Well I figured I would jump back in here again now that I have a brand new Datasat here to compete with my Meridian 861 and Theta Casablanca 2. I won't even discuss how it compares to the Theta because I will be flamed for 2 huge reasons:
1. I don't have extreme DAC's, this will get everyone saying it's not fair comparison.
2. It's not the HDMI version 3 HD, again another thing that will get claims that it's 10000 times better and I am missing out.
Just know that it doesn't compete without those options, or at an extremely higher cost the GEN DAC route. And because Theta is the only company who refuses to let me test the unit in my home, giving me the "oh just buy it, trust me it's the best there ever was" I think I will pass. I would love to hear it, but I won't pay the full price to demo it.
Just before I begin the story, let me state that I have all ATC Active SCM20-2's in my home with a ATC Active C5 center channel. I then have 15" subs powered by McIntosh Amps.
When the Datasat was brought in I had huge high hopes for it. I had been in the mood to buy a new processor to upgrade from my Meridian V2.81 (which has no room correction) that I have owned for all these years (around 10). I was mostly interested in what the additional 8 bits could give to me informationally speaking (16 to 24 bit).
The Datasat rep got right to work on my room (and let me state right now, he was extremely knowledgeable and super nice/friendly to me and my wife). A very positive experience for us on that aspect.
He tested it for problematic frequencies for a good hour but told me that my room is unusually good. There was only one issue at 80HZ which was accentuating a slightly higher frequency. I sat beside him the entire day of setup and he showed me everything he was doing and the results. Immediately I began to think to myself, awesome, I don't need room correction.
After he finished testing the room we hooked up the unit and began to do the speaker calibration levels etc. (not DIRAC RC). After we finished with this, I said ok it's time to compare to my Meridian because my Meridian has no room correction and I wanted to hear them side by side with no advantages so I could hear the difference when comparing basically apples to apples (someone will find a reason to say this isn't apples to apples).
He had previously told me it will destroy the Meridian and so I had high hopes. He said ok what do you want to listen to? I said Diana Krall, love scenes. I chose this disc for two reasons:
1. It is STANDARD DTS Core, not DTS-MA. This way, my Meridian could take full advantage of the signal it received, just as the Datasat would. It is a 1998 recording and sounds amazing.
2. I am extremely familiar with the disc, and have used it as a reference since the day it was released. So I know what to listen for.
Well, when he played it in the Datasat, my wife sitting right beside me says "it sounds good". We listened to a few songs and then was time to switch to Meridian. The second we hit play, my wife and I both looked at each other and she says to me, hmm, it sounds exactly the same. We tried to find things that are different but we couldn't. So we kept switching back and forth between the two units and never could we hear a difference between them. (someone will say, well then you're not a critical listener or wax in my ears or something else completely stupid to question my ability to hear things. The real issue is, it wasn't there. They sounded the same, end of story).
After 1 hour of this he says, what do you think? I said, it sounds the same. Exactly the same. You could see the look of defeat there, but unfortunately there was no questioning it. There was nothing he could say because he was in the same room, hearing the same thing I was.
So, I said ok now let's do the Dirac Live setup and go from there. We were kicked out of our room for a few hours while he setup everything. I watched from a distance as he moved the microphone around the room calibrating and letting Dirac take measurements of the signals/sounds. He began to show me on his laptop how it works, and what was happening etc. Low and behold a few hours later he was done and it was time to begin testing the difference between the Meridian and the Datasat.
At this point I expected my Meridian to be so far away from the same result that the upgrade would prove to be worth every penny. The problem is this didn't happen right away. At this point, we have installed a direct HDMI cable into the Datasat but my poor Meridian was stuck with 1 single ended SPDIF Coax. So now the Datasat has an enormous advantage of pure DTS-MA 24 bit information, compared to my Meridian at 16 bit 48K at best. We tested the differences with Movies at this point WITHOUT DIRAC LIVE TURNED ON: (I wanted to hear the difference jumping from 16/48 to 24/96).
1. Jurrasic Park 1 T-Rex scenes
2. Oblivion - this is absolutely a reference for home theater sound. It is unreal how good this is and I am glad I bought it a few days before he arrived.
3. Iron Man and X-Men
When we played the same movies back and forth between units, there was a very tiny tiny tiny difference in over all ambience in favor of the Datasat. I expected to hear much more, but was constantly reminded how amazing my 861 was and why I have never upgraded for so long.
Now was the moment to turn on Dirac Live and compare them. The instant second he turned it on, I noticed the voices seemed almost impossible to hear. So he went back and recalibrated it and the fronts were a little to hot (loud). After this balance again we got back to work/testing. We started testing Jurassic park and I noticed I could take much more volume with much less of that "scared" feeling that makes you think "oh ****, this is going to hurt". I also noticed the Bass was tighter and definitely had an improved sound quality to it.
We then switched to Oblivion and it was just pure bliss. The biggest difference was that now, the holes of sound I always felt I had were completely gone. It sounded like 100% of my room was full of sound and ambience. Exactly what I would want and expect. We switched back to my Meridian and it no longer could compare to that size of ambience and soundstage presence. You truly felt englufed in the middle of the movie instead of feeling like the movie was just a bunch of loud noises around you and a huge wall of sound somewhere up in the front, along the plane that your speakers are on.
This is when I realized that I had no idea that room correction had a second and more important role. To me this was the most important since I needed no room correction for bad frequencies etc. I realized, oh ****, that thing is not only cleaning up the sound, balancing frequencies, BUT IT'S BRINGING THE SWEET SPOT TO MY SOFA!!
That was a revolation for me. A true learning experience. And so to finish this up and sum it all up, I didn't really hear any difference at all to justify the money until the Dirac was completely correct and projecting the movie/music experience to my seat. It had always been about 3 feet in front of my seated position prior to this with my Meridian (however you don't really notice this, until AFTER you hear what the room correction can do for you).
So for me, the room correction is a worthy investment and will completely change your listening experience/enjoyment. I can't speak for each person's room, but in mine it made an enormous difference to me and my wife.
Dirac Live definitely seems worth it's price and one day I know Theta will offer it to us Casablanca owners and users should be pretty happy with it. At this point, the only additional thing it has done for me is peaked my interest into "hmm, I wonder how the McIntosh 150-151 would sound using RoomPerfect....". For now, I will be returning to my Meridian 861 as I can't justify 20,000.00 for this one feature that I can buy on my computer for 1000.00 and run it into my system. Additionally, 20,000.00 opens up a lot of other possibilities (Theta upgrade with Dirac, McIntosh with RP, Adding a Trinnov after my source and eliminating my 861).