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CEntrance Cerene dB Headphones

04-02-2020 | By John Zurek | Issue 108

When I got an email from CEntrance letting me know that their Cerene dB headphones, which are touted as both recording studio and audiophile grade cans, were available for review, my interest was piqued. CEntrance is known for great performance at a fair price. At $179, the Cerene dBs fall in an interesting price range and remind me of Audio Technica phones that I've used many times in recording studios. 

Although most of my listening is done in a dedicated room via my big rig with tube monoblocks and ribbon floorstanders, that same room also functions as a music practice / teaching studio. I enjoy an assortment of headphones and IEMS / earphones for pleasure, and I use over-the-ear studio cans and IEMs while playing drums / percussion on occasional demos, commercials, and live gigs. I also get a chance to listen to headphone / amp / cable combos that are priced beyond what I care to spend through local friends who manufacture some of the best components in headphone listening art. Although I use headphones regularly and enjoy them, I prefer my main 2-channel system, and I don't consider myself part of the new headphone elite.

Lately, my reference over-the ear non-travelling phones are the HIFIMan HE-560s. A nice semi-affordable planar design that gets you close to the big leagues, the 560s need some solid power to make them come alive. They are not sealed, so you also need a nice, quiet environment to enjoy them. My current fave IEMs are the JH Audio Pro 13s. They travel well, are easy to drive, and are great for personal pleasure listening. They also perform well in the studio, or as in-ear monitors for live gigs. At $1099 they're not cheap, but they live up to the hype. I also enjoy several budget IEMS, including the KZ ATE and KZ ZST (both very good for very little cash).

According to CEntrance, the Cerene dB are "closed-back headphones with a circumaural design for superior acoustic isolation. Premium synthetic leather ear pads and a padded headband provide comfort during long listening sessions. Large dynamic, neodymium drivers offer precise bass and extended high-end, equally great for recording and mixing, or enjoying favorite music. A foldable design with two-way, 180-degree cup rotation provides flexible storage options and makes the new headphones perfect for travel."

CEntrance Cerene dB Headphones  

The Cerenes feature 10 Hz – 26 kHz frequency response power handling capability of 1800 mW at 40 Ohm, 900 mW per channel, and a high sensitivity of 96dB, +/- 3dB. They come with a 3.5mm (1/8") gold-plated stereo plug that fits front panels of modern portable equipment. A 1/4" adapter is available separately. The phones come in a no-frills vinyl storage bag with a drawstring.

After the Cerenes arrived I decided to give them 24 hrs of break-in before any listening. Not everyone feels the same, and maybe it's just a placebo for me, but I feel every transducer that has moving parts can benefit from some break in. Can't hurt.

I was recording a demo the week after the headphones arrived, so I decided to try the Cerenes in the studio first. I knew the engineer, and he had no problem with me using my own cans. Straight away I liked the light feel and nice fit. The studio cans I used on the last session (different studio) I worked fit terribly, and the sound was less than optimal. But time is money when recording, so you soldier on, and never, ever complain if you want to work there again. In my opinion most "professional" headphones (unless you're in a really top-shelf studio) suck, especially if you're used to high-end cans. Studio cans get the job done as a monitor, although audiophiles would listen to them and grimace. But most (not all) musicians are not audiophiles and couldn't care less about high-end sound. True. I don't get it.

Once the work started the Cerenes stood right up and got the job done. They felt comfy and plush with no sliding. I was able to get through the 30 minutes (this can sometimes take hours) of dialing in the drum sound and my personal mix without fatigue. Straight away, the isolation they provided was superior. When we started laying down the track I really appreciated the polite top end. This was a click-track session, which is almost exclusive these days. Sometimes the tonal quality of click they pump into the drummer's cans can be really annoying, bordering on painful. No problem with the Cerenes. The artist on this session played acoustic guitar. The CEntrance phones gave me a fine presence of that directly-mic'd unamplified guitar. I really enjoyed what I was hearing, and it lowered the usual stress of trying to lay it down perfectly, and as quickly as humanly possible. Three fun takes and we were done. Listening to the playback through the Cerenes, I felt we could really have used any of the takes. After we all agreed on the basic track and mix, one late bass drum beat was tweaked via Pro Tools. Same for a couple of guitar notes. An easy-peasy session, check is in the mail. I packed up and that was it. A pleasure to work with a great engineer and a talented guitar player, and the Cerenes. An uncommonly low stress level.

It was time to switch gears and listen to the Cerenes for pleasure. If I'm at home I generally listen to headphones while my wife is watching TV and I don't want to wait the 20 minutes for the tubes to warm up in the big rig. It usually goes something like "Yes, I'd really like to watch the Real Housewives of Peoria with you, but ..." Isn't this why most audiophiles have at least one set of headphones?

These days I use my HIFIMAN 802s portable player with the Power II amp card option for most home headphone listening. It's an excellent sounding player that easily drives my power-hungry planars, although it has possibly the worst user interface ever designed. My problem? In my living room my chair is about 8 ft away from a wood pellet stove that includes a fan and is always running on a cold day. This makes listening with my open-backed planars less than ideal for about 5 months out of the year. The isolation is minimal. Enter the Cerenes. Straight away they stepped up and let me enjoy the music. Isolation was excellent. In a low / no noise environment the five times more expensive 560s will win a shootout—and did—but in this case, no contest, the Cerenes ruled.

To my ears the Cerenes are more of a "communicate the music" headphone than a "HiFi" headphone. Bass was sweet, well defined without bloat. I noticed the dynamics were much more extended than what I experienced in the studio. Highs were polite, but not enough to obfuscate detail. My only complaint was with the width of the soundstage, which seemed a little narrow. As in the studio, the Cerenes were very comfy, and facilitated extended fatigue free—both physical and aural—listening sessions.

CEntrance Cerene dB Headphones

So what do you get for your hard-earned $179? A well-built, no nonsense set of headphones that are equally adept at fulfilling your home and professional requirements. Fold 'em up, throw 'em in your gig bag, and take 'em anywhere you need. They won't break your budget, and I think you'll get high quality, reliable performance for a long time. A great tool for musicians and music lovers alike. Working man's cans.

Cerene dB Headphones

Retail: $179