The Centrance Hi-Fi M8 is a rather unusual product on a number of counts, starting with the fact that it's offered in eight different connectivity configurations that were proposed by potential buyers who responded to a crowdsourced thread on the Head-Fi Web site. I admire Centrance's willingness to accept consumer opinions, but as it turns out most consumers opt for the configuration I have for review, the HiFi-M8 XL4, which features 3.5mm, 6.3mm and four-pin XLR headphone output jacks on the front panel. Some of the other versions are directed to pro users with headphones that … Read more
I wasn't expecting much from the Hifiman Express HM-101; it's just a $39 outboard USB digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier. Well, this tiny USB-powered (it doesn't need batteries or an AC power supply) device definitely pumped up the sound of my Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones! They sounded significantly better with the Express than they did plugged directly into my Mac Mini's headphone jack. Sure, the Mac's sound is perfectly acceptable--until you compare it to something better.
The Express is a lot better.
Before we go any further, the Express isn't just for headphones, it also has a line-out 3.5mm jack you can run to a set of desktop-powered speakers, like myAudioengine 2s. DAC resolution isn't specified, but it's probably 16-bit/48-kHz.
Switching over from the computer's headphone jack to the Express, the first thing I noticed was that the Express could play a lot louder. That's great, but when playing drummer Ginger Baker's "Going Back Home" CD at equal volume levels from the computer and the Express, the Express unleashed more of the drummer's hard-hitting dynamics. The computer squashed his sound, especially Baker's mighty bass drum. Wow, the little thing delivers. If anything, the Express errs on the side of too much bass fullness, which isn't such a bad thing.… Read more
A great headphone amplifier is one that makes headphones sound better than you thought they were. Judged by that standard, the Centrance DACport will be an awesome upgrade for buyers who have already invested in high-quality headphones.
This component, which was made in the U.S., is downright elegant in its simplicity. There's no power adapter or batteries; the Centrance DACport ($400) runs off your laptop or home computer's USB port, and it doesn't care if it's running Mac, PC, Linux, or iOS. The DACport has a 1/4-inch (6.3 mm) headphone jack at one … Read more