Mike Piskor 2015

The Mini-M8 by CEntrance

Sound Impressions

Despite those weird Output Limitations, the M8 sounds excellent.  I would classify this product is a specialized USB DAC and not something geared for neutrality.  This Mini M8 is lusciously soft and forgiving, with some of the most beautiful impact levels, or lack thereof, that I ever heard in a product of this type.  There is no question that is the most soft and relaxed device that I’ve yet heard.  If you own headphones like the Sennheiser HD 650, or any similarly forgiving and soft set of headphones and wish to pair that with a USB DAC that offers a similar sound signature…look no further. Stop what you’re doing, buy this now. I’ve never actually heard anything fuse so well with the Sennheiser HD 650 in my entire audio career.

Typically, most USB DACs offer neutrality with regard to the sound signature, something that plays well and depends upon the amplifier or headphone itself to finalize the end result.  However, the Mini M8 is sublimely enveloping, incredibly forward and lush.  It is in fact it offers the most detailed depth of stage experience I ever heard sub $1000.  It is so good at this, in fact, that I often swap out my full size Oppo HA-1 so I can use the Mini M8 on certain tracks that I find to be exceptionally immersive.  The HA-1 amplifier is noticeably inferior with stage Depth of field compared to the Mini M8 at times.  This Mini M8 dozen better job of wrapping itself around you and I would wholeheartedly recommend highly intimate headphones like the LCD series from Audeze, especially the LCD3 or anything known for a highly intimate sound.  I am actually quite baffled at the level of intimacy occurring here when I pair this with certain other headphones, for example Sony’s 1r series, which are headphones known for extremely forward sound signature.  Jaw-dropping, to say the very least.  The Mini M8 does a very good job at taking harsh headphones and making them sound softer than usual, rounded on the edges instead of very well-defined and sharpened.  I really love it, truly I do.  I’ve wanted this type of sound for years and just never came across a single product sub $1500 in an Dac that could do this.


Pairings with the Stax 007 -> a modified E90 Koss static amp altered to be compatable with Stax headphones is simply breathtaking.  If there were two components ever made for each other, damned it if isn’t the Stax 007 MK2.5 and this Centrance Mini M8.  Holy smokes, the pair sounds better than when my full size Oppo HA-1 fed the E90 as a source.  Seriously, if you have the ability to try this rig out, do it.  The way the Mini M8 portrays and exudes bass is simply divine, accentuating the already soft impact of the Stax 007 to stellar levels.  It could be the most relaxing ( emotionally ) pairing that I’ve heard for the 007.  Yummy.  Definitely not for those who want an engaging experience and enjoy moderate slam, even my TH600, a set with fairly good impact quantity, sounds more reserved directly fed by the Mini M8.  It really is a shame, I wish Centrance would release another Mini M8 revision, calling it the Molecule M8: a portable amp about half the size minus the dac function and letting me run with portable players as a pure portable amplifier with 3.5mm and 4pin balanced output and inputs.  Ugh, it actually hurts my stomach to think about how much I really want that sound signature on the go.  Centrance, make it happen!


As for the midrange, again taking a respectful nod to the Mini M8’s low end, it seems to be equally as soft and relaxing.  Don’t confuse that with physical locale, as mentioned the Mini M8 is exceptionally immersive and forward, highly enveloping and makes my SR71B sound positively recessed.  This could be a vocalists wet dream with the right pairings, as I would assume the highly engaging sets like the LCD3, XC and similar sets provide one of the best and most intimate vocal experiences available with regard to placement.  If you are into the solid feel to things, you might want to opt for something else other than the Mini M8.  It lacks a solidity factor that makes me happy, which is directly caused by the upper midrange housing an extremely airy and effortless appeal.  Yes, there is a hint of brightness to the upper midrange for sure, but it does not take away from the experience at all and I would also assume that most midrange-aphiles would gladly sacrifice neutrality for a nice, aired out and breathable experience.  Effortlessness on this Mini M8 is primed, near untouchable and I really haven’t heard anything like it in this price tier.  The only other product that I’ve heard that sounds similar, all be it even more clean is the very expensive Aurium by Pathos: and that isn’t a dac, but a raw and pure tube amplifier.  So, if you like the tube-ish sound to your midrange and vocal experience and have a sub $1000 US budget, I would not recommend anything else but this Mini M8.  What it offers, it does well in the vocal experience.


Headphones like the Fostex TH600, as mentioned, do not pair well with it due to their overly recessed midrange, but the TH600 is smoother than the TH900 and feels noticeably less V shaped, so I would avoid sets similar to that when paired with the Mini M8, but I would however highly recommend Audio Technica in general with the Mini M8.  The TH600 is made a lot more enjoyable through this Centrance Mini M8 than with my HA-1 from Oppo, as well as my RSA-SR71B and the Portaphile Micro.  My W3000anv, as well as the new W1000z ( review coming soon ) sound incredible through the Mini M8.  The more midrange bloom, the better I would assume the experience to be for you.   True, the Sony 1R is not quite clear enough to justify usage with the Mini M8, but the sound signature is absolutely a match made in heaven: highly forward, highly intimate, smooth and lacking a harsh impact, as well as offering a nice midrange bloom effect.  So far, the only headphones I would not pair with the Mini M8 are most of the Planars outside of the highly intimate ones: IE, the Hifiman headphones, the original LCD2 and the Oppo’s.  They seem to not mesh well with the Mini M8 on my own subjective level, taking away their firmness qualities and making them sound a bit more soft.  If that is your bag though, go for it.  I know a lot of people who want the LCD2 to sound more soft on the low end and vocals and I think you might be able to squeeze by on high gain if you wanted to power them with the Mini M8 alone.


I found the upper end to be a bit too loose and artificial sounding, lacking much of an engaging quality.  Perhaps, it is a bit too relaxed in quantity but at the same time I feel like the treble on the Mini M8 pushes a sweet tonality without feeling recessed.  It is plenty forward and very in line with the midrange and bass experience, so you won’t get a sense of lacking volume, but you will get a sense of lacking firmness.  As far as raw clarity goes, I would rate the experience well, but not grand.  I would prefer a more solid feel to it, but again that upper midrange is set up in a spacious and aired out flavoring.  As such, the treble follows suit and the entire experience up top ends up feeling a bit too fluffy, lacking dynamics and a strong sense of substance.  It really does a great job with the likes of the more harsh Fostex headphones, toning them down a bit in snap and brightness, as well as accentuating the HD650’s treble without causing it to feel too watery.

Seems as though the upper end of the Mini M8 is something that is more reserved in physical substance and something not really well paired with the likes of the Hifiman HE-500 types of headphones, but rather would pair well with the likes of an LCD2 type of upper end instead.  This isn’t a fast product, and much like the low and midrange, the treble is also forgiving and aired out.  I quite like it, it definitely pairs well with a lot of headphones that have that type of a sound signature.  The overall staging properties are also excellent when you look at the bigger picture, a round of goods on each level equate to an excellent final sum.  Good height, good sense of width, very good depth combined with a excellent separation qualities really made for one of the most open window types of sound signatures I’ve come across in the price tier.  I simply don’t have any other products on hand that I can justifiably compare to the Mini M8’s imaging prowess.  It stereo image is your think and you want something small and portable, this would be my number 1 pick.  As a comparison, the SR71B from RSA ( not a dac, but $650 new ) houses a massively congested sound by comparison and the experience is physically downgraded when I use the SR71B to amplify the Mini M8.  Alone, the Centrance Mini M8 sounds more spacious and you can feel the walls close in when you listen to the same tracks with the SR71B as the final output source in your rig.  Despite the walls closing in, the quality of the solidity of the experience goes up, as the Mini M8 feels more like it offers less physical substance than the SR71B…most notably on the top end of the spectrum.  Treble really feels more focused, powerful and solid on the RSA amp than it does through the Mini M8.

Final Thoughts

Centrance does great work, no doubt about it.  It fills a great niche for certain types of sound signatures that I’ve been unable to find a proper pairing with.  So, if you enjoy the softer and very spacious feel to things, grab the Mini M8 asap.  The sound quality is more than sufficient enough to completely forget the fact that I am stuck with ASIO output, as well as the lack of input options.  I wanted to use this with my higher quality portable music players, but most of them just aren’t compatible with the Mini M8, no analogue input is a bit of a deal breaker for me but I assume there are plenty of users out there with optical/coax enabled players that would benefit from it.  It looks like the Mini M8 was intended to be used with Lightning based portables or used as mostly a USB DAC.  If that is the case and if you fall into enthusiasts with those input and output options, then there really isn’t anything else I would be recommending at this price point of sub $700.

I enjoy the Centrance Mini M8 a great deal, as mentioned that stage depth is really something else and the overall forwardness of the unit is stellar.  I’ve not really heard anything quite like this in a long time.  For $700 or so, you can’t go wrong.  It is musical, enjoyable and offers a great sense of separation, so naturally sound stage nutcases like myself don’t ever stop smiling when listening to the Mini M8 when paired with a spacious headphone.  But, more over the Mini M8 is also well geared for intimate sound, so it is really a rare type of presentation.  Almost no USB Dacs that I’ve heard offer a highly engaging sense of forwardness with excellent envelopment qualities, but also offer a spacious and well separated stereo image experience.  Quite amazing when I think about it and try to view it from the bigger picture side of things.  Centrance always does a great job, this one really hit home for me and I’ve found myself enjoying it a great deal.

If it were possible to get a driver update that allows for Wasapi output via the Dac, I would be incredibly happy and may even consider resale of my full size Oppa HA-1, I was also hoping for some input and output customization options like their larger M8 was capable of, so it was sad to see this Mini M8 locked in with the stock selection of inputs and outputs.  I know the Mini M8 can’t accept analogue in, as mentioned by Centrance when I asked them about it, but if I had my way I would certainly want a 3.5mm and balanced 4pin input, something that reflects the outputs as well so I can use it as a portable amplifier as well.  But, I may be asking too much of it it seems.  For what it is, it is very good.  I am very excited when I think about what they will be cooking up in the future, regardless of what it is, I’ll be first in line to try to experience it.

Price: $699


Mini-M8 Technical Specifications

  • CEntrance
  • Freq. Response: 20 Hz…37kHz
  • THD+N: 0.004%
  • S/N Ratio: 83dB
  • Output Power: 165mW each channel.
  • Output Impedance, balanced and unbalanced: 1Ω
  • Supported Headphones 16…300 Ohm
  • External power supply: +9…20VDC, full internal regulation
  • Supplied power supply: Worldwide voltage range. Powers Mini-M8, Charges Mini-M8 and the connected iPhone/iPad/iPod, all at the same time.

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