Digital front end question

I've been out of High End audio for 9 years, and have just jumped back in. I need to know if digital front ends have changed that much in 9 years ... Can a Theta DS Pro Basic IIIa with a good transport compete with a Marantz 8001 ? And would I be insane to buy a $170 Oppo 980H and have Ric at EVS do $1100 worth of mods as my front end ? I already have a good transport, and can buy a used Theta Dac like mentioned above for $500 ...
A few years ago Ric modded a Panasonic S47 for 3 or 400$ for me.It was a real good sounding player.I don't know what 1100$ gets you nowdays.Seems like alot,but I can't begin to know what he's going to do.He is very knowledgeable[sp].Best of luck,Bob
No, you wouldn't be crazy, Ric did some great things for my Pioneer DV-58AV. Ultimately it's not near as good as my Playback Designs MPS-5, that costs around 6-times as much.

I was talking with Ric about his 32-bit mods to the Oppo vs. buying the MPS-5. He said, "Get the MPS-5 if you can afford it." Without having heard Ric's moded Oppo, I can only guess that it's very good, but short of state of the art.

Talk to Ric about the best model Oppo from the point of view of ease of use and non-glitchyness. Mine would sometimes play the CD layer on a hybrid SACD, even though I set my preferences for SACD. The Pioneer (I've got Oppo, Pioneer and Playback Designs) was much easier to use and flawlessly played my preferred layers of SACD and DVD-A. Still, the Oppo is a great value.


The big thing with digitial is that it now sounds decent. Actually, some CD rigs actually sound awesome. You have to pay to play but there is (finally) some great sounding digital out there. A Benchamrk DAC, approx $975, sounds incedibly better than digital did nine years ago. The shrieking, etched, harshness and tinnyness is gone - with the good sounding stuff, that is.
You didn't mention what transport you have, but if it is truly a good one, don't give it up. There are very few great transports in production today. I would suggest that you go with a DAC that can accept firmware and software updates from the manufacturer. I haven't been able to find a transport that beats my 15 year old Theta Data Universal II. It's mated to an MSB Platinum Plus DAC. I've been able to update the clock, DAC chips and load updated filters into it to keep it current. You can get a lot of mileage out of a good transport, but many DACs can fall behind the times.
Thanks for the response guys. I remember the Theta sounding VERY good, but I'd be a fool to believe digital hasn't progressed over the years.
As far as the modded Oppo, I have no doubts about Ric's work, nor the great quality of the parts he uses. It's just the damn $170 Oppo player that scares me so badly. Sure ... It's a great video machine, but it's VERY light weight and cheap to be made in to a great CD Player in my opinion.
The Benchmark also intrigued me, but I've read quite a few opinions talking about it sounding somewhat overly analytical ... This is a killer for me. I don't like an overly warm and romantic sound, but I must have some level of musicality and flow.
I looked at the possibility of the Cambridge 840C, but have read where it ultimately lacks some drive and dynamics.
Maybe I should just open myself up to suggestions with this as my criteria : I'm ultimately looking for tight and controlled bass with dynamics and drive ( my system is fairly nuetral, but can lean to warm if not careful ). I also would like some airiness in the highs.
Used is fine, single box or separate DAC is fine, and my budget is around $1000.
Thanks again for your advice and opinions.
To Mrderrick : I'm using a Sony DVP-S7700 as my transport. A call to Theta's technical dept this past Friday, let me know they also hold the 7700 in high regard as a transport.
Can you reccomend a DAC that fits the criteria I listed above ?
Hi Tim, You have suggestions at ~$1000.
You can now buy a NEW Lexicon RT-20 for that money.
It is "A" rated by TAS and it sounds "excellent" in my Spectral/MIT based system. Seems like a STEAL compared to any other $1000 item and it plays all formats.
Good luck.Pete
If you have an iTunes account or any digital music, I would suggest that you buy a good DAC (the Benchmark mentioned above is a great place to start), and some type of media server such as a Logitech Duet or AppleTV. Download all of your CD's to WAV or AppleLossless files. You will be shocked by the sound and the ease of use. I love my AppleTV because it is just so easy to use, and after many, many DAC's I found one that's just perfect for my system. I sold a modded Denon 5910ci because the sound from the AppleTV DAC was just that good. I didn't think it was worth messing with the disc's anymore. For SACD and DVD's I use an unmodded Oppo 980 when I want to toss one of those in.

If I really wan to list to "perfect" music, I use vinyl.

So, my advice for digital front end, is bypass the disc player and go media server-DAC.

Good luck!!
Thanks Pete. Would you mind directing me to a place I can purchase the Lexicon for $1000 ? I searched Google, and found $3500 most places.
If you would like to have HDCD decoding, the Classe DAC1's have been selling for around $1000. The Musical Fidelity A3 24 is also very nice sounding. The Benchmark may need some mods to get what you want. Cambridge just released a new DAC that you may want to consider, but I'm not certain of the price. I've owned the Classe (CDT & DAC1 combo) and listened to the MF and Benchmark. I'm partial to the Classe combo due to spending more time with it. The sonic goals that you're reaching for will be affected by the transport just as much as the DAC. For the price used, your 7700 is quite a transport bargain at its price point. (I have one also) If you could budget the same amount on the transport as the DAC, it will be easier to achieve your sonic goal. In my system, "air" was not one of the 7700's better qualities.
Thanks Mrderrick .... Good to know you have first hand experience with the same transport I'm using. I'm now looking hard at the Lexicon RT-20 that Pete reccomended. It has nothing but glowing reviews on the web every where I look.
I'm open to literally anything, but would prefer a single box solution if possible.
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The biggest problem with separate dac/trans is the interconnection. Unless you have BNC or better I2Bus, it will transfer in the lowly SPIDF.

By getting a player you eliminate the SPIDF a digital interconnect, a power cord, a shelf, iso devices...

Players such as the Raysoinc 168 als bring a fantastic variable balanced tube output. Meaning you can forgo a preamp. I sold my $3K pre after breakin and comparison.

MSRP for 168 is only $2549

I also used a DVP-s7700 as a transport and thought it was pretty good. Then a friend of mine who has a lot of upmarket gear (Wadia, EMM Labs) suggested that I upgrade, and I did. The Theta Pearl transport ($500 on Audiogon) was worlds better, especially in the bass, and the Theta Jade ($900 on Audiogon) better still. The transport makes a world of difference.