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REVIEW: MHDT Labs Stockholm 2
audio360.org> > Amps & DACs > > REVIEW: MHDT Labs Stockholm 2

Friday, July 4th, 2014

by Arly Borges & Kevin Venable


We reviewers read reviews too.

That might be hard to fathom, as we have all kinds of cool gear just laying around waiting for us to listen to it, right? Kevin has a few reviewers whom he admires for the way they describe their experiences with the gear and the music. He feels attuned to their approach, and possibly attuned his approach to listening from their writing. Needless to say, sometimes while reading a review that piece of gear seems to scream that he absolutely needs to hear it!

We are sure you know exactly what we mean.

That was the case with the MHDT Labs Stockholm v2 that was reviewed by Jeff Day over at Positive Feedback online: http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue71/mhdt_dac.htm

Bits and Pieces

The Stockholm V2 is the newest DAC from MHDT Labs, which builds off their previous DAC, the Havana.

Although it sports the same dual PCM56P DAC architecture as the Havana, the Stockholm has asynchronous USB implementation and sports a different digital receiver capable of accepting 192/24 bit files. The Havana can only accept files as high as 96 kHz.

Disclaimer: While the Stockholm accepts 192/24, like the Havana, it still outputs at 16 bit. Specs are as follows:

  • Digital Receiver Cirrus Logic CS8416
  • D/A converter Burr Brown PCM56P-J (pair)
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 18 kHz (กำ 2dB)
  • Output impedance: 32 ohms
  • Output level: 1.1 Vrms
  • USB input 16, 24 bits 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz no drivers required
  • USB input supports Linux, Windows XP, SP2, SP3, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Apple Mac.
  • USB input can be synchronous or asynchronous depends on firmware installed
  • All other inputs (SPDIF) 16, 24 bits 32 kHz up to 192 kHz
  • Dimensions clear (W x D X H) 276 x 150 x 60 mm
  • Dimensions w/ socket (W x D X H) 295 x 170 x 60 mm
  • Weight 2 kg
  • Tubes: 5670, 2C51, 396A, 6385, 6CC42, 6854, 6N3, 6854, CV2575, CV4013, CV5894, CV8247, CV2381

The Stockholm is very plain at first glance. I'm not saying the form factor is cheap, truth be known it's built as sturdy as a tank. MHDT Labs chose a non gimmicky, no frills sort of appearance and instead chose to invest all they could into the guts of the unit, thereby producing a piece of gear whose sonic attributes are excellent. Arly thought it looked quite nice with his Schiit Vali stacked on top.

The body of the unit is made of brushed aluminium panels with the words MHDT Labs punched through, running across the top of the unit in the back. The front is a dark semi-transparent chunk of hard glass which allows the user to see inside when the tube is glowing.

On the top of the chassis you have the DACs tube partially sticking out of a sun-like stylized circular opening. The tube glow was very soothing on the eyes during listening sessions.

The fit and finish is excellent, with no misaligned panels or protruding screws. Overall, in our opinion, the Stockholm has a very clean, straight-forward appearance that we like very much.

Arly

The Stockholm's sonics provided a very interesting listening experience for me. Overall, the micro-detail in the mids were very transparent. The extension on both ends was excellent (far-reaching) and the highs had sparkle, while retaining a smooth character, thereby avoiding any metallic tinge. The bass had a nice full-bodied sort of feel while avoiding bloat. For me, the Stockholm's two strongest suits are its timbre and overall musicality.

The most accurate headphone in my possession with regards to timbre is the Fostex T50rp Paradox. With the Stockholm as the anchor of my digital audio chain, and the Vali pulling amplifier duties, my Paradox sounded like I've never heard it before. The music flowed effortlessly. The mids seemed to ooze a little more micro-detail while the soundstage's depth, height, and width expanded just a tad more than what I'm accustomed to hearing. For me, it was probably the most realistic sound I've ever heard from my Paradox, and it seemed the Stockholm and Paradox were created for each other. Out of all the headphones I tried; the Paradox, for me, was the most enjoyable with the Stockholm in the signal path.

Next up was my Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog. The Alpha Dog, compared to the Paradox, is more capable, more revealing. The bass is quicker and more linear, and the mids are more detailed. The transient attack on the Alpha Dog is excellent, with quick, clean note decay. Unlike the Paradox, which has more realistic-sounding treble; the Alpha Dogs aggressive highs can sound slightly off at times: resulting in its overall timbre taking a hit. With the Stockholm anchoring the digital audio chain the Alpha Dog took a step forward and its highs seemed to smooth out more while remaining extended. Linearity was solid. I noticed the bass seemed slightly more forward than what I'm used to with the Alpha Dog. Tonality, while not as accurate as the Paradox, took a giant leap forward with brass, trumpets, horns etc., sounding far closer to the real instruments. The Alpha Dog sounded just as quick and clean as ever.

Impressed with the sound at that point: I swapped out my Alpha Dog for my AKG Q701. In my experience the Q701 is the most demanding of the three headphones I tried, requiring a resolute audio signal-path. Without the right chain it can sound brittle, metallic, and anemic. Its timbre can sound God awful at times. With the Stockholm acting as the digital anchor and the Vali driving the Q701, the sonics were spectacular. By far the quickest, compared to the Alpha Dog and Paradox, it retained its speed while the mids and bass filled out with snap and punch. Spatial cues are the Q701s strong suit, and they were perfect. The soundstage, height, width, and depth became wonderfully holographic. Although the Paradox was the most enjoyable pairing with the Stockholm, the Q701 seemed to sonically benefit the most from the pairing.

The most endearing attribute of the Stockholm was how much fun I had listening to my music with it in the signal chain. Music I've listened to thousands of times before flowed and enveloped me while I watched the mellow glow of the Stockholm's tube. I ended up tapping my toes and bobbing my head to the beat. I found myself losing track of time while listening to Random Access Memories by Daft Punk, and I felt my body twitching and moving to the beat while my brain was slammed by fast, tight bass from the Vegas album by The Crystal Method. If that wasn't amusing enough: try picturing a forty-three year-old man air guitaring away in his seat to song after song of his eighties Iron Maiden collection! When a simple DAC, due to its musicality, is able to make a middle aged guy like myself do all that you know its doing something right!

Kevin

To be frank I adore the Stockholm v2. I'm going to purchase it as my main reference DAC for music playback. It's well-built, sounds superb, and is a joy to look at. Really, what more could you want?

It's been used in many of my reviews, including the SPL Phonitor 2 and Cavalli Audio Liquid Glass (publishing soon) always showcasing its musicality. In daily use with either my Woo Audio WA7 or ModWright LS-100, it breathed life into everything from Spotify to 24/192 files. In fact it did such a wonderful job with streaming music that I eventually found it indispensable. I can't wait til I get it back from Arly and pair it up with the newly released Amarra sQ!

That doesn't mean there weren't a few problems along my way to bliss. My main digital playback machine is a 2011 MacBook Pro, and when connected to the MHDT the Mac's audio setup only found up to the 48khz bit rate. This wasn't the case with my 2013 MacBook Pro which worked fine. Unfortunately, as all my music and Amarra licenses are on the older Mac, so it was an issue for me. I ended up pairing the Stockholm v2 with a Miniwatt N4 used as a USB to SPDIF converter to get around this problem. That is how my system remained for the rest of the review. The following impressions were gathered with the following rig:

  • Amarra 2.5.1
  • 2011 MacBook Pro
  • Miniwatt N4
  • MHDT Stockholm v2
  • ModWright LS-100 (being used as a headphone amp into my Beyerdynamic T1).

Virtuoso electronic composer Amon Tobin's "Surge - 16bit remix" was like liquid. The bass flowed with precision, thumping and grinding while the metallic scrapes and punches floated above, circling like osprey staring into the oceanic depths. The rumble from the low-end in Lorn's "Ghosst" was impressive. This system handled the bass with both power and grace. The drum work of Neil Peart on Rush's "SubDivisions" was shown in all its intricate detail. In fact, the layers of the song were stripped away, the timbre of each individual instrument was easily definable, and yet the cohesion of the whole remained in all its musical glory.

The guitar of Kenny Burrell on the 24/192 remaster of "Chile Con Carne" was sublime. The attack had bite, and the decay had the right amount of air, making the notes seemingly dance over the latin percussion. The airy bite of Lee Morgan's trumpet had authority without losing the bounce inherent in his approach to Totem Pole from His Sidewinder album. Minnesota Symphony Orchestra's wonderful recording of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances is one of my all time favorite classical recordings. The dynamics and tone of the recording were superbly rendered with the Stockholm v2. The weight of the notes is what shocked me. Whether heavy or light, their impact drew me into the music with ease. Ola Gjeilo's solo and multiple piano pieces from Piano Improvisations showed a balanced frequency response, allowing for the micro-dynamics of the pieces to shine. I absolutely loved the tone of the piano from this system. Simply gorgeous!

"In the Arms of Sleep" by the Smashing Pumpkins flowed over me with its melancholic balance of beauty and chaos. The sadistic lullabye beckoned me into the welcoming arms of a nightmare. This is what music should be: an emotional connection between you and the artist, the music a vehicle to take you somewhere new. With the MHDT Stockholm v2 in my system this powerful force was allowed to flow freely time and time again.

Conclusion

Overall, we have to give the Stockholm top marks across the board.

With its realistic and downright fun character, coupled with its excellent technical capabilities it's a winner in our book. With an MSRP of just over $1000 dollars it's not a bang for the buck piece of gear, but for its accomplishments, in our book, its well-worth every penny.

If you're in the market for a new DAC, the Stockholm V2 is a must try!

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