I can’t say that I never heard of CEntrace name before because I have seen quite a few people talk about their products, but for some reason I was under impression these were geared toward musicians rather than audiophiles. Thus, I was unfamiliar with their products when I approached CEntrace table at CanJam. Coincidentally, about a week before the show, I had an exchange on FB with CEntrace founder, Michael, about the status of AKM DACs, and was looking forward to meet him in person, to discuss the current state of audio chips industry. So happy I stopped by the table, and it was an absolute pleasure talking to Michael before he had to leave for presentation of his Digital Audio 101 seminar at CanJam.
The highlight of their table was HiFi-M8 v2 usb dac/amp alongside with Ampersound balanced Class A amp, each one at $750 MSRP. Both devices, which share a similar footprint with anodized aluminum chassis, were sitting side-by-side in Commander Console 2U desktop holding tray, with lots of flashing LEDs and cool knobs and controls, looking like they came straight from a DJ mixing console. The v2 of HiFi-M8 is not just a wired usb/dac featuring AK4493, but also has a wireless Bluetooth mode, along with a powerful 1.6W headphone amp (max output from XLR). In addition to balanced 4pin XLR and 2.5mm, it also features unbalanced 3.5mm and 1/4” outputs. LED Stereo VU meter adds a nice visual touch, reminiscent of studio console equipment, and you also get a dual band hardware EQ.
Ampersound amp is just a pure portable beast. This balanced Class A amp delivers up to 6W of output power, making it one of the most powerful portable amps. Based on what Michael told me, you can also run both HiFi-M8 v2 and Ampersound connected to a wall usb charger without a worry of damaging the battery. And of course, both are portable/transportable devices you can take anywhere with you on the go. Ampersound features 4.4mm and 3.5mm inputs, and 4.4mm, 4pin BAL XLR, and SE 1/4” outputs. In my opinion, the eye-candy highlight of the design is its stereo VU meter with analog volume control. You will also find a gain switch with 3 settings and Var/Fix switch to either control the output volume locally from Ampersound or to keep output volume fixed at the max while controlling it from the source.
So, how does it sound, either dac/amp or amp? This would not be an easy question to answer because it will depend on what you are pairing it with and what you are comparing it to. Both are very powerful devices, aimed to drive a more demanding audio gear. To showcase their capability, CEntrance had DCA Stealth and HEDD headphones for testing at their table. Driven by CEntrance combo, Stealth had a rather reference sound with a more neutral bass impact and bright crisp mids and crisp airy treble. I have read different impressions of Stealth from the show and other reviews, and it probably benefits from tube amps to color the sound, to make it more natural. Next, I listened to HEDD headphones which are VERY power hungry, and found Ampersound to drive them with ease and plenty of headroom to spare. The sound signature was balanced with a very natural organic tonality and surprisingly good resolution and retrieval of details. Of course, as many are familiar, these headphones are heavy and feel like wearing a helmet. But nevertheless, Ampersound in high gain was able to drive HEDD with authority.
Regardless of its powerful output, I was also curious how it pairs up with IEMs like Traillii which I brought with me to the show. With Traillii and Ampersound switched to low gain, I found it to be quite neutral and natural in sound presentation and tonality. Just please keep in mind, these are brief impressions without comparison to other equipment. But it was still very impressive that I was able to switch between easy to drive Traillii and very demanding HEDD using the same amp at a different gain setting. Both sounded great, without any clipping, saturation, or low volume channel imbalance.
HiFiMan table at the show was nearly unobtainable due to long lines of people waiting to hear their headphones. I had to come back a few times until I caught Adam’s attention to ask a question about one of the new products they introduced at the show. Joining the latest trend of usb/dac dongles, HiFiMan rolled out their own tiny HM800 usb/dac with HIMALAYA discrete R2R DAC, according to the manufacturer product page, based on FPGA algorithm. This $299 device was very small and lightweight, at only 9.65g. I’m not exactly sure what is inside of it, though HiFiMan product page has a few pictures with renderings of FPGA surrounded by the array of discrete resistors.
This portable usb dac also features Class AB balanced amp with output power of 40mW per channel, obviously intended for easy to drive IEMs and headphones. One interesting feature of this device is a modular cable design with HM800 chassis having two mmcx plugs to attach either one of the included 3 pairs of cables, mmcx, 2pin 0.78mm, or 2pin 0.75mm. If you want to switch between different connector IEMs, you will have to unplug and switch these cables. HM800 also has usb-c port to connect the data cable attached to your source. I didn’t see a mentioning of iPhone compatibility, but I assume it should work and will confirm it with usb-c to lightning cable when I get my hands on HM800 for testing.
Another thing to note, the included IEM cables are rather short. So, while wearing this device, HM800 becomes like a cable-splitter where the “main” cable part is a long usb-c going to a smartphone and short IEM wire extensions become a part of the cable above y-split. This is a little different from a traditional dongle design where you have a short interconnect usb-c cable and you plug in your IEMs with their longer stock cables. I already have something in mind for a very simple mod that can turn HM800 into universal “dongle” which I might save for the review.
Using the provided 2pin/0.78mm cable, I was able to use Traillii and tested HM800 usb-dac dongle with my Galaxy S22. While I only had a limited time for testing, I was able to hear a very natural, organic, smooth, detailed tonality with a wide soundstage expansion and 3D holographic imaging.
Chord table was so busy throughout a day that I literally had to wait until after 6pm when the show was over to get a chance to hear Mojo 2. The original Mojo was released back in 2015, thus saying it was overdue for an update is truly an understatement. Personally, I don’t have a lot of experience with Mojo, heard it only briefly very long time ago, and by a distant memory recall it being on a warmer side of tuning. With Mojo 2 ($725) officially unveiled earlier this year, the reception was a bit polarizing since many expected bigger changes in 7 years since the original release.
No need to get into details of the spec since there are plenty of sources that already covered FPGA DSP design of this portable DAC/amp unit. Also, plenty has been said about some of the design choices in this v2 update, like keeping micro-usb port to make sure it is backward compatible with Poly. But I was very curious to hear how it sounds, especially since it still offered only 3.5mm SE output. To my surprise, despite having a single ended output, the soundstage was huge. Overall, I found Mojo 2 to have a clean reference tuning with a very resolving dynamic sound, including great bass punch and excellent vertical expansion/dynamics of the sound. If anything, maybe it lacks some analog smoothness which makes the sound a bit dry and digital, but it’s just a matter of a personal preference.
I did mention in my 2020 CanJam report about not being familiar with Jerry Harvey “JH” IEMs, even so I heard quite a few praises about their monitors, especially from performing musicians. Without a doubt, Jerry is a legend, known to be one of the “founding fathers” of IEMs, so I’m always curious to check out what they have at the table. Since there has been a lot of talk last year about a new Jolene, I was looking forward to hear it.
These new $1,799 IEMs offer a very interesting design with 2x 9.2mm Dynamic drivers covering low frequency, 2x 4.9mm Dynamic drivers covering mids, and mid-high and high frequencies covered by 2x quad-BA drivers. The cable also features their new 7pin connector and traditional variable bass attenuator. I had to turn the bass almost all the way up, otherwise it sounds too neutral and lacks the impact. Once I turned that pot dial up, I was able to appreciate its v-shaped sound sig a lot more. The bass is deep and visceral, and in a contrast, mids were a bit thinner and the treble was a bit too energetic for my taste. I didn’t have as much time to play more with bass setting, but wondered if that could have fine-tuned the overall signature.
Page 1 – Intro.
Page 2 – Grell Audio, Dunu, Meze Audio, Empire Ears, 64 Audio.
Page 3 – MMR/JOMO, Eletech, Bloom Audio, Lunch break.
Page 4 – SoundCore, InEar, Linsoul/ThieAudio, FAudio.
Page 5 – CEntrance, HiFiMan, Chord, JH Audio.
Page 6 – Musicteck (Cayin, FirAudio, EA, VE, Oriolus, UM, Aroma, SoftEars, Lotoo, and more).
Page 7 – Final thoughts.