A friend kindly offered to loan me a Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 (Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 D/A Converter) last week to play with and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see what a DAC could do for my system. I know that DACs come in all shapes and sizes and prices range from a few hundred to well above stratospheric amounts, but the GF seems to be very well reviewed at a reasonable price ($350) and compares favourably to some DACs at up to 3 times its price. Owning a wonderful little tube amp from Musical Paradise, the well reviewed MP-301 MK2 (Tube Amplifiers) which has been very positively reviewed and hits well above its price range and really liking it (my son loves it and it’s since become a part of his vinyl system), I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to see how the Musical Paradise MP-D1 DAC (MP-D1 24Bit USB Asynchronous Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC)) would compare to the Grant Fidelity. Since Garry Huang, the Engineer and designer of Musical Paradise products is conveniently local, I called the number on the website and was pleased to speak with Garry himself! When he heard I had the Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 on hand and wanted to compare, he graciously volunteered a new-in-box unit and I promised him I would purchase same if I liked what I heard. As an audiophile since the early 70s, I’m primarily a vinyl listener and as a second choice of medium, I occasionally listen to CDs but am well aware of some of the limitations of same in terms of musicality. One area besides CDs sounding a bit harsh and brittle at times, is that quality known in the audio world as PRaT, or Pace, Rhythm and Timing which I’ve always found lacking compared with vinyl. For me, PRaT is the sense of musicality that I get when I close my eyes, or focus on the soundstage presented by the speakers in front of me when I listen to a good 2 channel system and the notes seem to have a cohesiveness, when each note seems to naturally flow into the next having a sense of rhythm congruent to its content. It’s also that quality of the music that makes you unconsciously tap your foot or bob your head when you listen to a piece of music when played on a really good system. Enough of me PRaTtling on! Now for my impressions. A note about the Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11; There is a DAC direct out-put as well as a tube out-put option. I found that the tube out-put sounded a bit smoother and presented a slightly better soundstage, so I did my listening sessions using the tube out-put. First off, let me tell you that I was very surprised at how much difference either of these DATs added to my enjoyment of CD listening. My normal CD playing conveyance is a Pioneer Blu-Ray player. I haven’t taken the time to listen to the mega-buck audiophile CD players nor even the highly regarded Oppo decks that I’ve read do a great job at CD sound reproduction. But for under $200, my humble Pio seemed to do a reasonable job and which I’ve found to be as good or better than most players out there. Connection is through a cheap (free) TOS-link cable that came with a budget external soundcard that I recently purchased. Rather than have expensive digital coax cables or high end TOS-link come into play, I decided that the cheapie cable could provide even more of a challenge to the DAC’s job. On Eric Claptons’ Unplugged CD, track 6- “Nobody Knows When You’re Down & Out” with the Grant Fidelity, the piano sounded less recessed and “rounder”, Clapton’s voice became smoother with slightly less stridency and the guitar was fuller, sounding more “guitar-like” and much less thin. With the Musical Paradise, everything took a big step up from the GF with a noticeable improvement in PRAT and the bass was better defined with better impact. I instantly noticed in the background what sounded like a double bass adding to the music when it wasn’t noticeable before, and even the crowd seemed to have better separation between the claps and whistles, all occupying their own spaces. Dave Grusin ‘Discovered Again’, track 7- “Cripple Creek Breakdown”; the GF provides a deeper soundstage, piano more distinct, xylophone stands out and the drum becomes more defined. Again, the MP is a significant step up from the GF with noticeably increased dynamics and with the piano, there is a palpable sense of the player’s fingers on the keys. Ani Difranco ‘Knuckle Down’, track 5- “Modulation”; the GF sounds much more “quality guitar”-like, almost like it was a different instrument from what was originally presented with the Pioneer deck alone. Ani’s voice is richer and smoother, double bass string vibration sounds less harsh and more controlled. The MP furthers improvements again, the guitar tone sounding purer and there is a better sense of PRaT. The double bass becomes more defined with greater impact. I have 2 copies of Joni Mitchell ‘Court & Spark’, one Canadian and one US, both pressings from Asylum. It was on the Canadian album that I first really noticed what I didn’t like about CD in the relatively early days of CD in the early ‘80s. The Canadian pressing sounds very harsh and un-musical and I really disliked listening to it! I find the sound quickly fatiguing and unpleasant. In comparison, the US version sounds like a totally different album and much more typical of what I thought CDs should sound like. More compression in the Canadian version perhaps? Something else? Anyway, I felt using the Canadian pressing in this review should prove to be a unique challenge to the DACs. Joni Mitchell ‘Court & Spark’(CDN), track 2- “Help Me”; the GF sounds much less harsh, almost listenable now relative to playing with the Pioneer alone. The MP gives a further slight improvement in tonal quality over the GF but the big difference here is in the sense of PRaT which is noticeably improved. This CD is much less fatiguing to listen to now and is actually bearable to my ears! I bought my Musical Paradise MP-D1 then and there on November 11th and will certainly ‘Remember’ this date (Remembrance Day in Canada, as one where I came to the realization that digital music can be a very enjoyable experience. I also got a pair of GE 5670 Black Plate tubes to play with some tube rolling.