Before really going in to the sound part I want to say something about the volume button. A few reviews ago I complained about the ALO Audio Rx’s volume button being too small and rather inaccessible when you have after-market cables plugged in. It’s kind of the same for the Cloud Nine for what placement is concerned. Well it’s a little better than the Rx but it could have been a bit better. Beside the placement I have nothing but positive things to say about the volume button: It’s dead silent when turning, channel balance is extremely minimal, it’s got a good grip, a very wide range for precise setting and good stiffness. You actually have to put quite some strength on the pot to change the volume and as a result you will never accidentally turn up the volume all the way. I think that’s the most I have ever written on a volume pot in a portable amp.
Readers who’ve been following me for a while know that I really can’t stand audible hiss. The Cloud Nine has as good as none and even when using my Hiss Detection Device (it’s also called the Earwerkz Legend R) there’s only a very very minimal amount audible. So little that it doesn’t bother me in any way at all. That’s a huge achievement.
The Cloud Nine doesn’t sound like any of my other portable amps and I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of different amps. It’s also one of the few amps (as I mentioned before) that does everything from IEMs to Orthodynamics without any effort. Switch the gain, set the volume and enjoy the music. That’s how it works. In more technical terms (phrased by PlusSound) you would get this: Cloud Nine will provide superior sound quality, excellent channel separation for improved imaging and clarity, unity gain stability, rail-to-rail output, while maintaining ultra-low noise and distortion numbers.
The CN sounds clean. Clarity is one of the first things you’ll notice. In my mind that’s the result from the clean power coming from the powerful 9V batteries. PlusSound however says it’s the result of only using the highest quality components. Imaging and sound stage width/depth is pretty darn good but not at the level of say a Vorzuge and Duet. The CN does sound more musical though. A musical delivery on a pitch black background and perfect power delivery for all kind of headphones: how can you not love the Cloud Nine.
The Cloud Nine has excellent full bodied bass and mids at all time, that’s the second thing you’ll notice. At the same time it packs a good punch and has good attack/speed but it could be a little bit faster. Over all I wouldn’t call the CN a neutral sounding amplifier but it’s not overly warm either. It doe however is on the warmer side of neutral and you especially get that feeling because of the full bodied mids and bass. I wouldn’t really say there is an absolute focus on bass but there certainly is more than enough of it and I like it. (you all know I do).
While the CN manages to give a lot of timbre and emotion to the music, its layering in bass, mids and treble could be better. You would have to pay a lot more however to get at the level of the Duet or Vorzuge amps. Besides that I have nothing to complain about for what bass is concerned. The mids are very musical, have a good amount of detail and timbre, and make you tap your foot to the music all day long. Treble certainly isn’t bright or aggressive. It’s a bit softer and easy to listen to and it will never offend anyone. That also means that for some listeners it won’t be sharp, crispy, clear or extended enough but it’s hard to please everyone.
I really like the Cloud nine. Sure it might look basic but it makes up for that in how it sounds and that in the end is most important. The biggest advantage of the Cloud Nine to me is that you can use it will all of your headphones. No, it’s not the most detailed or layered amp there is but there’s nothing you can really complain about and the CN always sounds good and musical. The CN is designed and assembled in the US and it’s available in black and silver. With the 15-day money back and 2 year warranty offered, you just know that PlusSound really stands behind its $349 product. It’s always been a pleasure mailing with Christian and I can’t complain about their service one bit. A company the way I like it.
A little something on the cables I mentioned in the beginning, if you’re not a cable believer you can stop reading now ;-). Sound wise I like all 3 of them as they give good body to the sound and make the bass nice and punchy while staying clear and detailed. I especially like the Apollonian+ cable with the 2-pin termination. While it’s not the smallest and most comfortable cable (once you’re used to a Linum cable, nothing will be comfortable anymore) it makes all my customs sound really good and full bodied. The Echo+ interconnect is very sturdy and that at the same time is its strength and weakness. When you use a thinner (in size) source and amp like in example AK240 + ALO Rx amp, then the cable doesn’t bend enough and you can see some pressure on the 3.5mm connectors. Sound wise it doesn’t really influence the sound in any way, and I don’t think interconnects should do that either. The Apollonian+ cable with the Audeze termination is a bit short for how I use my headphones but it does sound especially good with the Audeze LCD-XC. Not that the XC needs extra body or bass but the combination is really nice. All the cables are very well made and are still affordable, but that of course is personal. Do check out all they have to offer on their renewed website.