Theta DS Pro Generation III digital processor Thomas J. Norton

Thomas J. Norton, November 1993 (Vol.16 No.11)

How did the Mark Levinson No.35 fare in a head-to-head comparison with the best of other, perhaps more comparably priced processors? Unfortunately there was nothing on hand of equivalent cost, but the Theta DS Pro Generation III—a less expensive but still hardly bargain-basement processor—was available. The Theta has been, and continues to be, highly rated in these pages, though I confess that my own experience with it had been, prior to this review, limited.

It took little listening for me to determine what others here already know: the Theta is excellent. With the Levinson No.31 CD transport driving both the No.35 and the Gen.III, again with the ST optical interconnect, neither processor jumped out as being clearly and unequivocally superior. But the No.35 now appeared as the sweeter, slightly richer, and more palpable-sounding processor. The principal difference here was the Gen.III's rather cooler, leaner (in the mid- and upper bass, not the deep bass), more analytical sound. It would be easy to exaggerate the differences here in the attempt to describe them; suffice it to say that the Gen.III has an added degree of detailing and focus which in this case was purchased at the price of a slightly more etched quality—something the No.35 did not have. The Gen.III definitely excels in transient attacks. On Mokave Volume 2, the Theta edged out the No.35 by virtue of its lightning speed, a real advantage on this percussion-driven music. On the other hand, with vocals—both solo and in chorus—and instrumental ensemble work, the No.35 comes into its own, the Theta sounding a bit sterile in comparison.

The Theta has a reputation for a striking low end, and that it has. But in my admittedly subwooferless system, I found its extension to be no better than that of the No.35. What it did have was that slightly more lean and defined mid- and upper bass, lending it a trace better overall low-frequency clarity. Not exactly an, ah, earthshaking difference, however.

Balancing out the score-sheet, I vote for the No.35 overall, if only because the reduction in warmth I hear in the Theta is greater in degree than any relative transient superiority it may occasionally demonstrate over the No.35—a "superiority" I found to be so small as to be inconsequential. The differences between these two processors were certainly less dramatic than I expected. Would I pay for the differences? Yes, if that roughly $3000 price spread was of little concern. I do like the No.35. I wish it were closer in price to the Theta. I think it is better than the Gen.III in ways that matter, but certainly no more so—and perhaps less—than one might expect, given the difference in price.—Thomas J. Norton

Mars2k's picture

Interesting product of course I agree about differing DAC qualities..huge. (Just for fun compare to Lumin please) Would like to add the following point about DAC investment.

The digital reproduction space is where the movement has been in audio and video. Think of it...

Hi Res catalogs are growing not just in selection but also quality and resolution as well as format.

Delivery options are growing Tidal, Qubuz, and more download sources. Compression/decompression protocols MQA and don't forget Music server...Roon Plex, Serviio take you pick.

Think of DAC evolution. Processing power,sample rates and word length are now exponentially greater just in the last 5 years. DAC selection is exploding and price is moving in a direction that puts very hi quality reproduction in more hands than ever before in point Theta gen3 with all the bells and whistle $5500 . Compare and price a specific vinyl rig turntable, MC cartridge, phono stage that competes and beats.

Consider all that and and the fact that I would have to get up from my sofa walk to my system and turn the record over or change the disk from a finite selection of those albums that are physically present to keep listening vs swiping and tapping on my iPad to access what is essentially an infinite library at my finger tips.