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 My apologies for not acknowledging your answers earlier. Somehow, I missed it completely. Just read them, thank you.

So the dilemma I'm facing is choosing between the Orchid and Pagoda (unbalanced). On the one hand, the Pagoda can output hi-res, but I've also heard that the Pagoda loses some of the magic of the Orchid. Since you're the only one, at least here at Audiogon, who has listened to and reviewed both, I want to ask if there's any truth to it. If we take the price difference out of the equation, which one would you choose?

Hey arafiq,

No worries.

Since, I don’t care about handling hi-res formats-only care about Redbook, and have validated for myself that if you drive the Balanced Pagoda single-ended you take away some of it’s "magical" performance. Driven single-ended, both in/out it still is at least as good as the Orchid and better if driven balanced. Therefore, I would go with the Balanced Pagoda, if price is not part of the equation. Remember, this is all based on the Orchid compared to the Balanced Pagoda, not the single-ended Pagoda in my system. But, the logic of the above stated conclusion should be valid. If I’m correct the price of the standard Pagoda and the Orchid is almost the same. Orchid if run single-ended, not the standard Pagoda and if you are going to run the DAC in your system balanced then the Balanced Pagoda.
@teajay  Thank you for the quick response. Much appreciated. Please forgive my ignorance, but in my case since I'm using Cronus Magnum 2 as my integrated amp, does it make sense to buy the balanced Pagoda?