Musical Paradise MP-301 Mk 3 Vacuum Tube Integrated/Headphone Amplifier and MP-D1 Vacuum Tube USB DAC Page 2

The Musical Paradise MP-D1 Vacuum Tube DAC

Sound Quality: MP-301 Amp
The MP-301 Mk 3 has a classic vacuum tube sound---almost stereotypical tube sonics. It's warm, romantic, lush, and forgiving. That's something that will appeal to some people, and will match well with some headphones, but it will not appeal to others who prefer a more clear/neutral/bright sound, and will be a poor choice for headphones that are already very warm.

For those of you who are not familiar with vacuum tube sound, this does NOT mean that the MP-301 Mk 3 had flabby bass and no treble. The bass was full sounding, but was reasonably well defined and deep, especially keeping in mind that this is a $300 amp. The treble was clean and fairly well extended, although it is just a bit soft at the very top, and perhaps just a bit accentuated in the lower treble.

Ahh, but those mids. The luscious midrange is very attractive and addictive. The soundstage is also remarkably holographic, if not terrifically wide. But one definitely gets a very spacious soundstage through headphones with the MP-301, and one that really satisfies. Impressive for the price, to be sure.

I don't want to overstate the degree to which the MP-301 is warm/lush---it doesn't sound overtly colored. I still very much liked the MP-301 with the Audeze LCD-3, for example. I don't think that the LCD-3s are exactly warm, but they certainly are not bright. Nonetheless, the pairing was still very enjoyable. Listening to female vocals, like Patricia Barber's "Summer Samba" from "Nightclub" was a very pleasurable experience through the MP-301. This is one area where there is a lot to like about the Mk 3 amp's somewhat tubey presentation. Really, just about any clean, well recorded music sounded very good. Music that was sort of congested in recording wasn't helped by the MP-301 though, and could kind of sound just that way---congested. I have heard solid state amps that do a better job with that sort of recording---like Mastodon's "Bladecatcher" from "Blood Mountain". But at this price point, you can't have it all, and there are lots of things the MP-301 does right. I liked the Musical Paradise with jazz, vocals, classical, and cleanly recorded folk/indie rock more than I did with bombastic Goth Metal (which is a genre I greatly enjoy).

MusicalParadise_MPD1_Photo_Rear

Rear Panel of the MP-D1 DAC.

Sound Quality: MP-D1 DAC
Here again, in a word---SMOOTH. There is plenty of detail, although for sure the MP-D1 is not the last word in detail. Very good detail for its price class, yes, but it does not set any benchmarks here. That said, in terms of musicality, it is one of the best I have heard in the under $1K price range. The sound was utterly unfatiguing, spacious, relaxed, and engaging. The presentation is definitely on the lush/romantic side of things, but not so far to seem like a coloration. It's less "tubey", in absolute terms, than the MP-301 is. There is no issue at all with extension at either frequency extreme. Bass response is very good, and has nice weight to it. Again, it's not the very last word in bass definition, but the bass doesn't seem sloppy or loose in any way without direct comparison to something like my much more extensive Red Wine Audio Isabellina Pro. The mids were natural and organic. I have heard greater overall transparency, but the MP-D1 doesn't come off as thick or veiled, either. At the risk of sounding trite or repeating myself, it comes across as musical in the best use of the term. I simply enjoyed listening to music through it.

Some Comparisons
The interest in products at the entry price levels is the highest of any, in my experience. LOTS of people want better sound but do not have $2K to spend on a headphone amp. Happily, there are quite a few options these days in budget headphone amps. Even tube-based ones. The MP-301 costs about the same as the Schiit Valhalla, for example, although the OTL (Output Transformer-Less) Valhalla "prefers" a different headphone than the MP-301 does, in that it works better with high-efficiency, high-impedance headphones. And there are solid state options aplenty in this price range, including the Meier Audio ROCK that I recently reviewed and liked. The MP-301's slight fussiness for me means that it's likely better for someone who will value the speaker drive capability, or who really wants to experience how different tubes can sound from solid state amplification. For a small desktop system that includes a nearfield monitor with the option for headphone listening, the MP-301 is hard to beat, and it delivers a huge heaping helping of good sound for the asking price.

The DAC market is even more crowded at this price range! For example, I like the Schiit Audio Bifrost DAC a lot---I have been using it in my basement system for quite some time. It's $200 cheaper than the MP-D1, and has about the same feature set. It sounds different, though---the MP-D1 is more warm/lush, whereas the Schiit is more on the neutral side. The Schiit is more transparent and has slightly better detail, but the MP-D1 is a little "prettier" sounding. Definitely they will serve different audiences. There are quite a few other very good choices at or below the MP-D1's price, and I don't think the MP-D1 is the screaming value that the MP-301 mk3 is. But it's a happy thing that there are multiple paths to musical bliss.

It probably bears noting as well that one should not expect miracles with either of these products. While quite good in their respective price classes (the MP-301 especially), both products were notably outclassed by my higher end units, like the Leben CS-300 on the amp side and the AVA Vision Hybrid DAC on the DAC side. You get nice products for the money with these musical Paradise units, but you don't get "giant killers".

Summary
The MP-301 Mk 3 is a very good sounding amplifier for the money. It wears its tube topology on its sleeve, both physically and sonically. Love it for that, or pass. But if you think it's a good thing, then you get a LOT of product for your $300 here.

On the other hand, while not at all finicky, at its asking price of $550, I think the MP-D1 is a good product, but not a "no-brainer" value. If you are searching for a DAC in the $500 price range with USB plus coax/toslink inputs and crave a bit of the warmth of tubes, it delivers good sound and is certainly worth consideration, but doesn't represent the same level of "wow what a value" that the MP-301 does. That said, the two together are a nice pairing. There is a good quantity of very nice products at the entry level of headphone amplification these days, and Musical Paradise has contributed a good one to the group!

Resources
Musical Paradise home page, MP-301 and MP-D1 product pages.
Skylab's Head-Fi review of 32 tube and hybrid headphone amps.

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COMMENTS
Vic's picture

I don't really care for the tube sound myself but I have to admit the amp looks far more expensive than $300. Definitely an achievement on some level. And it's always good to have more choices in the budget range. 

Frank I's picture

Nice review. Try the EI KT90 and see if you like them better Rob. Inexpensive amp for sure. The only concern I would have is the humming issue. But for a little money I am impressed it can do bothe EL 34 and 6650. The GE are bass masterts too but the KT90 is a legendary tube that does it all well and is indestructable.  It is too bad EI went  during the war.

Impulse's picture

Been luring around Inner Fidelity for a while as I researched various headphone upgrades I've made this year (Ety hf3, DT 880, M-80)... This article finally convinced me to register so I could post. The amp does seem like an awesome value, did you try it at all with speakers? I've actually been looking to upgrade the cheap little T-amp that I'm using to run my Infinity Primus P163... Figured I'd just end up with something like Audioengine's N22. I'm also interested in trying out a tube amp with my Beyer DT 880 tho, since a lot of people seem to think it's an ideal pairing... This little amp could knock out two birds with one stone for me (the Infinity speakers also happen to be pretty bright). How well would it work with 250 ohm DT 880's?

Skylab's picture

Didn't have any Beyers to test it with unfortunately.  It is very nice with speakers, though, as long as you pair it with speakers and environment where a low wattage tube amp is a good choice.

gtube's picture

Hi Rob, Thanks for your unbiased review. I want to point out a small typo here. Schiit Audio Bifrost with USB 2.0 option is actually $449. The MP-D1 is actually $100 more than it. Not $200. 

Skylab's picture

Ooops! Sorry about that typo.

MacedonianHero's picture

Great write up Rob (as usual)! Nice to see a good tube amp come in at such a reasonable price.

Cheers!

Skylab's picture

Peter, Frank, thanks for your posts!

The Federalist's picture

Skylab I know you are inundated with requests for comparisons so I apologize up front, but do you think the MP-301 holds its own against your average older/ low profile intergrated amps like a Sansui AU-317 or NAD-7125 or Pioneer SA510 for headphone use? Not those models specifically, just as a generalization. 

I know you roll with the bigger power wars era receivers ala SX-1250 and 9900 but I assume you've spend some time with lesser models. 

I like the idea of the MP-301 as a desktop unit for my LCD2's but also am debating using a decent low profile integrated. I've pretty much soured to the idea of dedicated headphone amps. 

Does the MP-301 stack up in this context?

 

 

jazzer's picture

I have owned and used this integrated amp for almost a year now. Of all of the audio products I have bought through the years, this amp is one of the most consistently satisfying amps I have owned. It is also probably the least known headphone amp. Whether it's vinyl or CD, my Sennheiser HD 600s sound their best through this amp. The O2 is good; the Musical Paradise makes music come alive. Well worth the money.

AudioERB's picture

Sorry to be the bad news in this forum but wanted to let everyone know that this may not be a good buy after all. I bought mine 2/25/2014. Left channel had significant buzzing noise while the right was silent. Tried to remedy the situation with the owner and was unable to find the cause or fix it. I was told that there's nothing to be done since I have very sensitive speakers, 104db. Yet the right channel was fine. I find that excuse to be a cop out. Since the amp is relatively cheap, I just decided to put up with it. Today I find that the amp is completely dead, no power at all. I have an email in to the owner and hoping for the best. May be time to shop for another amp from a company that will take the quality and service a bit more seriously.

prettysia's picture

Does this amp output any low-level hiss through your speakers/headphones when no music is playing? I'm considering this amp for a near field setup and I'm VERY picky about zero noise. visit here

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