Hello fellow CB-owners. I'm happy to join this thread as a first-time Casablanca owner. I've gone from zero CBs to two, almost overnight. It's a funny story.
In setting up a new media / listening room in our basement (which is being remodeled), I settled on the CB as my pre-pro. I had heard a Theta DAC years ago, so I kind of knew it was the Theta sound I was after, especially to go with the Magnepan speakers I was putting in. I keep hearing that I should be listening to Marantz, but I pretty much know Marantz wasn't going to satsify me although I have to admit, I didn't actually hear one. So I went ahead and picked up a used CB-II and a Sunfire cinema grand (200x5) amp. I figured it was so affordable, there wasn't much risk. I'd test it out in my upstairs system (with Thiel PowerPlane 1.2's), but I didn't have too high expectations because I thought that being in-wall speakers, the Thiels were incapable of imaging and setting up a proper soundstage. Wrong!
I was loving it. Now this CB-II had 2 superior cards, so I was really enjoying the music; and movies sounded great. But then I saw the impossible: a used CB-III and used Sunfire signature (400x5) had come up for sale, and the CB had an Xtreme DAC card at a very attractive price, so I bought them immediately. My thought was, I would just tell my wife (yes, I have to run purchases of this size by her) not to worry because I was going to sell the the CB-II and cinema grand. You know what she said?? No - keep both sets! Holy ****! I get to have two CBs?!?
I actually had a chance to pick up the new Marantz AV8802A pre/pro at 50% off. This thing has great reviews, handles every audio and video format under the sun, does 11.2, has Audessey room correction built-in, etc. But I passed on it; I'll keeping my CBs with no HD audio formats, no HDMI, thank you very much. I plan to upgrade them eventually, but for now I'll find workarounds for the lack HDMI switching, live with untreated rooms, etc. For example: the OPPO UDP-203 has an HDMI IN which can be used as a kind of video switch.
So, having lived with these two CBs for a while, I have a few observations to share.
First off, I barely looked at the manuals. That's one of the things I normally hate about getting started with a new pre/pro - that they are so complex to set up, making digestion of the manual an ugly but necessary task. However, in this case, I have been able to set up my CBs and manipulate all of the relevant settings on each channel without any fuss or reading of manuals. The menu system, although not sexy, is very well laid out and logical. The functions I need are accessible through a few button presses. I was even able to play with various Xover settings to get the smoothest sub integration. This is no small thing.
Something I keep hearing about is MQA, especially now that Tidal streams some MQA titles. MQA this, and MQA that...While it's a cool idea, it's actually not necessary with the CBs (especially the Xtreme DAC) because well recorded CDs sound freaking amazing. Huge quantities of realism, tonal accuracy, soundstage, dynamics, impact, etc. I don't really understand how Theta does that, but I'm sure it's some heavy duty DAC math and carefully executed discrete electronics. I just want to listen to great music without having to worry about hunting for certain formats. Streaming from Tidal is brilliant now!
No dribbles of quality here. One of my pet peeves is companies that differentiate their product lines by essentially removing quality from the low end offerings. Maybe that's not what happens, but it's easy to think something like that with companies like Transparent (which is anything but). Not to knock their products; I actually use Transparent in-wall for my speaker wire. But their interconnects have these black boxes on them - how do I know they are there to improve the sound? Maybe they are there to hold back the sound on their more affordable offerings. No such thing with Theta. I opened up my CB-II and CB-III boxes to look inside. I could easily see what I'm getting with an upgrade. The CB-III has a massive torroidal transformer instead of the power modules of the CB-II (which is already very good). The Xtreme DAC is a much beefier card than the Superior, with more chips and a lot more discrete electronics on board. I realize that's not a scientific way to understand the differences, but my point is, they aren't giving me quality in dribbles. They are doing their best to offer me options. I can get really good, amazing or freakin' earth shatteringly wonderful if I can afford to pay for that. Those are my choices. And I can see why the added expense - it's a lot of engineering, parts, etc. JetBlue calls their seats with more legroom "even more space", implying that their regular seats have "more space". I hate marketing crap like that, but I would be comfortable calling Theta's Xtreme DAC "even more awesome" because their regular offerings actually are already awesome. Theirs are sins of omission, meaning I don't feel like I'm missing anything when listening to my CB-II, I just feel like I'm getting more when I listen to my CB-III / Xtreme; if that makes any sense.
I know it's possible to get external DACS that are pretty good for a not so heavy price to compensate for what's lacking in a lesser processor. I know it's possible to add Dirac Live with a not-too expensive external box from miniDSP. But the CBs DACS deliver their silky goodness across all channels, not just two! And they are on-board, so no loss / clocking issues from digital interconnects. And their implementation of Dirac (when I eventually upgrade to a IV) works across all channels and at 96 KHz.
Another observation: there is a lot of support for CB-owners. John at Theta answers my questions; I try to be careful only to ask him questions when it's really necessary because I know how busy he is, but I always get timely, well-thought out responses. That isn't something I can get from the mass-producers (like Marantz), and is another reason to consider the CB platform to have higher value than other offerings.
When I have the cash, I will upgrade to CB-IVs (I love having that option). In the meantime, I'll suffer with my 15-year old CBs. :-) It's a hard life...I'm aware of the tendency to constantly reach for better sound; I'm no different. But at some point, the system gets to a level where I can relax and enjoy the music; my foot is tapping, my head is nodding, I'm grooving, that's what it's all about. I can just forget about the system and take in the musical gifts being given. So that's what I'm doing right now.