Thanks Shawn/BB52/EdOrr/BD/Steve/everyone for trying to help. It wasn't me after all - couldn't be, I am a 20 year veteran of cable shootouts, cartridge shootouts, etc., the works! Dave Reich emailed and suggested what EdOrr mentioned: assign the channels of the so far silent Extreme card to the working Premium card and see what happens. Boom I had the diagnosis: the Extreme Card is malfunctioning and that's why those channels are silent. BTW above sounds simple but you don't know the *hours* I've spent trouble-shooting my poor Theta baby and reading that thick *&^%$#@ manual.
I am probably expert level now LOL & will have more questions to ask later.
Preliminary test therefore was done using left, right, center, & subwoofer on Premium card, without surround speakers. Rest of my system: Thiel speakers all around, 2 Apogee subwoofers, each the size of a small refrigerator :-), and the old processor, a Krell HTS that costs 6-8k (don't remember exact #) when new 10 years ago. I tested 2 channel music using a simple, quiet song to evaluate voice/piano: Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken, with all processing and subwoofer off. I tested hometheater performance using opening sequence of Gladiator, first simple music, then voice, then all hell breaks loose. Both discs extremely familiar to me. This is a very preliminary first impression (sometimes the most reliable - as you switch from one long term component to another) so please take with a grain of salt. I am sure I will have more to add, or even correct myself, once I have more time and with both cards functioning.
Hometheater - initial impression using DTS 5.1 (*non* HD) on DVD for comparison to old Krell:
1. The Casablanca is an extremely "powerful" and "full" sounding
processor, even with the least expensive card in the lineup, the Premium card. In this aspect the Theta is overwhelmingly better than my poor Krell - which sounds quite thin in comparison. Really and truly the subjective sense of "dynamics" is off the charts. The bass sounds deep & gives that queasiness sensation, yet remains "clean" and doesn't muddle the sound. Low frequency sounds like it comes from the center of the earth, powerful to the point of taking on a threatening character (opening sequence of Gladiator). In other words, not like the lump thump thump one note cheap bass of a poorly designed small subwoofer.
2. Voice is very very "full bodied" and isolated in space without harshness, yet has good details.Voice through Krell HTS could sometimes sound thin and take on a nasal tone. I am very happy to report that the Theta is a huge improvement: the voice of the Roman general giving signal for his soldiers to "unleash hell" sounds fuller, less "electronicy," more real. I do realize the word "thin" has appeared many times in my Theta vs. Krell comparison. It's a revelation.
3. Soundstage: breathtakingly 3D. Perhaps more than any other aspect, thi
2 channel music (I like to test w/ 2 channels so evaluation is not muddled by so many speakers/variables.): If you have compared a great high end processor to a cheaper mass market cd player, then I don't need to add anything here. Poorly designed players tend to have more upper-mid and high frequency character in their sound, tend to smear the image, tend to make piano sound clangy and de-focus other instruments, etc. OTOH, a good processor may at first sound less exciting, but shines with long term listening: smooth, full bodied voice, clean non-smearing image, 3 dimensional sound stage
(I've found this observation to hold true with "good" vs. "bad" power amps as well.), That is how I would describe a comparison between the Krell HTS and Theta Casablanca.
Many years ago the original Theta processors, Theta Pro and Pro Basic, shook the high-end world with their silky smooth voice, startling 3 dimensional sound-stage with pin-point imaging, and off-the-charts low frequency response - both quality and prodigious quantity. It doesn't look like much has changed. I recall reading that the secret to the Theta sound is that the great digital design is matched with an ultra high-end approach to the power supply (always un-usually robust) and outstanding analog output stage - in other words, the analog design contributes just as much to the sound. With a talented designer like David Reich at the helm (for those who don't know, Classe's well respected DR series of amps bear his initials - see my pictures above), I am fairly certain this approach has not changed. Whether the explanation is true, the result is very much the same: extraordinary sound quality
. I regret waiting this long to get a Casablanca.