MHDT Labs Havana was absolutley STELLAR!! I tried 8 DAC's in the last year, and this may have been my favorite actually. It is very musical, whatever that means, it sounds rich and full. It's just not as extended as some of the SS DAC's so I finally settled, happily, on the Bryston BDA-1. But I absolutely loved the Havana. I think anyone who has had one has loved it.
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The Havana is a great DAC (I own it), but I don't think it's well known for jitter reduction. I use mine in a second system (under construction), and will go USB with it from a Macbook I3. In my main system, I use a Mac Mini, and I insert an Empirical Audio Pacecar to reclock and address the jitter issue to my DAC. That said, I've also run optical cable directly from the Mini to my DAC (a Modwright modified Transporter), and it still sounds really good without the Pacecar. I'm not sure how much the Transporter DAC is jitter immune (I think they do present it as somewhat jitter reducing) compared to the Havana. But for some reason, gathered from previous readings, I think that there would be less jitter using a Mac Mini and optical than using the airport. And what really matters is how the end product sounds to you.
Without getting too technical, the airport express does exhibit a fair amount of jitter, and the Havana's strong-point isn't jitter reduction; it also doesn't have balanced outputs and it's digital input selection is limited. That being said, I have one (in addition to a Bel Canto DAC3) and love it. I'm running it from a Mac Mini and use the Bel Canto USB link (although there are many usb to spdif converters) to go from usb to spdif in the Havana. In general, i don't think airport express is the way to go for a server setup, unless it's for more casual listening. If you can find a used havana and get a good usb to spdif converter, it will keep it around 1000. The biggest difference, no matter what DAC you get, could be getting away from the airport express.
If I were to get a Havanna, I'd have to get a Monarchy DIP as well to reclock the SPDIF. I think if I would pick them up used I'd be able to spend less than $1K.
Add a couple hundred dollars to the Monarchy DIP and I can get a Mac Mini and use either USB or optical out.
Either way, I'm just trying to come up with some options since I'll be relocating the DAC1 to the desk.
FWIW, I had the Benchmark and in my system, the Havana was better. I know people feel the Benchmark and Bel Canto sound similar, but in my system the Benchmark was just too analytical. The Bel Canto has better sound-staging, better bass, and is less diffused than the Havana in my system, but I kept the Havana because it does breath a special organic quality into the music that I want to hear sometimes. It's not goopy or syrupy, but isn't hyper-detailed.
Thanks Macdadtexas.. I will be on the lookout for a
used Havana now. I can't wait to get my hands on an AppleTV
so I can disassemble it to paint it matte black to match my
Krell gear.. I may even get fancy and air brush a little
silver apple on the front.
ejlif replied in different post that he tried the Van Den Hul,
Wireworld, and Audioquest Toslink cables. He ended up
liking the Audioquest Optilink 5 best of all 3 so I have my
cable picked out also.
I've been auditioning a Neko Audio D100 in my system for the last few days and have been very impressed by the sound. It doesn't have a tube output stage but it does use output transformers which gives it a very smooth and clear sound, similar to what I'm used to from tubes.
I'd put it on the shortlist for anyone looking at DACs in this price range.
I've just recently got a Tube Audio Design - TADAC tube dac, it is using the el cheapo original Chinese tubes and it still sounds amazing. Completely blows anything I've tried to this date - that includes the Music Hall dac.
And when I say completely blows away, it's like pealing away multiple layers, it's night and day better than anything I've tried to date. Incredibly revealing and yet has that tube magic :)
It's only available used but you can get a new PreDac which is supposedly a big jump up from the Tadac.
I agree with Joshcloud. I had a Benchmark DAC, which has a lot of tremendous reviews. Then I listened to the original TADAC and immediately sold the Benchmark. I just purchased the latest DAC from Tube Audio Design called the Tdac and it is superior in every way to the original TADAC. Even more detail comes through the dynamics have improved and the sound stage is larger and deeper.
The first time my wife heard the system with the new DAC she asked if I added or changed something because it sounds more realistic. She is right this new DAC is like a high definition version of the original.
The DAC comes with a set of Electro-harmonix tubes. It is small and simple looking, but it is one heck of a performer.
i'd like to sell my Havana DAC, over the period i had invested around 4 tubes, so you will be able to tune the sound a bit with the extra tubes, e-mail me if you are interested, oh and i'm selling because i bought a cdp with digital in which helps to downsize.
In terms of naturalness of timbre, Havana is as good as my esoteric.