Via the Dreadnaught, no transient was too quick, no explosion too deep, no thunderous crashing of waves too much for the amp's capabilities. Those who wear two hats could therefore point out just how apt the Dreadnaught is for an A/V role. Where it showed competence above and beyond the call of duty came in the smaller, quieter moments. A colleague (upon whom I will one day call to testify to the superiority of DTS) alerted me specifically to the subtle whooshes of the bullets underwater; via the Theta, these were not only clearer but more discernibly 'directional'.
Turning to less effects-laden soundtracks, the Theta revealed deft handling of music-plus-dialogue-plus-sound effects through the early fight scenes in , most of the action scenes inand during the nightclub sequences in , the sound moving from authentic 1940s Big Band-plus-vocals to crashing glass. Undoubtedly, much of the credit goes to the processor, but that is true in any system, and so it is in some ways difficult to separate the two. Which is why I schlepped 45kg-plus of amp into my 'purist' room. Wired to the Wilsons and fed purist analogue and digital signals (Theta's new slogan, by the way, is 'Digital Done Right', my italics...), the Dreadnaught suddenly turned into a world-class stereo amplifier.
But, hey, you're thinking, why didn't I just go two-channel in the main system? I did, I did - switching the Lexicon to stereo and with the Theta's surround bus deactivated, and it did sound wonderful. But that was in single-ended mode, remember? In the purist system, a quick burst revealed the immediate and obvious superiority of the balanced mode, a digital SPL meter ensuring that I was hearing no level gain. In addition to making me beg for an XLR-equipped Lexicon, the experience revealed whole layers of low level sound, the sort of subtleties usually denied most A/V systems...if for no other reasons than two-channel music-only sound spares us the distractions of extra channels, visuals, the typically louder playback of a movie-viewing system and, typically, inferior ancillaries.
'Crowdpleaser' on the Lightning Seeds' latest, most of Lenny Kravitz's , even Cher's 'Believe' are close to presenting a two-channel mix of cinematic complexity in that they blend voice and synthesiser, real instruments and artificial. Theta applied the same even hand to the music-only diet as it did to the vids, amusingly providing a silky sheen to the music not unlike that of the finish of the front panel. It was 'easy listening' in the non-MOR/schmaltz sense: 'easy' in that it was effortless, fatigue-free.
But for me, it's a tragedy: too many of you in the market for a robust, fearless, big-bucks tranny amp won't even have the Dreadnaught on your short-list if A/V isn't part of your plan. Me? I think Theta's Dreadnaught is one of the finest solid-state amplifiers I've heard, the number of channels be damned. If I had to give up valves, or house only one system, this is the amplifier to which I'd aspire. It's a ******g masterpiece.
Absolute Sounds, 58 Durham Road, London SW20 0DE. Tel 0181 971 3909, FAX 0181 879 7962
Sidebar: Stereo Vs Surround!
While most of the connections are obvious and self-explanatory - choosing between single-ended and balanced is now a fairly commonplace decision - the stereo vs surround bus selection needs clarification. What Theta has fitted is a switching facility which allows you to use only the channels required for your type of listening. It is this feature which got me to thinking about how meaningless are the divisions between A/V and pure music playback, Theta having shown that, wasting electricity aside, one amp should fit all. What you do to access this feature is to simply connect the main left and right speakers to terminals with their toggles set to stereo, while the remaining channels - centre and rear left/right - have the toggles on their modules set to surround.
When you switch on from the front panel (this amp needs a long warm-up time, so leaving it in standby when not in use is advisable, rather than switching off the rear panel rocker), you can simply choose the stereo-only speakers or both. If the thought of pressing two buttons to activate all five channels troubles you, note that the selecting action can be triggered remotely by the use of a suitable control unit, e.g. Theta's Casablanca or Casa Nova - not ust overall on-off, but either/or, stereo or surround. The benefits, especially for purists, are the elimination of unused channels during stereo-only playback and the sonic remuneration this might contribute, and the green effect of using less AC juice. According to Theta's specs, the Dreadnaught consumes 750W in 2-channel mode, but 1440 in 5-channel mode, so the difference is considerable.