Theta Digital Citadel monoblock amplifier Page 3

I couldn't leave Paris Lounge before nodding to DJ Stani and DJ Pee's "Le Peuple de l'Herbe." Ostensibly a song about "the people of the herb" (one of the lyrics is "you wanna smoke sometin' "), it's a little tongue-in-cheek but very enjoyable, with wide, deep, dense, articulated bass, a fine midrange, and highs (ahem) that were remarkable in their naturalness. (There's also a Berlin Lounge, Wagram 3069692. These recordings are widely available; I bought both Lounges and Ultra.Chilled 01 at my local Virgin Mega-Mega.)

And now for something completely different: J.S. Bach's Adagio with cellist Mischa Maisky (from Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, DG 439 863-2), made the hairs on my neck stand straight up. The air, the emotion, the microchanges in volume and the sounds of bow on string—it all made my heart race with pleasure. What better recording could there be for limning the mid- and lower midrange? This disc, with works by Handel, Schumann, Chopin, Debussy, and others, highlighted a certain litheness, delicacy, and transparency in the Citadel's reproduction.

A little jazz? How about Bags Meets Wes (DCC Jazz GZS-1093)? The dynamics were right on time. The acoustic bass was more detailed than I've ever heard it through my JMlab Utopia loudspeakers, if not as powerful and tractor-pulling strong as the Krell '350Mc can manage. The guitar was marvelous—fast and detailed, yet harmonic—and I could almost see Wes Montgomery's fingers at work. Drummer "Philly" Joe Jones sounded just as one might have heard him in a small club; so real to the touch. Wynton Kelly's piano was fulsome, if, again, somewhat lighter than heard through the big Krells, or the Linn Klimax, but there was nothing missing, just a sweeter swing to the music. Listening to Milt Jackson's vibes can tell you a lot about a component's ability to reproduce music, and the Citadel was superb, just superb. The initial taps on the bars were there, followed by a delightful billowing of harmonics that mixed with the next mallet stroke, and so on. Heaven.

What better to follow this with than Louis Armstrong letting us have it in "St. James Infirmary," from Satchmo Plays King Oliver (Audio Fidelity AFSD 5930). Right from the first note, it was obvious that the Citadels were the amps to play back this richly textured cut. The cymbals sounded so real that, once again, I had to tuck those damn neck hairs back under my collar. Talk about midrange magic and perfectly rendered male vocals—how could one possibly do better? Clean, harmonic, timely, delicate beyond description, and rich—with no chestiness at all to muck up the man's marvelous voice. The soundstage was airy and transparent, Armstrong almost there in the room with me.

Listening to a Japanese K2-processed CD of The Modern Jazz Quartet (Atlantic 1265), I confirmed that there was something almost feminine about the Citadel (talk about a misnomer!). It was delicate, detailed, intricate, articulate, and sweet—not warm, but musical and airy, especially in the highs. And if I turned up the volume, the bass could whack the ball with aplomb behind the left-field fence. Elegant, that's what it was. Elegant.

One can demonstrate this most easily by spinning This One's For Blanton (Analogue Productions CAPJ015). The way the various amplifiers I compared the Theta to in the course of this review told me practically everything I needed to know about their sound. The Klimax was fast and extended, a little "tinkly" in the highs on Duke Ellington's piano (an artifact of the recording), with a lovely midrange, and Ray Brown's bass was as speedy on the leading edge as you could ever hope to hear and harmonically fully developed. The Krell was heavier, slower, more rich and luscious through the midrange, with sweeter highs not quite so extended, but Ray Brown's bass was phenomenal with power and richness of tone.

The Thetas were an amalgam of both. With the volume turned up, the bass was incredibly detailed and taut, if not the most powerful and balanced a little on the light side. The mids were true to life, and the highs were as sweet as could be. You want to enjoy your music? You want something delicate and filigreed, something with the tonal colors of the rainbow, you got it in the Citadel.

The sound of the Theta Digital Citadel monoblocks can be summed up in a single word: delightful.

Put a bow around it and I'll take it home to me bride
Theta Digital's Citadel is a terrific amp for the audiophile who likes detail, delicacy, and sweetness without euphonics. It has more personality than the similarly priced but sternly linear Lamm M1.1 monoblock (see Stereophile, Vol.18 No.4 and Vol.22 No.7), it's lighter and less heavy-handed than the slightly more expensive Classé Omega stereo amp (Vol.22 No.3), and more transparent than the big Krell FPB 350Mc monoblocks (but without the BIG bass) which are just a bit more expensive (Vol.23 No.8). If anything, the Citadel monoblocks sounded most like the $20,000/pair Linn Klimax with just a slightly lighter touch to the music.

As all these amps cost about the same, it comes down to purely a matter of taste, associated equipment, and the type of music you appreciate. Find a dealer who's willing to lend you one or the other (or hopefully all!) these amps, or who's ready to set up a proper demo for you with appropriate associated components. If you've got the scratch and one or another turns you on, go for it! If it comes down to the Theta, all I can say is it's worth the money and then some.

If you're asking yourself if $16,000 gets you more than $1,600, I'd have to say yes, and in a big way. Refinement, detail, spatiality, truth of timbre, timing, huge soundstages that make you feel like you're at the recording session... all these elements are what you get with the big bux. And certainly what you get with the Citadel. Highly enjoyable, highly recommended. Well done Theta!

Theta Digital
5330 Derry Ave., Suite R
Agoura Hills, CA 91301
(818) 597-9195