CES 2013 Showstopper: CEntrance HiFi-M8

It appears that when Michael Goodman decided to build a new portable headphone amp he pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and rethought the whole concept. He wasn't afraid of getting input from others either, and much of the dialog in this Head-Fi thread informed his creativity. I spent a good bit of time listening to this amp at The Home Entertainment Show while at CES and I found myself quite impressed.

Though I only got the chance to listen to the amp using unfamiliar music from a laptop in the booth, I found the HiFi-M8 clean, articulate, and full-bodied. But the thing that really caught my attention were the very well thought out rear panel switches. I worry that some novice users will wonder what they're for, but they were a sight to behold for this old headphone geek's eyes.

Using my 22 Ohm impedance Sennheiser Momentum headphones I could readily hear the change in driver control and damping between the 1 and 11 Ohm output impedance settings. I suspect I'd use the amp primarily in the lowest output impedance setting, but some headphone enthusiasts swear by higher output impedances for some cans.

A three position gain switch is provided offering up to 30dB gain in the highest setting, and is noise-free enough in the low-gain setting for efficient custom IEMs.

The amp also has both bass and treble boost settings. I'm looking forward to measuring the amp to identify exactly what frequencies these filter are set for, but I can tell you that I found the bass boost switch to provide a very tasty bump, low enough in frequency not to get in the way of a balanced transition between the bass and mids. In other words, it didn't make things sound murky.

The treble boost is a surprisingly welcome addition. As you may know I'm not a fan of too much treble response on headphones, but I have noticed that very often headphones lack response in the highest octave between 10kHz and 20kHz. Evidently Michael has also noticed this problem, and has included a two position treble boost switch for these frequencies to improve the sense of "air" on headphones lacking in this area. In the case of both the treble and bass boost switches, I found the settings nicely judicious and not overdone.

Though I really can't comment on the quality of the DAC section on quick listen, it is asynchronous USB and capable of up to 24/192 bit rates, and can accept inputs from both computer USB and iDevices. The amp has both balanced and unbalanced headphone outputs.

I want.

Can Crazy's picture

I was so waiting for this one, now I'm just waiting for Tyll to get one and put it on the test bench. What can I say, I want one too. 
It appears Michael Goodman thought about everything on this one, I can't think of anything else I would need on a a portable DAC/Amp. Awesome!

I'm planning on buying a pair of JH-13 later this year, and when I've figured out the right Portable DAC/Amp. Right now I'm in between the hifi M8 and Headamp's Pico, so I'm hoping for your reviews and/or measurements of those two.

Really enjoyed the CES your CES coverage.

Limp's picture

You know Tyll, you're pretty much to blame for the look of that front panel :P

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...yes I am. crying

Stefraki's picture

The only thing I don't get about this is why the lack of an anlogue input? Seems quite limiting to have it only function as a dac/amp and not just an amp when you need it to. Doesn't stop me wanting it though!

paul's picture

Is that a CEntrance HiFi-M8 in your pants or are you just happy to see me? 

The idea of portable seems to be coming to some sort of outer limits. My Ray Samuels SR-71 was big. My Fostex HP-P1 was much bigger. Now, it looks like the HIFI-M8 dwarfs them all. 

It does look pretty good, but the size!

The Federalist's picture

That's about as complete a product as anyone has developed (from the perspective of portable unit with iPod as transport). Considering it does everything the ALO RX3/ CLAS brick does and then some..... for roughly half the spend.... hard not to like. Impedance matching, tone controls, balanced/ unbalanced, Digital direct w/ DAC for iPods/Pads/Phones.... impressive.

Portable Hifi is all growed up!

Its a far cry from a deal breaker for me since all my units are older 30 pin and I have every intention of maintaining them but as a curiousity Tyll did you happen to ask if this product is, or will be, compatible with the newest wave of Apple iOS devices (i.e. Lightning)?  

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...don't know for sure, but I'd be very surprised if they aren't working on it.