MHDT Orchid versus MHDT Pagoda..which one is best?...and why?

Interested in feedback as to which one between these two DACs are most preferred and why. They are both stock, except tubes installed are the WE 396A tube and the Orchid has TDA 1541A S2 crown chip upgrade. Although only the Pagoda passes 192kHz, that in itself is not being considered here in this thread...If any of my audio brethren have had the opportunity to experience/compare these two units side by side, please contribute. Speculation, although appreciated, is only a matter of opinion. 
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I believe at least a member or two on this forum has contrasted these. I have the Orchid and really like it but can’t comment on your question. But definitely search the forum for those keywords.

There's an Orchid group on Facebook, too.

Also, a friend sent me this:

Brighter: GE 5670 5-star (stock tube); a good tube.

Softer: Tesla 6cc42 (both Les and I run this now); great midpoint tube. 

Extra soft: Western Electric 2C51 / WE396

I hope that helps.
Very few people hear both the Orchid and Pagoda in proximity, out of the relatively few who hear both DACs under any circumstances. The reason is the two DACs address somewhat different priorities and appeal to different preferences and people.

Orchid is a 16 bit DAC. The receiver chip can accept up to 24/192 signal but the TDA1541x will only process the 16 most significant bits of 24 bit material. These older R2R chips, and I include the PCM56x family and the TDA1545x generally, can deliver a musically-convincing presentation that errs toward the euphonic, delivers very good tone density, have good dynamic punch, and are more forgiving of mediocre digital material than most modern DACs due to their less-than-ultimate resolution. When implemented well wrt their context circuitry, these vintage 16 bit R2R DACs have a direct, authentic sound. This is certainly true for Orchid.

Pagoda uses the PCM1704x, last of the mainstream R2R chips, but a more modern, legitimate 24 bits DAC. Compared to Orchid (and Canary, Stockholm 2, even Havana) the Pagoda has what immediately strikes you as a more objective, incisive sound, with more extensive spatial projection and heard resolution, even on 16 bit material. There is simply more revealed nuance, distinct separation of transient events in music, through Pagoda than Orchid. Not everyone thinks this is better. Pagoda is definitely less forgiving of poor material than Orchid. It demands (or at least more obviously rewards) better sources, for its resolving power will lay bare deficiencies in recordings, spinners and streamers. Pagoda has all of the tone density and shove we expect from R2R DACs. It is musically-convincing on good material and sources but unlike Orchid and the other mhdt 16 bit DACs, musicality isn't enforced on poorer recordings and / or sources to the same degree.

The Orchid and its 16 bit mhdt relatives essentially enforce musicality, which flags their lesser objectivity relative to Pagoda. Which of course many people will prefer. On the other hand, Pagoda can reveal more of what's captured in your digital recordings and lay out a more generous, dimensioned, soundstage, but you are more responsible for configuring for musicality through your system equipment and listening material choices.

In mhdt, I started out with Havana (and Havana Balanced), skipped Stockholm, bought Atlantis, Pagoda and Pagoda Balanced. I wouldn't give up Pagoda's spaciousness, tone, resolving power and ability to process 24 bit material to gain the intrinsic musicality that Orchid enforces partly by resolving less information. But you're less likely to have to upgrade something else in your system upon making a DAC purchase if you buy Orchid over Pagoda. Mhdt DACs have generally had an intrinsic musicality. Outside of their briefly-made AKM delta-sigma DAC, Pagoda is the most different of the line.

The two mhdt DACs that neatly split the difference between the Orchid and Pagoda, are Atlantis and Istanbul. The Atlantis, using the AD1862N 20 bit R2R chip, has the essential bias toward objective sound that the Pagoda has, but is significantly more forgiving of flawed material and sources. Istanbul, built around the 18 bit PCM61x mixes musicality and objectivity to be reasonable at both. Both have receiver chips that can intake up to 24/192.

All of the above are improved across the board by using tube socket adaptors enabling 6922 tubes instead of the 5670 family. All gain in spatial projection, dynamics and scale. The 16 bit models gain some measure of added objectivity, and the Pagoda gains a little enforced musicality. Atlantis and Istanbul get more of what they already are.

Which is better? Depends on priorities, and wrt Pagoda, your openness to possibly having to upgrade a source. Which is preferred? For me, Pagoda. Not because I wouldn't enjoy the sound of an Orchid. Pagoda just reveals more of the intricacies in music played through it. The more euphonic Orchid is, however, easy and fun.


Phil...Very eloquent presentation of your position and experience on these two DACs. It is greatly appreciated! What are your feelings of how the reproduction aspect is affected in an Orchid having the S2 double crown 1541 chip when compared to a stock Orchid?  Any other cents worthiness out there? Thanx! Jeff
Upgrading Orchid to 1541 Crown or Double Crown will definitely up that DAC's game. You can find some extensive commentary on the web AMR's experience with each. The Crown, and Double Crown, IME, reinforce the already good aspects of the 1541 rather than change it into something else. When I had Havana Balanced some years back I did two chip upgrades in the PCM56x and found same to be true. What changed Havana to a shade more objective presentation was installing the AD1856, which is pin-compatible. I could later say that it moved the Havana in the direction of Atlantis.

So I think the Crown/Double Crown upgrades are worthwhile, but just expect Orchid to get better in the ways it's already good.

I have not heard the Orchid. But I have owned a stock Havana and now own a heavily modified Pagoda that was purchased from Agon member C_avila. As Phil states, the Pagoda has a lot more resolution than other MHDT DACs while retaining the natural, unforced sound that R2R dacs are known for. I did compare it to a Level 1 Pavane a couple years ago, and it couldn't be unseated. I am hesitant to even bring in anything else, that's how happy I am with the Pagoda.


Ozzy. Would you be so kind as to reveal the "heavy" modifications done to your Pagoda? And did GrannyRing perform them? Thanx! Jeff
(4) Vishay TX2575 resistors
(2) Shinkoh resistors
(2) Relcap Teflon capacitors
(2) Jupiter capacitors
(2) Sonicap Platinum output coupling capacitors

I don't think grannyring did the mods, I think the original owner did.


Hi Phil,
Any idea where the MHDT Canary lies in the euphonic scale, as compared to the Orchid?
It's been quite awhile since I last listened through a Canary, and haven't heard the Orchid & Canary juxtaposed for listening. Note also that Canary is substantially less expensive than Orchid, which I assume is largely due to the 1541 chip being scarcer and more expensive than the 1545. Canary has discrete transistors current>voltage conversion whereas Orchid has an opamp in that role.

My memory of the two is that Orchid is essentially a richer-toned Canary. I consider them about equally euphonic (as in forgiving, and "wrong" in a good way) but Orchid is more vivid and I think dynamically it has more slam.

I really want to thank 213 cobra for the information on the different MHDT dacs.  A really nice informative discussion on the chracteristics of the 2 differnt dacs. It was an wonderful discussion
thank you so  much. It helped me steer a "newbie" to our hobby to this post.
Best wishes

I'm gong to enter this post on this thread merely to help it rise once again in the lineup and ask if anyone has any new experience to share here, since the thread was last active in August of 2021. (Gee how time flies!)

Any experience to share here? Anyone?

Member Terry London did a review a few years ago where he directly compared the clue, and I believe he found the Pagoda to sound quite a bit better than the Orchid if you run it balanced.  You can find the review with a search but was probably in Stereo Times or  Hope this helps.

Just a quick follow-up. I think this comparison between the Orchid and the Pagoda that might be of interest to others.

For the last week I've had the opportunity to listen to a Pagoda (non-balanced version) in my system and compare it to my Orchid.

I find the descriptions available here and elsewhere on the internet to be accurate. Both DACs excel at musicality. The Pagoda provides more detail, but not in an annoying way. 

Here are a couple of attempts at describing what I hear.

Through the Orchid, pianos tend to sound like big Steinways or Bosendorfers. Through the Pagoda they sound like they could be top-of -the-line Yamahas or Baldwins. Which is more accurate? I don't know.

I'd describe the Orchid as more ballsy, funkier. Meatier on the bass, upper bass, lower midrange and midrange.

The Pagoda is a little tighter in the bass and has a lot more resolution in the treble. 

The Orchid has more body, when it comes to the cello.

The Pagoda has more bow sound.

I hope that makes sense.

I could live with either. 

I do think the treble of the Pagoda requires a compatible interconnect. Otherwise the treble can come across a little shrill.

This is my experience in my system. YMMV.