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Theta Cobalt 307 DAC

 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Irvington, New York USA

Post Number: 3296
Registered: May-05
I'm kicking around the idea of getting an Apple TV to use as a music server, but I don't want to give up sound quality in the process. I stopped by my local Naim/Rega/Linn dealer to see what they have for DACs and if there's any word on any of those companies developing one any time soon. Naim's got one in the works, but no one's sure about anything else. Price is rumored to be anywhere from $2k - $6k. My dealer highly doubts it'll be anywhere near $2k.

While there, he dug up a Cobalt 307 DAC (made by Theta) that he has on consignment from a regular customer. He doesn't know much about it other than its a mid 90's piece, it works, and the owner is the original owner.

I took it home on loan and its warming up as I type this. We both figured that it'll be interesting comparing it to my Apollo and to figure out if I want to go this route. I figure if I like it enough, I'll keep it. If I keep it and get tired of it, I can sell it for what I paid. It may also make a good piece to give to a family member to try to open their eyes up to whats possible when I'm done with it. He also stated that the Apollo's real target audience is analog lovers, whereas Theta's claim to fame is digital. Makes sense to me.

So far, it sounds very good. Compared to my Apollo, it sounds clearer and cleaner. Imaging and soundstaging are better, it sounds more airy, and its more detailed. It however doesn't sound as good in the highs and lows as the Apollo. It sounds a bit tizzy - especially with cymbals - and a bit bass shy. It also seems a bit thin, even though the soundstage is bigger. Hopefully this will change after it warms up sufficiently. My Apollo sounds thin, somewhat harsh, and bass shy when its cold, so I'm assuming this is what's going on with the 307.

I'm just not sure yet if its as musical. All the audiophile stuff is there and its somewhat engaging, but I'm not quite sure. I've heard my fair share of dull and un-interesting gear. Its not like that, yet it hasn't outright wowed me either. For the current price, its a no-brainer. If I was looking for a temporary solution, this would definitely be it. So far it won't replace my Apollo, but to be honest, it shows signs that it might.

My dealer told me to give him a call next Wednesday. If I need more time, I'm sure he won't have a problem with it. He gave me a few different coax and toslink cables to use with it to get a better idea of what's going on. Right now its being fed by my Apollo using a Tara Prism coax.

It seems very well built. On par with my Bryston B60. It also seems very well taken care of. If the dealer told me it was about a year old, I would believe him. Its actually about 10-15 years old. Technology may have gotten better since it was made, but so far my ears tell me otherwise. The technology isn't the selling point to me at all, its the sound quality.

Anyone have any experience and/or insight on Theta in general or the 307 in particular? Does it seem fair that it'll fill out and the frequency extremes will improve as it warms up? I have no idea how long its been sitting around, but its not like its been plugged in for a few days straight.

BTW - I know this should go in the DAC section, but I'm not sure if anyone other than Dave and Nuck ever look there.
 

Gold Member
Username: Nickelbut10

Post Number: 2513
Registered: Jun-07
Theta make good dear. That's about the extent of my knowledge with their gear. They make some really cool stuff. Unique stuff, and really focus on digital. Everything they make is 'digital' this ' digital' that. Which is fine. If the price is right, then I say keep it around. I have no idea what you are getting it for. A lot of good DAC's for 2K, but I am guessing you don't want to spend that right now. Cheers.
 

Gold Member
Username: Artk

Albany, Oregon USA

Post Number: 9603
Registered: Feb-05
Theta has a good rep, however you can get just about any high end DAC from that era pretty cheap these days. I see a bunch of 'em down here that retailed for thousands now going for a couple hundred bucks.
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Irvington, New York USA

Post Number: 3297
Registered: May-05
The seller is asking about $200. I can't find the original price of it anywhere. The dealer wasn't sure as he never sold them, but thinks the seller claimed about $1500-$2k. It was their entry level DAC when it came out. Theta's entry level anything isn't exactly cheap nor inferior.

As far as sound quality is concerned, its definitely worth every penny the guy is asking. I'm not sure about market value though. I can't find any currently being sold online. The 2 or 3 expired ads I've seen were all asking about the same amount. I just can't find any real info on it. No reviews, comments about its sound, or anything other than a few pictures.

Not that I need a review to tell me what my ears are telling me, but I'd be interested in opinions. Maybe they weren't reliable and therefore discontinued. I have no idea about the model's history, but am pretty confident on Theta's reputation. I'm pretty sure they don't make garbage.

As of now I'm strongly thinking of keeping it even if it doesn't stay in my system. It sounds way too good to pass on for the price. I can always use it in a second system when I have a bigger house. Maybe connect it to a DVD player in a 2 channel TV system? Maybe somehow connect it to a computer in an office system? No USB though.

I don't have to go back to work until Tuesday and have no plans to go anywhere this weekend. I've been running around non-stop the last few weeks and will be doing that again in about 2 weeks, so its a all about hanging out and relaxing this weekend. I'll have plenty of time to listen to it. I might even bring my DVD player (Denon 1930) into the audio loft and give it a whirl.

Anyone want to predict if it'll sound better as it warms up?
 

Gold Member
Username: Artk

Albany, Oregon USA

Post Number: 9606
Registered: Feb-05
Sounds like a great weekend ahead Stu. I'm off until Tuesday as well...yeehaw!
 

Gold Member
Username: Nickelbut10

Post Number: 2514
Registered: Jun-07
I think its just going to get better. You said " I don't think Theta make junk". I would say not only do they not make junk, but they don't make anything that isn't considered by many of its owners as anything less than world class, high end products. I think their entry level amps now a days are going for around 5-6 grand.lol.

To add, comparing that Theta at 200 bucks compared to something NEW that costs that?lol I am almost positive that the Theta would blow the doors off anything comparable made in the last few years at 200 dollars. DAC technology has not changed. Just new technology has been added to it. More so for connection purposes it seems.
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Irvington, New York USA

Post Number: 3298
Registered: May-05
I think the differences between current ones and new ones is jitter rejection. I think the transport is less important with the current generation than the Cobalt's generation. Maybe not. Most now also do more oversampling and upsampling, and can accept 'high resolution' streams like 96/192 or whatever the hell it is. At the end of the day the technology doesn't matter to me; what matters is the music coming from the speakers. I couldn't care less how the digits are put back together, so long as what comes out is music and not a bunch of sounds thrown together.

When talking about the BDA-1, James Tanner said that they found the actual DAC chip didn't make as much of a difference as they thought it would. What made the biggest difference were things like power supply, analog output stages and the like.

The Cobalt has two inputs - 1 coax and 1 toslink. It also has a phase reverse switch which is pretty cool. On some recordings it makes no difference, while on others it either adds a huge presence or kills that presence. I guess it all depends on if the mixers/engineers paid attention to absolute phase or not. It may not have all the features of a new DAC, but I'd be very surprised if it got seriously outclassed by anything out there. I'd love to bring it to my Bryston dealer and compare it to the BDA-1. I'd be willing to bet the BDA-1 is a fair amount better, but how much? The features have to add to the cost. The Cobalt is made in the USA, so its not like comparing a slave labor component against a product made by people making an honest wage.

I'd love to get the BDA-1. $2k right now is a bit steep. My wife and I found a townhouse we're trying to buy, and any non-essential purchases have to wait a little while.
 

Gold Member
Username: Nickelbut10

Post Number: 2516
Registered: Jun-07
I hear ya on the house stuff. Were only about 3 weeks into our summer weather and already I have spent over 3 grand on house updates and landscaping. Sending the Bryston stuff away was a way of treating myself.lol. The wife didn't approve at first, but after some good sales talk on my part, she agrees.lol.

It is hard to say how much better the BDA-1 would be. I bet you when it came to pure sound quality it wouldn't be THAT much better. If at all. It does have all the new bells and whistles that they have added in the technology like the upsampling and usb and so on. From what I have read 200 dollars seems like a reasonable price as the cheapest I have been able to find it is going for 295 US, and that is in horrible shape. Cool looking unit by the way.

The Cobalt uses the Burr-Brown PCM 67 DAC; Analog Devices AD 841 op-amp; and Crystal CS 8412 input receiving IC.

Burr-Brown? Crystal? For 200 dollars?lol Sounds like a good deal. Doesn't Bryston use the Crystal brand IC's in theirs? I am pretty sure they do.
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Irvington, New York USA

Post Number: 3299
Registered: May-05
Doing a bit of research, the Cobalt got replaced by the Chroma 396 dac. The Chroma has a one or two more inputs, balanced outputs, and optional HDCD decoding. I think the Cobalt and non-HDCD Chroma are pretty much the same unit, minus inputs and a bigger chassis.

So much for HDCD. A few reviewers said that redbook CD sounded better in the non-HDCD version than redbook sounded in the HDCD version. Interesting.

Everything's filling out and sounding far better. My main concern was its boogie factor. If it can't groove, I have no use for it, at least in the main system anyway. Santana and Sabbath were groovin' pretty well. I've never heard them sound this good in my room from a strictly an audiophile standards point of view. The Apollo has a very slight edge in the groove department, but its small. The Cobalt has improved here as well. Who knows what'll happen tomorrow or by Wednesday.

I've got some Zeppelin and Doors to listen to. Doors' Nuck, Inc. compilation, courtesy of Nuck. Zep's Song Remains the same courtesy of Stryvn.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 12423
Registered: Dec-04
Good to hear Stu, some older pieces just plain work.
Is the naming trend after known carcinogens just a trend with these guys?

PS The doors cd is a coaster, by all accounts, hard to make it different, might sound best in a Taurus wagon.

Or Stryvn's mystery mobile, which deserves a pic, I think, it is impressive in person.

The bit rate count doesn't matter so much with a non-upconverting player like that, the redbook rate is pretty good, given the high rate files that you are playing, right?
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Irvington, New York USA

Post Number: 3300
Registered: May-05
Nothing by The Doors is a coaster. All of the tracks on your CD are my favorite Doors tracks.

I haven't compared your CD to other Doors CDs on the main system. I usually listen to The Doors on vinyl. The only other Doors CD I have is a compilation from Starbucks that my lovely wife thought I'd appreciate, which I did. It doesn't sound very good though. Yours will probably sound better. I've got yours on my iPod. Where did you get your tracks from?

Metallica's St. Anger is definitely a coaster. May very well be the definition of a CD turned coaster. Load and Reload aren't very far behind though. While Death Magnetic easily has the best music they've made since ...And Justice For All, its the most compressed POS recording I've ever heard. Hopefully someone will declare them the undisputed winner in the loudness war and everyone else will give up. I saw a place where someone ripped the album from the Guitar Hero Metallica game and made it available for anyone who wants it. I'll download it one of these days and let everyone know how it goes.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 12428
Registered: Dec-04
That one was taken from 2 cd's of a remaster set from 3 years back. I dont have the original anymore, it got left behind in the rush.
 

Gold Member
Username: Nickelbut10

Post Number: 2518
Registered: Jun-07
LOL Stu- Everything by Metallica is so compressed it definitely should win the ' loud ' trophy. On their new album David and I could were talking about how we could both hear actual clipping on some songs because there was so much compression. Just dumb. Actually every metal album I have is so compressed it is almost un-listenable on any decent system. I love "In Flames - Re-Route To Remain". Probably my favorite metal album of all time. But it stays in the car.lol.
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Irvington, New York USA

Post Number: 3309
Registered: May-05
The Cobalt is officially mine. I'm still on the fence if it'll replace the Apollo in the main system, but it sounds way too good for the money to let go of. If it won't replace the Apollo, I'll use it for the Apple TV when I get it, or for something else. Either my Xbox or DVD player, depending on what can be done in the new home when that finally happens.


We were getting ready to put in an offer on a great home, but were a couple minutes too late. The seller (who is also a realtor) literally just took a deposit from a buyer when I called. 3 properties were listed in the townhome development. 18 days was the longest any of them lasted. And everyone says no ones buying? The search continues...
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Irvington, New York USA

Post Number: 3310
Registered: May-05
Also, my dealer spoke to the Rega and Naim distributers. Naim has a DAC coming out soon, anticipated at the end of summer. They're very tight lipped about everything. My dealer said 'The only thing I'm certain of is it'll have a black case and green Naim logo.' Price has been rumored to be as low as $2k and as high as $8k.

Rega's distributer said Rega is deveolping one. That's all he's been told.

I'd love a Rega DAC.
 

Gold Member
Username: Artk

Albany, Oregon USA

Post Number: 9677
Registered: Feb-05
Congrats on the Theta and hang in there on the property search...your patience will be rewarded.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 12460
Registered: Dec-04
Stay at it dawg, it'll happen.

No reason not to keep it Stu.
 

Silver Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 571
Registered: Jul-07
Sounds like a no-brainer Stu. A decent dac on the cheap can come in very handy. And if it's better than decent, all's the better. After it's powered up for 24 hours I'd be surprised if the sound quality got any better. Definitely play with different cables. I found more audible differences messing with my digital cable than my analogue interconnects.

Is the Theta unit an all-in-one unit, or does it have a separate power supply.
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Irvington, New York USA

Post Number: 3312
Registered: May-05
No seperate power supply, Chris. It did smooth out and fill out. It took about 4 days of being plugged in before everything settled in. It sounds far better now than it did cold. Every digital source I've had is the same way. After the first day or two the difference is more subtle, but there's still a difference. At least to my ears anyway. I'm going to try some different cables down the road. What I'm using now works fine.
 

New member
Username: Moroblue06

Post Number: 5
Registered: Nov-04
I just recently bought theta cobalt 307 dirt cheap over at Agon and was surprised how musical and engaging this circa 90s DAC is.
 

Gold Member
Username: Stu_pitt

Stamford, Connecticut USA

Post Number: 4006
Registered: May-05
If you bought the one that was just sold on the 'Gon, you got a great deal. To my ears, it sounds a lot better than the V-DAC and DAC Magic that everyone raves about. My 307 will stay until Rega releases their DAC. I'll compare the 307 to the Arcam rDAC ($479) and upcoming Rega DAC ($995 proposed price). I doubt the 307 will be embarrased by either one though.
 

Gold Member
Username: Nickelbut10

Post Number: 3205
Registered: Jun-07
No doubt. I bet it will hang with the Rega DAC no problem.
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