MHDT Havana and Eastern Electric Minimax

Has anyone heard both of these DACs at one time or another. I am still considering a DAC, and was all set on picking up a used Havana, until I was informed that adding the Havana to my de Havilland Ultraverve 3 preamp will be too much, and would produce soft bass.

The gentlemen thought that the minimax may be a better match because of its greater neutrality in comparison to the Havana.

Any thoughts?
i had an eastern electric and paradisea dac. the eastern electric has a more balanced frequency response and more bass definition.

i believe the havana is more euphonic than the paradisea.

i sold ny eastern electric because it did bot have the classic tube sound.
No, but I have mhdt Paradisea tube DAC and would point out that if Havana is similar, tube rolling can make a HUGE difference in the sound.

My Havana with NOS Tung Sol tube is absolutely sublime! Same DAC with stock GE tube provided is lower bandwidth and much rougher around the edges. I do not see how one could go wrong with the Havana. Not familiar with the EEM, so cannot compare, but tube used may make all the difference. Tubes are a lot cheaper to roll than whole DACs....
"My Havana with NOS Tung Sol tube is absolutely sublime!"

That should read "Paradisea", not "Havana".
Thanks for the informative responses. Mrtennis, would you say the bass with the minimax had more impact, or was it just more detailed? Did you do any tube rolling with the minimax?
Hawk28, there is a thread or two from a few months ago that have some responses from guys who owned both the Havana and the EE Dac. I think the subject header was comparing the EE Dac to the Octive?

Mr. Tennis, you posted do you remember?
Hawk28 I own the Havana and have owned the EE Minimax Plus. I would agree that the EE is more neutral a bit more detailed and has a very nice top end. Unfortunately it didn't meld with my system and over extended listening sessions it came across as too lean and well, digital. I could never just relax and enjoy the music with it in the system after trying virtually every tube out there including Tungsol, Mullard, Seimens Silver Plate, Pavanne and RCA. Everyone that listened to it had the same impression after a few initial "WOWS", a few in their own system. The Havana is not as detailed but more fleshed out and much more enjoyable and engaging without any fatigue factor. It is especially good with small scale works. It doesn't have an edge and gets out of the way of the music which is my chief beef with some of the budget DACs I've listened to. So far as the bass on the Minimax, a bit more controlled than the Havana but not even close to the W4S which is better in every parameter with the possible exception of upper frequencies where they are closer. I have come to the conclusion that to really get it right in this area more money must be spent on a better DAC. The W4S and Havana were both deemed more enjoyable over the EE by everyone that listened in various systems in my circle. A few preferred the Havana over the W4S, YMMV.

I would spring for the Havana if you like a nice 3-d presentation and don't mind missing a little detail and can settle for a bit narrower soundstage compared to the Sabre 9018 chip based DACs. Different tubes will also give a different flavor. I prefer the Tungsol and I also have a quite rare Pioneer Eclypse 2C51 which is essentially a Bendix 2C51, sounds identical. The Minimax might be improved by changing out op-amps but different tubes never changed the intrinsic issues I had with the unit. As Mr. Tennis notes, this unit doesn't sound like a tube unit at all and I wondered why have two separate output stages. I never went the op-amp change route as I felt that at the price increase this should have been sorted out by the designer. After reading so many good reviews on the original I was expecting a lot more on the Plus, it really didn't deliver for me.

P.S. One other thing Mr. Tennis said that I totally disagree with is that the Havana is IMHO less not more euphonic than the Paradesea with more detail as well. Having said that the Paradesea is wonderful with voice, a really nice unit.
Tubegroover, Nice response and thoughtful impression, I'm sure Hawk28 appreciates that comparison.
"The Havana is not as detailed but more fleshed out and much more enjoyable and engaging without any fatigue factor."

Both my SS mhdt Constantine (used in my main full range system) and tube mhdt Paradisea (used in my second system) share these traits, so it does seem common to all mhdt DACS mentioned.

Unless one is looking for a more euphonic tubey sound, I would seek out a Constantine first. IT is least expensive and might be the last DAC you ever need. The tube DACs are better for tweaking sound via tube rolling, if desired, but the Constantine is the most rock solid in all aspects out of the box. My Paradisea with the NOS Tung Sol tube comes close to the COnstantine sound. Both in this case are excellent at large and small scale, electronic and acoustic music. Paradisea with stock RCA tube has its charms with small scale and acoustic music but cannot achieve the same results with electronic and large scale works.
the eastern electric is more defined in the bass, but i would not say more extended.

i did vary the tubes, ending up with a brimar 13d5 (i think that is the designation).

i did not hear major differences.

overall, i did not like the eastern electric because i thought it leaned towards "neutrality", and i wanted a more tube-like sound.

i don't remember posting regarding the octave dac and the minimax, because i have little experience with the octave.
Mapman you make a point that I would like to expand on concerning large scale works and the Havana. When I reference small scale I am referring to small scale acoustic music. The Havana which apparently got its name from the love that the designer has for Cuban music is right on point. I too love this music and have an eclectic mix of Carribean, Brazilian and Cuban including Pasquito D'rivera, Poncho Sanchez, Ruben Gonzalez, Buena Vista Social Club and Arturo Fuerte on the Cuban side of things. The Havana really gets the pace of the music and has a fullness that is just so enjoyable to listen to on this DAC. Greater resolution, detail, can be a double edged sword. The problem I keep hearing with these budget DACs using the Sabre is that lack of continuousness that I hear with analog which can bring attention to itself and the system at large. If the balance isn't right and there is an issue at any of the frequencies, DACs with greater resolution can highlight problems and bring greater attention to attendant issues. This is what is so engaging about the Havana, it doesn't do this. It seems most folks that have it like its organic presentation BUT move on because it doesn't HAVE the detail.

As far as large scale work goes, and I am specifically referring to acoustic music, symphonic and vocals. The Havana is enjoyable on this music as well because tonally it is right but the stage is smaller and air and space around instruments is just not as apparent. So depending on musical taste the Havana could work well.

I own or have owned 3 budget DACs that use the Sabre ESS 9018 32 bit chip. It makes a difference in presenting detail BUT this chip will not compensate for a compromised power supply or output stage designed to a price point, of this I am certain because you really hear the differences in better designed DACs that consequently cost more. The fact that is most apparent in all of them isn't the lack of detail but either too lean, lacking in continuousness or more to point a chopped off presentation compared to analog or an inherent brightness that reveals itself in comparison to better more expensive DACs. The Wyred 4 Sound has in my experience the best balance at its price point with terrific bass and a really airy well separated midrange. I have the W4S DAC 1 with the cap upgrade and in my system it works best of them all but I still like and rotate the Havana into the system because it too is enjoyable.

Which mhdt and other DACs of relevance in this thread use the SAbre ESS 9018 32 bit chip you mention?

Here is a quite excellent and detailed review of both mhdt Paradisea and Constantine DACs that covers those two quite well and lead me to try both specifically. Lots of similar musical note ratings for both, and in fact lots of similarities in sound (with a relatively inexpensive tube upgrade as mentioned).

It indicates these two mhdt DACS use a 16 bit Philips chip that may be more relevant to their similar inherent sound than coming from the same maker alone. I think Havana and other newer mhdt DACs use different chips, but not certain, so I would not necessarily expect those to sound the same, but maybe they do to a good extent.

The mhdt Havana is built around the Burr Brown PCM56P 16bit chip. In the Havana circuit, the net output is organic, spacious, musically convincing if you are not judging it by how performed music would sound if you were 8 inches from the instruments, as so much is recorded and mixed today. It's also dynamically energetic and bursty. As others have noted, even though the tube is just an output buffer, there are about a dozen compatible tubes and they allow a range of fine tunings to the Havana's sound.

For those who have noted that Havana is less detailed than DACs built around the ESS 9018, the Havana Balanced is, via its balanced outputs, a significant upgrade in resolution while also delivering more shove and tone density. Yup, it's more expensive, but worth it. Running a Havana Balanced via its single-ended outputs is the same as using a straight Havana, as the Balanced version is comprised electrically of two full Havanas.

These DACs are very receptive to DIY upgrades to caps and power supply, but it's not necessary to get very fine sound. The stock GE 5670 tube is pleasant enough and has no sins of commission, but several of omission, comparatively. It's vanilla, cheap, ubiquitous so I understand why mhdt DACs ship with it. A Tung-Sol or Bendix 2c51 reveals more definition, space, tone and shove. The Bendix 1964-production 6385 yields the most perceived resolution along with a bit of leanness in the midrange. The CBS-Hytron 5670 is a very good compromise of traits. The Western Electric JAN 396A matches well in many systems. And then there are another ten or so tubes you can try.

I got some worthwhile but not dramatic further improvement from upgrades to five capacitors. By far the greatest positive change to the sound of both my Havana Balanced DACs was resting them on Aurios Media Bearings. Those seem hard to find suddenly, but by all means I encourage you to try some sort of bearings solution under mhdt DACs. The effect is almost hard to believe.

Among delta-sigma DACs, I put the Havana Balanced against a Yulong D18, which uses the ESS9018 in a well-thought-out power supply and audio implementation, at an Asian-sourced price like mhdt. The Yulong is a voiced DAC, that also has choice of balanced and SE outputs. Unlike Havana Balanced, where the designer simply gives you Havana sound in balanced circuitry, Yulong actively chose to voice the SE and XLR outputs differently, and that difference is very apparent. He refers to the SE outputs as the "hifi" outs and it's what you expect: ultra-resolving, clean, extended, lean ..... and unforgiving. The XLR outputs are voiced for music lovers and their sound is harmonically richer, warmer, more dimensioned; still extended and clean but with considerably more tonal body up and down the aural range. It's still not nearly as organic as the Havana Balanced nor the Havana SE, but it's a tenable sound for someone looking for that sense of ultimate detail in sigma-delta with a little more tone. More expensive 9018 DACs like Mytek, Benchmark 2 and Resonessence have more finesse than the Yulong of course, and are smoother. But I haven't yet heard a delta-sigma based DAC sound as organic and engaging as a nicely-tubed mhdt Havana Balanced, for 16/44 material.

mhdt no longer makes the Havana, though the Havana Balanced is still available. The Stockholm V2 is the essence of the Havana DAC with a 24/192 receiver chip, though the D-to-A conversion is still done by the 16bit PCM56P. For a true 24/192-capable DAC, mhdt now also has the Steeplechase, which uses the Asahi Kasei AK4396, sometimes referred to as the "miracle dac." mhdt's designer is on record saying buyers should not expect its sound to be as organic and satisfying as Havana and Stockholm, but for anyone needing full 24 bit processing for high-res material, Steeplechase will sound pretty good -- the AK4396 being, in his view, the least objectionable delta-sigma DAC chip available. You still have that output buffer tube socket to fine tune your sound.

I use a set of 4 older adjustable turn table feet under my constantine, which sits on my arc preamp. Dont know if feet affects the sound, but the sound is rock solid, detailed but no fatugue... Fabulous. Original ge tube in paradisea produces minor fatigue in my second system at higher volume, nad pre to tad monoblocks to triangle titus xs. Nos tung sol tube cleans that right up and is a high performer as described.
The 3 Sabre 9018 based digital products I've owned used in my listening impressions are the W4S, EE Minimax Plus and Oppo 95 as a stand alone unit, should have clarified that this is of course not a DAC but the properties of the chip used can be heard. Of these three I prefer the W4S, Oppo 95 and least of all EE head to head using the Oppo's transport.

Further listening impressions on the Havana, which I haven't listened to in several months. I put it in the system 2 nights ago and I don't want to take it out now! I have made a few changes in different tube types used in my amplifier which have been a kind of new revelation since I installed them a few months back. These changes rendered improved harmonics and tonality to the music in general. The thing I immediately liked about the Havana from the beginning when I purchased it two years ago came back renewed and with greater appreciation. I would again emphasize the positive comments concerning it again and then some. What is so apparently right and is it's trump card is the natural timbre and tone of instruments and the "musicality", that undefinable something that makes us want to just listen and enjoy without analysis and questioning what could be improved, it just didn't happen. I didn't notice, think of nor care of lost detail. What did happen is I was just struck with how much improvement in enjoyment it gave overall and I have been quite happy and am still with the W4s. That richness and tonality, became so much more apparent. I've decided to leave it in the system for now and definitely explore some improvements per Phil's comments. I am using Stillpoints with risers under the Havana and all digital components.

I'll add that owners of mhdt Havana, Havana Balanced and Stockhom DACs have the option of Installing AD1865 DAC chips in place of the stock PCM56P. The Analog Devices chip has the organic Non-OS sound essential to mhdt's engaging character but it improves perceived resolution and bottom end linearity. There's more speed to bass events too. In some respects the AD1865 pushes these DACs toward some of the positive sonic attributes of delta-sigma DACs without their somewhat desiccated tone. It is a bit leaner sound overall than you hear from the PCM56P but it's not inorganic in a hifi way. The AD1856 allows you to hear somewhat deeper into the mix of sound events in music at small expense to some of the bouncy character in the PCM56P. I have two systems, each now with a Havana Balanced, so I run the AD1865 in the larger, higher resolution system built around Zu Definition 4 speakers, and upgraded the stock PCM56P-J chips to PCM56P-K in the second system built around Zu Druid V. The K chip makes the Havana Balanced a trifle cleaner with a touch more projection of initial transient energy. Both of these chip upgrades are inexpensive and worthwhile. Mhdt places the DAC chips in sockets, so changes are far easier and low risk than if they were soldered. Use a chip pull and an insertion tool, though, and take your time.

One of the benefits of the EE Dac plus is the ability to swap out opamps which allows you flexibility to tailor the sound in your system. The stock EE Dac plus is very detailed and resolving. This seems to be the common trait of Sabre Dacs. However, switching in discrete opamps (like Dexa and Burson for example) made the Dac much more analog sounding without sacrificing the detail. After all the wonderful press on the Metrum Octave I purchased a unit but still in the end preferred my Dexa outfitted Dac Plus. The discrete opamps will cost you a few hundred extra over stock but I thought it was a very noticeable upgrade - at least in my system.