Theta Digital Intrepid 5-channel power amplifier Page 3

All Five Channels at Work
Having toiled to make this system work at all, I was glad that, when I'd finally gotten it running, it worked beautifully. With the five channels of the Intrepid driving five Paradigm speakers, the amp's clarity and resolution were easily appreciated. In contrast to my experiences with the big Revel and B&W speakers, the Intrepid gave the Paradigm Reference Studio/60s and Studio/20s all the low frequencies they could handle. Indeed, the Intrepid smoothed the integration of the low bass and midbass.

With stereo sources, the Intrepid drove the Studio/60s as well as had the Bryston, although there was a definite difference in spatial presentation. The Intrepid favored an enhanced stage width and height, but brought the instruments a bit forward compared to the Bryston's greater depth of image. Indeed, the pellucid and grainless treble noted with the big speakers was apparent with the Studio/60s, but now seemed balanced by an equally adept presentation and depth of bass.

I briefly tried biamping the Studio/60s with two channels of the Intrepid, but was at a loss to say whether there was great advantage to it. Certainly, there was no down side. The up side was an incremental increase in achievable power output, particularly in the midrange, but that was at levels way beyond those commensurate with domestic tranquility. If I were aiming to grow a multichannel system from a two-channel system based on the Intrepid, I wouldn't hesitate to biamp if the speakers were amenable.

With multichannel program material, the presentation was full and without any channel highlighting. It would, of course, be reasonable to expect that a five-channel amp was made for this application, and the Intrepid really impressed. Bass had excellent extension and weight, whether or not the self-powered Paradigm Reference Servo-15 subwoofer was called into assistance.

The DVD-Audio discs from Tacet are a good test of a multichannel amp and system, and make creative use of the extra channels. (John Atkinson thinks they take too many liberties.) The players in the Mendelssohn Octet, Op.20 (the Auryn and Minguet String Quartets, Tacet DVD 94) are distributed around the listener and, particularly in the Scherzo, the melodies whip around the room as they're passed from instrument to instrument—hardly a traditional arrangement, but never have I been so actively engaged in the interplay of the individual musicians. With careful attention to the sound (hard to maintain in the face of such infectious music), I realized that the five Intrepid channels endowed each violin—fore, aft, left, right—with equal authority and sweetness. The violas and cellos were interspersed among the fiddles and occupied the room corners, but all shared a common acoustic with equal presence. Perhaps it's too intense and unnatural an arrangement, but what fun!

The Intrepid made every multichannel mix seem more alive, with more of a feeling of a real event. The exemplar of this was the marvelous SACD set The Coronation of King George II (Hyperion SACDA67286), which features Handel's Coronation Anthems and simulates the entire event for which they were composed. From the sound of the bells of London coming from outside the cathedral and the hair-raising crescendo of the drum processional to the shouts of the assembly, the Intrepid seemed to add a frisson of liveness to the entire proceeding. I used the trumpet fanfares at the beginning of disc 2 all over CES, and nowhere there did they have the immediacy and ambient context that the Intrepid gave them in my own system. In addition, the more traditional balance of the Anthems and other set pieces, with the performers up front and only the ambience from the rear, was equally good and not pushed forward at me.

Once I was asked to review a 7Wpc SET amplifier. I demurred, saying that I didn't have any speakers that would be a fair match. Well, it doesn't take great insight to appreciate that a five-channel power amplifier like the Theta Intrepid was not primarily designed for use in a two-channel system. Moreover, the Revel Studios and B&W Signature 800s are not fair matches for single 100W channels of the Intrepid. Nonetheless, they made lovely music together. When fortified by biamping with four Intrepid channels, they made music that was impressive as well.

What such a stress test revealed was that the Intrepid's clarity and liquidity, particularly from the midrange up, are world-class. Matched to less power-hungry speakers in a more appropriate system, the Intrepid's excellent tonal balance and dynamics were apparent as well. It is one of the most subtly transparent power amplifiers I have auditioned.

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