PlusSound Cloud Nine: Get Your Moon Boots On

The Sound

Cloud Nine isn’t a flighty-sounding amp. It’s like the Cayin C5, but more comfy, and after a couple more bourbons. It makes the best case I’ve heard in any portable amp for a wide flat-field sound stage.

That sound stage is wide and lush. It doesn’t pick out the smallest details as does the PURE II, nor does it break instruments into their constituent molecules as does the Picollo. But it swims. Wide, smooth, moving disparate elements in super duper lubricated channels.

Smooth, but in no way dull. There are soft edges here and there in the upper midrange that make the photographer in me want to say something photographic.

Vignetting

How’s that? I’d give it an EV of -1 on the upperest edges of upper mids and annoying treble elements.

And it may sound antithetical at this point to say that decay is super-duper fast. But it’s true. If you’re a cymbal guy or gal, but your DT880, or ER4 is a bit to wild; or if you love the crash, the shimmer, the violence of bell metal on wood, but dislike the pain, this is your amp. Cymbals don’t splash. They don’t run around to other places. They stay put. They’re clean cut and fresh. Neatly they define both the surround space and provide foundational support for a very pleasing and wide sound stage.

Above I mentioned that the sound stage was flat-field. Sure is. There’s not a lot of Z-depth. But there is a LOT of height along the Y axis. I guess you could think of it like an autumn sunrise in Scandinavia. It doesn’t suddenly light up every bloody tree around you and make you put on the shades within five minutes like it does here in Japan. It peaks up, illuminating central portions around and above it, and grows steadily, with a soft, super photographic halo, until you’re out with a stuffed bag and poop desiccant because you’ve decided nature is all you need. (But seriously, don’t forget the desiccant.)

Honestly, you have to hit up Sweden in September. It’s a fairy land. And while this analogy is over-stretched, Cloud Nine’s sound stage isn’t. It’s wide and full, tall and comfy. It’s accented by smooth gradients, it’s not overly contrasty, and it’s chock full of fairies and fairy dust and stuff.

As such, you can probably imagine what earphones/headphones best fit it. At first I was going to suggest that semi raw-sounding headphones sound the best. But that was too simple. Cloud Nine is a liquidy, artsy take on the classic comfy-sounding amp. It doesn’t just smooth things out: it lights them up. I put it and Noble Audio’s K10 together for several afternoons. The melding of the super organic, super detailed mids of the K10 and the plusSound’s gorgeous gradients was a thing of beauty. So I’d say this: your mileage is your own. I’ve not met a headphone the Cloud Nine didn’t sound great with. Pairings are personal. It’s why I don’t get off on them. And neither should you.

The Meh

The moon boot aesthetic may, or may not grow on you. It grew on me. What didn’t was Cloud Nine’s use of 9-Volt batteries, which are both hard to find, and by and large, not properly recycled. Most places here in Japan incinerate them. Finding a good rechargeable isn’t exactly hard, but finding a good charger can be. And there’s no mains. If it’s plusSound’s idea that we should be tossing 9V batteries, shame on them.

I get the reason for going for a dual mono power supply, but I don’t get why the Cloud Nine has to take this way or the highway. Not enough of the portable audio world is responsible. But let’s move on.

There’s also the haptic issue of placing in/out jacks side by side in a product that will be used by headphone connoisseurs with thick-ass cables.

And finally, the sort of flimsy front and rear panels and the tiny-ass thumb screws- looking like you’re from the 1980s is cool, but there has to be a point at which you adapt to current modus operandi. And just like velcro isn’t going to win races, parts friendly only to baby fingers is Velcro.

The Conclusion

Bravo. Cloud Nine sounds delic. It looks delic. It’s put together kind of like a salad: tossed here and there, but thoroughly extruded where it counts. The Volume pot should get specific mention. Really, is it that hard for manufacturers of portable amps to make a pot that won’t accidentally turn? Cloud Nine’s pot isn’t beautiful, and it doesn’t feel great, but it does its job really, really well. Low noise? Done. Nearly load-less performance no matter the headphone? Done. Long battery life? Done. Great accessories? Done.

This is a great amp. It’s an amp that makes me wonder if amps are back on the plate. For the fan of moon boots they are. And Cloud Nine might just be worth your while.

As for me, I’ll be pogoing up at the front, near Armin. You can find me following the trail of sweat from my boots.

PlusSound Cloud Nine: Get Your Moon Boots On
5 (100%) 3 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

25 Comments

  • Reply January 22, 2015

    dalethorn

    Maximum power 200 mw, and power at 32 ohms is 1280 mw (1.28 w)??

    • Reply January 23, 2015

      ohm image

      Amaaaazing control and power for earphones and most headphones. Stupendous sound.

      • Reply January 23, 2015

        dalethorn

        I’ve been using the Decware Zen Head ($375) and Portaphile Micro $450-$500) as occasional addons to my small low-cost DACs like the Microstreamer, and they do improve the detail compared to the Microstreamer/Audioengine D3/Dragonfly DACs by themselves. So I’d surmise that this amp fits into the PM or DZH category, more or less?

        • Reply January 23, 2015

          ohm image

          Cloud Nine’s detail is three prong:

          1. stereo detail (wide but flat-field)
          2. bass and midrange detail
          3. the coziness of your music that you didn’t know was there

          The Portaphile Micro is flatter and a bit more focused on the mid and upper range. I think you’d find Cloud Nine to resolve just as much detail, but in a different arena. It’s just not a flat-response amp. It makes great-sounding music more than it makes 100% accurate-sounding music.

          Soundwise: Portaphile Micro or it… hard to say, but recently I’m leaning to the comfy side a bit more. But that is personal.

          • Reply March 14, 2015

            Markus

            Nathan, how would you compare the cloud nine with one of your favourites, the vorazmp pure ii?

            • Reply March 14, 2015

              ohm image

              The Plus Nine is a bit warmer than the PURE II is and more mellow. As for actual performance for driving, they are somewhat equal, though this will put out higher voltage for cans that need lots of volume. Sound-wise, this has more character.

              • Reply March 14, 2015

                Markus

                thanks for your answer and the great review Nathan. Sounds really like a great amp, quite impressive if one consider that it’s plussounds first amp. Unfortunately the battery thing is a real turn-off for me…

  • Reply January 23, 2015

    Dietmar Gsell

    How do you compare it to the RSA SR71-B?
    “C’est la vie”, by the way!

    • Reply January 26, 2015

      ohm image

      Dietmar: I need to edit that. Strange that my editor, a man that speaks both French, and English, in addition to two other languages, didn’t catch it. C’est la vie.

      As for the RSA amps: I have no idea as I’ve not handled one in a very, very long time.

  • Reply January 29, 2015

    Nickjan Glas

    great review with nice analogies and metaphors. Sounds like a good deal price-quality wise. at the moment I have the corda quickstep waiting new in box at home for my arrival. also with 9v but with optional external adapter. Curious how that will sound. I ll keep this review in mind when testing it though.

    • Reply February 2, 2015

      ohm image

      Please do keep it in mind. This is an amazing amp. Again, I’m buggered about the disposable 9V batteries, but probably wouldn’t be so upset if I still were in a country that didn’t just burn every bloody thing they can.

  • Reply June 16, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    How compared with Picollo amp??

    • Reply June 16, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Picollo is an IEM specific amp, but good question. picollo has a slightly wider but more deep sound stage. CN can do more than just IEMs however. My CLoud nine review will be online on Thursday. What a week.

  • Reply February 28, 2016

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    How about driving the HD650 ? They make a good couple?

    • Reply February 28, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      yes, fairly good

      • Reply March 7, 2016

        Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

        Among the HD650 and he400i , which would you choose to use with Cloud Nine?

  • Reply June 16, 2016

    Mateo Ocaña

    What a great review! How compared with Cypher Labs Trio? Detail, Soundstage, etc…

    • Reply June 17, 2016

      ohm image

      I only borrowed the Trio, but from a measurement perspective, I can say this: Trio, while stable, returns pretty poor results. Cloud Nine returns results that span the gamut from great to bad. And, for a solid state amp, its sound is unique.

  • Reply September 7, 2016

    Mateo Ocaña

    When you say “nor does it break instruments into their constituent molecules as does the Picollo” What did you mean ?

    • Reply September 8, 2016

      ohm image

      It was a horrible way of saying that instrument separation isn’t as good as Picollo.

      • Reply September 8, 2016

        Mateo

        Hahaha! Actually it sounds pretty interesting.

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