The Mhdt lab Balanced Pagoda DAC


In the last couple of months I have received numerous Emails from readers regarding could I fine a truly balanced R2R DAC that would sell for less then $2,500 to review. Since, I am a fan of the very reasonably priced, but very well built and terrific sounding DACs from Mhdt Lab I requested from the them the Balanced Pagoda model that retails for less then $2,000. In the past I have reviewed the Orchid DAC and found it to be a superlative music maker, raved about it and thought it was a great bargain at it’s price point of $1,200. Take a look at the threads here on AudioGon, where the DIY/modders have shared how they improved the performance of the standard Orchid to a higher level.

The Balanced Pagoda uses four, two per channel, highly regarded NOS Burr Brown PCM 1704-J grade chips. Of course all circuity is doubled and it uses a pair of NOS WE 396 tubes in the analog conversation section, compared to the Orchid’s single tube.

If you run a balanced system and are looking for a "honey" of a DAC, the Balanced Pagoda might be the DAC you are looking for because of its performance vs cost ratio. It takes the beautiful tonality, 3D imaging, wonderful air around instruments of the Orchid to a higher level and adds more transparency/micro-details, with dramatically more powerful overall dynamics/ bass extension. Yet it never becomes analytical in its presentation and draws you into the music.

There are two caveats to be mindful of to get the magic out of the Balanced Pagoda: 1) Drive it with an AES/EBU balanced cable. 2) Only use the XLR outputs. Otherwise you will lose the ultimate performance of this DAC in your system.

I’ll be writing for the Stereo Times website the full review with all the details about the Balanced Pagoda in the next couple of months. For now, this "heads up" hopefully provides to the individuals that were seeking a balanced DAC in this price range enough details to seek out an audition of this excellent performer.

teajay
Wow, I got some Emails already where to go to possibly setup an audition on the Balanced Pagoda.  I recommend you give a call to Linear Tube Audio who carries the Mhdt Lab line of DACs and offers home auditions with a return policy if you don't keep it.  They are great people to work with, ask to talk to Nicklaus regarding any questions about the DAC or their policy regarding setting up an audition.
Here comes another puff piece....
Hey janehamble,

Another "puff piece"?  You never heard the DAC or read the details that describe why this offers great performance at a very reasonable price.  I only post on AudioGon to try to help members be aware of gear that could be useful in their pursuit to get what they want out of their system.

Geez, what makes individuals motivated to be derogatory from the get go.  
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Tea, you should have ignored Jane....some people who post here behave like this, as you know. BTW, I enjoy your sonic evaluations...very easy for me to understand and I like the way you highlight your associated gear upfront, show your rooms etc. 
Hey Tuberist,

Thanks for the kind words towards my reviews and posts.
@teajay 

I bought the Mhdt Orchid based partially on your review and partially on information here. It jibed with my sense that I was looking for a musical experience and not a resolution-fest. I wanted to get something that wasn't going to feel second rate to listening to records. I got exactly that. I've only been listening to it for a few days, but already it's everything I'd hoped for. Very musically involving. Linear Tube answered my questions and were great to deal with. While I'm curious about the Pagoda since I do run balanced pre to amp, I'm feeling pretty damn good where I'm sitting right now. I love playing CD's now. Thanks!
Which streamer are you using this DAC with?

thanks...
@teajay   keep the reviews coming. I also bought a Orchid primarily on your review and couldn’t be happier. Thanks. 
Two things:

1) Thanks, gelle & letch for the feedback that the information was helpful for you guys to get what you were looking for.  Mark and his staff at Linear Tube Audio not only build reference level David Berning inspired gear, they also happen to be great guys and gentlemen.  They are the major retail source in the US to buy Mhdt Lab's DACs.

2) Photomax, I’m driving the Balanced Pagoda with a Jay’s Audio MK-II CD transport.
I went on the Linear Tube Audio website and the Balanced Pagoda dac is discontinued.
Hey rpw,

Then they have not updated the current information.  It is in production and because of the cost of the DAC chips and other parts it's retail cost will be $2,000.  
Hey @teajay — without spoiling the upcoming review, can you share any differences between the Balanced Pagoda and the Tubadour SE? Understand if you can’t, and looking forward to reading the review. And thanks for the heads up.

@janehamble — when was the last time you wrote a published, full review of a piece of audio equipment that actually helped people make their purchase decisions? Thought so. Go throw your useless flames elsewhere.
Hey soix,

With out copping out, and not going into all the details, if your system is single ended, I would choose the Tubadour SE, because if you run the Balanced Pagoda single ended, not balanced you lose the beauty of this DAC. However, if you have a balanced system I would then recommend the Balanced Pagoda because it’s the equal of the Audio Mirror piece and slightly better in certain sonic parameters and costs $500 less.
@teajay  .. keep up the good work! Seems there are plenty of us who enjoy your reviews and subsequent posts here. Personally, I'm happy to see MHDT Lab receiving more well-deserved attention lately. FWIW I purchased their single-ended Pagoda 2 years ago and couldn't be happier. So happy in fact, if I were to go the balanced route with my system a balanced Pagoda would certainly be part of that future.
@soix  I'd be happy to put together reviews of equipment if I was compensated by a manufacturer to do so.  But sadly I'm not a professional "Influencer" - I do have another job. Don't get me wrong -  there's no shame in being an influencer.  I use them often when I've got my marketing hat on.  And just because a product is "reviewed" by an influencer doesn't necessarily make it an unfair assessment.  The Pagoda - for example - could be incredible.  Lord knows they've been making it long enough, so it must be ok. @teajay is just one of many influencers who love posting on Audiogon.  Especially over there in the Miscellaneous forum.  Good influencers, by definition,  build up lots of followers and fans.  People are entertained by their posts and most of all they trust them. You're obviously a fan of @teajay - which is lovely. The rest of us just need to take the reviews of all influencers with a large spoonful of salt.
Hey janehamble,

I think you think you are crafty in the use of your semantics, regrading me as a "Influencer", which is your code for someone who does not tell the truth or as been bought off to sell some piece of equipment. You also seem to have a problem that because many individuals trust my take on pieces of gear and it helps them find out new pieces, that they are idiots for doing so. Which actually is demeaning to them. I tell everyone to use their own ears as a final judgement not mine.

I really don’t care what your opinion is of me, it’s amazing that threads like this, that members found informative and useful, have to put up with negative/unproductive comments like yours. As long as you think what I do is some type of crooked enterprise and I benefit in some underhanded way, and you can write a great review, please sent me your resume and a copy of one of your reviews and I’ll help you get a reviewing job so you to can reap the benefits outside your day work. I’ll be waiting!

By the way, I can’t remember the last time I posted, if ever, on the Miscellaneous forum.
Teajay, I don't always agree with your reviews.   But I see no reason to suspect you are being anything less than dead honest in your assessment.  There are times when personal preferences, system and room context, etc. will lead serious audiophiles to different conclusions.  I read with interest your comments and will look forward to your review on the Pagoda.  I prefer to run balanced and have been intrigued by the Pagoda for some time.  It might be the right choice for me.   

Generally speaking, I could wish that more reviewers published reviews of equipment they don't like.   I certainly don't like everything I audition, and sometimes I am really disappointed after auditioning a piece I thought I'd really like.   I have to think that reviewers experience this sort of thing, but it's rather rare to read a negative review.  
@janehamble (Jeremy)

What’s your problem?

I don’t understand your responses here on audiogon. You make accusations without any proof and see no benefit to your comments.
I actually made 2 purchases based on teajay’s reviews since we share the same tastes and couldn’t be happier. You accuse him of being an influencer but most of us here on audiogon  are experienced audiophiles and know what we like to hear. I’ve been an audiophile since 1974 but it has gotten harder to audition equipment since there aren’t many brick and mortar shops around these days. So we rely on forums like these or reviewers that have similar tastes in equipment and music.

Besides communicating on line, I actually spoke to teajay. He was very sincere and honest especially when deciding to upgrade my Lawrence Audio Violin speakers to the larger Cellos. Based on my room size, he thought the Cellos would overwhelm my room. Since he reviewed both speakers, he thought the Violins were mini Cellos.

So Jeremy, can you please stop your baseless accusations!
I suspect jane is still ticked off about the Lab12 dac review. It wasnt brand new when @teajay reviewed it and jane probably bought it. Then jane got upset because teajay heard something later that he preferred. 
Its just audio gear kids....different flavors of very good.
I’d be happy to put together reviews of equipment if I was compensated by a manufacturer to do so. But sadly I’m not a professional "Influencer" - I do have another job.
@janehamble — That’s just a cop out and a load of crap. Most reviewers have other jobs, and reviewers are not paid by manufacturers. You’re either too lazy or don’t have the ability or balls to write in-depth product reviews. Otherwise there’s nothing stopping you. Either way, just sitting at your keyboard crapping out baseless accusations does nothing except make you look foolish.

Thank you gentlemen,

Regarding the kind words towards me and the information I try to provide here on AudioGon and my professional reviews.  I grew up on AudioGon and have always remained an active member because I think the forums can be a place of respectful sharing and helping everybody get what they are seeking in their systems. 

I hope this thread can go back to either information, questions, or feedback on the Balanced Pagoda and what it has to offer to a music lover seeking a true balanced DAC at a very reasonable price point.
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Hey denism,

I don't represent anybody else but me.  If you want to trash the whole profession of individuals doing reviewing, because of the misbehavior of a few that's your right to over generalize in a bigoted fashion.  

I never post to hi-jack any thread to promote gear I like, unless the author asks for direct information regarding that piece.  Unlike a few dealers who are always pushing their wares on threads that don't ask about product lines that they carry.

Well, my desire that this thread would go back to its original purpose was very shorted lived, indeed!   
Well I can’t speak to teajay’s reviews, I don’t read anything on sixmoons. I know that from reading his posts here that Srajan must be quite a busy bee with the editor’s pencil. But that’s neither here nor there.

However, I do have a Pagoda in the non balanced version. It was modified by the previous owner with better caps and resistors so I can’t speak to what a stock one sounds like. But if a balanced Pagoda sounds anything like what I hear, then Terry definitely has a good point about this DAC. It certainly brings out the best digital sound I have ever heard in my system. I thought long and hard about bringing in a Toubedour for an audition, but I’m afraid that might be a lateral move at best.

Oz



@ozzy62 

I believe @teajay writes for stereo times. I agree with you that 6moons has a different idea of journalism than I prefer. The MHDT dacs have been a terrific value proposition for years. The bashers out there seemingly have nothing better to do. Why do they even read the posts by @teajay ?
Hey ghasley,

You are correct. I used to write for Six Moons, but chose to leave and now have a great home writing for Stereo Times. You raise a very interesting question. If certain individuals find what I post extremely annoying why do they even bother to read them and waste their time?
Well, some people thrive off of misery.

Wow, Ozzy62 you must be a stickler for proper grammar and sentence structure. Maybe we can talk off line about hiring you to edit my writing here on the GON for a reasonable sum of payment! Let me know.

Of course since I have never heard your upgraded Pagoda I can’t say how close its performance would come to compared with the Tubadour III SE. However, if you run the Balanced Pagoda, balanced both in/out you get an overall performance that exceeds the Audio Mirror DAC. The caveat is you run it balanced, not single-ended.
Wow, Ozzy62 you must be a stickler for proper grammar and sentence structure. Maybe we can talk off line about hiring you to edit my writing here on the GON for a reasonable sum of payment! Let me know.

I'd be happy to.....for a fee, lol.


However, if you run the Balanced Pagoda, balanced both in/out you get an overall performance that exceeds the Audio Mirror DAC. The caveat is you run it balanced, not single-ended.

I don't have balanced inputs on my amp, so that option is no good for me. I guess I'll just continue to be happy with my Pagoda.

Oz


@ronrags, here's' the issue:  social media has created an entirely new profession (often part-time) for people at home to test and review products.  Examples include mommy-blogger reviews of vacuum cleaners, and so on. The website - especially in terms of categories supported by a cottage industry of small companies which can't afford regular advertising - has become inundated with spurious, sponsored reviews. It's one of the least expensive ways to launch a new product. 

It's all OK.  But there's a distinction between a 'recommended product' pushed by a blogger and a properly reviewed product by a independent journalist working for a reputable magazine or website - and not sponsored by a manufacturer.  Some magazines and websites these days often use freelance bloggers to write sponsored articles.  Other bloggers simply hang out on forums like this, continuously advocating for companies and products - typically in exchange for free equipment.  Since you asked - that's how it works and that's why it's a point worth keeping in mind.   
Oh, and by the way, I've never bought a Lab12 -  I just didn't appreciate that this 5 year old dac was being represented as a new product.  
Hey janehamble,

We know you don't have kind feelings towards me or my writing, to put it mildly, so could you please stop reading my posts, better for your mental health, and allow this thread to go back to discussing the Balanced Pagoda for the folks that want information on it and not your "blow hard" rants about the me and everyone else you don't care for.  PLEASE!
Agree with teajay. FaceBook is a good place for people to go if they want to argue with people or just be rude. Highly recommend.
@ teajay as long as you choose to post your comments on public social media forums you can expect some reactions.  Not all them will be positive - you'll have to get over that.  This is not your private notice board. As mentioned, Audiogon is inundated with influencers posting 'reviews and advice'. Much of it needs a filter. I'm sure everyone's looking forward to your piece about the Pagoda.
Hey janehamble,

Please..... I have nothing to "get over ", I'm not upsetting myself over your inane remarks about me or what I do here or in my reviews.  You have an agenda, and have ever right to express it here on AudioGon.  I respectfully, after you stated your opinion and the rest of the posters did not agree with your position, leave the thread alone so a positive discussion of the thread's topic could go on, with out your sideshow that is totally irrelevant to the topic.

Oh, I'm not sure everyone's looking forward to my review in the near future on the Balanced Pagoda, but enough that will get some useful information to make it worth writing. 
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Hey tvad,

After I reviewed the Audio Mirror Tubadour III SE, I bought the review demo. Great DAC! For the last two weeks I have been in the process of evaluating the Mhdt Lab Balanced Pagoda DAC. In this comparison, if you run in/out balanced with the BP DAC it offers better overall dynamics, deeper more controlled bass extension, and is quieter with more air around players in its sound-stage. As far as timbres and tonality both the BP and Tubadour are equals in a very positive way.

I never make comments out of ignorance, but I’ll give you my hunch. Because the Mhdt Lab BP is a true balanced design, it still might offer better results then using a balanced transformer with single ended circuity. My question is how much does Vlad charge for this upgrade option? The Audio Mirror already costs $500 more then the Balanced Pagoda. Therefore, if the up charge is another $200 to $300 dollars more, we are close to almost a thousand dollars over the cost of the Mhdt Lab piece. Right now, I would purchase the Balanced Pagoda over the Tubadour III SE, with the caveat that its run balanced in/out, feeding a true balanced preamplifier. If you run single-ended through out your system, I would stick with the Audio Mirror DAC. As I said this is just a hunch, but I don’t think for the extra money for the upgrade to a balanced transformer in the Tubadour III SE, that you would get a better sounding DAC then the Balanced Pagoda which is a lot less money.
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Let’s all try to me more objective and tolerant of other people’s opinions. I think as adults most of us can see through the facade of someone trying to push a product for a manufacturer, and someone who is just trying to inform the community. I believe we can each easily decide these things for ourselves. Tea jay does indeed write for a recognized publication, and personally I’ve found his reviews helpful. I have also made a purchase due to one of his reviews, though not his alone, it was a big part of my decision to purchase the Tekton Ulfberht speakers. According to that review, he purchased the review set, I believe. Not given. I’m sure he was able to get some sort of courtesy discount, still money out of the pocket either way. Jane, if your issue was you felt his words indicated this was a newly introduced product which is not the case, I would have mentioned that issue in a non confrontational manner. It’s so easy to misunderstand in words, as there’s so much that some people read into it that the writer might not have meant, and didn’t realize was taken differently. I would clarify the point if I thought it were an issue that others would believe something that was incorrect. The whole idea of a forum in my mind is to give and get opinions to maybe better understand, even if it’s just a point of view that others hold differently than I do. If we get bashed for our opinions we may not want to post, and eventually this is a very boring place to be. 
In this comparison, if you run in/out balanced with the BP DAC it offers better overall dynamics, deeper more controlled bass extension, and is quieter with more air around players in its sound-stage.
I would be very interested why you feel this would be the case versus the unbalanced version of the same DAC, or the unbalanced Troubador.

Because the Mhdt Lab BP is a true balanced design, it still might offer better results then using a balanced transformer with single ended circuity.
What do you consider to be a "true balanced design" and what is your hunch based on?
Hey clio09,

I’m not an engineer, but in a true balanced design everything is doubled in each channels circuitry. Two DAC chips, instead of one, two transformers instead of one for the digital and analog sections, etc. Therefore, the overall noise floor is lowered, a more stiff and refined power section, and an increase of 9dB in volume over single-ended with less noise.

I now have had two DACs in for review that are true balanced designs feeding a balanced preamplifier. If I use the single-ended digital input and single-ended analog out put, both DACs performance decreases to a large degree.
Hello everybody,

Just wanted to share I’m coming close to writing my review on Balanced Pagoda for the Stereo Times website. I have spent much time with it, in two different systems. I have in-house two other very highly regarded DACs for review, one costs $5000, the other $5500.

Well, the Balanced Pagoda is right there with them regarding overall performance, but costs less then half of the other DACs! When it comes to beauty of timbre/colors, providing a large airy layered soundstage, 3D imaging, it hangs quite well with the big boys. It’s not quite as quiet, it uses tubes in the analog section, and is a smidgen less quick/dynamic overall, but still has great bass extension and very good overall PRAT. I will go into many more details about its performance in my formal review.

So, if your budget range is around $2000, I really suggest you setup an audition, you can do this through Linear Tube Audio here in the states, its a great music maker at a terrific price.
@teajay How do you setup an audition through Linear Tube Audio if you don't live close by?
@arafiq You could contact LTA and ask them. Nonetheless, LTA's website indicates "MHDT DACs are not eligible for our 14-day home trial period. All sales are final."
@bsme85 Yeah, this is exactly why I was asking teajay. I even contacted the dealer by email and they told me the same thing that they don't offer in home trials for DACs. Hopefully, teajay can chime in if he happens to know another way. I'm really interested in MHDT DACs but I generally don't buy without a return guarantee just in case.
I could be mistaken, but I thought that you do get a trail period from LTA and can return the piece if it does not work for you. Sorry, if I'm mistaken, I'll give them a call tomorrow to make sure which is correct. 

I totally understand arafiq's position regarding a home audition vs. a no return policy. For what its worth I have received, because of my Six Moon's review of the MHDT Lab Orchid DAC, scores of Emails from individuals who bought the Orchid and were thrilled with its performance and reasonable cost factor. I know that does not prove everyone will be as satisfied, but the Orchid & Balanced Pagoda are terrific performers.
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Since I cannot order an MHDT DAC to see if it has the right synergy with the rest of my system, all I can do is ask folks who have tried them. So the questions I have are ...

1. Since my amplifier (Cronus Magnum) does not support balanced, is the balanced version of Pagoda worth the extra $?

2. I understand that the Orchid only does 16 bit. Given that I often stream from Qobuz @ 24 bit, am I losing much in the way of sound quality? Over the years I've learned that sometimes these things don't matter in the larger scheme of things. I read somewhere that the Pagoda (regular version) loses a little bit of the Orchid magic.

3. How does the regular Pagoda or Orchid compare to the Tubadour III SE? If the Tubadour offers a meaningful improvement in sound, I don't mind saving up for it. But if the differences are subtle, of course I don't mind the savings,

4. I can't seem to find a used MHDT DAC anywhere. So if any owners want to get rid of their units, feel free to contact me :)

I have not heard the Orchid nor the Toubedour. But I do have a single ended Pagoda and I can tell you it is a great DAC. Before that I had an MHDT Havana which I also liked very much. The Pagoda is another level of refinement and detail without losing that organic and natural presentation that R2R dacs are known for. For full disclosure, my Pagoda was modified by the previous owner.

Oz



@arafiq 

The Orchid does support 24/192 so you can stream 24 bit. I had my Orchid modded by Grannyring with better caps and resistors which brought it to a new level. Even before it was modded it sounded great. You can’t go wrong for $1200.  
If you do purchase the Orchid, I would replace the original tube with an NOS tube that MHDT/LTA recommends. I prefer the WE396A in my system.
BTW- I own the Cronus Magnum 3 and it sounds wonderful with the Orchid.