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.
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 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.
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.