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.


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.


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*.


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.”

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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  1. Nice, wish I could hear all three to compare. I am getting the M8 in a couple of weeks hopefully. And the Shure 846SE – a game changer too. Yes, I like the Audeze LCD-3s too, but considering what Shure has achieved with the 846SSE, a rather gigantic leap, the latter is a more sensible pocket carry. Amazing stuff really – we’ve come a long way with this technology, we are no longer tied to our desks.

    There’s one thing left and it’s a BIG THING.

    We need for i-Devices to run Audirvana, Fidelia and other like-kind software to get out every sonic detail without the digital artifacts. The problem is that we are still locked into Apple’s DSP schema. So far, from what I hear, Apple has not enable developers to write a smaller re-sampling software package appropriate for i-Devices.

  2. Just got back from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and picked up the M8. At least to me the M8 with Shure’s SE-535 IEM sounded the best of the dozen or so I listened to during the 3 days. I was hoping Shure would have been there to get a listen of the SE-846 IEM. With the M8 the 535’s sounded like a dream … Thought they sounded good before … How wrong I was … Now they are unbelievable.

  3. Keith, I am also using the 535SE with the M8 – a match made in heaven. Absolutely stunning. Wait until you hear it with and Audivarna or Fidelia-packed Mac! Proving that the criticism of a few deaf and dumb on HeadFi about he Shure 535 is totally baseless. Most of these kids – I call them youth – had blown their eardrums and can’t hear HF at all.
    That is why they prefer IEM’s with boosted highs. Some of them called the 535’s rolled off.
    Well, flat is rolled off next to another IEM that is actually boosted +6 or more dB in the presence region; and to a partially deaf kid, it can sound very rolled off.
    Yup, don’t listen to HeadFi – listen with your own ears. The M8 is a tour de force and the Shure 535SE is a great match. The 846 may beat it. Shure may be alone to produce flat (neutral) IEM’s at this time. Many of the rest are into technicolor.