanted to pile on reasons to annoy Amir!
I install the package which was painless enough but then it kept reporting that it could not find the device. Multiple reboots, re-installs, plug and unplug the device before or after install/reboot made no difference. It would not whatsoever recognize the device even though Windows would.
What happened next was the biggest annoyance: my PC became quite unstable. It hung once and it would no longer even reboot properly! After pulling some teeth I got the system rebooted and uninstalled the package with a sigh of relief.
Just so there is no confusion, all sample rates are exposed through Windows USB class driver. So your media player should have no trouble using them all. The above only applies if you are trying to use an ASIO wrapper (i.e. ASIO4ALL) or their native ASIO interface.
Hifi-M8 V2 Measurements
Given the limitations above, I could not run my full suite of tests but we have plenty of data to assess its performance as you will shortly see. Let's see our usual dashboard, treating the unit as a DAC with 2 volt output:
Man, this is really poor. Look at the high level of second harmonic (at 2 kHz) which with a couple of dBs of noise, pushes our SINAD down to unacceptable level:
This is a DAC performance level which I expect in a $9 dongle, not in a nearly $800 audio device designed for "Pro" applications. Even for 16 bit music you don't have transparency here.
So as a DAC, this is a bust. Let's look at it as a headphone amplifier, first using a 300 ohm load in both balanced and unbalanced:
Unbalanced performance with just 30 milliwatts of output is barely good enough. With balanced output though, it easily exceeds my 100 milliwatt threshold so I am happy about that. But notice that noise and distortion are fairly high.
Switching to 33 ohm we get:
Again, distortion and noise are rather high. Not a lot of power but if it steps up in balanced mode, that should be remedied.
Channel matching is perfect due to the level control actually being digital:
You could sense this as there are distinct steps in volume control.
Hifi-M8 V2 Listening Tests
As usual, I start with my inefficient 25 ohm Ether CX headphone. I took advantage of the balanced output and queued up my track. There was good bit of volume. Alas, the last 20% was not usable due to excessive distortion and harshness. I then switched to Sennheiser HD-650 using 1/4 unbalanced jack. Now there was just enough volume and gain, the last 20% of the volume range resulted in distortion especially in bass and brightness in highs. I highly recommend that you stick to the balanced output for any standard to inefficient headphone.
When I see a nearly $800 price tag on portable amp and DAC, I expect flawless execution. Sadly we don't that anywhere. Measured performance is very poor starting the DAC. Unbalanced out has insufficient output. And while balanced remedies that to some extent, it does so with noise and distortion at the limit. Subjective results were also disappointing unless you use the device with low level output in which case I question why you want this instead of a $9 dongle.
I just can't understand why a device like this exists. A pro product should be about performance and that is sorely lacking here. As a consumer device usability is poor and price way out of proportion with what the unit does. There are plenty of portable devices that perform superbly and cost a fraction.
Needless to say, I can't recommend the CEntrance Hifi-M8 V2.
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.
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