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REVIEW: MHDT Labs - Orchid - An Awesome Analogue Sounding DAC

Discussion in 'audio' started by The Chronicals, Sep 15, 2018.

  1. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    Id be interested to hear what amp you have? Your CD player uses an S1 TDA1541, which I currently have in the Orchid,and there definitely isnt any detail or soundstage missing, in fact its extremely detailed, so curious!
     
  2. k90tour

    k90tour pfm Member

    Pre amplifier is a Music First Classic 2 Silver and the anp is a 300B SET. No problem with detail from the Linn Klimax DS that I was using. I think what I mean is a softening of the sound, and Iistening to, for example, a recording of the Schubert Quintet, harder to follow the individual voices. I can find other ways to achieve this but none are as coherent and musical.
    I have here a Sony CDP-XA555ES. Much more detail with the Sony and I can follow the lines but it reminds me of the Chord Hugo that I was once foolish enough to buy. With the Sony, and the Hugo, if you play a piano work (I was listening to Mozart Sonatas), it sounded as if the left hand was recorded one day and the right on another. And then the two re-assembled in the studio. Or re-assembled in the DAC. It's a strange sound, very removed from the artist's original. Sound familiar?
    I have read somewhere that the Marantz output stage lets the player down.
    Any future DAC for me must retain the qualities that I have with the Marantz.
    I'm moving away from the Linn Steamer because I'm tired of using a computer network for my music. I'm on the same computer enough for work. I miss the deliberate action of selecting a CD or a record and listening to it with the artwork and notes in front of me. It's a different experience.
     
  3. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    It could be you have a bad chip, but the S1 although being a step up from the standard and R, it still dosent have that huge instrument separation that modern dacs do, but it has realism, because you wont be able to follow individual voices if you where in the room with the performers. There is always going to be divide between realism and separation, because they arent possible to have it all in one in my opinion.

    The Sony definitely sounds the fake imagery that the Chord products showed to me! True though, some recordings are recorded like this though, each track is recorded seperately then it is pieced together. I remember a former producer of mine trying to do that once on one of my tracks and I hated it - but it did sound clear and defined, but for me, not real.

    Try investigation the S2 chip or a different S1...or if you have the money I here big things about Lampizator DACS or even try the MHDT Canary - it apparently has a similar sound signature but with more 'hifi' and detail. Write a review if you do!
     
  4. k90tour

    k90tour pfm Member

    I'd rather less' Hifi', if you know what I mean. I've just aquired an Audio Note DAC 0.1x. I was hoping it would elevate the Sony and the Marantz. It makes the Sony more musical but sounds strident in my system with both players. It may be good with a Mac mini in a second system. My wife likes everything on a server somewhere. Or I could move it on and try something else.
    Your review made me think though.
     
  5. k90tour

    k90tour pfm Member

    The other way I'm thinking is that if I want the best of both worlds, buy more vinyl!
     
    The Chronicals likes this.
  6. wacko

    wacko pfm Member

    What a great review.
     
    The Chronicals likes this.
  7. Hempknight

    Hempknight pfm Member

    If your looking for upgrade bits, try 'vintage audio lab' on ebay, he's a Taiwan based seller, with great quality products. I'm currently eyeing up his discreet opamps, which look a bit of a bargain imo. Deltec's a retro Welsh audio company, which made some great sounding DAC's. Worth keeping an eye out for, as they can be had quite cheaply. Only good for CD playback though (48k max), but worth it for the achingly beautiful vocals and instruments.
     
  8. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    Ill definitely check them out thanks for the headsup. I have a genuine S2 chip coming this week, so that will be the next review instalment.

    Will definitely keep my eyes open for one of these Deltecs, they sound really interesting
     
  9. Yomanze

    Yomanze pfm Member

    Where did you find the chip? Bet it wasn't cheap...
     
  10. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    A small mortgage..
     
  11. Yomanze

    Yomanze pfm Member

    In your case I think it will be worthwhile. If you had a Taiwan chip or an S1 already, would be a different story. Remember to use a spudger and gently walk it out by gently levering on each end alternately. Use anti static protection, a wrist strap is what I use.
     
  12. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    Ive ordered an IC chip remover and the antistatic strap, not taking any chances with this! Already broke the R1 chip when removing it for the S1 :eek:
     
  13. Yomanze

    Yomanze pfm Member

    Did you not read my earlier post? Ah well, it’s done now... ;)

    How did you find the difference between the R1 and S1?
     
  14. Mike P

    Mike P pfm Member

    When you say you broke the R1 chip what actually happened? Bent legs can usually be straightened and you can even solder a new leg on if there's still a 'stump' left to solder to.
     
  15. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    Im going to post my findings between the R1, S1 and S2 soon, I had to wait for a spare part to come from MHDT..:)

    What happened? Im a fumbling ham-fisted impaitent fool :) I have resoldered it as there was just enough stump showing, but Im scared to insert it just in case it snaps while in the socket....I am however loving the S2 right now!
     
  16. Mike P

    Mike P pfm Member

    Ah well, worth keeping as a spare anyway.
     
    The Chronicals likes this.
  17. AndrewM

    AndrewM pfm Member

    I have had a TeddyDAC for about 7 years and no particular desire to upgrade. It has to be said though that it’s an oldish design now, the white paper describing its basic design on the website is dated 2010, although the async usb module has been upgraded since. It doesn’t have the latest bells and whistles of course, no dsd or mqa capabilities, but I think it interesting that it’s still a contender and speaks volumes for basic good design, with a very clean power supply (Teddy regulated of course) JFET zero feed back analogue buffer, and a pico second external clock. TP states that he has voiced it to have “an analogue sound signature” . I wonder if somehow consciously or unconsciously the design avoids higher order harmonic distortion or allows in just a small amount of masking second order harmonics, as per Bob Katz hypothesis.
     
  18. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    I definitely need to have a listen to one of these. There has been a few floating around for sale, but Ive had so much invested in this with the replacement chips, it wont be something I do for a while! I think the term 'analogue sounding' sometimes gets mis-interperted , or many its just subjective, analogue sounding to me is a big warm midrange depth, but I've heard others say that analogue sounding to them is that floaty top end...maybe its all of those, but we focus on the elements we prefer?
     
  19. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    So, I thought I’d update the thread with some extra info on the chips I’ve been playing around with in the Orchid. I managed to secure a new S1 Single Crown and the holy grail in the form of an unused S2 Double Crown (at a fair but large cost), and boy are they very different. I found that each chip needed a fair while running in before they opened up, after that, there were no further audible changes. At first both had a minimalised top end (which I actually preferred being treble sensitive) but opened up quite considerably.


    S1 Single Crown

    The immediately difference in the S1 from the R1 is the smoothness. The instrument separation is widely increased and the performers can be heard in more exact placement, yet in doing this there is a distinct removal of the ‘mid-range’ warmth from the R1. It’s a more delicate listen, it’s almost the sound the Chord 2Qute is trying to conjure up (but failing), so those of you that like the 2Qute but want more ‘realism’, then this would be the chip for you.

    It’s extremely clear and natural and that ‘thickness’ that’s in the R1 is gone – this can be either a good or bad thing depending on taste, but distortion is definitely less when things get busy. Bass is a little down on both the R1 and S2, but articulation is increased from the R1, and vocals sound adorable. It sounds the more ‘Hi-Fi’ out of the three chips, it has a slightly hollow clarity to it, which brings a ‘wow factor’ initially, but can at times leave you wanting for more. Yet in saying that, it is just an exquisite listen, and I felt that if I couldn’t change anything in the system from this stage, I’d be more than content with the S1. It removes the niggles that I had with the R1, but it does remove some of the elements that wowed me about this DAC in the first place, the thickness, the muddy midrange warmth, but it brings so much else to table, it’s a tough call, but overall, I would choose the S1 over the R1. For the money, it would be the best upgrade for this DAC in my opinion, or you can source the N2 chip, which I have on good authority is equal or better than the S1. I may try one of these in the future when funds allow.


    S2 Double Crown

    So... this is where things get big. If you read what I wrote about the R1 when I first began listening to the DAC, and now read the S1 impressions above – the S2 is the mix of what is great about both of those chips, it’s taken the mid-range thickness from the R1 and combined it with the separation and delicacy of the S1, together it creates a mind blowing sound that has all the ‘factors’ of a great modern DAC but with a slightly retro tint to the whole proceedings. Its big, musical, warm but completely detailed and articulate with great separation. The Soundstage is probably a little narrower than a modern OS DAC, but it manages to keep a midrange thickness but remain airy at the same time. The bass is thundering, and drum rolls can be pretty epic. The energy that fills the room from this chip is immense. It’s almost valve like it its presentation. Analogue and valve driven digital – perfection?

    It’s not entirely forgiving though, listening to the a typical 90’s recording, say Soul Asylum’s ‘Grave Dancers Union’ can sound a little harsh, the R1 that ‘covers’ up things like that with its muddy sound, the S2 is clear enough to let all the bad producer decisions come through (like what’s on all 90’s albums!). But put something on that’s been recorded right, like Jason Isbell's ‘Southeastern’ and you’ve got the ultimate NOS DAC sound. It really loves vocal harmonies and high-hat beats. Put on the opening track from Natalie Merchants ‘Paradise is there’ LP, and it’s like the sound is alive. There’s a natural resonance from all the instruments that blends it together, yet there is still definition and clarity, it really doesn’t sound far away to listening to a recording being put together in a studio… (making me feel a little nostalgic for the good old days in the process)

    I am torn though, I must admit. I really like the S1 for its ‘fine’ print, it’s a peaceful relaxing detailed sound, the S2 has those elements but its BIG and THICK, which for me can be a little overwhelming on a busy track – but then if I put on something quiet, I go weak at the knees for its smoothness and body. The S2 sounds noticeably more ‘retro’, the S1 sounds more modern. So maybe the S1 may suit some better, getting come of the characteristics of the NOS style DAC but with a modern flavour. The R1 is the hot quirky student, the S1 is a hot librarian, the S2 is Christina Hendricks. Enough said.

    I’ll definitely be swapping the S1 and S2 back and forth from time to time and at some point, stick with one and probably come up with some extra thoughts.

    One thing to mention is that I did switch this up with a cable change – I use a Mark Grant HDX1 interconnect, but I had an RFC Reference Venus at the same time – the RFC is a much smoother sound, but can bring the top end out too far for me and is much less congested than the MG – but some who aren’t as treble sensitive might find that appealing. It’s a very good cable, they both are, but the RFC does bring a bigger ‘Hi-Fi’ sound to the proceedings. It’s probably one of the best IC’s I have tried, but for my delicate and sensitive ears and brain it’s just a bit too much for me. But combined with the S2 chip, it’s an amazing sound – when you first hear the combination, you literally sit back and think ‘wow. The Mark Grant is a little less smooth, a little distortion but sounds more ‘rough and real’.

    The Orchid continues to be a Chameleon though, evolving within its surroundings. Its such a versatile, well build and great sounding unit, I am thorough impressed with the Taiwanese team. I think Jiun should make up a Orchid+ with some of the N2 chips still available, its probably closer to what he originally intended to create, but was limited with what was available. But in saying that, theres no actual reason to modify the Orchid, its a beautiful DAC in its own right, I just like modifying things. First it was my hair, then my car, and now everything I own has been modified in some way or form, I am never content with 'off the shelf' :)

    To summarise...the chips in this dac....

    The R1 is being in the room with the band, in the band – with all the good and bad that that brings, the S1 is like being in the studio listening through cans in a pre-production guise with a gentle mix, and the S2 is full post production mode but without finalising – meaning its ALL there and hasn’t been ‘digitised’ to within an inch of its life. That’s the best way to describe these chips.


    [​IMG]
     
  20. Mike P

    Mike P pfm Member

    I've found the Taiwanese made chips from 97 and 98 tend to have a more dynamic sound to the Dutch made chips.
     
    Yomanze likes this.

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