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CEntrance HiFi-M8 or Cypher Labs Theorem 720 DAC?

  • [UPDATE August 2014: The Cypher Labs Theorem 720 DAC is reviewed here.]

    T.H.E Show Newport Beach, June 2013. At the CEntrance stand in The Headphonium, former CEntrance and HRT employee Michael Mercer plonked his Sony PHA-1 (US$599) next to the then soon-to-be-launched CEntrance HiFi-M8 (US$699) for a photo opportunity. Each sports a DAC and headphone amplifier housed in a single chassis and is designed to be chained to an iDevice or Android phone from which it extracts audio in the digital domain, completely bypassing Apple’s own less-than-stelllar internal DAC chip.

    sony_vs_centrance

    The Sony intercedes with Woflson WM8740 decoding silicon feeding a TI TPA6120 headphone amplifier for up to 5 hours of playback time when paired with an iPhone. Balanced outputs are not an option here but the PHA-1 can decode up to 24bit/96kHz streams and there’s a switch on the side for ‘high’ and ‘low’ gain.

    CEntrance’s HiFi-M8 is available in various configurations, offers balanced output(s), decodes up to 24bit/192kHz and can run for around 5 hours on a full charge. The headphone amplifications is Class A design and is far more powerful than that offered by Sony (700 mW/ch vs 175 mW/ch). The HiFi-M8 also sports more user options: bass- and treble-shaping switches, three levels of headphone gain and three levels of output impedance (for more accurate headphone matching).

    I didn’t get the opportunity to compare the CEntrance and Sony units on the day but what I heard from the HiFi-M8, even with a MOG download, was seriously impressive. Far, far better than an iPhone 4 running solo into the same Beyerdynamic cans.

    centrance_hifi-m8

    A two horse race? Not quite.

    Oregon, September 2013. Cypher Labs introduce a fresh runner: the Theorem 720 DAC. At US$899, it’s pricier than both the CEntrance and the Sony. The Theorem too offers balanced connectivity but audio decoding ability isn’t as straight up as the 24bit/192kHz specification might suggest. The Theorem extracts digital audio from Apple devices up to a glass ceiling of 16bit/48kHz . You need a PC/Mac or Android phone (with USB Audio Recorder Pro app) to get that 24bit/192kHz hi-res buzz happening.  It plays the same way with the HiFi-M8 – iDevice extraction is limited to 16bit/48kHz. Apparently “CEntrance is working to extend HiFi-M8 to support 24-bit/96kHz audio on newer iDevices.” according to their website*.

    Theorem_Product_0003

    With Cypher Labs at least, such a compromise is more than outweighed by the Theorem 720’s killer feature: battery life. With a fully-charged iDevice in tow, you’ll get up to 18 hours. With an Android phone you’ll get even more. Holy smokes. The Theorem doubles as an iPod/iPhone juicer so wave goodbye to that ‘just in case’ portable battery.

    In choosing an all-in-one solution – DAC plus headphone amplifier – you’ll need to ask yourself: now much do you prioritise battery life? That question alone might determine whether you spring for the CEntrance HiFi-M8 or the Cypher Labs Theorem 720.

    Further information: Cypher Labs | CEntrance

    In Australia?  Both Cypher Labs and CEntrance are distributed/sold by Addicted To Audio

     

    UPDATE 17th September 2013: Goodman tells me: “We have the hardware capability to do 24/96, but we have not enabled it yet. We are planning to push that out to users as part of a firmware update in a matter of weeks.”


    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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