This will be a different kind of DAC review as I'm a die-hard analog guy and have had a real problem getting comfortable with digital. The stuff that does work for me; DSD, DACs that accept DSD as input and provide an internal DSP bypass lane to the DAC chip, PCM if it is converted to high-rate DSD via HQPlayer and tubes instead of SS in as many places as possible. Definitely not a mainstream take on things digital, so worth noting that these biases certainly shape my opinions here.
The Musical Paradise MP-D2 seems to be well aimed at me; it supports up to DSD256 native input (ASIO drivers on Windows only for DSD256), bypasses internal DSP when using this rate, has a tube output stage and tube rectified power supply and is affordable. I won't get into a detailed description of it as thats been well covered elsewhere, but it's Canadian designed, sold and supported but made in China - which might explain the affordable part. It is a tweakers delight with thumbscrew attachment of the replaceable coupling caps and switchable heater voltages for the rectifier and output tube positions, providing near endless possibilities for tube rolling. Kind of neat to read a short manual that seems to almost be encouraging sonic tailoring to taste using these variables too not your typical DAC!
Ordering went smooth and DHL tracking showed the DAC moving from HK to my doorstep in 3 days after order placement! Packaging was great, build quality appears first-rate and installation and configuration (installing ASIO drivers on my Windows 10 PC) went well; from the box to making music in about 20 minutes.
My existing digital system is described elsewhere but in a nutshell; the DAC is fed from a dedicated player PC running Roon server and Fidelizer with all material up-scaled to DSD256 (for this DAC) using HQPlayer. Source material is stored as wav, flac and dsf on a network connected NAS server and I often use Tidal and Internet radio for streaming. A Wireworld Starlight 7 USB cable connects to an Uptone Audio Regen USB conditioner, which is hard-connected to the DAC and powered by a linear/regulated DC power supply. Around for direct comparison is a Korg DS-DAC-10R ADC/DAC and AudioNote kit 2.1 DAC, a Resonessence Concero HD is recently departed but pretty fresh in my memory. The Korg (and Concero) were fed DSD128, the AN PCM 16/44.1.
Fresh out of the box, this is a pretty impressive DAC. Smooth, rich and involving, with a great way of painting a layered, detail soundscape that defies digital (to me anyway) and has me thinking nice analog from a good turntable instead of something out of a computer. Lucinda Williams' Little Honey (16/44.1 wav) pulled me in with rich guitar lines and jarring vocals like it never did before, and Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker (dsf) especially 'Oh My Sweet Carolina' with Emmylou Harris was just mesmerizing some of the best vocal presentation I've yet to hear out of my system.
Bass is solid, thick and charges the room better than any of my existing digital sources, with no sense of tubey looseness. From the snap of a snare, chest-hit of a bass drum to unique tones of the tabla, this DAC and the right recording was bringing out the very best in these old Altec woofers some nice synergy going on here.
On through my standard eval tracks and quickly into just listening and discovering for the shear pleasure of it, this DAC delivers in a satisfying, fatigue-free way that is just not something I'm used too with digital. I listened for hours on end to this from simple compressed Internet radio streams on up the some of the best recordings I have on digital without once having the run to the turntable for some relief; the marginal quality stuff was listenable, and the good stuff soared.
Was there downsides? Sure; it seemed a little closed in at times, maybe a little too intimate, and lacked some of the big air, bite and upper frequency bloom of the Concero and Korg perhaps errors of omission as some of this music should have some bite and edge. The AudioNote (at least on 16/44.1 material) seemed to have a more extended image size particularly in width and height and the AN seemed to again do the upper end better. The Korg and AN seemed to out 'hi-fi' the MP-D2, but it was the MP-D2 I wanted to listen too late into the night, which might be telling me something...
But this was new, fresh out of the box with little burn-in (if you believe in that), all stock base-line components. Maybe after 50 or 100 hours, maybe a different rectifier or a trip into the tube box to try some of those fancy pre-amp tubes I've amassed over the years. Or maybe coupling caps, one of the first places I go to after tubes when I want to flavor one of my tube amps to taste...
I like this DAC a lot in these initial days, and I suspect there is more here, which I'll keep plugging away at. Fun stuff, and more to come.
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