Theta Data Basic CD transport Page 2

The Data Basic had a clean, open, and very dynamic character. The transport's clarity, excellent bass, and transparent soundstage were very much like that of the Lambda. Starting with the bass, the Data Basic had a full, robust, and well-defined bass presentation. Bass drum had a nice solidity, acoustic bass was warm and round, and the presentation had a good sense of weight. The Data Basic's bass tended to be a little leaner, tighter, and better defined than the Lambda's, although both were similarly impressive. The Lambda seemed to have a little more extension at the very bottom end, giving more heft to bass drum. The Basic, however, sounded quicker and had better pitch definition in the midbass. Overall, the Lambda had a slightly stronger sense of pace, but not by much. Both transports were superb in conveying the music's rhythmic elements.

Dynamics were equally impressive from both the Data Basic and the Lambda—this is one area in which both transports are hard to beat. Music had a powerful, dynamic expression that was extremely compelling. Bass drum had plenty of slam and weight, and musical climaxes were reproduced with a sense of effortlessness.

Despite these similarities with the Lambda, the Data Basic had its own sound. First, the Data Basic had a more laid-back perspective. The Lambda tended to be drier and more forward by comparison. I heard a greater sense of ease to the music through the Data Basic as a result of its more relaxed presentation. Instrumental images were more set back in the soundstage through the Data Basic, a quality that I found greatly appealing.

The Data Basic's less aggressive perspective was enhanced by its wonderful resolution of space and air. The Data Basic was superb at revealing space, depth, and subtle spatial cues. Moreover, a beautiful bloom surrounded instrumental outlines. In comparison with the Lambda, the Data Basic was more spacious, three-dimensional, and had greater resolution of spatial information. Reverberation decay was well portrayed, with the impression of hanging in space longer. The wealth of spatial detail on the Three Way Mirror disc (Reference RR-24CD) was conveyed without the music losing its immediacy. The Data Basic was among the best I've heard from any transport in its ability to portray bloom, space, depth, and air around instrumental outlines.

Treble information was presented with smoothness and a high degree of refinement. The top octaves were noticeably cleaner through the Data Basic than through the Lambda. Sibilance was less pronounced, cymbals were smoother, and strings had less grain when reproduced by the Data Basic. This treble purity greatly added to the Data Basic's sense of ease and smoothness. Although the Data Basic's treble was more incisive and forward than the C.E.C. TL 1's (reviewed in July 1993, Vol.16 No.7, p.91), it was decidedly less up-front than the Lambda's. In comparison to the reference Mark Levinson No.31, the Data Basic's musical perspective was closer than the Lambda's to that of the remarkable '31.

The Data Basic's resolution of recorded detail was exceptional by any measure. The music was infused with a wealth of information and low-level detail—this is one area in which the No.31 has yet to be approached. Remarkably, however, the Data Basic closely approached the No.31's high-resolution presentation. I thought the Data Basic revealed more information than the Lambda did, with more nuance, subtlety, and finely filigreed treble detail, despite the Data Basic's softer treble. When I switched to the Data Basic I felt as if I was hearing more of what was going on in the music. The Theta transport's combination of a high-resolution presentation and clean treble allowed the Data Basic to be highly revealing of musical information, yet still sound smooth and engaging.

I ended up preferring the Data Basic over the Lambda with each processor I auditioned it with and over a wide range of music. The Data Basic's softer, more refined treble, less forward perspective, and greater resolution of spatial detail made it the more musical product.

Taking a broader perspective, the Data Basic was extraordinarily musical by any measure. In fact, the Data Basic is among the four or five best transports I've heard. The fact that it costs significantly less than the other contenders makes the Data Basic a tremendous bargain.

The Data Basic's treble purity, somewhat laid-back mids, terrific dynamics, and wonderful resolution of spatial information made for a very involving musical experience. The transport had many of the qualities I value in the Mark Levinson No.31. Although the Data Basic didn't have the resolution of fine detail, soundstaging, or musicality of the No.31, it was not embarrassed by this $8500 reference transport. In comparison with the similarly priced and nearly identical PS Audio Lambda, I found the Data Basic more musical-sounding.

The Data Basic is very attractive, well made, and friendly to use. It is an outstanding transport, with a sound quality far above what I would expect at this price range. Although I haven't listened to Theta's Data transport (the videodisc-based machine) for some time, I would venture to say that the Data Basic is at least as good as the $2800 Data transport—and is much more convenient to use.

The Data Basic was a particularly good match for the $750 Adcom GDA-600 (also reviewed this issue), making the pair a very satisfying digital front end for $2500. I spent many enjoyable hours with this combination, never feeling musically shortchanged.

If you're in the market for a CD transport, don't buy until you've auditioned Theta's Data Basic—one of the great bargains in high-end audio.

Theta Digital Corporation
1749 Chapin Road
Montebello, CA 90640