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

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

  1. k90tour

    k90tour pfm Member

    Very good review. I like the appeal of the R1. Or maybe the S2. I can understand about not wanting to add too much of a "Hifi" clarity.
     
    The Chronicals likes this.
  2. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    Both of these S chips are Taiwanese ones - I think according to the sources I got them from?. I was chatting with Peter at Dutch Audio Classics, and he thinks the N2 Dutch made chips are amazing.
     
  3. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    The R1 is great, theres no real reason to change it to be honest - I think you'll really like the Orchid out of the box by what you have said. I think if I can find some money I will try an N2 at some point so I can complete the set, and then maybe source out one of these 97-98 standard chips @Mike P talks about
     
  4. k90tour

    k90tour pfm Member

    Yes, I'm going to consider an Orchid for the future. I've decided that I prefer the Audionote TDA1543 DAC than the Marantz CD94 with the TDA1541. I've spent hours going back and fourth. I think if the Marantz was modified it would be amazing. Someone has a Marantz CD12/DAS12 KI version on Ebay. £7500! That might just be the one. But for someone else.
    Thanks for your reviews.
     
    The Chronicals likes this.
  5. Mike P

    Mike P pfm Member

    An explanation of the serial numbers is available here:

    http://www.dutchaudioclassics.nl/Philips-TDA1541.asp

    Although the 1988 HSH chip did go to Taiwan for assembly it's the chips which actually have the word Taiwan printed at the end which people generally refer to a being 'produced' in Taiwan. By most peoples classification your S1 is Dutch and the S2 Taiwanese.

    The earliest Taiwan marked chip I have is 1994*.

    *Edit: actually, it's 1995. I do have a 94 chip but that's not marked Taiwan.

    Here's an extract from the same website which may explain why some find the chips made in 97 and 98 so good.


    The "select" version TDA1541A S1 progressed to become the TDA1541A S2, with an even stricter selective standard and a so-called double crown mark. In fact, previous "select" product levels were ealisy exceeded through improvements in the manufacturing process and manufacturing precision of the device.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2018
    The Chronicals likes this.
  6. The Chronicals

    The Chronicals Disruptor

    Interesting, that may explain the more 'linear' sound in the S1 I have. I definitely think I'll have to try this N2 , apparently "Thanks to manufacturing techniques around in 1995/1997 Philips was able to produce this chip with a performance which was better then the older S1 chip. So for price/quality this N2 chip is a stunner"
     
  7. Cesare

    Cesare pfm Member

    My understanding of the design of these multi-bit converters is that they contain a set of resistors which have been trimmed to be as close as possible to the sequence R, 2R, 4R, 8R etc, one for each bit of the digital signal. Due to manufacturing variation, these will actually be more like R, 1.9998R, 4.0002R etc, and the deviation from the perfect sequence is what is being measured as part of the binning process.

    Notice that this means that for a given version (say R1 or S1) there is no 'chip sound' since different instances can have their deviation from the perfect sequence in different places, so you'll potentially have two R1s, for example, having their deviation from perfect appearing in more or less audible places.

    BTW, I grew up with these converters and still have a player from the 80s that uses it, and it sounds mighty fine.
     
    The Chronicals and Mike P like this.
  8. thunderdomme

    thunderdomme New Member

    Hi guys, this is my first post from here, as I wanted to share my experiences here too.
    I´m a MHDT orchid owner since August (I´m the one who purchased it from Ebay from a very kindly UK audiophile/compatriot yours).

    First of all, the review posted here is very accurate in my opinion, very close to the reality ;)


    I always wanted to try a TDA1541 based DAC, as I´m feeling since long time some “rebirth” from the famous R2R NOS dacs against the currently and widely used Delta-sigma dacs (and now specially with the high-tech ESS 9038pro dacs). Oh yes I´ve owned the Chord 2qute too… and frankly to me it was a total disappointment, very “hollywood-sci fi hifi sound”.

    To my mind, it seems to be that more and more people are claiming a “more analog and natural” sound for their Hifi systems, aiming for a mix of “feeling with a tinge of nostalgia”.. that´s why TDA1541 chip (among others) is always a reference from the beginning of the golden era of early digital players.


    I´m a declared perfectionist, an audiophile that wants to try as much material as possible, tweaking/improving it at the maximum that the device is capable of… trying to find the sweet spot in my system, according to my tastes.


    At the moment of the purchase of the Orchid, I don´t really need it frankly, as I was pretty satisfied with my Rega DAC-R. Despite being a Delta-sigma dac (it uses 2x Wolfson 8742 D/A) it´s conception is very minimalistic and it follow a similar path about using the minimal processing/manipulation of the signal as possible ( No upsampling here, nor digital volume control or DSD decoding without any other fireworks). But it has a nice “house” sound, similar to Naim that I find it very attractive and a true foot tapping. The soundstage is impressive, huge, and in general it´s very enjoyable. BUT, as always I was curious and I wanted to try the MHDT and compare it against my Rega in my equipment.


    The stock orchid sounds good, with a transparency levels a bit uncommon for a tube based dac: it´s detailed and articulate at the top but above all , it has a nice, beautiful midrange. It Clearly showed its strengths more easily playing with instrumental / vocal music: Here is when it shines, you can feel the good, rich and natural tone.

    The bass was correct (but nothing special, however) and it was there… but on the other hand it didn´t have the slam or weight of the Rega and its soundstage was a bit more shrinked in comparison… also, I felt the top extreme of the Rega to be more revealing and resolving (but this could be normal, because of the nature of the NOS function, without any digital filter applied) so in the end I was partially divided between the two. If I could choose the strengths of the two in a single unit, it would be the perfect Dac for the price.

    But here comes the best part: the orchid is an absolute chameleon: In stock form when you get it from the factory yo need to think that it´s only a origin point, only the beginning of a path that if you take care of choosing the right components, it rewards you with a much better sound that In the end it´s worth the upgrade.

    To get the best of the Orchid, I strongly recommend doing the following:



    1 ) Replace the stock R1 chip. I talked with Peter from Duchaudioclassics and I purchased a N2 “new old stock / never used” chip , latest batch from year ’97 “HBH” code. For me, it clearly had the best price/performance ratio, and for about 85€ with whipping included it was a good point and for an upgrade.

    On the other hand I asked for the price from a S2 double crown (as you know, the “holy grail” of the TDA1541 production) from him but I was shocked when I knew the price… he sells it for a whopping 800€ !! Almost the cost of another Orchid…. So in the end, it wasn´t for me.



    What about the final result? Not completely day/night , but to sum up I will say that the N2 chip is clearly superior to the stock R1. The midrange is even more accurate, with a touch more fuller/organic sound in general , plus an increased sense of transparency and treble definition, without a hint of aggresive.



    As an Orchid owner, I highly recommend upgrading the chip for a N2, at last. It gives you a even more polished sound and elevates its performance a bit more, without breaking the bank.

    One thing to note: I even tried some interesting solutions for chip rolling, going more far than a proper TDA1541A chip.

    For example a X8 TDA1387 paralleled dac adapter (and this probably could be the 4th best Phillips multibit chip of the history and it was sadly forgotten… Funny thing it was the chip used into the Sound Blaster AWE 64 sound cards ).



    This is the converter I tried: https://www.ebay.es/itm/HIFI-8-para...e=STRK:MEBIDX:IT&_trksid=p2057872.m2748.l2649

    And this one too ( but 4 chips) https://www.ebay.es/itm/1PC-new-4-p...e=STRK:MEBIDX:IT&_trksid=p2057872.m2749.l2649


    BUT sadly they DON´T work in the Orchid, so don´t waste your money here… This type of replacement based in the 1387 chips, works in some players and dacs but the designers of these modules warns that it may don´t work in some desings, so it´s not a 100% guaranteed drop-in replacement. In the end, with the Orchid I confirm that unfortunately these modules don´t work, as they are incompatible.

    It´s a pity because with these modules sounds surpringsly good, and for 9 € they are a real bargain. maybe a steal and worth a try if you have one cd player that uses the TDA1541 chip.



    2) Replace the stock tube. The original GE tube isn´t bad, it certainly has a good balance and it maintains a good overall compromise, but there are much better tubes out there that can turn the Orchid into a much more capable musical machine, and this dac is VERY sensitive to Tube rolling as you probably have read.

    I have purchased a special tube adapter in order to allow me install regular e88cc/6dj8 tubes into the 6N3 type tube socket that Mhdt uses, as I had already some of these tubes around in my house. If you want to do more tube rolling, you may want to buy an adapter like this.
    I have tried a small selection tubes: Tesla PCC88 (good punch and overall balanced, but the highs are a bit rolled off), Siemens ECC85 (more cheap than the ECC88 equivalents, OK tube, clean but a bit thin sounding), Telefunken PCC88 (very good and almost identical performance than its E88CC equivalents, more cheaper) but for me, when the Orchid really shined was with the Mullard CV2493 military-selected low noise. Creamy mids, good punch and "liquid" treble, airy and open sounding.


    I *highly* recommend investing in a good tube instead of other "tweaks" (see later) that matches your system the best as possible. For now, I find the Mullard valve to be a very good match for the Orchid, extracting all the juice of the DAC and giving a very good results, but of course there are a lot of other good sounding tubes, just need try the best for your system/tastes.


    3) Other tweaks. Without going into deep modifications to the unit (void warranty and other possible headaches, not always for a better sound, just "different") , along with the tube rolling other interesant tweak would be the fuse. Yes, upgrading the fuse changes the sound character too, but according to my test, I have realized that the designer has voiced/engineered the MHDT orchid with the stock fuse (glass Bussmann/Eaton brand) in mind. This means that going with "boutique" fuses has an effect of "tuning" the sound (like an "EQ") but not always for better sound. In fact, the sound is worse, and I have tried supposedly the best fuse on the market, the newest Synergistic research Blue.



    Other fuses I have tried:



    AMR gold
    Synergistic research black
    Padis
    Schurter SMD/SPT gold plated ends (inexpensive)
    Eaton/bussman ceramic fuse (inexpensive)
    Aucharm silver alloy (chinese, affordable)
    Each of them has its own character, you only need to try to hear it, if your system is a resolving one (and in case you don´t have "wood ears" ) , but I need to admit that the sock nickel glass fuse brings the most accurate sound signature that better complements the orchid: Tight bass, very good mids and airy treble. Just sound good.


    Enjoy!
     
    The Chronicals likes this.
  9. s1h1

    s1h1 performing within expectations

    Can't beat Dutch customer service!
     
    cromodora and Dave***t like this.
  10. thunderdomme

    thunderdomme New Member

    Yes, absolutely!
     
  11. davidbea

    davidbea New Member

    Does the Mullard CV2493 drop in to the original socket or do you need an adapter?
    Thanks
    David



     
  12. thunderdomme

    thunderdomme New Member

    Hi David, you MUST use an adapter for this Mullard or any E88CC / ECC88 / 6DJ8 type you want to use, as they use a different pinout compared to the 5670 (6N3) stock tube type used in all MHDT Dacs.
    I purchased this one: https://www.ebay.es/itm/1piece-Gold...670461?hash=item4b525244bd:g:qc8AAOSwJ6NbxxBH
     
  13. davidbea

    davidbea New Member

    Thanks. With the adapter is it a simple matter of plugging it in or do I need to adjust bias or anything?
    Thanks again.
    David
     

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