MHDT Labs Orchid DAC review


Just thought I'd leave some notes on my experience with the. MHDT Labs Orchid DAC.
This is a DAC based on the well loved TDA1541a chip manufactured from 1988 to 1998. It is not a delta sigma chip. They are sought after and sell for good money for the preferred versions of the chip. Nostalgia or quality driven? 
I'd been using a bluesound node 2i for streaming. Integrated amp is a primaluna Evo 400 with kt150's. Speakers are IMF RSPM MARK IV.

I'd read lots of DAC reviews but decided I didn't want a DAC with multiple menus and modes and wanted to keep it simple. The Orchid has a tube buffered output so there's a little wiggle room there for hobbyist variation. I also decided to forego MQA even though I use tidal. The decision there, in part, was to stop obsessing over formats and bitrates and certifications. I just wanted a nice sounding robust system. 
Was the Orchid going to be a significant upgrade from the node? That was my greatest fear. 
The Orchid was twice the price of the node delivered to be in Australia.
Anyway, it arrived double boxed. No power cord (but any cord that fits a PC could do. Unless you want something special). It also came with ann optical cable and in my case a second valve (tube). The spare was a nice TESLA 6CC42 pinched waist. The was no instruction sheet but didn't really need one.
So, I fired it up..... The front face is perspex and on startup the input selector lights (inside the unit) can be seen flashing and cycling back and forth till the valve warms up. Then bingo it's right to go. 
Comparing old and new systems is like a dream. When you wake from a dream sometimes the details are so clear, but then as the minutes go by the details fade, memories disappear... slowly at first then quicker, until what seemed so clear is suddenly less than a shadow.
So it was with this new DAC. The differences to the node were at first obvious and substantial. Then as songs went by it grew more difficult to remember what came before.
However, my immediate feelings were this.
Listening to some well recorded female vocals ...Morning Sun - (Melody Gardot), then Love Song -(Melody Gardot) then followed with Kiss in Blue - (Yello) and Listening Wind (talking heads) then Over Fire Island -(Eno) and finally some Blue Nile and a few random tracks, The Frames, B52s, EBTG, Talk Talk, The The. 
The bass response was smoother and lower with the Orchid that the Node. The detail in the upper frequencies was cleaner. I was at one point gobsmacked by the pinpoint imaging and realism. I think it was during Love Song (cover by Melody) that I could sense that voice a few metres in front of me... right THERE. I could almost see her face, the imagined condensation from her breath as she sang into a microphone. There was something happening here that wasn't happening with the node (even though that sounded good). The Orchid really brought the artists into the the room. The subtleties are no doubt minute, but enough to bring the senses just that much more reality. At times my ears were pricked as I heard new details emerge. The speakers revealed instrument separation like the node couldn't do. Mind you the node is plenty good in my view. The beginning to Blind-Hearted by Sara K dug so deep I could feel the transmission line IMF's moving my insides. 
The musicality of the Orchid made me sit up from my slouch a few times. At one point I started to madly go from one well known track to another wanting to see what the Orchid could reveal. 
Slowly, as the songs played on I found it harder to remember the differences to the node. A new standard had been set. 


The Orchid is a nice looking DAC. No fancy display or menus but it's based on rock solid hardware and you won't spend forever wondering if you've got it in the right mode, setting, filter,  and won't be dazzled by bright lights or display. I like the simplicity. If I had too many choices I'd not relax and keep fiddling.
Turnn it on and off you go. I like it that way. 






 


mid-fi-crisis
Nice! Glad you're happy. The Orchid is an awesome DAC  with a great chip. Enjoy!
I bought a Stockholm v2 and it changed my listening experience.
Great review!  Enjoy your music!
Couldn’t agree more. My Orchid was the best improvement to my system in a long time. It makes music engaging and inspiring in a way few other pieces of equipment have done. 
I also fully agree. I have the upgraded Tung-Sol tube via Linear Tube Audio (probably the same dealer you bought from). I also have the Node2 now as just the streamer and I agree 100% with your assessment. The setup really matched up well with my BAT tube preamp and solid state amp and my Apogee Duetta II Signature full range ribbon speakers (I’m getting them completely upgraded with Graz ribbons in a few months - waiting for a slot to open with Music Technology in VA). Anyway, I couldn’t be more happy with my decision to buy the Orchid. I’m sure it would have been the same if I bought the Pagoda balanced :). For anyone interested in the Orchid check out the 6Moons review. During the vetting process I spoke to the reviewer, Nicholas with Linear Tube Audio and Jiun (chief designer) with MHDT. They were all excellent interactions. Cheers!
There a guy in Tennessee can twist your orchid up to a few notches! I asked him improve my pagoda but he never work on pagoda before so I have to wait for another time !
Nice review -- thanks!  I've been leery of the Orchid because it has tubes, and I'm not a tubey kind of listener.  Have you compared it to other non-tube DACS, and if so, did you find any difference in the amount of high frequency detail?
I made exactly the same transition. Agree with your account 100%. 
The node is unfortunately not audiophile grade material. Glad you’ve got a real piece of gear now.  I also think there’s something to this tube dac business. Just bought a wells audio cipher dac using 12bh7 tubes and it has finally settled my mind about dacs.  Sonic upgrade from the holo audio may in my experience. Hadn’t heard the orchid, but I’m sure it’s sweet and less digital sounding.
I bought it a couple years ago and it's a winner, big time.
If you like it now you will love it later (-:
The tube and the resistors around the tube really need some hundred hours of burn in time.
Congratulations
@redwood What would you think is the lowest-price audiophile-grade streamer? Thanks.
The Orchid is a really nice entry into the world of digital music beyond the Sonos/Bluesound type gear (not that Bluesound is bad).  I recently took my DAC game to another level and moved the Orchid to a second system, but lived happily with it for quite a while.  It's detailed, but very easy to listen to.  I would not describe it as "rolled" off, it just doesn't have the "digital edge" that many DACs do, especially many of the ESS chip designs. 

Jiun is a prince.  I bought my Orchid 2nd hand and the USB connection wasn't working.  I contacted him about getting it repaired and he sent me a new board at no cost, even knowing that I was not the original owner.  If that's not standing behind your products, I don't know what is.  
Nice review. 
Most DACs will outperform the stock Node 2i. The ESS in my Parasound P6 (optical or coax) does a decent job, and easily sounds better then Node 2i. 
The charm of the Node is the simplicity and with some limitations, the app interface. 
Snd for what I use a streamer for, it’s not critical.