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.

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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.