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CEntrance M8 V2 ($750)…an updated classic

CEntrance M8 V2…an updated classic

Pros: History
Build
Sound is phenomenal
Options for use
Used by professional

Cons: Not inexpensive
Extras cost $
None others for me
Not mine

CEntrance M8 V2 ($750)…an updated classic



CEntrance has a rich history, even in the scant 22 years, with many well-known producers, artists and engineers using the company wares since 2000. Everyone who works for the company also has a tie to music somehow. Founder Michael Goodman had the goal of “working with every audio company in the world.” He has largely succeeded as his products are used on stages, in recording sessions and finishing studios around the globe.

Roughly speaking, in 2009 the decision was made to enter the portable market, with the help of Head-Fi founder Jude Mansilla. Making a portable DAC/Amp in the DACport, the company pretty much helped rewrite the market on what a portable should sound like. 2013 saw the original M8 come to fruition, and it was of course a hit. The V2 is an updated model, even though the first gen is still available. 2021 saw the Ampersand, a high-powered portable amplifier follow suit (review coming…). The combination will be reviewed separately but will of course be used together as well. The CEntrance was used across many sources and with various headphones/IEM’s ranging from the Fir Audio Frontier Series (all three), the Empire Ears Legend X, the Kennerton Rognir, and DDHiFi Janus 2 w/Air Nyx cable.

First Impressions:

Some time ago, I borrowed a Ray Samuel’s Intruder portable amplifier from a fellow audiophile for about a month. A basic headphone amp, with only 3.5se and 6.35se headphone jacks (it now comes in balanced as well), it was an early iteration that stuck with me for its brutality of presentation. In a good way. I had never heard such a powerful amp that could fit in my pocket yet sounded so damn good as well. With a gain switch as high as 21dB, the Intruder was a monster. One you want by your side permanently. I still think of the day it returned home. Until the CEntrance (and a Cayin C9) arrived, I had not felt that strongly about a portable amplifier. Not even with my old friend, the iFi micro Black Label, which was darn good as well.

As brutal as the Intruder was, it sounded so darn good, that you forgot the high price of it. You really couldn’t use it with IEM’s it was so powerful. Now though, that seems to be the norm for something such as that and pales pricewise compared to the Cayin. The M8 V2 takes that brutality and smoothes the character out. It is still a beast when it comes to power and such but put it this way. If the Intruder was Tydeus from Hercule’s, raw and will fight for you to the death; the M8 V2 is Hercule’s. Strong as all get out, but with the character to finish the deal. Both are sensationally good. Both are heroes.

M8 V2

Specs/Features:

In Version 2, the D/A resolution has been updated, along with further improvement of noise and distortion specs. Adding bluetooth input and four headphone outputs (two balanced and two unbalanced) continue the upgrades from V1 for the 20th anniversary product. An LED VU meter, a USB C jack for charging and one for source, along with many other improvements, makes the HiFi-M8 V2 the next generation of portable amplifier for the demanding audiophile. Even though many of the above listed items are including on both desktop and portable DAC/amps, the CEntrance can muscle its way right to the forefront due to the combinations.

Able to muster as high as 32-bit/384kHz, you get the latest song rates to go along with the Balanced Bluetooth implementation allowing wireless high fidelity as well. The VelvetSound™ AKM AK4493 D/A converter provides low levels of noise and THD and a digital volume control results in perfect level tracking between channels. The Hybrid Power System isolates sensitive circuitry from noise and interference and the battery supply reconditions wall power to deliver clean signal to your headphones. A nice feature here is that the unit will stop charging if plugged in with a 100% battery. No overcharge happens. You can also charge via the source cable on the front when hooked to a computer (or other), thus keeping the charge of the battery when no charge cable is attached.

The exclusive Stamina Mode re-configures the power supply for longer battery life by a switch on the front, turning power off to the back side (6.35 & XLR connections) when activated. With a total of 8 amplifiers inside: 4 on the cool side and 4 on the hot side outputs, plus two balanced & two unbalanced headphone jacks supporting four headphones, this is where the Stamina switch can save battery power by turning off the amps not in use (and headphone jacks). Personally, I left the switch on the whole time, attaining very close to the 8 hours listed after multiple attempts. Trying the Stamina switch off, I did get 15 hours of operation. These numbers were repeated over three tests each way.

I found the bass and treble switches to be of a more subtle character than my iFi Pro duo, but that is all right. The bass switch added more sub bass than mid bass, so more rumble was felt; but it was not of a thunderous character. Treble moved the highs up a bit, but not too bright for my tastes. This did change depending upon headphones and IEM’s used. The gain switch worked well but was of a more subtle character than the Intruder as well. I kept it on for most of the time, allowing the digital volume knob to control what I heard.

Bright lights on the front right middle, show the charge of the battery, when going without dedicated power. They are bright, and I found they did hinder my ability to see the controls surrounding them. Above that are two bright lights dedicated to BT and connectivity. When blinking, the unit is searching for a connection. Upon connecting, the light stays solid. Again, this light set up is a bit too bright to allow seeing the controls.

Dead center are two rotating wheels. The left one controls the LED lights, which act as VU light meters when music is playing. This can reduce battery use, but the old school in me still kept them lit. The one on the right controls the volume. A larger jack can hinder ease of use, but that is the nature of a smaller device such as this. And this device can get quite loud volume-wise. To say that it is powerful would be like saying a Ferrari can go “pretty fast.”

The M8 V2 is light as well, making this quite portable if you like. And yes. Yes I would like.

How Does It Sound?

The M8 V2 is vibrant and smooth at the same time. Providing a north of mainstream sound, I really dig what I am listening to. Simple Man through the M8 V2 and my Legend LX with Eletech Socrates is rich, strong and smooth.


Summary:

Even with the treble & bass switches off, the sound is of a richness pervading my senses. Smooth has now been mentioned three times in three sentences. There is a reason for that. Because it is. But this does not make it less vibrant. No, that smooth character breeds strength and power, but with more character than the Ray Samuels. Controlled instead of raw. Voluminous of power, but controlled power, with many adjustments to change the note. Not lost in this is a very good midrange, with vocals both male & female sounding especially sumptuous. Not plump or overly presented, but full and with good verve. The power of the device shows through in the M8 V2 in detailed presentation as well. Clarity can be changed a bit with the treble & bass switch adding or subtracting with the on or off of each.

Deeper:

Power may be the forte of the M8 V2, but how that power is handled is what really shines here. I really like the Intruder, but its major “fault” to me was the lack of fine control in that power. With the CEntrance, you can adjust that sound more to your needs. Want a down low bassy sauce? Turn the bass switch on but leave the treble off. Want something better for Classical? Treble on, bass off. Want a raucous good time? Leave both on and gain on high. This is how Lynyrd Skynyrd should be appreciated. Both switches on and gain on high. Just make sure you have a headphone or IEM that can handle the power.

Running both switches off and gain on low, you gain more fine-tuning control, such as you might need on a fine Classical Overture. Little adjustments are needed here, and this is the perfect recipe for that. Good deep, down low Blues demand a solid bass line. Leave the treble off and bass on. High gain allows the guttural responses of John Lee Hooker’s or BB King’s voice to shine like it should. Or Tinsley Ellis’s vibrant guitar.

This ability to shine across many genres is not unique on a DAC/Amp such as this, but the simplicity with which you can adjust them is to me. And this sets the M8 V2 apart from most of its competitors to me. Yes, something such as the excellent Cayin C9 (at over 2x the price) provides more tuning opportunities but is it needed? The ease of changing the M8 V2 makes it all the more appealing. I do wish the switches to change bass & treble were a bit more accessible but understand why the necessity of protecting them. The last thing you want is something to change your setting mid-concert. One could easily fashion a pouch to attach the key, so you have it with you all the time. Or do like I did and keep it at the bottom of the velvety string bag.

Running the M8 V2 via Bluetooth will of course diminish the sound a bit. But as that gap closes between cabled and BT sound, one can clearly see that the time is fast approaching where it will not matter. Here there is a difference in detail and clarity (cabled is better) with better definition of the sound signature across the spectrum. I did quite a bit of listening via BT and appreciated that the gap is closing, but it is still there. To me the BT option is more apt when going portable. This would be one less cable you need. But, the M8 V2 is not a two-way BT, only receiving from the source so you would still have the IEM/headphone cable. No big deal really for this high of an audio quality.

The Ending:

Part of this test was pairing the M8 V2 with the excellent Ampersand headphone amp. That part will be covered in the Ampersand review, which is forthcoming as well.

To sum up the M8 V2 you get a rich, vibrant tonality emanating from within a box, which is now smaller than most Smartphones on the market. It is light as well. But neither of those characteristics can shadow the superb audio radiating from within. That rich, smooth character pervades my senses and the resolution wrought on Tuesday’s Gone comes across as well, and I turn the volume up to listen. Bass exudes from within me. Fine treble song follows suit, giving the notes a thoroughly satisfying amount of clarity and detail. This is not a DAC/Amp to be toyed with. This is serious stuff, and the more I listen, the more I rate this highly. VERY highly. It is as if they took a Ray Samuels, and injected some maturity into it, along with a modicum of controls. Mind you, the Intruder is a damn fine amp in its own regard, and a used one should be snatched. Quickly. But here, the CEtrance takes that game and raises the ante with better control and better options with which to listen across the board. A full-sized XLR instead of a mini-XLR? You betcha’. Power to drive all but the hardest headphones? Indeed. And in what I would call a very affordable package.

The CEntrance M8 V2 could easily be the go-to DAC/Amp in your portable set up as well as your desktop DAC/Amp, it is that good. Plus, when your mates come calling into your office and wonder where all of your other expensive gear went, you can let them listen to this little gem. They will be smitten, as am I.

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