840C and MHDT Havana

Hi all. I wanted to ask if anyone has had experience with both the Cambridge Audio 840C and the MHDT Havana DAC. I will primarily be using these playing lossless files through my Macbook, and using a fairly warm but dynamic OTL tube amp. I can get these for around the same price (Havana new, 840C used).

I am particularly sensitive in the HF region so am a little weary of comments I have read about the 840C's "digital sheen" / brightness; though some have said that 200h+ helps smooth that out (not sure to what extent and if the brighness is an inherent trait). The NOS, filterless, opampless design of the Havana appeals to me to from a purist and musicality perspective. I wonder if these two essentially play in the same sonic league, albeit with very different presentations.

I have an MHDT Paradisea and have been very pleased with the tube DAC sound in my system so far.

Assuming the Havana behaves similarly to the Paradisea, one advantage of the mhdt tube DACs is that you can tweak the sound inexpensively if desired using different tube equivalents.

For example, using the stock GE tube produces a more "tubey" sound in the midrange, very enticing and enjoyable, but some might also say somewhat colored (in a good way).

Using the Tung Sol tube equivalent, the sound is more indistinguishable from SS equivalents I have heard. There is more overall dynamic impact and less coloration through the midrange, I believe.

Noise levels have not been a factor in my system using the Paradisea, but I suspect the Cambridge SS unit and perhaps even the Havana may be better in this regard, which could be more of a factor in some systems, for example those using highly sensitive horn drivers in the speaks for instance.

I have the MHDT Havana for Home Cinema setup.

For the "fun" I compared the Havana to my Reimyo CDP-777, connecting the Havana using the CDP-777 drive (output with digital RCA). All of this on my revealing system, Nagra, VAC and Magico.

Well despite its not in the same league I can comment that its is very musical smooth, highs are not aggressive, bass a bit "cotton wool". Bare in mind that this is comparing the Havana with what some (including me) consider to be the best CDP ever.

On a scale of 10 (the Reimyo being 10) I would give it 6.

I did a similar test between a Magnum Dynalab (102T) and internet radio, not bad either. At that it would be a 7, the Magnum being 10 on that scale.

I have heard solid state dacs in this price bracket and they have always come out "dry" and "agressive" to my ears. Solid state is okay in more expensive range where tube outputs stages are also present, its then a question of taste. Compare an Audio Note DAC5 with a Reimyo DAP-999 and you will like one or the other, neither of them lack anything.

Take care
I use a Cambridge 840c as a dac for apple lossless files ran through a primaluna dialogue 2 integrated tube amp. I do not experience any sheen and am very happy with the combo. Hope that helps some. I have rolled mullards into my system but ultimatly settled on tung sols 12ax7, Radiotechniques 12au7, and genelex goldline reissues Kt88. because the mullards were ultimatly to soft for my taste. Good luck
Regarding "sheen", I would expect a SS DAC to mesh better with tube amplification like in Beerad's case.

If SS amplification is used with a SS DAC, the results might be more "sheeny", but to me this is not necessarily a bad thing....its a matter of taste and preference more so than absolutes regarding one sound being better than the other. It comes back to the typical SS/tube debate scanario, I suppose. Some will prefer all tubes, some a mix of tube and SS and some SS all the way.

What is it specifically that the Reimyo does much better than the Havana?
Hey all and thanks for the responses thus far!

In regard to mixing and matching, of course synergy between components is key. What I prefer in my system is something smooth and easy to listen to. I am actually very sensitive in the upper frequencies and can easy get fatigued. I thus try shy away from anything which is sibilant, etched or too bright.

For example, I could not stand the Benchmark DAC-1 even feeding tube amplification. I much preferred the Apogee Mini-DAC I used to own, which I found to be warmer and more musical. I would gladly sacrifice extreme detail extraction for musicality and smoothness. I would, however, be wary of anything too euphonic, rolled off or soft in the bass region.

Timnaim - do you find the bass to be sloppy at all? From what I have read, the tube used would make a great difference - the likes of the WE396A may be too slow or "tubey" whilst something like a Bendix 2C51 better at being crisp, clear, and with better bass control.

One other question I have - I'd be using the Macbook outputing digital optical to the DAC. I have it set at 24/96 generally....is there any negative effect or loss in sound quality feeding 24/96 data to a 16-bit DAC (like the Havana)?
"is there any negative effect or loss in sound quality feeding 24/96 data to a 16-bit DAC (like the Havana)"

It depends on the resolution of the source files being served.

If they come from CDs, then I would expect not assuming everything is working properly because these are only 16 bit to start.

If they truly come from other higher (than 16 bit) resolution sources, then maybe assuming that the true resolution is in fact greater than 16 bits. If it is a 16 bit source that has been oversampled to a higher sampling frequency, for example, then probably not.
The MHDT havana does nothing better than the Reimyo. On a scale of 10 (the Reimyo being 10) I would give it (the MHDT) 6.

The bass is not sloppy in fact it is not bad, only when compared to the Reimyo on A/B basis do matter become apparent. The tube will have an effect but the overall "sound" will not be fundamentally change.

For the the 16bit vs 24bit never worried me; just the sound that counts. I have some mono LP's that are so totally moving.

You may be better off using the USB input from the Macbook, anyway you can try both!


My question was;

"What is it specifically that the Reimyo does much better than the Havana?"

...not the other way around.
Thanks again for the info guys.

In regard to the 840C, anyone have experience with it or own(ed) one, and felt it to be bright/analytical/sterile? Would a warm tube amp counteract that?

I suppose it is all about attaining the right balance between dynamic, punch, sparkle etc. and smoothness/musicality. The 840C would certainly have more of the former; the Havana seems to have more of the latter.
Just as a corollary to that question, any Havana owners find it to be too soft and lacking dynamics/punch?
"I suppose it is all about attaining the right balance between dynamic, punch, sparkle etc. and smoothness/musicality."


The Paradisea ain't bad with the former either IMHO, in particular with the Tung Sol tube replacement.

The stock GE tube does "sparkle" more though.
Sorry I misunderstood.

The Reimyo betters all over, Bass, mids, treble, sound stage, harmonics, inner detail, imaging you name it. Above all it really makes the whole music come into play (no pun intended...)

When you compare it to LP played on TW Acustics Raven AC, fitted with Phantom toenarm, Lyra Skala, Nagra VPS then the Reimyo sounds as if it is missing out on something, and I guess that if one day I hear my current TT fitted with a better cartridge I would then say that the Lyra Skala is missing something. I've been on the HiFi ladder for 25+ years and ever step has bought its worth of extra insight into music; that is what its all about.

I used the Havana in a very high end system that is very balanced; the Havana did very well.

If I did not have the the Reimyo and say a <5000$ CD player I would guess that the Havana would equal or better. It is a fine piece of kit.

As I stated I use it in my Home Cinema installation from digital source and its is really great for that. Would I use it for music only? Yes and I truly recommend the Havana.

X, I just sold my Havana here on Audiogon. I owned it for 2 months and while it sounded good (especially with better tubes)compared to my Rega Apollo, I did not hear enough difference to justify the $800. Keep in mind that I use a tube integrated amp and I do hear differences when I "roll" tubes and I hear differences when I change my phono cartridges and phono preamp- so I am not a "they all sound the same" kind of guy but the Havana just didn't blow away my Apollo.
Thanks for that feedback Rad21. What I have been reading up about quite a lot is the burn-in factor for the 840C....a lot of guys even saying they never believed in burn in until the 840C. From my understanding, quite a few people got the 840C new from shops (online or bricks and mortar) and only have 20-30 hours to form an opinion.

There seems to be quite a lot of consensus on the Cambridge requiring a good 150-200hrs of run in, after which the initial dryness/glare/sheen subsides. Has anyone had this experience? Did you find, as some have reported, that the brightness and harshness is reduces substantially (but the detail and dynamics remain)?

I bought an 840C about a year ago. There is certainly a burn in, but I'm not sure it takes all of 200 hrs. Its difficult for me to say exactly how long it took for the 840C, because I replaced my pre after I had less than 100 hrs on the 840C, so there was some burn in required for that piece too. As far as the "dryness/glare/sheen" I think sheen is probably apt. As far as dryness, I suppose it could be in the wrong system, but I think the 840C is capable of remarkable sweetness with the right source material. Glare as a descriptor would be way off base in my opinion. This is a smooth sounding piece, not digital sounding as I think of digital sounding, but not analog sounding either. My 840C replaced a NOS filterless dac (Audio Mirror) that I liked quite a bit. I would say the 840C betters the AM in most areas although it does not match the dynamics and bass of the AM. The 840C is a good match for you if you are looking for detail, imaging, and lack of congestion on complex passages. If presentation of tympani makes or breaks your assessment, then the 840C may not be for you.
Thanks for that comparison. When you refer to "sheen" is it something which bothers you, specifically for long-term listening (e.g., does it induce fatigue)? The word I see used to describe that sheen is that music comes across as somewhat artificial, though still very smooth.

The "sheen" with the 840C is something that is just there that I don't hear in live music. It would seem this should be very objectionable, but I don't find it so. Apparently the virtues of the 840C are strong enough that I am willing to overlook this oddity. One of those virtues is a complete absence of listener fatigue. My current set up with the 840C permits(invites) me to listen for longer periods than my schedule allows. There is less fatigue than with the NOS filterless AM DAC I used previously. As you can see, I like this player. I'm in no hurry to replace it, and when I do, it will likely be with a player costing significantly more than the 840C.
I recently tried the 840C as I was attracted to the idea of a combined CD/DAC. My current CD player is a Classe CDP 10. The 840C did seem to me to have high end issues. It just seemed dis-jointed in the high end and I did find it tiring. I used both Apple lossless and my CDP 10 digital output as sources to the 840c digital inputs. Given your description of sensitivity to high end brightness/glare I think you are correct to be cautious about the 840c. I did not think that a tube amp would bring the high end together, although I did not try that. I did try different cables, but the high end never did gel for me, even with pretty laid back cables. Incidently, I stayed away from the Benchmark DAC 1 for the same reasons. I ended up with a Musical Fidelity A3.24 - a few years old but a much smoother high end for me. Running iTunes through a HP Laptop to the DAC the result is very close to the CDP 10 and may be slightly more dynamic. Although I have not tried the Havana, my guess would be that the A3.24 is probably somewhere between it and the 840c in the high frequencies. As always this depends so much on personal preference. FYI - Downstream I have a Classe CP-65, Levinson 432 and Sonus Faber Cremona all with Transparent Ultra Cables.

Based on my experience with the Paradisea and ability to tweak the sound significantly with different inexpensive tubes, I think you would be very pleased with the Havana.

The Paradisea with separateTung Sol equivalent tube in combo with an Audio Research sp-16 pre-amp I just put in and Musical Fidelity A3CR SS amp is quite formidable for the price.
Thanks for the responses.

I was quite surprised at the description of the Audio Mirror being more dynamic - I would have thought that the 840C would have better dynmamics (than the NOS AM). Similarly surprised with there being less fatigue. That said, I have read some 840C observations about it having excellent bass depth, but midbass and mids being a little soft (attack/"thwack" factor).

How do you guys find the smoothness of the two DACs? I listen to a lot of female vocal so this is a crucial area which is often not quite cracked.

Mapman - the pros of the Havana are indeed creeping up. I suppose the only concerns I have are of too soft a bass or HF...that is, both extremes being rolled it (giving too romantic a sound). From what you say though, tube rolling should hopefully alleviate that.

HF is not soft with the Paradisea even with stock GE tube.

LF, maybe or maybe not with the stock GE tube, depending on taste. LF leaves nothing to be desired with the Tung Sol.
Xenithon, I thought a few more comments on the 840C might help clarify my experience. With regard to the AM having better bass and dynamics than the 840C, it might be helpful to know those are primary strengths of the AM. So while the 840C is certainly not weak in those areas, it does not match the AM. For instance, listening to the Lopez-Cobos Mahler 3rd first movement with the AM, the tympani exhibits that jump or attack factor, to an extent not present in the 840C. However, one does not get far into the first movement before the 840C distinguishes itself above the AM in handling complex orchestral passages with far less congestion than the AM and also in spatial presentation. It could be argued that the 840C errs slightly on the side of politeness.

With regard to fatigue, my experience with the 840C parallels my experience with live performances. I was quite done after hearing live performances of the Mahler 7 and Shostakovich 4. No more music please, I was more than ready to go home. My point is that some listener fatigue is a natural consequence of the music, and is not artificially induced by electronics run amuck, where one has had enough after 20 minutes of relatively benign music. The 840C does not shorten my attention span. It parallels my experience with live music. This is the first digital source I've had for which that is true. For that reason alone, I will be cautious about replacing my 840C. After all, that's why I'm in this hobby. It's about the music.
A few comments on presentation of female vocal. Listening for instance, to Kathleen Battle singing the part of Gabriel in Haydn's Creation evokes the goose bumps. What a pure, sweet voice! Frederica von Stade singing Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer is also emotionally moving. At the other extreme, I have a few recordings with problematic (ear piercing) soprano parts that have been rendered listenable, even enjoyable, on the 840C.

Finally, regarding the "sheen," it occurred to me that maybe the sheen is something not quite convincing about the considerable "air" in the 840C presentation. Maybe that is what bothered Dtc. The 840C is not a perfect player, and will not be everyone's cup of tea. No doubt, it will be a good player in some systems and not right for others. The only way to know for sure is to arrange for a long audition in your system.
Hi all and thanks for the responses. Brownsfan - thanks for that very detailed and descriptive write-up!

I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to try out the 840C at home this weekend....the private seller was kind enough to entrust the player to me to help with the decision.

I tried it playing CD's, but primarily used its optical input with my Macbook and lossless files (that is how I generally listen to music). As an aside, I tried switching between 16/44.1, 24/44.1, and 24/96 output from the Mac but did not really detect any difference....the soundstage did seem to open up a bit moving from 16- to 24-bit (irrespective of sample rate)... though I concede that may have been placebo.

It was a bit of an enigma to be honest. I'll break down what I heard in each of the three major frequency spectrums:
- high frequencies were very extended and open. Whilst I did not find them overly bright or forward, there is indeed something in their presentation which makes them a little unnatural. It was not etched, nor sibilant, but had perhaps too much "excitement" which could irritate my ears. This was particularly evident with new age music which has lots of layering of various instruments. Delineation was excellent though.
- midrange was good; not great. As above, the delineation, detail and separation was excellent. I found the soundstage a little odd....it was wide and open, but it seemed as if there wasn't sufficient music to occupy that vast space. I would not say it had a hollow sound, but perhaps a little distant. I found this especially with vocal music (male and female alike) where I am more used to an intimate presentation; the vocalist sounding closer to me and more alive and the instruments painting the background of the canvas. The 840C had that with a few recordings (which have particularly intimately miked vocals); but for the majority of them the vocals and instruments were in the same acoustic plane. One could say that the soundstage was not deep....at least not commensurate with its width?
- bass...also a bit of an odd one. The very low frequencies are amongst the best I have heard. Deep, taut, excellent sustain and delay, with no overhang or thinness. However, the slightly higher bass frequncies (midbass?) were missing something. I think it was some punch which I was used to (e.g., midrange pitched Japanese drums)...attack was a little soft. In addition, this frequency range was somewhat missing a little texture.

Please note, these are what you could call prelimenary finding, having had two days thus far with the 840C. It does some things extremely well; other areas are less accomplished - as can be expected. I am not certain if the areas in which it compromises are the areas in which I myself can compromise...that is, if the 840C is something I can live with long term.

I sure am itching as to how the Havana compares, especially in the areas I find the 840C a little wanting (soundstage depth; midbass attack and texture, upper frequency control).

Cheers for now,
Oh, and of course I also ponder how the Havana stacks up in those areas where the 840C excelled (deep bass, separation/delineation etc.)

I'm glad you had a chance to audition the 840C in your system with your music. Reading through your preliminary impressions I think you have probably heard what your are going to get with the 840C. Your statement that its an enigma is right on target. There is much that is very good with this player, but there are a few things that are just plain odd. That being the case, it will work for some but not others as I said previously. I'll be looking for your impression with other players you may have a chance to audition.
I suspect the Havana will do well in those areas.

HAving heard the 840c prior to acquiring the Paradisea, and based on assertions from others that the Havana improves on the Paradisea, I'm confident it will be significantly different at least, for better or for worse, than the 840c.
Xenithon - I agree that the 840c is an enigma - it has a lot of great attributes, but it is just slightly off in a few areas. Your detailed observations are just the type of things lead me to my "disjointed" comment. Its hard to single out a single problem but the sum of several minor issues adds up. Some people will be more senstive to these issues than others. My speculation is that the upsampling algorithms may just be trying to do too much, but that is just a guess. My preference is vinyl, so I am used to a more analog sound. Your comments on the Havana will be interesting. Everyone always recommends what they own, so let me recommend that you try one of the used MF dacs if you can. Works for me. Good luck.
Brownsfan - looks like you responded while I composed. We had similar thoughts. From your previous post, the 840c does have a lot of "air". It was one of the things I liked most about the player, since I was used to it from my Classe. I think CA is on the right track with this player and I hope they continue to update this technology. With the huge interest in PC based audio, I think a player with an input to the DAC is a great idea.
Thanks for the responses. I will do some further listening today to decided if I can live with the 840C's shortfalls in the context of my system.

Mapman (or anyone who owns the Havana) do you find it has just a warm/musical character, or would you also describe it as dark in any way? The former would be great with both headphones; being dark though may not be too synergystic with the HD650.
The Paradisea is definitely warm and musical, not dark in any way, with either stock GE tube or Tung Sol equivalent that I have used.

I use it sourced from both my Denon player/recorder and Roku Soundbridge.

Can't speak for the Havana having never heard it but from what I've read and been told by others, the consensus seems to be it sounds similar but improves marginally on the Paradisea's sound.

When I've heard the 840c on a very good dealer reference system, it too was very musical.

The Paradisea may be a touch warmer but not by much if so.

The Paradisea with Tung Sol tube and the 840c sound more similar than not as I recall. With the stock GE tube in the Paradisea, the midrange is perhaps more warm and lush and the overall dynamics are probably not as good, but are still good enough that you might not care.
Xenithon and Dtc,

It would seem we are all hearing pretty much the same thing on the 840C. X, please keep us posted on your progress.
Havana ordered, arrived, and within 20 minutes developed a loud hissing/crackling in one channel. I contact MHDT - they say it is likely a faulty PCM56P chip (not the first time they found this). Sending it back to them for a refund - do no want to risk it again especially with the cost of shipping back/forth internationally.

I still have the 840C as an option - I wonder if rolling in some different (warmer/smoother) tubes into my amp may alleviate the hint of sheen in the Cambridge?

I found that tube rolling with my integrated amp resulted in fine tuning the overall system sound much more than adding the Havana did. Based on your recent experience, go with the 840C and roll some tubes in your amp. I am sure you will find the results pleasing.
Sorry things didn't turn out well on the Havana.

I should give you another thing to think about on the 840C. I ordered some new power cords including one for the 840C. Last night, while I was installing the PC's, I temperarily took my Audio Magic Mini Digital power supply out of service and plugged the 840C directly into the wall. Oh my, the difference was not subtle, and not good! It may be that the 840C is especially sensitive to AC line noise. Based on what I heard last night, I would not be at all satisfied with my 840C without the power supplied through the mini-digital. You might want to start there before you start tube rolling.

Also, I use balanced silver IC's to my pre-amp. I've wondered if some high quality coppers might be a better choice.
Thanks for the reassurance fellas ;-)

In terms of power filtering - yes, my entire system is connected to a medical-grade online UPS putting out a pure sinewave at a constant 220V....the power supply here in SA is notoriously bad for injecting noise as well as fluctuating anywhere from 190V-250V!

Cables are another area to look into, yes. For a long time, my reference has been my Zu Audio Gede II, a silver/copper allow which I have found to give some openness and clarity of silver without the harshness or brightness associated with pure silver cables I used to use (e.g., Kimber KCAG).
Just to add, whilst I continued my research, two other options which cropped up were the CIAudio VDA-2 with VAC-1 power supply, and the CEC DA-53. Anyone perhaps have any experience with either of these?