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.