CEntrance HiFi-Skyn Review - By Dr. Sheep

CEntrance HiFi-Skyn Review
By Dr. Sheep

Here is my review following ExpatinJapan’s excellent impression.

Most Apple iPod and iPhone users may not have heard of the CEntrance HiFi-Skyn or the company in general, and that’s ok, as there is a first time for anything right?  Here is a little bit of background.  CEntrance, a Chicago, IL based company, was founded in the year 2000 by Michael Goodman, a former Shure engineer.  Armed with multiple electronic engineering related master degrees and over 10 years of audio engineering experience, Mike’s mad genius was first recognized by Mac Life Magazine's 2008 Editor's Choice Award with the release of CEntrance’s first product: The MicPort Pro.  In 2013, we saw the release of their first cloud sourced (largely from Head-Fi.com) Apple licensed DAC/AMP, the HiFi-M8 (Google Android and PC variants are also available.)  The product was highly successful, and I personally regard it as the best Apple DAC money can buy, until now.

The Skyn was first shown as a prototype at CES 2015, receiving rave reviews.  Mike than launched a successful Indiegogo campaign with multiple upgraded features like the use of AKM4490 DAC , Amp Extreme, and variants for all current and some future iPhones and iPod Touches.  The iPhone 5/5s and iPod Touch 5th Gen version was released mid-Dec 2015 (MSRP $399), with iPhone 6/6s regular and Plus versions pending Apple’s approval as of this writing.

What makes the Skyn so special?  How about native decoding of double rate DSD, or DSD128, at 300mW power per channel with THD+N at only 0.001% for a 32 ohms load?  DSD decoding is a feature generally reserved for much more expensive DAPs or DACs, and most required DSD to PCS conversions before playback.  Although one can get apps to enable DSD playback in iDevices, it still suffers from conversions and down sampling due to lack of compatible internal hardware.  As DSD quickly becoming high-res audio format of choice, the Skyn could easily become the go-to product for iPhone and iPod users to truly join the high-res domain.

Charge it up, plug the iPhone or iPod into the Skyn, close the case, and then long press the power button to turn it on.  That’s it.  Hitting the power button again when the Skyn is on will enable charge mode for your iDevice, which is a great way to top off its battery on the go.  The soft touch plastic feels very good to the hand, and the Skyn’s form factor fits very well in bags (no more deck building with player and DAC/AMP bundled with bands.)  However, there are couple of caveats.  First, for iPod Touch 5th Gen., one needs to pad the device with the included soft pad to fill the gap, as this version of the Skyn shares with the iPhone 5/5s, which is a little thicker.  Second, in order to enable native DSD playback, one must install a compatible player app and set the correct option(s).  For example, the Onkyo HF Player app supports DSD playback with down sampling by default, but to enable native DSD128 decoding with the Skyn, one must enable the DoP option within the settings.  Third, the included mini-USB port supports charging only (i.e., no bypass for sync), and you must remove your iDevice from the case, or enable Wi-Fi sync, in order to sync with your iTunes library.  All minor issues perhaps, but not as intuitive as it can be for the less informed.

The bottom line up front: you will definitely get your money worth with the Skyn.  As an owner and regular user of Astell&Kern DAPs (AK120 and AK240), the Skyn sounds and performs better than the AK120 (the AK120 only supports DSD64 with PCM conversions), and just as good, if not better, then the AK240 with JH Audio Universal Layla and Toxic Cable Silver Widow 25 8-wired balanced cable.  Although there is a very tiny hint of background noise compare to the AKs, my cable is VERY sensitive and the noise does not impede on my listening experience.  Combined with the Amp Extreme, the AKM4490 sounded slightly warm compared to the dual Cirrus Logic CS4398 from the AK240.  Soundstage is wide and open and a definite improvement over the stock sound signature.  Any IEM or headphone will benefit from the extra energy of the Amp Extreme for heighten frequency response across the range.  Songs will finally be freed from the choke hold of the original hardware limitations.

Final Thoughts:

As a portable audiophile, the CEntrance HiFi-Skyn is an easy, and financially sensible choice.  Although not quite perfect, it does offer a very satisfying listening experience few DAPs or DAC/AMPs can offer, let alone at this price range.  The Skyn breathes new life to your existing iPhone or iPod Touch, and offers a whole new world of possibilities.  CEntrance certainly has another winner on its hand.


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