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MHDT Paradisea(+) Owners Club

post #1 of 329
Thread Starter 
MHDT Paradisea Owners Club
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In my opinion, and other than this fantastic thread over at AudioCircle, there's just not enough banter going on about this fabulously priced tube DAC from MHDT Labs:

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I just thought it would be good to get a thread going where mutual Paradisea owners could discuss their ongoing experiences with the DAC.

Between swapping OPAMPS and swapping tubes, the ability to tailor the sound to one's preferences is just staggering.

Not to mention how mod-friendly the layout, design and PCB are.

Anyway ... figured I'd get a placeholder thread going so that others can join in with their experiences as they find it and have time.


My Paradisea+ Listening Rig
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I use my Paradisea DAC via a coaxial digital out from an Auzentech Prelude 7.1 sound card. From the Paradisea, the signal then goes on to a Stello HP100 headphone amp. I listen through Grado RS1 headphones.

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There's lovely synergy between these items.




Paradisea v.1.0 vs Paradisea 2.0
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My first Paradisea DAC was an early built "v.1.0" model of the DAC. Unlike it's newer cousin, the Paradisea+, it did not feature a socketed OPAMP and nor did it have USB capability ... furthermore, the earlier DAC shipped with an OPA2604 OPAMP whereas the newer DAC ships with a socketed LM4562 OPAMP.

After a few months with the Paradisea v.1.0, and being so amazed at how much better it was than the line-out from my sound card or CD player ... I simply *HAD* to demo the newer Paradisea+ DAC ...

And so I got in touch with "Mouse" aka Jiun-Hsien at MHDT Labs and ordered the newer one to demo against my older model.

The kind folks at MHDT Labs were gracious enough to give me a 100 dollar discount simply because I already owned an earlier version Paradisea.

Anyway ...

Upon receiving the new DAC, I immediately knew I would not like the LM4562 (I had an already burned in chip in possession) ... it was too sharp, thin and just lifeless sounding compared to the OPA2604 which was way way thicker and richer while being ever so slightly less detailed.

So I ordered a OPA2604 for the new Paradisea+ (it having the handy OPAMP socket and all) and once that was installed and while using identical GE tubes, I could barely ... almost not at all ... tell the older DAC and the newer DAC apart.

Realizing the Paradisea+ was brand new and still needed it's caps, fuses and other circuits properly broken in, I resolved to let it play for 200 hours and then do an Official(tm), many-hour A/B listening session between the newer Paradisea+ and the older Paradisea DAC.

So once the newer DAC had been properly abused, I set about to comparing the two DACs:

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It was agonizing, but after staying up all night listening to everything from Beethoven to Monster Magnet to The The ...

These are the VERY subjective and subtle differences I detected:

v.1.0:
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Slightly more involving and musical than the v.2.0 DAC ... tends to coax you into forgetting about the equipment or that your trying to be hyper critical of the same. Insanely good/tight/deep bass, best I've ever heard. Very liquid and smooth while still being more than adequately detailed. Very nice (believable) sound stage and imaging though a slightly narrower soundstage "effect" than the later model. This is the bit of gear which finally let my mind "click" on to what folks mean when they use words like "sweet," and "involving'" and "liquid."

v.2.0:
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Not quite as smooth as the v.1.0 DAC but also a tad more transparent and detailed (nit picky mode). As with v.1.0, insanely good bass, just as present but maybe not quite as deep and extended as v.1.0. This might have something to do with the larger output caps on the early version DAC. Sound stage "effect" is a tad more impressive than v.1.0 ... pulls off the "wow" factor nicely. This isn't at all to be considered a criticism of the earlier DAC, just a personal observation. Overall, it's a thinner sounding DAC than the v.1.0 unit, which somewhat vexes me, but I'll acclimate I'm sure and once I get that other DAC out of my house. Also, this newer DAC has just this weekend broke the 200 hour mark and may have a bit more refining to do.

All things considered?

Both are absolutely amazing DACs to my ear.

In the end, the slightly better soundstage, USB capability and socketed OPAMP won me over and so I decided to keep the newer, Paradisea+ DAC.

My roommate is now the proud owner of my older Paradisea v.1.0 DAC.





Tube Rolling
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Tube selection dramatically affects the Paradisea's sound.

Following is a short list of those tubes I've tried and what I don't or do like about them:

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GE5670 (stock)
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This is the tube that ships with the DAC. It sounds good. But compared to the other tubes I've tried, it's my least favorite. It's a tad grainy, the soundstage isn't as great as other tubes and, overall the bass image is a bit withdrawn and not quite as tight and deep as I like.

WE396A
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This tube was provided with my originally purchased, v.1.0 Paradisea DAC. It's far more "tubey" sounding in the DAC than is the stock GE5670. It's less detailed but far more enjoyable as the soundstage is a bit better and the bass becomes very tight and deep. To my ear, it blew away the stock GE5670 tube in my particular listening application/set up. It was my primary listening tube until I obtained a Bendix 2C51 ...

Bendix 2C51
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This is now my favorite tube. It's not quite as "smeared" sounding as the very lush and "tubey" sounding WE396A. Rather, it's a nice balance between detail and tube color that just sounds right to my head. Also, the sound stage and instrument separation went off the hook with this tube. Far better than the other two I've tried thus far.

RCA 5670 (cryo treated)
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I spent thirty bucks on this tube, a joint buy for a pair of NOS cryo treated tubes from TubeWorld. I like it fairly well. It's a bit more smooth and a bit more quiet than the stock GE tube. It's more detailed than the 396A tube, but not as "tube liquid" sounding; it sounds most like my favorite tube so far, the Bendix 2C51 listed above ... but it's not quite as good in the areas of soundstage, instrument seperation and fullness across all frequencies. I'd rate this RCA tube a tie with my 2nd favorite tube, the WE396A ... although they sound quite different from one another.

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OPAMP Rolling
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IMHO, swapping the OPAMP in the Paradisea can make an even more dramatic change than swapping out tubes.

The differences between running the DAC with the older OPA2604 and the newer LM4562 OPAMP are very dramatic.

Here's some thoughts on the three OPAMPS I've tried:

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LM4562
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This is the original OPAMP that shipped with my new Paradisea+ DAC. For my system, and specifically, what I like my Grado RS1's to sound like, this OPAMP is my least favorite so far. It's just too sharp and edgy to sync well with my headphones and amp. It's very detailed but sort of cold and clinical sounding. Others online love this OPAMP, though, so please check it out and decide for yourself.

OPA2604
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This is the OPAMP that shipped with the early version 1.0 Paradisea DAC that I first owned. I like it a lot better than the LM4562 if only because it's a bit more 'colored' and rich sounding than the 4562. It's thicker and more musical in my opinion and I quickly ordered one from Digikey to replace the 4562 with.


OPA2228
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I tried this OPAMP at the suggestion of another user at AudioCircle and loved it. It's a fine medium point between the LM4562's sort of sterile sound and the very rich sound of the OPA2604. It has more detail than the 2604 and it's much livelier and rich than the 4562. It sounds spot on for me (at the moment)

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As I mentioned before ...

The ability to roll both the tube and OPAMP in the Paradisea offers up a bunch of different opportunities to tweak the sound.



Inputs/Outputs/Cables
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As stated, one of the main reasons I stuck with the newer version of the Paradisea is because of the USB capability.

USB output is not my preferred or daily listening mode, however since I think it sounds noticeably worse than using the digital coaxial or TOSLINK inputs.

That said, here's some thoughts on the various input types and which I think sound best:


Dig Coax input
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Since I use my computer as my main transport, with an Auzentech Prelude sound card, the digital coaxial input on the Paradisea gets the most play time. I've done extensive listening tests comparing the coaxial input stream to the TOSLINK stream (via the handy toggle on the Paradisea) and honestly ... I can discern no noticeable difference, even in my most critical of modes. To me, the coax and TOSLINK sound identical.

As mentioned, A/Bing between coax and TOSLINK is really rather well accommodated since the Paradisea has a little toggle switch on the back that will let you instantly switch between coaxial and TOSLINK. This means that I can start a specific .FLAC file playing to the Paradisea via digital coaxial from my computer and also, quite simultaneously, start the same exact song on my CD Player (and from the original source CD) and send this to the TOSLINK input of the Paradisea. The DAC synchs to both and comparing the two is as instantaneous as flipping the toggle on the back of the DAC.

It works very well and it's also a *great* way to A/B the relative differences between source CD's and the .flac rips that come from them. One must be careful or otherwise might find themselves wasting a good six hours just doing A/B tests via that toggle.

One thing I like about the coaxial input is that there are far more 75ohm digital coax cable varieties out there to try than there are varieties of TOSLINK.

That said, having tried three seperate digital coaxial cables, I've been very hard pressed to notice any sonic differences among them.


TOSLINK input
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Sounds identical to the digital coaxial input.


USB input
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The sound quality when using the USB input on the Paradisea is quite good. Better than what I'd get from my standard sound card, without a doubt.

But it's not nearly as good as using digital coaxial or TOSLINK.

The sound with USB sounds a bit "narrower and very "flat" compared to the more robust and wide image that using coaxial or TOSLINK provides. Everything is just a bit bland in comparison and not nearly so engaging as the other digital options.

Perhaps this could be changed once more and better USB cables hit the market but for now, I'm sticking with coaxial and TOSLINK.



Cables
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I've found the Paradisea to be HUGELY responsive to different cables; from power cords to the RCA cables connecting it to my Stello amp, each cable produces markedly different sonic qualities.

For my main RCA interconnects, I have settled upon a set of Audio Arts IC-3 cables. These are far far better than the mid range monsters I was using before: way better sound stage, much better transparency and super tight and punchy bass. The monsters sounded hazey and blurred in comparison.

I am also using a custom power cord from Zu cables called "Birth."

This made just as dramatic a change over the standard/generic power cord as did changing the main RCA interconnects. I really couldn't believe the differences ... mostly in regards to how utterly transparent it made the sound. The noise floor, what little was there, simply vanished.

I'm also going to be trying an Audio Arts Power 1 cable this week to see if it's any better than the Zu.

Bottom line: try a bunch of different cables!



MHDT Labs Info
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Here's the MHDT Labs website if you care to check out the Paradisea or their other, more expensive DAC, the Havanah:

MHDT Labs Website

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Otherwise ...

That's just a bit of preliminary info regarding my experiences thus far with the lovely Paradisea+ DAC.

If you own a Paradisea DAC, please feel free to add to this thread with you own findings ...

Best ...

post #2 of 329
Nice write up and comparison between the two dacs S1rrah. Your comments on the sound of the Paradisea+ dac is very much how I've experienced it.
post #3 of 329
Must resist... no, please, no... oh oh...

Well, hey there, s1rrah! I had nearly talked myself into a Stello DA100 and then here you come with this outstanding writeup. Now I am back to indecision again.

I love two things about this DAC from my reading about it (and PM's with you ):
1) flexibility to tweak as you describe so well, and
2) the "musicality" that everyone attributes to this DAC.

I just got my Yamaha A-1000 Class A integrated amp (circa 1983) back from having it cleaned and checked. The Yamaha drives my Sennheiser HD600's so well that I am back to considering this DAC to pair with it. I really think the ability to roll tubes and opamps would give me a good chance of finding a sound that I would enjoy, and possibly allow me to delay the purchase of a dedicated headphone amp.

There are a couple of areas that I still ponder that you don't discuss in your review...

This is a non-oversampling DAC. MHDT makes a big deal about that and also the fact that they use no filtering. The tube acts as a buffer to remove some of the unwanted noise and clean up the sound, but this is still an unusual design. My EE friends and advisors tell me that the more sampling you do the better. Upsampling is also great - gotta have it according to them. Of course, these people play with digits and don't listen to music. What do you think about the NOS vs. oversampling/upsampling issue and the concept of not using a rapid roll-off filter at 22KHz or so?

I fear asking this by the way, because I don't want to turn this thread into a debate over this issue. But it is an important point to consider with this DAC, because MHDT has designed the DAC around the concept of NOS and non-filtering. They consider it an advantage, but the other camps (OS or NOS with filter) are far more common.

I am also a bit fuzzy on the inputs. I know you use coax, but my CD changer only has RCA analog and Toslink Optical digital for outputs. Have you ever tried the optical input on the Paradisea and, if so, what did you think of it vs. the coax? Am I better off to buy some sort of optical to coax converter, or just go with an optical cable? (Of course, I will be using USB from the computer.)

Once again, great job detailing the tube and opamp options. This is definitely one of the most versatile DAC's available, and offers a lot of fun for the tweakers.
post #4 of 329
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Orcin View Post
This is a non-oversampling DAC. MHDT makes a big deal about that and also the fact that they use no filtering. ... What do you think about the NOS vs. oversampling/upsampling issue and the concept of not using a rapid roll-off filter at 22KHz or so?
I think the common consensus among most persons who have heard both oversampling and non-oversampling (NOS) DACs is that the latter, will most generally lend a more analogue-like tone to the final mix and the former, the oversampling DACs can at times sound, well, more "digital"

I first tried a fairly well liked/reviewed oversampling DAC called the Musiland MD10. I got it from Pacific Valve for about 350 bucks.

I ended up sending it back because after a week, I determined it was just *too* sharp and edgy to be comfortably listened too for very long. To my ear, it just sounded so so digitally detailed ... and, I'm sure, to other ears and other gear, it's something that might be liked ... but for me it just didn't sound real.

Also, as I mentioned, the overall tone of the DAC was painfully fatiguing to me when listening to certain types of music.

I sent the MD-10 back to Pacific Valve and they recommended a NOS DAC.

So at first, I was going to try the Moodlab Dice or another of the well liked NOS DACs (Ack!, etc.) ... but the Paradisea came up for sale and so I snatched it.

My comments above, and especially regarding the Musiland DAC are completely subjective, of course. I have friends that own the Musiland and swear by it ... and in truth, it does have some fairly outstanding qualities: insanely granular detail, great (almost spooky) 3D holographic type imagining, etc. ... but the brightness and sharp edges on *everything* really grated me the wrong way.

Bottom line, I constantly found myself being wowed by the sound effects as opposed to the music. Like I was playing a video game instead of listening to my favorite band.

...

Anyway ... like I said, what I've read online and to my fairly unexposed/inexperienced ear, the biggest difference one will find between NOS and oversampling DACS is in how natural or non-digital each might sound. I think it true that only certain of us really are bothered by such qualities or even claim to be able to discern such, so it's anybodies guess, really.



Re: Rolloff Filters

I think my bodies hearing mechanism naturally rolls off frequencies not meant for it already.



I don't claim to have a real keen knowledge of how such filters work, but in the most primitive ways of considering such, I can only surmise that I wouldn't need to have frequencies filtered out if they are frequencies the human ear can't pick up anyway.

All other frequencies that I'm physically able to perceive .... I want to perceive. That's how it would be in a live music setting and that's what I want to hear

That said ...

I could very well hear a different DAC, like the Stello DAC you mention, which not only employs oversampling, digital filters and even an upsampling feature ... and absolutely LOVE it more than the Paradisea.

For now, I just like the naturalness and ease that the Paradisea DAC provides. It's really an exciting thing to listen too. Fantastic punch, great spatial qualities and as listenable/non-fatiguing as I can imagine.

But rest you assurred ... I'm still playing the field. ;-)

So just saying ...

BTW: I'm going to update my first post with some details on the various input/output options on the Paradisea. Briefly, yes, optical in sounds just as good as digital coaxial. My brain tells me it likes coax better simply cause I can play with a wider variety of cables but in the end, they sound the same to me. Not so with the USB, though ... I find it to be a bit narrower of a sound stage and overall the music doesn't have the fullness and spatial loveliness that comes through with the coax or optical inputs. USB = emergency use only in my application.



best ...

Joel
post #5 of 329
Thread Starter 
More reading regarding filtered vs non filtered digital conversion:


Non-Oversampling/Filterless DAC Concept

"The difference between the non-oversampling DAC and the conventional DAC with the digital filter lies whether you attach importance on the accuracy in the time domain or in the frequency domain. In other words, whether you choose the musical performance or the quality of a sound. This trade-off line defines the boundary of the current digital audio format .

A natural, stress-free sound that communicates the musicians' intention directly to you. That is the sound of non-oversampling DAC. The feel of this sound is closer to that of analog reproduction."

...

(very interesting read)
post #6 of 329
Thanks for the updated info on cables! It's good to know I can use the Toslink from my CD player without sacrificing sound quality.
post #7 of 329
s1rrah, You said You've heard the Stello too?
Or have I misunderstood?
In case You have - could You describe the differnences between the stello and the Paradisea, please?
post #8 of 329
s1rrah,
Can you elaborate on how the RS-1s sound with the Paradisea?

Thanks!
post #9 of 329
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by XXII View Post
s1rrah,
Can you elaborate on how the RS-1s sound with the Paradisea?

Thanks!
The RS1's sound better than they've ever sounded with any other source I've tried. Hands down.

Anyone who knows Grados well enough tends to also know they are very sensitive to any applications which might over emphasize thier very forward high frequency image.

The Musiland MD10 simply didn't get along with the RS1's at all ... it nearly hurt to listen at times due to the glare and sort of digitally created sonic image.

The RS1's are my favorite headphones with any source really ... they're quibbling flaws and all ... I've tried all varieties of Senns and I still keep going back to the RS1's.

The Paradisea, in my opinion, is a perfect match.

Just some thoughts ... at work ... I'll type more later.

Best.

.joel
post #10 of 329

Try The OPA2134...

Try the OPA2134... I think you'll like it. I liked it better than the 2604, and the dual OPA627 in my CD25 1+. More rich, organic, texture with it - though some might confuse texture with grain.

I've often thought of trying the Paradisea - what DAC chip does it use? One of the best in NOS DACs is the BB PCM63 - very hard to beat!

No doubt... the combo of a tube DAC and great SS amp with plenty of current for low impedance phones is what the Grados and Denons need - they sound phenomenal with that combination.
post #11 of 329
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gradofan2 View Post
I've often thought of trying the Paridisea - what DAC chip does it use? One of the best in NOS DACs is the BB PCM63 - very hard to beat!

No doubt... the combo of a tube DAC and great SS amp with plenty of current for low impedance phones is what the Grados and Denons need - they sound phenomenal with that combination.
The DAC chip in the Paradisea is a Phillips TDA1545A.

The more expensive (no OPAMP) Havana DAC, also from MHDT labs, uses the Burr Brown PCM56P DAC chip (two of them, actually). Otherwise, looking at the two PCB's layouts on the DAC, the Paradisea and Havana are quite obviously close relatives.

Would like to try a Havana eventually but I'm not in the 900 dollar DAC club yet.

post #12 of 329
Should a Paradisea definitely be paired with an SS amp? I should be getting a Cayin HA-1A today that I was thinking of pairing with a Paradisea to drive my HF-1s (I realize that the Cayin HA-1A is more suited to high impedence cans but I'm getting one for cheap). Will this combination be okay?
post #13 of 329
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by XXII View Post
Should a Paradisea definitely be paired with an SS amp? I should be getting a Cayin HA-1A today that I was thinking of pairing with a Paradisea to drive my HF-1s (I realize that the Cayin HA-1A is more suited to high impedence cans but I'm getting one for cheap). Will this combination be okay?
Theres a bunch of tube amp owners who have raved about the paradisea at AudioCircle. Check my first post for a link to that thread at that forum.

You might also investigate the Constantine which is basically a Paradisea without the tube buffer stage. Reviewers of both amps have said that it's a bit more detailed than the Paradisea and that it might synch better with a tube amp.

Then again, read through the AudioCircle thread as a lot of the Paradisea owners there are/were using it with their tube amps and loved it.

Also, using a Paradisea, it'll boil down to your tube choice I think.

The stock GE tube would most likely work very well with a tube amp as it's the least "tubey" sounding in the DAC that I've tried. Very detailed and sort of crisp compared to some of the other tubes.
post #14 of 329
Thank you s1rrah for your helpful comments. Your passion for the Paradisea has sold it to me. There's a Paradisea in the FS forum for a good price that I am trying to buy. I can't wait to try it out with my HF-1!
post #15 of 329
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by XXII View Post
Thank you s1rrah for your helpful comments. Your passion for the Paradisea has sold it to me. There's a Paradisea in the FS forum for a good price that I am trying to buy. I can't wait to try it out with my HF-1!
Really curious to hear your impressions of it with the Cayin ...

That amp looks really nice; was just reading some reviews.

Have fun.
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