Musical Paradise MP-301 Mk 3 Vacuum Tube Integrated/Headphone Amplifier and MP-D1 Vacuum Tube USB DAC
Musical Paradise is a Canadian company that designs audio equipment in Canada, but builds it in China. The MP-301 Mk 3 carries the very affordable price of $302, which, when you look at the amp, is quite remarkable. I have previously reviewed (elsewhere) both the Mk 1 and Mk 2 iteration of the MP-301 amplifier, and in both of those versions I found the quite inexpensive tube amp to sound good, but to be a little finicky. Some degree of hum was difficult to eradicate in both prior versions depending on tubes and headphones that were used. With quiet tubes and headphones that were not both super-high efficiency and low impedance, the earlier versions of the MP-301 provided a very compelling musical headphone listening experience for the money.
The Mk 3 version of this amplifier is physically larger and has some new features. Perhaps most interesting is support for the 6550 vacuum tube, in addition to the EL34 and 6L6. The preamp tube remains the 6SJ7, which is actually a sharp-cutoff pentode but I believe in the MP-301 it is being used triode-strapped. The amp comes with Chinese EL34 and 6SJ7 equivalent tubes. I tried these, and while the amp sounded good with them I quickly substituted vintage tubes, which sounded better. I used Tung-Sol 6SJ7GT's, and either GE 6550's or Mullard EL34's. Granted those tubes cost about as much as the amp itself, but I wanted to see what the MP-301 could do with the best tubes I have.
The MP-301 Mk 3 has a headphone/speaker selector switch, as well as two inputs with a selector. There is a 1/4" headphone jack on the front, and speaker taps on the back. The MP-301 is transformer-coupled, so it's best to have a load attached when the amp is powered on. It's nice looking for a budget amplifier, and in fact, when I looked over at it, it was very hard for me to keep in mind that it only cost $300.
That said, there are a few "quirks" to the MP-301 Mk 3. Like previous versions, some tubes produced an audible hum with headphones. To some extent this is just the way tube amps are, and I have found with other amps I have owned that use the 6SJ7 that this tube in particular is prone to hum. It is also important to note that the provided stock tubes were very quiet. But if you are an avid tube-roller and you want a dead silent amp this isn't a good choice. Also, the MP-301 did NOT like being right next to the MP-D1 DAC. Significant EMI/RFI noise was audible through headphones when the units were right next to each other. When they were a few feet apart, it was not an issue.
The MP-D1 USB/DAC is also pretty impressive in terms of build quality for a DAC in this price range, as well as its capabilities---24/192K USB, 24/96 via COAX/Toslink. Switches allow the choice of TOS, Coax, or USB. High end AKM DAC chips are used, as are some high quality parts. And then there are the tubes in the output section---the almost ubiquitous (for DAC use) 5670/2C51. Actually, the amp is supplied with the Chinese equivalent, the 6N3, but MP sells better tubes. I used the Sylvania JAN-5670, which is a +$30 option from Musical Paradise. Musical Paradise sells direct via its website, musicalparadise.ca
I will focus mainly on the MP-301 in this review, but will make some comments on the MP-D1 DAC as well.