Berkeley Alpha DAC vs Theta Gen VIII and stuff...

More ramblings of a madman...

So my search for the preamp has lead me here. Thanks to all who posted in my thread about the Spectral pre but i think i have narrowed it down to an odd pair, the 2 Dacs in the title. This arose from a long phone conversation yesterday with the guy who sort of mentored me in this whole audio mess. I had bounced the idea of the Spectral DMC 30SL i was ready to buy off of him and we had gone round and round about the options. A friend of his has some similar gear, WP's and the like, and had had that Spectral as well as the 30SS + the Spectral CD/DAC. He had also been searching for the right fit and came across the Berkeley Alpha Dac. His comments are strong but they mirror what Robert Harley stated in his TAS article, the BAD is better than the Spectral System...the DAC and the Pre...he has replaced all that Spectral gear with the BAD run directly to his amp. WOW! I am in. But...I must complicate this...If i am going to go the DAC/Pre combo route I might as well include the one I personally have always lusted after...the Theta Generation VIII. now I have narrowed this down to the final 2, this is great progress. Help me drive this home fella's...

Has anyone compared these 2 fine devices? Anyone have experience with both that may help me close the door? It is not realistic to get them both here to do a listen, that is out. Gotta go on my gut and some input from the forum.

I suppose my first thought is the newer BAD is a better option given the progress in digital these days as well as the higher rez but the Theta is a classic sweet DAC which has been among the finest available for some time. It is also Theta, A company that seems to be a shell of itself since ATI got involved. Hmmmmm.

Whichever i chose will still be a challenge as neither has a solution for ht pass through. I will need to find some sort of switch at the amp or just change cables when I watch TV/Movies.

So this is where I stand. Input on these 2 devices, experience or comparison, greatly appreciated...

Rest of the system (for now!):

Krell FPB 600c
Wilson WP 7's
Logitech Transporter (will be the only source acting as tranport only)
MIT MH850 speaker cables
MIT MI350 CVT Proline Reference interconnects
MIT Oracle AC1 power cords
MIT ZStabalizerIII HG conditioner/filter/surge

HT stuff to pass through some how...

My home theater will pass through.
I have not compared the Berkeley to the Theta, and I have not heard the Theta in a few years to be honest, but I did compare the Berkeley to the Bryston, and I bought the Bryston and sold the Berkeley.

I thought the Bryston, while not a minutely detailed, was a bit warmer (what I am always looking for with my rig) and had a bigger soundstage.

I do remember the Theta being very nice. But I only ever heard it with discs, never digital files.
thanks for the input. i am surprised that the bryston was a warmer sounding dac but happy you found what you are looking for. i am hoping to get a dac with volume control so the bryston is not going to work for me.
Hmmmm... I have been offered a Theta Gen VIII by someone who is replacing it with the BAD....

I am in the same quandry... as I too have lusted for a Gen VIII since i fisrt heard it.

Incidentally, for some reason, the price of pre-owned Gen VIIIs have fallen DRAMATICALLY in recent times.

Is there an exodus for the BAD ?? ;-)
indianaears...i suspect it has more to do with the age of the genviii than an exodus. in addition, the series 2 makes it a dated piece (the gen viii series 1) so i am pretty sure that is the reason for the slide in value. that being said, it also is making it quite the bargain and hard to pass. in an ideal world, i should try to get them both here for a side by side. that would be quite an interesting event and quite telling.

i am surprised there are not more with experience to share on these. i could not even find much in the forum history on the theta despite it's age...
one more option would be the modwright transporter, also straight to the amp. anyone compare the mwt with the alpha dac or gen viii? do any of you guys use your mwtransporters straight to your amplifiers?
any other suggestions on how to improve? i will be forced to flip a coin.

Unfortunately I cannot provide input for your question, as I'm basically standing at the same spot you are in, although it will take me about another year to save enough cash. If you don't mind, I would greatly appreciate if you could post what you decide to do and how it goes.

Best of luck!

I have compared the Modwright transporter to the Theta and I liked the Modwright much better but a preamp with the modwright makes a huge difference. You can not run the transporter direct to amps. A good preamp makes all the difference in the world.
horacio...i will post a follow up when i get whichever i choose here and set up. good luck on your process as well and thanks for the comments.

mtdking...appreciate the input, i actually think the stock transporer run directly to my amp sounds pretty good, i play it every now and then in that configuration just for a change. i'm sure i would prefer it with a preamp but i do not have one at the moment hence this search. i am using a theta casanova for now. it has served me quite well and performs well beyond it's age and price point but i think it is time to move to a better solution.
well i have ordered a berkeley alpha dac. just too many crazy strong comments out there on this device, i have to hear it in my system. i still have the quandary of how to handle integration with my home theater. if anyone has ideas by all means throw them in. as it stands now, i plan to run the transporter digital out via aes/ebu to the berkeley then xlr analog out from the alpha dac directly to my krell fpb600c and use the volume control in the dac. this seems to be the way it sounds best according to all i have read. i will have to switch the cables back to my theta casanova to watch tv/movies and will not be able to have the benifit of the alpha dac for that processing. this is a pain to do but may be the only way.

at some point i also plan to set up a computer to use with the dac for higher resolution material. i just do not have any now and really think it will be sometime before i gather enough to make it worth while.
Theta for movies. However if on a large part you use it for music, imo you have made the right choice. Congrates!
bvdiman-thanks for the comment. love your system, great mix of classic and new. nice room too!
Theta has had a upgrade to it's GEN VIII i haven't heard if that is what you have. I have the GEN VIII vs/2. I will be demo in the BADA and my Theta within the next month. Well let you know how it turns out. Richard do or did you have the Theta GEN VIII v/2 if so how did it compare to the BADA?
The GEN VIII v/2 is a huge upgrade from the first one. It sounds more musical and involving. The thing with the BADA it does high res!
I use the Gen8V2 with my Transporter and love the combo. I had a Modwright Transporter and sold it.

I set one of the inputs on the Gen8 to Fixed Volume and it works perfectly for my home theater.

The Theta Gen8V2 is a first rate DAC/linestage that can be compared with the best out there. It has been super reliable with no problems whatsoever. Built quality is amazing. Make sure you use "Reclock" instead of "Jitter Jail" for high quality sources.

Worldcat- the Gen8V2 is ready for high resolution files they just need to change the receiver chip which I think will happen at some point.

Jason Victor Serinus reviewed the Gen8V2 at Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity and compared it to the BADA and Weiss Medea.
Jason did review it but never really gave a clear conclusion of what he liked best. What do you mean by using Reclock for high quality sources??
You won't regret the decision to buy the Alpha. It's a great piece of gear. I'll offer up one slight - and certainly controversial - issue.

> ...directly to my krell fpb600c and use the volume control in the dac. this seems to be the way it sounds best according to all i have read.

I have tried running the output from the Alpha both directly into my amp (Atma-Sphere S-30 Mk III) and through my preamp (The Messenger). I noticed a small collapse of the soundstage when driving the amp directly. As my tastes are heavily biased towards excellent reproduction of same, I prefer the preamp route, and in any event I need said preamp for vinyl. Please don't misunderstand. The sound is slightly more immediate and forward with 'direct drive', and I understand exactly why some might prefer it. It's definitely a matter of taste.

In any event,congratulations on your choice. Happy listening!

worldcat...i do not have the generation8 but was looking at it as an option before i chose the bada. i would love to hear your thoughts on the comparison when you get yours. thanks for the comments.

fsarc...nice to know that you are able to integrate your theta using fixed volume. i will remember that as an option in the future. i don't know if that would work on the bada but will see. appreciate the post and the link to the review.

mike...glad to hear you are so pleased with the alpha dac and hope i feel the same. i think this is going to be a long few weeks! it does not surprise me that the preamp removes some of the forwardness, i have read others who have this preference as well. i guess i will have to see how it sounds and am hoping i will be pleased enough direct to the amp. thanks for the well wishes!!
Worldcat- From the Theta website:

"8.Go into the Generation VIII Series 2 unit's setup menu and turn on RECLOCK for any high resolution digital sources (i.e. CD transport) to obtain the highest sound quality from those sources, or JITTER JAIL for any lower resolution digital sources (i.e. PC Sound card, DVR, SAT, etc.) to reduce the digital distortion from such sources. To do so, go to SETUP / 5 BUTTON / 2 BUTTON / LEVEL UP or LEVEL DOWN to select either JITTER JAIL (the factory default) or RECLOCK, for maximum sound quality."
Ok i will try, the Series two menu is different. I dont have a manuel for it so thanks. I will let you know what i find out and hear!!
It seems more detail and more focused soundstage in the re-clocking mode. Maybe not as much air as in the jitter jail to me and i think in the jitter jail mode its a little more involving. There is totally two different sounds. I like them both:).
All, thanks for your help here I have a Gen VIII series 2 and based on this discussion I changed from jitter jail to re-clocking. All I can say is WOW what a huge improvment in sound stage clarity and bass definition! This is a whole new and much improved sound from red book cd!
Worldcat/Fsarc/Ronv - Have you tried both the series 1 and 2? Were you able to tell the differences side-by-side, or in close time proximity to each other? I read the Serinus review, sounds great, but my dealer said he upgraded one, and the upgrade sounded more resolving, but he thought it may have been a case of resolution at the expense of musicality. But that was cold, with no beak-in, as it was a customer piece, and it went home with the customer after update.
The new upgrade on the Gen VIII i though was huge all across the board. I finally did the BADA and GEN VIII comparison. This is going to come down to taste. I could not decide which one i like best. I love both of them but they do sound different. I think most people will like the BADA better. The voices where awesome on the BADA. It took 5 days of continuing listening to get the sound out of the BADA, dealer told me that it was a new unit and hadn't been broken in yet. The GEn VIII has more air to it and it is more of an aggressive sound to it, the BADA more relaxed. I love the air around the music of the Theta but i like the clarity of the BADA. I listen to Eva Cassidy "Autumn Leaves" this was interesting and describes the difference between the units. Her voice on the Theta is more raspy and on the BADA more laid back, well i never heard her in person so i dont know what is more accurate. Thats the difference i came across " which one is more accurate"! Do they both sound good or great? YES. Do i plan to get a Berkeley? YES. I need more time with both to see which one i really like better.
thanks for the comparison worldcat! i am still waiting for the bada to be delivered. going on 5 weeks so i hope any day now. nice to know that it compares so well to the theta which is like 2 1/2 times the cost! i am pretty damn anxious for it's arrival!!!!

keep us updated as you get more time with them.
Thanks for the info Worldcat. Was the GenVIII series2 more or less agressive sounding than the series1? Also, how many steps are there in the BADA volume control (or more to the point, are the steps fine enough that you don't have to choose between a little too soft and a little too loud?)
I have very reveling speakers so i could listen at a decent level without being to loud. But you can turn it way way up with the BADA and it sounds very good. To loud to be listening too. I really cannot remember the difference in the S! and S2 as far as being more aggressive i only noticed it with the BADA comparison. There are lots of steps with the bada volume control as it does .1 at a time increments.
I have owned the Theta Gen VIII series I since 2005 and recently in 2009 upgraded to the Gen series 2. I can tell you that both sound stage and bass reproduction are much improved in the series II. I am very happy with the upgrade and at this point dont have a desire to change.
Anyone looking for either of these dacs you should try the PS Audio Perfect wave tran and DAC combo. I was really impressed and ordered both.
I second the motion Worldcat. This combo is hard to beat! It makes me want to come home and listen every night.

Richard_stacy, Currently I'm running my MW Transporter direct to the amp and the sound is more than acceptable until I buy a preamp. Like mtdking, I also find the sound is better through a preamp.

I just received my MW Oppo BDP-83 from Dan so I need a preamp to use it :-)
It is going to be interesting how the magazines review the PS Audio Perfect Wave's. For the money they can't be beat in my opinion. As always demo them and try them in your system. Make sure they have been broken in and warmed up!!
Are you saying the PS Audio is better than / in the same league as the Gen VIII and BADA, or just good value for the money?
I just heard an Orpheus Prism (a DAC often used for mastering) over the weekend in my system (I normally use a ModWright Transporter).

I was very, very impressed.
I think so!
Did you ever receive the Berkeley? If so, how about some thoughts? You like? You no like?

yes. after a really long wait it finally arrived and i am very pleased. rarely do i find a piece of gear lives up to the hype but this has and much more (for me). i am generally a skeptic.
i suppose the easiest way to do this is to say robert harley nailed this thing in his review. i am listening as i type and it is just simply hard for me to imagine how it could be better. i have been spending some time on configuring the rest of my network and am experimenting but think i have the basics in place. this week i moved all my files to a nas drive and replaced my router so i am streaming files from the nas to a logitech transporter to the berkeley then run direct to my amp. the volume control is as good as the rest of the dac and although i have not tried it with a preamp, i would think one is not necessary. they recommend running direct and suggest a preamp will degrade the signal.

so...i like! i cannot see myself changing dacs/digital source for a long long time.
Hi all, I borrowed a BADA from my dealer, and am comparing to THeta GenVIII s1. Initial thoughts are BADA is generally more refined sounding, iwth more detailed highs and smoother, easier to listen to upper midrange. From some of the descriptions, I thought the BAA would lack sparkle or definition on cymbals, but this is not the case; it is brighter than the Theta in this area, but gentler in the upper mids - a good thing. My only reservation is that it somehow seems to shift the focus of the sound away from the upper bass/lower mids to the upper mids/treble, and I am not convinced this is such a good thing, at least with my current system. Has anyone else noticed this? Ideally, I'd like the improved resolution and gentleness of the BADA with the tonal balance fo the Theta, but from people's comments, I'm not sure this is what the S2 upgrade would do - or would it? HELP!!! (I can't audition the S2 before buying)
I owned the Gen VIII for a long time and had the Series 2. I demoed the BADA and a Ps Audio DAC and TRANS. I thought the Bada was better but the Theta really had a nice suck you into the music. I ended up buying the PS audio combo which i though sounded in between the Bada and Theta. The PS combo was better than the Theta and it had the sound i was looking for. I have not demoed the Bada with the PS Transport. I really want to do this now to see how it compares. I will tell you this the upgrade on the Theta does make a big difference. You should demo the PS Audio as well.