Theta Compli Universal Disc Player Reviewed

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Theta_Compli_universal_player.gif Yet while the back is filled with the socketry associated with a UDP, even with the options blanked off, the front is rather minimalist. Its controls include, along with the absolute minimum of necessary buttons (play/pause/on-off/open-close buttons), on;ly two extras: one to choose Pro-Scan for the optional video circuitry and another to defeat the video display when listening in purist, music-only mode.

All other controls, including menu control, numeric keypad, etc., are relegated to a rather tacky remote, with a teensy joystick for manoeuvring the menus that will have you cursing in frustration. But such is the price of being smaller than Sony or Pioneer: you get stuck with generic, doggie-do for remotes. Odds are, the people who can afford Complis will have custom-installed home theatres, with Crestron or similar remotes instead of this plastic joke.

While the Theta certainly dazzled me sonically in the aforementioned multi-channel system, it was more than just acknowledging that here was a player that provided equal weight to the primary sources of DVD-Audio, DVD (video), SACD and vanilla CD. I suspect that the latest Linns, the new upscale Denon and a handful of others have also resolved the thorny problem of curate's egg UDPs, where one format shines, one is OK and one or two are crud, but, so far and in my experience, this is one of the best to extract superb performance from all four. And the test was not in the multi-channel system, but when using the Compli as...a two-channel CD player.

Who knows: maybe this is the litmus test for universal players? After all, most people have more CDs than DVDs - certainly than SACDs and DVD-As - and more people spend time listening to music, even if just in the background, than sitting down to watch films. So is it not logical that CD playback should be as good as if not better than the rest?

I had ascertained to my satisfaction that the Compli worked stunningly well with surround formats, be it DVD-A, SACD or Dolby and/or DTS off DVD video discs. Theta products always have a characteristic smoothness, sheen and coherence to disarm those who fail to give surround sound a chance. The Compli has this in spades, exorcising the hated-by-purist artefacts that suggest way too much processing, or sonic trickery. If you want to experience truly all-encompassing, 360-degree surround without holes, or a sense of five mono signals, a properly set-up system with a Compli driving it could very easily convert you.

But back to the litmus test: vanilla CD. I shlepped the Compli into the two-channel room and treated it as a CD player (and as an SACD player for two-channel discs, such as those from Audio Fidelity). I was warned that it would prove to be a thoroughbred with the oldest of silver disc formats. And it did.

If musicality is the goal for audiophiles, replacing specifications, accuracy, low distortion, soundstaging or other as the banner for this decade, then the Theta will rattle not a few cages. However neutral I try to remain, in my heart of hearts I universal players to end the bullshit, to unite every faction; musicality is one of the missing ingredients so far. Believe me: the Theta does for the high-end what the Denon DVD-2900 does for the real world.

Its CD playback is wholly audiophilic, with sound not unsurprisingly reminiscent of golden age players such as its great-great-great granddaddy, the CAL Tempest II. The Compli is sweet, warm and natural-sounding, the sort of player you can alternate with turntable playback and not feel nauseous when going from black plastic to silver.

It sounds like, well, a 4k CD player, the Compli's on-board DAC not inspiring for a moment the acquisition of an outboard device. Its L-R stereo spread is a seamless as its 360 degree surround envelope, its resolution first-class. And it begs the following party trick: find an anti-SACD type, slip in a two-channel SACD and don't say a word. If the victim doesn't admit that it's among the best CD playback he's ever heard, then tell him you know a supermarket where he can buy a 49 UDP.

Grumbles are few, mainly minor things like three-speed rather than Ferrari-quick variable speed search on DVD, no zoom control and other non-essentials. The remote is a piece of junk. But I'll say this much: if you don't want to restrict your digital playback to CD, if a part of you wonders what you're missing, the Theta Compli is one of the best ambassadors yet for the new formats. The realisation that all flavours of 5in disc can live harmoniously in a single chassis has to be the best news an audiophile can hear.

*How do I know they're unlicensed? Easy: 1) certain format owners are winning lawsuits hither and yon, and 2) any legitimate, law-abiding manufacturer can tell you that if you pay for the rights to Dolby, DTS, SACD, MLP, MPEG, THX and all of the other alphabet soup ingredients, you're looking a fees that simply do not allow for the retail sale of a player at 49 inc VAT. At least, not with the maths used in this dimension.

Universal Soldier
As is necessary with a universal player, the Compli provides six-channel analogue audio outputs, along with digital outputs for PCM, DTS and Dolby Digital. It incorporates Theta's proprietary High-Speed Digital Interface, originally designed for Theta's two-channel Generation VIII Digital-to-Analog Converter. The Compli is also be able to connect to the sister processors, the Casablanca and Casa Nova, with their high speed input options.

Theta itself describes the universality thusly: 'Compli lets you play nearly any audio, video, and image format: DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, DVD-R, DVD-RW, SACD, Audio CD, Video CD, CD-R, and CD-RW. The Compli is also compatible with CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW and MP3 formatted material, with some restrictions.' I have not yet found a disc, in three months' heavy usage, that baffled it. KK

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HTR Product Rating for Theta Compli Universal Disc Player

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