I had an MHDT havana (supposedly a step up from the Paradisea) in my system and recently purchased one again to play around with. I think, for the money, they make great DACs. It may not have the amount of detail retrieval as my Bel Canto Dac3, or the fullness to the bass, but it's not far off, and considering the retail is less than 1/3rd of the bel canto, that's pretty amazing. I've had the Benchmark, which I didn't love, and the only thing I know of the Cambridge and the PS Audio is from reviews, so taken with an extreme grain of salt.
My guess is--and it's precisely that, a guess, since I don't know what the rest of your system is like, etc-- that as you're an analog person, you would probably like the MHDT gear, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't like one of the other dacs you mentioned. I don't find the MHDT Havana stereotypically tubey, so I don't think it will slow down your system, unless it already sounds that way.
I agree with Mimberman, I too have a Havana DAC, it might not be the most detailed DAC around in terms of the quantity of the sound you hear. But the quality of the sound i think is truly high end, for me WE 396A tube for better detail, Tungsol tube for better dynamics. The stock tube isn't bad either, not punchy but it's got a beautiful and lush sound. Regardless of the differences among the tubes, they all produce realistic sound, very true to the timbre. It's definitely a DAC to keep.
OK Ill lplay the advocate here.
As good as perhaps the aforementioned DAC s are, and Ive no reason to doubt it, Ive found there is sufficient info which tells me a system is comprised of the whole of things.
To that end, and owning a tube power train, sometimes a mix of SS & tubes are the need. Sometimes not. Too much of a good thing, and all that business. Dig?
The DACs I tried either complemented the system or detracted from it. I tried an Apogee, Bel Canto DAC 3, and the DA10 from Lavry Eng. All very nice and quite good sounding though each had its own voice of course. For my system needs the Bel Canto D3 won out. It gained me better imaging, extension, astonishing bass, and added the feeling of more speed to my all tube pre & amps. It was what the rig needed. The same choice might not have been made had my system been otherwise. It may well have been the Lavry for example.
Soooo, if youre looking for system improvement, theres that to think about.
I think Blindjim has a point here, which I was alluding to by stating that I didn't know what the rest of your system is comprised of. As not all tube gear is the same, give us an idea of what you're working with. I stand by my assessment that the MHDT gear I've heard (and this includes the Paradisea+) doesn't sound overly lush or slow in any way. Sure, rolling the tube will provide some changes, but it's not going to go from a romantic and full red wine to an ice clean vodka doing so. Ultimately nothing will be as good as listening to a piece in your system. For the last 2 months I've had 3 Dac's in my system, and while the Bel Canto that I've had in place all along isn't going anywhere, it's illuminating to compare and hear the differences for yourself (which is especially easy to do with a computer-based source).
As Memberman says What are you wanting to achieve?
My system is nothing like a SET sound, nor is it like anything nearing SS, yet it has those qualities which enable it to be very comfortable with any genre.
had I been solely into classical music given my equip, the Apogee may have been the pick. Only into Vocalists? Then the Lavry was a sure bet... further, if my rig was on the edgy side or a bit bright sounding, the DA10 would be a safe and appropriate pick.
The DAC3 wasn't nearly as musical as the other two contestants. it did however bring the items I listed above and all were apparent needs ONCE I heard it in my system... prior to? I was pretty OK with what was going on and was seeking just a good DAC with USB.
Funny thing now is I use the USB incidentally and not as my main pc source interface, and could well live without it after all that. lol.
Thanks for the good notes. My system comprises of a McIntosh C2300 tube pre amp and a MC275 tube amp. I love my vinyl and I also love some of my CDs that are being played through an Arcam DV79. I wouldn't say Mc gear is as "tubey" sounding as most out there. Sound is very clean and distortion free. If there is one area that it may underperform it is in tight fast bass response. I love collecting old Grateful Dead bootlegs and other live shows and as it is now I have to download, convert, then burn to disc to play them. Btw, I hate burned CDs. I want to centralize my music and since the C2300 is pure analog, I cannot connect the digital toslink from the Computer to it. Therefore I have to get a DAC. I don't want to spend a fortune though on it. At least for now.
I have heard that the MHDT is "analog sounding" but not te last word in detail. Can someone explain to me what detail is? My tube system with a properly pressed record reveals details in music you would never believe. I am wondering how this applies between DACs. Is it something regarding a "digital" sound? Others say the PS Audio DL3 is warm and musical like analog. With my CDs I crrently have, I find that some music is very fatiguing on the Arcam and wouldn't mine improving on that as well.
Basically I'm after faithful reproduction of recorded material without any harsh or grainy attributes that can be found on digital players. My system will calm the material down a bit, but not overly. I am not saying NOS or upsampling is better because I just don't know.
Sam Ash has a return policy, that's where I found the Apogee USB DAC for about $900 +, back then.
Lavry used to have a trial period on their DACs too. Benchmark and perhaps others like PS Audio do too.
the MHDT DACs seem to have no trouble selling around here either... provided you get one and it's not to your liking.
so there's that.
None of which, IMO will ingender bass like the DAC 3 will, though... and it's remote with volume control & source selection. the dejitterizing aspect is killer. it does convey ALL the info on the disc, but not in any untoward fashion. If there is any knock on it I can thinnk of it can sound dry.... if not set properly into a particular system. it will only provide at best, via all but the USB interface (16/44.1K), 24/96 PCM sampling.
other DACs will upsample or over sample as the case may be.
as to upsampling the resulrs IMO the sound gets rounder and positioned further away from your chair.
For around $1500 $1600 or so these days, given it'll act as a preamp too (just in case), and has USB & dejitterizing of the input signal via BNC, AES, & SPDIF, and can be run xlr or rca, at the same time, it does present a value and a lot of flexibility.
There are others in the $1K or so neighborhood you might prefer.
I totally agree with Blindjim's assessment of the Bel Canto--it's a great dac, as my latest DAC shootout proves. If you can spend the extra dough, it's a good buy. I use the Bel Canto UBS link to output usb to SPDIF from my mac and that way the USB input isn't an issue.
The MHDT Havana (have heard the paradisea plus, but not extensively) sounds slightly diffused compared to the Bel Canto. What I mean is that if a voice is dead center and occupies a particular space in the soundstage with my bel canto, then with the Havana, that space is slightly wider, and less pin-pointed. What this means for sound staging is that it isn't as detailed as the Bel Canto, but is still very good. All my judgments are relative to the bel canto, so when I say less detailed, I mean that the guy in the third row who farts during a recording is there, just quieter with the Havana than the bel canto. Bass is a little rolled off compared to the Bel Canto, but at least in a nice-sounding way. If you're looking for "tight fast bass response" as you said, then the Bel Canto will be tighter and faster, but the MHDT won't suck.
All-around the Bel canto is more versatile, as pointed out. The MHDT has multiple inputs, but the switch is on the back, and it needs to be reset if you switch between sources. I think that given what you say about your system and your listening prefs, you may want to experiment and see what works best. Benchmark has a 30 day return policy, as does PS Audio. Music Direct will also let you return before 30 days, and they care a couple of dacs. The MHDT's sell used quickly, so it's not risky buying one and selling if it doesn't work out. I say take your time, and see what works best. If SS makes you nervous, start out with a tube one and move from there. If you don't like NOS dacs, then start with an oversampling dac., etc. Upsampling is a whole other can of worms.
....and do take notes during your trials if you proceed that way.
My last thought is this... 24/96 is a very good rate overall. it's not the tip top though. Higher sampling rates and word lengths seem to me to give more resolution in an easier softer way. There too is more and more of the high res files being made available now... and quite soon, even more so. So if you think ahead somewhat, a DAC capable of doing 24/192, or even DSD as well as the norm PCM, could gain you some versatility down the road.
The diffs however from 24/96 & up, are closer than one might think, and the rig will yield more or less those diffs depending... albeit it's not night and day sorts, but mere flexibility.
HAVING HEARD THE OVERSAMPLING ASPECT ON A COUPLE DACs, I'm not a fan of it but it could just be the DACs in that price range. I think you could go either way SS or tube DAC and be pretty OK with things... I'd start cheap and move up a few steps and see what's what for muyself. I prefer a hands free operation myself. Plug and play... with a DAC.
Good luck... let us know what you do ultimately or along the way.
Thanks for all the good suggestions. I will let you know how it goes.