MHDT or Border Patrol


I've been switching between a DACmagic Pus with an LPS, and a Schiit Modi Multibit DACs and while the sound is decent/acceptable I would like to "upgrade" to a non-OS tube DAC just to see if it adds more body and texture to the music without losing detail. Has anyone had a chance to compare the MHDT and Border Patrol DACs and can comment on their sound quality?  I have Bluesound Node2 feeding the DAC, into an upgraded Aric Audio tube preamp, McIntosh MC2200, and Vandersteen 2Ci speakers. I'm actually looking for more texture in the low/high treble and mid/low bass. Aric's preamp gives plenty of body/texture in the midrange spectrum.
Thanks in advance.  
Dfc79476 b7e2 448b 8f7b 3aed2a5e9ad4kalali
Keep in mind that the Border Patrol isn't a 'tube' DAC in the sense of output stage, the tube is in the power supply and can be switched in or out. 
I bought the Border Patrol as my first entry into digital in my main system and like it. I rolled the rectifier- found a NOS black plate Brimar UK EZ80 which I think gives a little more gravitas than the later gray plates that Gary has been installing in them from the factory. 
I haven't compared it to other DACs. I am pretty heavy on the vinyl playback side and though there is some missing 'air' and a bit less high frequency extension on my system, compared to my vinyl front end, I've been pleasantly surprised by just how good this sounds, both with a CD spinner and a computer based audio system. 
There is a huge difference in digital masterings, something that I'm used to in vinyl-land, but it makes more of a difference in digital than I would have predicted. (Though I shouldn't have been surprised). 
I bought the coax only version with the beefier power supply. 
Also keep in mind with MHDT Lab DACs you have a choice in DAC chips. This link provides a nice overview:

http://www.basshead.club/mhdt-labs-pagoda-stockholm-atlantis-and-canary/

I purchased the Pagoda (PCM1704), in part, because I wanted 24/192 native capability. It's a terrific sounding DAC. I wouldn't say it's "tubey" at all but detailed and natural. Prior to purchase I looked at the Border Patrol as well. I decided against it only because I have a very nice DAC based on the same TDA1543 chip (db Audio Labs Tranquility). I've read they have a similar sonic signature. I love the sound quality of the Tranquility btw.

I imagine either DAC will add the body/texture you're looking for. Tough choice .. perhaps you can trial both.
Thanks for the input. Didn't know about all the differences among the MHDT models. I've heard the Pagoda but in a much better system than mine and the owner did mention a good bit of the texture and the overall musicality was due to the DAC in the system. He had moved from a Benchmark DAC2 at the time. I hesitated and missed a great deal on a used Atlantis over the holidays....
I have in-house right now the MHDT Orchid for review.  I chose this MHDT model because it uses a TDA 1541 A chip.  

I found the Border Patrol to be a good sounding DAC.  However, for my tastes the MHDT offers a much higher level of performance in the very areas you are looking for.  If you roll the tube to a NOS WE396A D getter from the NOS tube that MHDT ships with you get even richer timbres/colors and more precise imaging and spatial qualities.  I believe the Orchid's build quality is better then the Border Patrol and it's a bargain at being about half the price of the other piece.
teajay, thanks. Do you use the Orchid for Redbook CD playback or for streaming higher resolution content, or both in your review? If both, do you feel the DAC responds to one better than the other? I'm just wondering how the 16-bit chip-based DACs like Orchid handle higher resolution content like 20/96 or higher. 
Hi kalali,

I only drive the Orchid with Jay's Audio redbook transport.
Simplest way is to get a transparent DAC and boost the bass to your liking, so something like a MiniDSP 2x4HD or SHD/Studio.

But the Border Pateol one is not bad.
The only DAC in their line to both accept and output 24 bit signals up to and including 192 is the Pagoda. Here’s a quote from Head Fi member s1rrah who did a nice comprehensive review of the Pagoda a couple of years ago.

Secondly, the Pagoda DAC is a true 192khz/24 bit design, both receiving a signal in 192khz/24bit while also outputting in 24bit format. All previous PCM56P DACs released by MHDT Labs have been limited to 16bit output, with some (like the Havana 2 and Stockholm 2) being capable of at least receiving 192khz/24bit signals. But even though some might be able to accept this high resolution signal, all have been limited to 16bit output; this is simply an inherent limitation of the PCM56P DAC. -- s1rrah

I believe their other DACs output to either 16/44.1 or 16/48 depending on input (i.e., 24/44.1, 88.2, 176.4 = 16/44.1 out and 24/48, 96, 192 = 16/48 out). This is how my Tranquility works with high-res material. Not sure about their 20 bit Atlantis however, which uses an Analog Devices chip.
Great info, thank you. Since most of my content in this system is from Tidal HiFi service, I’m thinking the Pagoda model would be a more flexible option. The BP DAC SE seems to support up to 24/96 according to their website which is more than adequate. I have yet to see anything at 24/192 coming out of Tidal. Has anyone?

@kalali- be careful- that 'support' doesn't mean the BP will output hi-rez, only that it will process it and output it at standard Redbook  resolution. 
I have a balanced Pagoda and I think it sounds amazing. 

I looked at the Border Patrol before I got the Pagoda. When researching dacs, I could not find a negative word written about the sound of the Pagoda. It was always characterized as being detailed yet natural, and I that's exactly what I hear in my system. I didn't want a dac that warmed over information or would make my ears bleed. The Pagoda just sounds right. 

I also wanted a true balanced dac. The Pagoda won. I only wished I'd bought it later so that I could get the J grade chips that he offers now. 

I would heartily recommend the dac to anyone. 
The other MHDT Labs dacs are not as information rich as the Pagoda, and don't use chips that are held in as high estemm as the PCM1704, so I did not consider them. However, the other dacs are warmer, and that might be what you're looking for. 
I won't buy anything called Border Patrol  .

kalali
...I would like to "upgrade" to a non-OS tube DAC just to see if it adds more body and texture to the music without losing detail.

>>MHDT Orchid<<. Done for a while, Thankfully.

Came close to acquiring the BP DAC. Finally settled on the MHDT. Liked the initial design and approach with the MHDT too, and it comes in Black, not a fan of Silver. Gary at BP would not entertain Black faceplates without a run of 50 units up front. Fast forward a month of use now and I’m truly enjoying a recently new MHDT Orchid with stock coupling caps and have now come full circle back to the stock original GE 5670 Five Star Triple Mica tube that came installed in the DAC brand new. No need for the S1 or S2 crown chips IMHO, the R1 chip sounds great and other reviewers have commented the same; "just be patient and let it run in for a good while". After trying a few different DACs prior, including a very highly regarded oversampling DAC with absolute best-in-industry specs on paper, I knew I had to try the complete opposite end of the spectrum of "latest & greatest" tech in oversampling DACs, go in reverse, and try a proven NOS DAC with a great design including the good ole’ Philips TDA1541A chip similar to what was used in my prior beloved Marantz SE CD player. Since I run tube preamp and tube amp, and prior non-tube DACS were not cutting it for me, a tube DAC became a must this go-around with my next DAC!. It was also helpful to find others already well down this discovery path with plenty of posts, updates, photos all over the web about MHDT DACS.

After rolling a few tubes, including the famous Western Electric WE396A / 2C51, other GE tube, TungSol in the Orchid, it was nice to realize it sounds pretty darn nice straight outta the box BUT it needs 3+ weeks of solid burn-in time before things truly start to open up and settle in.

Also a fellow member/colleague owns the Abbas 2.1SE, MHDT Havana, and recently new MHDT Orchid too doing some home baked DAC-offs with a good selection of tubes. His findings are very similar to my own. The Orchid sounds "natural", musical, very enjoyable. In a revealing system, the Orchid’s sound can change with simple tube changes if you wanna tube it to a particular open, detailed or softer and laid back sound with simple tube changes. It’s nice to listen to music again and if I’ve learned anything, I’ll never let perfect specs dictate a decision again. Gotta listen to it at home on your system with your speakers and room setting. Good Luck, hope this helps.
It’s nice to listen to music again and if I’ve learned anything, I’ll never let perfect specs dictate a decision again. Gotta listen to it at home on your system with your speakers and room setting.

Quote of the day/week/month. Always good to keep in mind audio gear is a blend of both science and art. As much as I like the gear side of this hobby it's just a means to an end .. enjoying music. Instead of the endless arguments, it would be nice if both objectivists and subjectivists would embrace the idea that good engineering is the foundation allowing art to soar. One without the other is handicapped. To quote Aristotle, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts".
Great input, thanks. I’m also following the other thread about the Border Patrol DAC with great interest and try to weigh the options. The Orchid seems to be slightly more reasonably priced than the BP SE model and looks a little nicer too.
I've been mulling over the Border Patrol for a few weeks and considering its merits against an iFi DSD Pro which seems to get great reviews for its sound, has tons of filters and sound adjustments to fine tune to your taste, and incorporates a tube with a few ways to add it into the sound.  I only recently read about the MHDT DAC and had never heard of it before at all.

Is anyone using it via USB from an iPhone or iPad streaming Tidal or Spotify?  That's my main source most of the time, so if the MHDT can handle that, I'll have to add them into the mix.
I'm not using the USB input, but as I'm writing this, I'm listening to a solo cello recording from SoundCloud, through a Chromecast, into the optic input.

I would contact MHDT Labs about their USB input to see if anything is needed. 
Thanks.  Reached out last night and it sounds like they have tested it with Android devices with success but no iOS devices.  Though I assume that bodes well for iOS and other such lower power USB devices, they said they would test an iPhone soon to confirm.
When comparing DACs from MHDT, there was quite a bit of discussion over at AC the past few years from one owner comparing the various units, including the Orchid, Pagoda. He found the Orchid to be a tad more "laid back and smoother" (TDA1541 R1) compared to his Pagoda. Interesting thing is he sold then sold Orchid, then he sold the Pagoda. I noted some confusion information about the tubes tested, and don’t feel this member gave it long enough rolling and evaluating different tubes - jumping around too much too fast, IMHO.  And, recently saw a post where the same person now "wishes he had not sold the Orchid". Grass is greener, and it was less brown than he thought...Gotta give it time to break in and different tubes can change the sound. Really enjoying this part of the MHDT Labs DACs both GE 5670 5 Star Tiple Mica and the legendary Western Electric WE396A along with a few other tubes, fwiw.

Orchid: I stream content both Spotify Premium and Tidal Hi-Fi, and ALAC and FLAC from my Mac Mini. Both work well, Tidal HiFi definitely comes through it with more detail through the Orchid and surprisingly, does really well with Spotify Premium, a tad softer, missing some detail, but still very engaging.

Choose your flavor.

And, right on the MHDT Labs page, yes, Orchard supports 24/192, noted here: "Orchid DAC is capable of up to 24bits/192kHz digital signal inputs yet remains driving legendary TDA1541A R-2R digital to analog output", link: http://www.mhdtlab.com/Orchid.htm
@teajay when is the Orchid review coming?

I am very interested in this DAC because of the TDA1541 chip. However, not sure if it does the 3D holographic thing well. This is my first priority. That’s why I bought the LTA MZ2. Would you say Orchid, at least for the money does 3D soundstage well enough?
Hi celo,

Besides the Orchid doing everything across the sonic spectrum beautifully, it also produces "meat on the bone" 3D imaging and terrific air around players in a realistic layered soundstage if on the recording.  It's a great DAC and I know you love the LTA MZ2, you would also love what this DAC does too. 
"Orchid DAC is capable of up to 24bits/192kHz digital signal inputs yet remains driving legendary TDA1541A R-2R digital to analog output"

Technically, TDA1541A is a 16-bit chip so while the DAC "accepts" 24/192 input the output is probably limited to 16/44.1. Nonetheless, per decoony above, it obviously still sounds great taking in higher resolution Tidal HiFi sourced content.
Found this. Good comparison chart for MHDT DACs. Note the output specs.

http://www.mhdtlab.com/mhdt%20dac%20families.htm
Nice find @kalali . Curious to know if you’re any closer to a decision.
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@teajay for instance would you say Orchid is a better value than Lab12 DAC1 SE?

I know these questions may be boring for you (which is totally understandable). However, not many of us get to test/buy these units.  

I personally would pick the one which has better 3D imaging but not regardless of price. If Orchid does come close to Lab12 DAC1 SE in this area, it is a better choice for me. Obviously, 3D imaging is not the only reason to pick a DAC but you know what I am saying I think:)
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The Parasound ZDAC for $200 is crap. I had one and it was not very good. Arcam irDAC was a far better value, though slightly more expensive. I would never recommend anyone purchase the ZDAC v1 or v2.

jeenam77
posts01-12-2019 7:14pmThe Parasound ZDAC for $200 is crap. I had one and it was not very good. Arcam irDAC was a far better value, though slightly more expensive. I would never recommend anyone purchase the ZDAC v1 or v2.

Now having owned the MHDT Orchid for a bit, looking back my prior Arcam irDAC and irDAC-II units were pretty solid values IMHO. Each with their own signature sound. While the later irDAC-II version was more open and airy (tad brighter, more forward) with it’s ESS chipset implementation, I probably should have kept the prior irDAC Burr Brown version - it was smooth, no glare (tad softer, more laid back presentation). Both were kinda tunable with simple quality Copper or Silver over copper IC changes for Analog out to my preamp. The new owners were pleased to buy either and I got the feeling afterwards they knew "better" than I did at the time of sale :)
I agree the original Arcam irDAC is a good value at the current used prices. However, after stepping up to a NAD M51 I would not go back if you can afford to spend $700 on a used M51. I previously owned a MHDT Paradisea and after reading through this thread I may consider purchasing another NOS DAC (MHDT or Metrum) at some point. However, I really wish the MHDT units were offered without the tube buffer stage as I run a tube preamp and don't really need/want more 'tube' sound in the signal chain.
01-14-2019 7:23pm
...I really wish the MHDT units were offered without the tube buffer stage as I run a tube preamp and don't really need/want more 'tube' sound in the signal chain.

fwiw, my MHDT Orchid DAC plugs into a Cary SLP-98 tube preamp with four NOS Sylvania 6SN7 front end tubes and I find the sound to be clean, musical, and fast as-long-as I don't run overly syrupy tubes in the preamp or the DAC or my tube amp.  All tube.  Sounds nice and natural - no edge.  The MHDT factory suppled stock GE 5670 5-star Triple Mica tube works out nicely in this particular Orchid DAC. The ability to tune sound with different tubes in the DAC is a nice feature I prefer, actually.






@jeenam 

If you're not wanting "tube sound", I would recommend the Pagoda. Mine doesn't sound like a tube DAC at all. It is the most neutral and revealing is the MHDT DACs.

I didn't and don't want a tube sounding DAC either. The Pagoda fits the bill. And it's modifiable for even better performance 
Lavorgna's latest review (Twittering Machines) on the Border Patrol DAC SE:

https://twitteringmachines.com/review-border-patrol-dac-se/

Pretty high praise I'd say.
I have own balance Pagoda DAC for less than a month but so far I love the sound of it , very natural and musical , even the music or music video from you tube was sound allot separate and better , can’t go wrong with either mhdt 
The Pogota has what many feel the best dac chipset ever made the Lsser trimmed Burr Brown 1704/dacs  ,the use 1 per channel and is a true 20 bit 
not 16 like the Havana which is still very good ,the Pogota takes it to another level.   The only competition maybe the New Audio mirror Trubadour-3 dac
which is $1500 .
I've been reading more about the MHDT DACs in forums all over and one theme keeps popping up.  Time and time again, I see owners saying the reliability has not been great from boards going bad, to tubes dying quickly, to inputs not functioning anymore.  The reviews of the sound are encouraging, but it seems like they don't last too long past their warranty end of 1 year before some failure or another.  Can any long-term MHDT owners confirm that?
I've been reading more about the MHDT DACs in forums all over and one theme keeps popping up. Time and time again, I see owners saying the reliability has not been great from boards going bad, to tubes dying quickly, to inputs not functioning anymore. The reviews of the sound are encouraging, but it seems like they don't last too long past their warranty end of 1 year before some failure or another. Can any long-term MHDT owners confirm that?
I haven't had mine for a long time, but here's a story about my MHDT Orchid.  I bought mine second hand here a little over 2 months ago.  Initially I was using it between my Blue Sound Node 2 and my preamp, connecting via coax. 

I decided to give it a try in my computer system and when I tried to use the USB input, I couldn't get it to work.  At first I thought it was a driver problem, so I contacted Jian at MHDT.  He was very helpful, but the driver didn't fix the problem.  He said " mail me your shipping address, I'll send a new board to you."  Mind you, I told him that I had purchased it from someone else.  Within a few days, the new board arrived and it did take care of the problem. 

Other than some frustration and a few minutes to swap out the board, it didn't cost me anything.  I'm guessing that there may have been some problems and they are aware of them, but it also seems that they stand solidly behind their products.  Whether there's been a fix moving forward or not, I don't know. 

My suggestion would be to contact MHDT and ask.  Jiun was very responsive and I was frankly very surprised that he would provide a replacement board for free to someone who wasn't the original owner.
Thanks. That does bode well if they are that responsive and helpful to issues.  Perhaps some of the other owners were not as willing to reach out to the manufacturer.  Hard to know.
A bit late and maybe of no interest. I faced same challenges finding digital sound flat and lacing life, almost sat on in comparison to records. My cd front end was a canary ct-600 transport via chord qutest, vinyl front end a vpi prime signature, Ortofon quinex black, ear834p, all played through ear 834 amp and ml esl9 speakers. I am currently trying out a Copland DAC 215 and it sounds superb. May be worth comparing...
Tubes matter when it comes to (my) MHDT Labs Pagoda dac.

It pays off to do something investigating into the tube(s) that matches what you're looking for. I've tried numerous tubes in my Pagoda, but the best by a large margin are the Reflektor '75 6N23P SWGP Silver Shields. 

They're much clearer and natural sounding to my ears and in my system, than any other tube I've tried. They sound distinctly different and better. 

I really recommend trying different tubes if you go the MHDT Labs route.