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TOUR: MHDT Labs Stockholm V2 NOS DAC tour! PCM56P-J R2R D/A chips, Bendix 2C51 Tube, 24/192 input

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  1. Soundsgoodtome

    No problem Dick, if you make the Nashville meet make sure you stop by and have a listen on Joe's rig. He should have it cookin real nicely for the meet.
     
  2. ruthieandjohn
    I just received the DAC in great shape.  I have performed these comparisons:
     
    Stockholm to the Schiit Bifrost Multibit Uber, either DAC going into the HiFiMAN EF-6 amp and then into the HiFiMAN HE1000 headphones.  
    Stockholm to the Sennheiser HDVD800 DAC, either DAC then going into the Sennheiser HDVD800 amp and then into Sennheiser HD800 headphones.
     
    I hope to also try:
     
    Stockholm vs. Sennheiser HDVD800 DAC going into the HiFiMAN EF-6 and into the HiFiMAN HE1000 headphones, but since the Sennheiser DAC output is balanced XLR and the HiFIMAN EF_6 is single-ended, I have some cables I have to buy (bought, but not sure if I will get them in time).
     
    I will post my detailed comparison table once I collapse the results and try to include the third comparison, cables willing.
     
    In short so far:
     
    *  Stockholm significantly improves quality through the HiFiMAN system as compared to the Schiit Bifrost Multibit Uber (Stockholm is faster and provides a better soundstage)
    *  Stockholm does NOT improve quality through the Sennheiser chain (in fact, Sennheiser chain with Sennheiser DAC sounds essentially the same, but has a larger soundstage)
     
    Just as a reminder, my earlier tests, published here, show that the HiFiMAN chain is better than the Sennheiser chain (reference in my signature link), so one explanation could be that the HiFiMAN chain discerns more details, while the Sennheiser chain, though less discerning, remains known for its superior sound stage.
     
    More details later.  I am also going to just plain listen to the Stockholm for extended periods with the HiFiMAN chain, since the above tests are on very short snippets of music containing specific acoustic features.
     
  3. RCBinTN
     
    Interesting.  Those HD800 are picky cans.  
     
  4. ruthieandjohn
    I know that the HD800 are thought to be picky on what amp drives them, but I had not heard about that pickiness reaching beyond the amp to the DAC.
     
    The HD 800 is known for a hump in the frequency response around 6 KHz, which some say causes unnecessary shrillness and they say that the HDVD 800 DAC amp (as well as the Sennheiser HDVA 600 amp only) compensates for the shrillness with a spectral valley.  The HDVD 800 also chooses a frequency-dependent output impedance of around 43 ohms, ideal for the nominal 300 ohm input impedance of he HD 800 (which goes up to 600 ohms at some higher frequencies).  That 43 ohm impedance is reported to have been picked with the help of panels of listeners finding the best-sounding combination.
     
    Folks generally say that the DAC that goes into the HDVD800, and which adds $400 to the price (as compared to the HDVA 600, which is amp only), is of modest capability, far less ideal than the amp.  In fact, they say that it corresponds to what you would expect from a $400 DAC, i.e. adequate but not great.
     
    That is why I am trying to get the proper cabling to let me compare the HDVD 800 DAC output (catching it before it goes to the HDVD 800 amp) to the Stockholm 2, driving the HiFiMAN H1000 headphones through its own "ideal" amp, the HiFiMAN EF-6.  
     
    But I was amazed that the Stockholm 2 - to - Sennheiser HDVD 800 amp was essentially indistinguishable from the Sennheiser HDVD 800 DAC - to - HDVD 800 amp, with in fact the all-Sennheiser chain being a bit better by having a better soundstage!  Maybe that HDVD800 DAC with the HDVD800 amp isn't so bad after all!
     
  5. RCBinTN
    I owned the HDVA600 for quite awhile and thought it sounded OK with the HD800.  My source at that time was the DS Gungnir.  Then, I heard the Yggy/WA5 source at the NSH meet.  Completely changed my opinion of the Sennheiser amp.  Of course, that's around an $8000 rig.  So after upgrading to the Gumby, I acquired the Bryston BHA-1 amp.  I am happy with that rig for the HD800.  I fully agree a better DAC makes a lot of difference with the HD800.
     
    Cheers -
    RCB
     
  6. Greed
    Tone – 
     
    Highs:
     
    Presentenced in a very non-intrusive way, the treble was never harsh or fatiguing – effortlessly smooth. Like other DACs I’ve heard with a similar balance there are trade-offs. The smoother presentation dulled some details and vocals didn’t seem to have that same “pop” or crispness that I’m used to. Things sound somewhat “veiled” (small amounts) or hazy. Like trying to watch TV in a room with a smoker. This may or may not bother others but for me, the treble just isn’t as present or as clean as what I’m used to. Instruments didn’t have that same twang. Overall easy to listen to, no fatigue but with trade-offs.
     
    Mids:
     
    The midrange is presented in a creamy, romantic, almost glossy manner. The sound reminds me of an old vintage analog sound with better dynamics and cleaner sounding. Instruments sounded fluid and coherent, vocals were powerful especially male vocals. Overall I found the midrange to be quite pleasant sounding albeit with a few minor quibbles that might be worth mentioning:
     
    Upper midrange is where I had a bit of trouble. I’m not a huge male vocal listener although I do find this DAC to sound superb with such. Most of my vocal music is female and with that I need a DAC that sounds realistic to my ears; something that maintains a smooth transition throughout the upper mids through the treble. A true balanced sound without compromise. As previously stated, female vocals seemed too glossy in comparison. Voices didn’t have that normal crisp, clean, bite that I’m used to. While some may find this attribute pleasing – euphony – I don’t find it as realistic or natural sounding in comparison to other DACs on hand.
     
    Bass:
     
    I found the overall balance to have a warm almost dark tilt to it. Mid bass was quite strong. Despite being punchy, it lacked refinement. Notes sounded rounder and less refined. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the bass. In fact, I found it quite engaging and fun with modern rock, pop, and hip-hop. But there were a few tracks, digging deep into my jazz and folk library (music with acoustic instruments) that had be wanting for a tighter, more controlled sound. In addition the bass sounded slower, slightly muddy and loose compared to the Yggy or Pavane. I'm picky when it comes to bass. I tend to listen to quite a bit of bass heavy music, so having an accurate and refined bass tone is very important to me. I'm not sure whether I would find it fun and engaging over a long period of time but for the duration of the loan, the bass was good but not great. Tubes and other tweaks may or may not change my opinion of the bass but with the tubes provided I still found the bass to be somewhat problematic for me.
     
    Soundstage/Imaging –
     
    Now we are talking. Soundstage coming from the Stockholm is wide and spacious. While not being extremely 3D or deep as the Yggy or Pavane, I do find the overall staging very impressive and enjoyable. This was highlighted when I began listening to my system through the impressive qualities of the HD800. This headphone matched with the Stockholm really got my attention. Imaging was not blurred or smeared in any way. Instruments were correctly positioned and while I didn’t find it to be concert hall sounding like the Pavane, I do find it to be much like a small jazz club – intimate. There was good air around notes allowing the stage to be set in a way that sounded effortless. I did find the background to sound a bit grey, but that all changed when I added the Mutec via BNC (see comments below).
     
    PRaT, Dynamics, Micro-dynamics –
     
    Typically I don’t like to speak on this technical of an area especially when I only had a week with the given product but I thought I’d mention a few thoughts I had over the week. Overall I thought dynamics were good. There was a good sense of rhythm and pace to the sound that kept me engaged and toe-tapping, which is a good sign. If something doesn’t sound good to me, I start flipping through songs as though I’m in a rush to get it over with. Transient response isn’t as fast or powerful as the Yggy or Pavane, but I found it on par with DACs like the SFD-2 and from memory the AMR DP-777. Understandably, a few subtleties were lost in the recording and not easily heard from the tracks I was familiar with but with more modern recordings they sounded fine.
     
    Detail/Resolution –
     
    Overall I find this DAC to be decently detailed. Falls short of the best I’ve heard and in direct comparison, not as detailed as the Pavane, Yggy, or Theta but closer to the Gumby and SFD-2. Tonal balance has always been my top priority but after extensive listening, I don’t feel as though I’m giving up a whole lot in real listening. The presentation as a whole is just flat out enjoyable, the need for extra details isn’t apparent. I’m not finding myself flipping through different tracks, bored of what I’m hearing – on the contrary. I have a sneaking suspicion the more laid-back presentation is at play but I'm also of the opinion the DAC just isn’t as detailed. Filters, DAC chips, NOS, etc. whatever the reason. The fact of the matter is that overall I find this DAC to have a good sense of detail that can easily be seen as end-game. While ultimately this DAC is not as detailed as the Theta, SFD-2, Yggy, Pavane, or Gumby it has enough detail for 90% of systems out there and can easily be someone’s final destination.
     
    Conclusion –
     
    I try to be as realistic as possible when reviewing audio gear. If I’ve learned one thing on my journey DAC hunting it is that no DAC will satisfy you fully. There will be trade-offs. Finding the right DAC can be an exhausting process. There tends to be lots of listen fatigue, sometimes having to spend days to hear those minute differences. At the end of the day, DACs seem to sound more similar than not. Especially when one realizes that in real listening, a DAC is just part of the equation. It starts with the recordings and if what you listen to isn’t perfectly mastered these differences may not even be heard. Which I think is a good thing. It keeps us from going crazy always asking ourselves, what am I missing?
     
    I’m sure it is no surprise that I’m a huge fan of R2R. I’m still learning about the pros and cons of NOS and also why adding a well implemented tube output stage helps the overall sound. The Stockholm v2 brings value to the table but not at the expense of sonics. Overall the MHDT Stockholm v2 is a well-priced, solid product that doesn’t break the bank. A great mid-entry into the R2R kingdom that doesn’t do anything abruptly wrong. Sure, there are some minor quibbles that I have with the tone but those could easily be my choice of music, my preferences, etc. I wouldn’t classify this DAC as revelation to the DAC world or a “giant killer” by any means but when you consider it is less than half the cost of the Schiit Yggy, less than a quarter the cost of the Metrum Pavane, even cheaper than my old SFD-2 things start to take perspective. The fact of the matter is, this DAC kept me entertained for hours upon hours of listening. I was glued to my system, jamming out and enjoying every minute of it.
     
    Comparisons –
     
    vs. Yggdrasil 
     
    Unfortunately, while staying a good value the Stockholm just doesn’t edge out the Yggdrasil in any way for me. The Yggy is cleaner, more detailed, more spacious, blacker background, tonally more to my liking (more neutral and natural). On the other hand, the Stockholm wasn’t completely demolished in direct comparison. In fact, it held its own being just as enjoyable a listen as the Yggy for most of my regular listening. I didn’t get the sense that I was missing much switching back to the Yggy. Yes, the Stockholm isn’t as good but it is also half the cost and plays in the different realm. Being NOS and having a tube output there are certain sound characteristics that come into play when adding those features. The good thing is the sound can be altered with a simple tube swap. There are only a few good tube DACs (I’ve heard quite a few) that I’ve been able to own/hear that have this great sense of harmonic honesty to them; a tonal density that is easily heard but hardly forgotten. It just sounds right. I can safely say the Stockholm has been added to that category of tube DAC.
     
    vs. Pavane
     
    Being NOS like the Stockholm, the Metrum Pavane was a good comparison for me. I had owned one NOS DAC previously (Master 7) but only when adding another $1500 USB Converter in the mix did I find it mildly enjoyable. Something just didn’t sit right with me. The sound was too mellow, dull and lifeless. To my surprise after blind purchasing the Pavane out of curiosity I was pleasantly surprised, almost floored by what I was hearing. I had friends that were big on NOS, but after owning the M7 I had my doubts. I had those same doubts when first looking into the MHDT DACs. Much like the Yggy, while I don’t find the Stockholm to be better in any way compared to the Pavane, I don’t find it far off. Adding some external help like the Mutec, Uptone Regen, maybe a Lynx soundcard I think the Stockholm could start to sound much better. Otherwise, the Pavane sounds quite a bit faster, more dynamic, and tonally more neutral compared to the Stockholm. Think stock HD600 vs. HD650. Similar in some ways, but after being fed good upstream gear the differences begin to sound much more apparent.
     
    vs. AMR DP-777 / Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 MK II –
     
    I wanted to add this section because from memory, the MHDT Stockholm v2 has quite a few similarities with my previous SFD-2 and DP-777 DACs. All three are tube DACs, two of which are NOS. While I don’t find the Stockholm the best out of the three, I do find all three to play in the same realm. They all have a slightly romantic type sound with a punchy mid-bass, liquid mids, and smooth treble. The Stockholm is the darkest of the three, but not by much. The SFD-2 still has a meatier, more powerful sound. Slightly more detailed as well but not by much. With modifications and tube swaps the SFD-2 pulls away further but carried in its stock-form, I could easily find myself preferring the Stockholm just because of peace of mind. Dealing with vintage gear like the SFD-2 can be a headache. Especially when you are unlucky enough to blow a DAC chip. Having it serviced and paying shipping back and forth to PCX can be a costly ordeal. Being a company still in business and able to carry a decent warranty, like MHDT, I would have no problem recommending the Stockholm over the SFD-2.
     
    In regards to the DP-777, well let’s just say I wasn’t super impressed with the $6000 DAC that sounded worse than a Gumby or my M7 at the time. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed my time with the DP-777. It was definitely a looker and had some very interesting features like the Dual DAC Chip processing but I just couldn’t recommend it to someone after experience R2R DACs costing a fraction of the amount that beat it in every area.
     
    MHDT Stockholm v2 w/ Mutec MC-3+ USB –
     
    Now we are talking. I was hoping to have more time with this combination but shipping delays gave me only a few hours with the Mutec before I had to box up the Stockholm to get ready to ship. Regardless from the few hours that I did get to listen, this most definitely stepped up the performance. Connected via BNC, adding the Mutec stepped up the game. Many of the issues that I previously had with the DAC were remedied.
     
    Deeper more 3D sounding stage; tighter, more controlled bass response; blacker background all of these benefits were heard immediately when adding the Mutec. In addition some of the tonal quibbles I previously had were lessened. Not completely gone by any means, but the presentation seemed less dark and cleaner overall.
     
    I’ve always been a firm believer that USB audio in general sucks. It is the hidden bottleneck in many systems and can easily be overlooked because the reality is most people listen to their systems through a normal computer or laptop. They don’t give any mind to these dedicated music servers that focus on stable, low-noise sound transfer. I don’t blame them. Convenience is much more important than spending thousands of dollars for gains that you may or may not hear right? I agree and the Mutec definitely falls into that category of craziness. For those looking for value, I would advise you to read no further. In fact, if you are one that doesn’t want to pay attention to tweaks in your audio chain – I’d recommend the Schiit Gumby over this DAC in the same price range. But if you are nutty, if you are like me, passionate about audio and see potential with this DAC. You need to try adding a good USB Converter to your system. I venture to say the gains can likely dependent on plethora of factors and all results could vary but in my system the Empirical Audio OR4 and Mutec MC-3+ USB have stepped up the level of performance several notches.
     
  7. Greed
    Added my comments. Sorry in advance for any typos and or confusing statements. 
     
  8. grizzlybeast
    Thanks much for the write up!!! Really appreciate it! thats what I was hoping for! 
     
  9. Soundsgoodtome
    Great review Greed! I was wondering how it would stack up against with the impressive DACs you had on hand. I think it's always good to review a unit with a sense of gauge that makes the product fall somewhere lower than a reference point. Anything else that plays like a TOTL to a reviewer can come off as being overly excited about a product (read hype) and you start questioning if a reviewer is to make a product look good or we're reading into the thoughts of reviewer. Definitely appreciate the details to each aspect of the review, it brings the opinions from both sides and centers the thoughts well. With that said, I think you would find the AD chips used with the Atlantis units to better suit your taste. The Pagoda might play into it as well but it does share the romantic characteristics more than the Atlantis does. The Atlantis's tuning can be changed from almost solid state listening with the R2R sound to romantic mids/highs with the right tube. With the Stockholm and Pagoda, the flavor of the DAC influences the sound as much as the tube and the changes are not as dramatic as the Atlantis.

    I totally agree with the crap USB audio, it's tough to explain to people why their system might not sound as good or why they're experience poor performance when people are using their main computer for audio needs. A DDC and regens surely will help but a dedicated audio computer is still a must in my book. I've dedicated 2 computers for strictly audio use and even keep another computer next to my audio system for internet/normal use just for the simple fact that even with incredible amounts of memory and processing power, when you've got multiple devices plugged in or multiple tasks running eating resources, the USB can drop out either due to power (shared USB with other devices) or system latency. Just 2 cents there.
     
    -------------------

    PS: Thinking about it, when you were selling your SF-2 I now remember what sparked me going from my older Paradisea to a Pagoda. I just missed out on your listing when you put the SF-2 for an amazing price up and I remember asking what it took to make an SF-1 be upgraded to an SF-2. Then I went and bought the Pagoda [​IMG]  then of course the Stockholm for the tour and as a 2nd unit... you could say you were at the beginning before this tour was even thought of.
     
  10. Luckbad
     
    Great review, and I'm especially going to call out the Mutec. Until I tried the Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB, I thought USB -> S/P-DIF converters were a waste of money.
     
    Now I have two of them.
     
  11. Greed
    Originally Posted by Soundsgoodtome /img/forum/go_quote.gif
      Great review Greed! I was wondering how it would stack up against with the impressive DACs you had on hand. I think it's always good to review a unit with a sense of gauge that makes the product fall somewhere lower than a reference point. Anything else that plays like a TOTL to a reviewer can come off as being overly excited about a product (read hype) and you start questioning if a reviewer is to make a product look good or we're reading into the thoughts of reviewer. Definitely appreciate the details to each aspect of the review, it brings the opinions from both sides and centers the thoughts well. With that said, I think you would find the AD chips used with the Atlantis units to better suit your taste. The Pagoda might play into it as well but it does share the romantic characteristics more than the Atlantis does. The Atlantis's tuning can be changed from almost solid state listening with the R2R sound to romantic mids/highs with the right tube. With the Stockholm and Pagoda, the flavor of the DAC influences the sound as much as the tube and the changes are not as dramatic as the Atlantis.

    I totally agree with the crap USB audio, it's tough to explain to people why their system might not sound as good or why they're experience poor performance when people are using their main computer for audio needs. A DDC and regens surely will help but a dedicated audio computer is still a must in my book. I've dedicated 2 computers for strictly audio use and even keep another computer next to my audio system for internet/normal use just for the simple fact that even with incredible amounts of memory and processing power, when you've got multiple devices plugged in or multiple tasks running eating resources, the USB can drop out either due to power (shared USB with other devices) or system latency. Just 2 cents there.
     
    -------------------

    PS: Thinking about it, when you were selling your SF-2 I now remember what sparked me going from my older Paradisea to a Pagoda. I just missed out on your listing when you put the SF-2 for an amazing price up and I remember asking what it took to make an SF-1 be upgraded to an SF-2. Then I went and bought the Pagoda [​IMG]  then of course the Stockholm for the tour and as a 2nd unit... you could say you were at the beginning before this tour was even thought of.

     
    Totally agree. Keeping a level perspective of products once one has experienced TOTL sound quality is tough. The best advice I can give those that read my thoughts is YMMV. Take everything that is read on the internet with a grain of salt. My standards and what I've come to expect from products is different than what others may expect. On the other hand, I hope my thoughts didn't come off as too negative. The fact is, this DAC impressed me and lately I haven't been impressed with much. Most of what I hear at shows nowadays is taking steps back. It is nice to see a small company like MHDT create products that not only use quality components but also price their products fairly.
     
    I'm pretty much done with DACs for the time being. My focus has shifted to analog and the speaker side of things but if I were to be in the market for a mid-level R2R DAC, the Atlantis would definitely be on my shortlist. If you have the chance to pick up a SFD-2 MKII for cheap, it is a great DAC.  
     
  12. Greed
     
    Definitely. I'd advise everyone that is considering these DACs to look into info on external USB converters. The fact of the matter is, many of these USB inputs on DACs are an afterthought. Every DAC that I've tested has improved with a good USB converter. That is not to say that some DAC (read: Yggy, Pavane, MSB) have excellent USB inputs, but they still are lacking in some way. 
     
    The Mutec 1.2 is probably the best way to go if one is on a budget. Don't jump up to the MC-3+ unless the return policy is good. You may or may not hear the differences, or they might be so subtle to you that the high price just isn't worth it. I'd much rather spend $400 or so on the Mutec 1.2, then to spend $400 more for cables, etc. These differences for me were not subtle and in turn, the Mutec is staying in my system for the foreseeable future.
     
    Torq likes this.
  13. ruthieandjohn
    Comparison of MHDT Stockholm 2 DAC to Schiit Bifrost Multibit, Sennheiser HDVD800, and FiiO X3 with HiFiMAN HE1000, Sennheiser HD 800, and Grado PS1000 Headphones
     
    This is my report on the one-week visit of the MHDT Stockholm 2 visit to my home.  It was a great house guest, not leaving dirty dishes or unmade beds behind, it always picked up its dirty socks and underwear, and I thank @Soundsgoodtome and others on this tour for making this possible
     
    SUMMARY
     
    I used three distinct signal chains (i.e., amp and headphone), for which the amp was provided by the headphone manufacturer as being presumably ideal for the headphone. For each chain, I compared the sound quality across 10 acoustic features with and without the Stockholm 2, using an alternative DAC in those cases.  Here is what I found:
     
    1. Stockholm significantly improves quality through the HiFiMAN system as compared to the Schiit Bifrost Multibit Uber (Stockholm is faster and provides a better soundstage)
    2. Stockholm does NOT improve quality through the Sennheiser chain (in fact, Sennheiser chain with Sennheiser DAC sounds essentially the same, but has a larger soundstage)
    3. Stockholm does NOT significantly improve quality through the Grado chain (again, it sounds essentially the same, but it does improve the soundstage over that of the pure Grado chain).
     
    One possible explanation of the clear improvement on the HiFiMAN chain and not the others is that the HiFiMAN chain was more discriminating.  Separate tests performed using these methods on each of the three headphone chains (without the Stockholm 2) had ranked the HiFiMAN chain the highest, the Sennheiser chain next, and the Grado chain last.  Perhaps only the HiFiMAN chain could discriminate the subtle effects of the Stockholm 2 DAC.
     
    MY BACKGROUND
     
    Since we were asked to provide our background to qualify for the tour, I am reiterating it here (and to provide more weight to what otherwise might be a fluffy review!)
     
    It is with great humility and excitement that I applied to be a stop in the tour, and I promised that I would use the same 10-feature acoustic comparison for three-way rankings of components that I detail below. I promised to write a review in which I will spell nearly all the words correctly (though the MHDT website tells you that a color option is "sliver!")

    I have the Schiit Bifrost Uber USB2 with Multibit upgrade, the Sennheiser HDVD800 DAC/amp (with means to bypass the output of the HDVD800 DAC with the Stockholm2 and go into the Sennehiser amp) and any number of portable DACs (VAMP VERZA, Sony PHA-1, CEntrance HiFiM8, and Beyerdynamic A p 200) to use as comparison, plus many of the best headphones (Sennheiser HD800, HiFiMAN HE1000, Grado PS1000, Ultrasone Ruthenium Edition 8) and nearly every Grado known to man or beast (PS1000, HP1000/HP1, GS1000, Bushmills X, GH-1, PS500, HF-1, RS1, RS1i, RS2i, RS2e, SR325e, SR3225is, SR325i, SR325, SR225i, SR125e, SR125, SR80e, SR80, SR60i, GR10e, iGrado).
     
    I am a wannabe of the music industry. Though I have been playing and performing classical piano for 53 years, I am 6 months into learning jazz piano.  However, I have worked with acoustics since joining Bell Laboratories in 1978, first working in the computer recognition and synthesis of speech, and then more generally in the underlying area of signal processing.  I published a textbook in real time signal processing (its cover is my avatar), which peaked on amazon.com at Number One Million Two Hundred Thousand at the height of its popularity in about 1992 (i.e., over a million books sold more copies!)
     
    TEST CONFIGURATION
     
    My intent was to assess the effect of using the Stockholm 2 by comparing the sound, with the Stockholm 2 and with another DAC, through three top-of-the-line headphones, each powered by its companion amplifier bought from the same manufacturer as the headphone.  The idea was that the manufacturer's own amp would be most carefully designed to maximize the quality of the headphone sound.  In all cases, I used a FiiO X3 digital music player, outputting digital music at CD data rates, via its S/PDIF coaxial port.  No use of USB was made in any of these tests.  I used the AEG 5670 tube in the Stockholm 2 for all tests.
     
    My three amp/headphone combinations were:
     
    1)  FiiO X3 S/PDIF digital out to (Schiit BiFrost Uber Multibit with USB 2 DAC, aka "Bimby" in other reviews here  OR Stockholm 2 DAC) to HiFiMAN EF-6 amp to HiFiMAN HE1000 headphones;
    2)  FiiO X3 S/PDIF digital out to (Sennheiser HDVD800 DAC  OR Stockholm 2 DAC) to Sennheiser HDVD800 amp (within the same box) to Sennheiser HD 800 headphones;
    3) ( FiiO X3 DAC Line Out OR FiiO X3 S/PDIF digital out to Stockholm 2 DAC) to Joseph Grado HPA-1 amp to Grado PS1000 headphones.
     
    ProductionSetup.png

    Chain #1 - HiFiMAN EF-6 & HE1000 headphones driven by either Schiit Bifrost or MHDT Stockholm
     
     
    Zbalancedcableredandblack.jpg

    Chain #2:  Sennheiser HDVD 800 amp & HD 800 headphones driven by either HDVD 800 DAC or Stockholm 2
     
     
    PS1000HPA1.jpg
    Chain #3:  Joseph Grado HPA1 amp & PS1000 headphones, driven by FiiO X3 Line Out or Stockholm 2
     
    TEST METHOD
     
    I adapted the three-headphone comparison method that I have applied so far to over 50 headphones to make it suited for comparison of two choices (i.e., with or without Stockholm 2).  
     
    I used four songs, all encoded in Apple Lossless Format at CD quality (I actually bought the CDs and ripped them... no internet download involved) and played by my FiiO X3 digital audio player.  
     
    • "You're Going To Miss Me When I'm Gone," by Band of Heathens, from their album One Foot In The Ether (used for fidelity of drum sound, positional resolution of two vocalists, and ability to discern pitch of string bass passages);
    • "Spanish Harlem," by Rebecca Pidgeon, on The Ultimate Demonstration Disc of Chesky records (used to assess female vocals, transparency, the attack of finger on bass string, and high resolution discrimination of differences in shaker shakes);
    • "Symphony No. 3 in C Minor Op. 78 (Organ Symphony) - IV" by Camille Saint Saens played by Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (used to assess the "ripping" sound of well-rendered lower brass and organ reed pipes, and the ability to hear a very small entrance amidst a bombastic chord of orchestra and organ at full tilt);
    • "Throwback" by B.o.B. on Underground Luxury (used to assess ability of a bass tone, specifically lowest C on piano at about 32 Hz, to pick me up by the throat and shake me!)
     
    The 10 tests were as follows:
     
    • Transparency:  What is between me and the music?  A felt cloth?  A "Sennheiser veil?" A frosted window?  Dirty window?  Clear Saran wrap?  or nothing?  At its best, makes me forget I am listening on headphones and am in room with musicians. [I use the 12-second segment 0:00 - 0:12 of "You're Going To Miss Me," which is kick drum, guitar, piano, and cymbal for this test]
    • Width of sound stage:  How far to the left and to the right, (yes, AND up and down in best cases) does it seem the musical sources are arranged? [I use the same 0:00 - 0:12 segment of "You're Going To Miss Me,"  which starts with kick drum center, guitar #1 right of center piano far right, guitar #2 far left, to see 1) to what extent am I among rather than in front of the musicians, and 2) how wide an angle do those positional extremes of instruments form?]
    • Positional resolution:  Can I distinguish a difference in position of two singers in Song 1? [I use 0:30 to 0:38 of "You're Going To Miss Me," where one vocalist ends a verse and a second vocalist, standing next to him, takes up the next.]
    • Bass visceral:  Does the bass in third verse of Song 4 actually shake me? Or do I just hear it?  [This test uses 0:31 through 0:33 of "Throwback, " where the bass drops to the lowest C on the piano.]
    • Drum "twang":  At start of Song 1, do the bass and tom tom drumhead have a tone and a pitch, rather than just a thump? ["You're Going to Miss Me" 0:00 - 0:12]
    • Bass pitch perception:  For the complicated bass runs in Song 1, do I hear a pitch with sufficient accuracy to sing or transcribe the part? ["You're Going to Miss Me,"  1:02 - 1:23 to see if I can hear the pitch of not only the bass glides and accented notes, but also the grace notes]
    • Bass finger pluck:  Do I hear the actual impact of fingers on the bass string just before hearing its sound on Song 2? ["Spanish Harlem," 0:00 - 0:04, listening most carefully to the repeated 3-note pattern to see if I not only hear an initial attack but some structure immediately following, before the finger leaves the string and the sound just rings)
    • Shaker variation:  In Song 2, verse 3, do the various shaker shakes sound a bit different from each other, as they should? ["Spanish Harlem," 1:40 - 1:47:  there are clearly loud and soft shakes, but how many more volume levels of shakes can I distinguish, and can I hear structure within each shake as the seeds hit the shaker wall?]
    • "Ripping" of organ / brass:  In Song 3, is there the sensation of hearing each vibration of the French horn and low organ reed tones (sort of the tonal counterpart to hearing a "pitch" from a drumhead in Test 5); ["Organ Symphony," initial chord from 0:00 - 0:04 and French horn passage 0:06 - 0:12]
    • Discern added chord:  About 1:38 into Song 3, after the full orchestra and organ hold a chord at the top of a passage, can I hear a small number of orchestra instruments join in, as sort of an echo, in the second measure of that chord? ["Organ Symphony," in the passage starting at 1:08, how well can I hear the small additional chord added at 1:16 on top of the full strength organ/orchestra chord in progress?  Clearly enough to have noticed it if I weren't already listening for it?]
     
    These tests generally emphasize what I find most pleasing in a headphone, namely high-frequency-related features including transparency, upper harmonics of sounds from drum-head, brass, organ pipe, and string bass, and high-resolution effects such as fine detail of each shaker sound and the finger on the bass string.
     
    For each of the three headphone chains above, I compared each of the 10 tests by comparing the case of "with Stockholm 2" to "without Stockholm 2" (using the alternative DAC as described above).  If I did not hear enough of a difference that  though I could hear it in a blind test, I rated the two cases as a tie.
     
    TEST RESULTS 
     
    In the tables below, the combination (i.e. without vs. with Stockholm 2) that sounded the better for each of the 10 tests is given a score of 3 and colored blue, with the poorer combination being scored at 1 and colored red.  In many cases, no change in sound of a particular of the 10 acoustic tests was noted... these ties were scored at 2 points each and colored purple.
     
    HiFiMAN Chain
     
    BifrostvsStockholmonHiFiMAN.png
     
    The Stockholm DAC provided a wider soundstage, better pitch perception of subbass, and more of the high-harmonic "ripping" sound of organ reed stops and French horns, than did the Schiit Bifrost.  The Bifrost provided more of the high-frequency content that gives a bass (kick) drum a "twang" that keeps it from being simply a "thud."  Though it does not show up in the table, the Schitt Bifrost put the instruments that were in the center of the soundstage closer to the listener than did the Stockholm 2.  As a result, the Stockholm 2 seemed to provide a concave sound surface, with instruments arranged on a semicircle around the listener, while the Bifrost pushed the center musicians closer to the listener, resulting in a "U" shaped sound stage bulging in toward the listener at the center.
     
    Sennheiser Chain
     
    HDVDvsStockholmonSennheiser.png
    For the Sennheiser HD 800, the sound was almost identical whether using the Sennheiser HDVD 800 as the DAC or using the Stockholm 2 as the DAC.  The only difference was that soundstage actually decreased a bit by using the Stockholm.  Hence, all tests above except soundstage are tied, with two points each.  I was surprised by this conclusion, as folks have complained that the DAC that was chosen for the Sennheiser HDVD 800 DAC/amp is of only modest quality, while the amp is excellent with the HD 800 headphone.  For example, the price of the HDVD 800 is $400 than that of the HDVA 600, which has the amp but not the DAC.  Folks have said that the Sennheiser DAC sounds about like a (modest0 $400 DAC, so it is surprising that the Stockholm DAC did not improve sound more significantly.  Perhaps the Sennheiser DAC is particularly well paired with the amp in the HDVD 800.
     
    Grado Chain
     
    FiiOvs.StockholmonGrado.png
    As with the Sennheiser chain, the Grado chain does not highlight major differences between the Stockholm 2 and the other DAC used, which was the DAC of the FiiO X3 digital music player that was captured by using its Line Out.  In this case the Stockholm 2 improved the soundstage, which in retrospect may be expected, since most Grados are not known for large soundstage.  As with the HiFiMAN chain, the Stockholm 2 pushed the middle instruments out from the listener, resulting in a more circular, less inward-bending U shaped soundstage.  Though not shown in the scores, the Stockholm 2 also rendered the female vocalist, Rebecca Pidgeon, less "hooty" in the test tune "Spanish Harlem."
     
    CONCLUSIONS
     
    I believe that the ability of each chain to benefit from the Stockholm 2 may be in proportion to the overall sound quality of each chain.  In a test several months ago, I had used this test method to compare the HiFiMAN EF-6 to HE1000, Sennheiser HDVD 800 To HD 800, and Grado HPA1 to PS1000.  Here are the tabular results:
     
    3way130hrs.png
     
    The HE1000 scored significantly above the HD 800 and PS1000, which in turn were rather similar.  It may be that the extra discrimination power of the EF-6 / HE1000 is needed to benefit from the capability of the Stockholm 2.  However, it could just be that the particular nature of the HiFiMAN chain has aspects that are helped more by the Stockholm 2 DAC.
     
    grizzlybeast, DavidA and Torq like this.
  14. Soundsgoodtome
    Good stuff John, I really like the tabbed graphs and how structured it made the review. Also I've never seen anyone list what they're pinpointing on songs like you have with the test tracks, excellent if someone wants to recreate your listen with the focus on particulars. It's tough to just say this song...then this is what it sounded like but mentioning the section allows people to hone in like one usually does with analytical listening.  Also I forget when you told me via PM, were you comparing everything via SE or were some of the sources balanced? Since the HDVD 800 is an all-in-one unit, it was technically running balanced from the FiiO's digi out, correct?

    The red Sennheiser rig is something I'm wanting to see in person (once you move back to the PNW)! When it used to be your avatar I didn't think you actually had a red HD800, let alone the matching HDVD dac/amp!! Is it a special edition or you had a hand in the scheme after purchase?

    Just an interesting observation so far, the guys that had the DAC for shorter times gave the most in-depth reviews! (Not that I'm expecting in-depth reviews but it's certainly appreciated) I should have limited everyone to 5 days [​IMG]!  Also thanks again for being flexible John, the DAC arrived earlier to you from what I mentioned last month and you still got it out early to make sure @JoeDoe got it by Friday to make the Nashville Head-fi meet. Now @RCBinTN will have a chance to at least hear it at the meet since he won't be in town for some time after.



     
     
  15. ruthieandjohn
    @Soundsgoodtome , everything was single-ended.  The FiiO X3 source, Stockholm 2, Schiit Bifrost DAC, and amps, other than the Sennheiser, are single ended. The Sennheiser HDVD 800 has both balanced and single ended inputs and outputs for analog signals, but it only provides you a balanced output if you want to grab the analog output from its internal DAC and send it to another amp, as I was wanting to do to compare the Sennheiser DAC to the Stockholm 2 on some  amp/headphone combination other than the Sennheiser HD 800.  I ordered but did not receive the right cables to do that in time for my review, but it would have provided a direct comparison of the maligned HDVD 800 DAC to the Stockholm on something other than the Sennheiser chain, so it would have been interesting.
     
    Yes, the red and black HD 800 and HDVD 800 really exist.  I bought them from Colorware, which is a licensed distributor of Sennheiser.  They provide custom coloring in a paint that is automotive quality, less likely to chip (as well as more colorful) than the stock Sennheiser HDVD / HD 800 paint.  I chose my colors to match those of my custom-ordered FIAT Abarth convertible, the first in my state of Michigan.
     
    They go quite well together and provide me with a top-quality, vinyl-source audio system for my driving.  Only problems are that I can only go 10 mph, else the record skips, and only 100 feet, or I run out of extension cord for the HDVD 800 shown here:
     
    Onseatwithhatclose.png
     
    photo5.jpg
     
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