Ditch HT? Upgrade help please...

Right now my system's heart is a Theta Digital Casablanca I preamp/processor with standard DACs. I've got a pair of ARC VT 100 Mk IIIs that are passively horizontally bi-amping ProAc Response 3.8s for the front, and use a VT-50 to power a pair of Monitor Audio Bronze B2s for rear surrounds. Long ago, I ditched the concept of center channels, preferring the Theta phantom center mode. Anyway, I was about to upgrade the Casablanca to III status and drop in a set of Extreme DACs, which is about an $8K upgrade when I started thinkin'...

I realized that I'm hardly ever bothering to turn on the VT50 to power the rear channels. Given that I really don't seem to care that much about HT, I'm now wondering if I really ought to be looking at alternatives, like ditching the Casablanca/rear surrounds and getting a decent pre- and separate DAC. I'd love to hear what people would suggest as combos...

For example, one combination that comes to mind would be an ARC LS-25 mk II and a Theta Va--any idea how that would compare to the III upgrade and Extreme DACs?

Sonics is obviously key. But, in terms of other features I'd be looking for...

I need selectable inputs on the DAC. I have a Theta transport using coax, CATV using toslink, Audiotron using toslink, and 2 game systems using toslink. The video stuff runs through an Audio Authority switchbox, so I guess I just need three inputs--transport, Audio Authority, and Audiotron. At least two need to be toslink, and I prefer coax for the transport.

I need some convenience features, like remote control. For both DAC selectable inputs and pre, unless DAC autosenses inputs. Better yet, remote control *and* RS232 control.

I want a balanced pre. Would prefer XLR outputs, and a preamp with dual front outs or one capable of driving a pair VT 100s with a Y splitter.

Should I worry about DTS sources getting messed up? My Theta lets me run a phanton center mode... What happens with a stereo DAC fed a digital DTS signal? Can you select a phantom center mode or stereo mode?

I'm about 50/50 music/video, but beginning to understand that I really don't care that much about the video side, as long as the dialog is audible. My musical taste tends to be mainly rock, ranging from classical punk (the Clash, Husker Du) to country/folk (S. Earle, T. Van Zandt) to 70s AOR (Steely Dan, CCR) to alternative (Death Cab) to Blues (Johnny A., Koko Taylor). Been caught listening to Opera, Jazz, and other stuff on occasion too. Really value components with transparency, speed, accuracy and *slam*.

I'd be grateful for any input.
I feel the same way about HT and enjoy my "2.1" system. TV is a Sony Hi-Def 36" XBR which sits about two feet back from the speakers. The STB feeds a Theta Gen Va balanced DAC (the other inputs are the Theta CD transport and a DVD player). Preamp is an ARC LS-16. To my ears the sound is magnificent and I don't give a hoot about the "missing" channels. The Mormon Tabernacle choir on PBS (Perpetual Begging System) the other night was awesome. If anyone hasn't heard the digital sound that comes with HDTV, you are in for a very pleasant surprize. It bears no resemblance to that awful MTS sound we've been hearing for years. I am speaking of over the air, not cable or satellite. Somewhere around here I've got a Hughes AK something-or-other that simulates surround sound. After the holidays I may play around with it as the LS-16 has a processor loop.
After poking around a bit... Would anyone care to offer an opinion as to how the dCS Purcell/Delius combo might sound in my system without a preamp? Would there be a benefit to adding a pre with the dCS digital rig?

(I suppose I should have clarified I'm looking for options for maximal performance for redbook CDs...)
I found that I wasn't using mine either. I ditched it and used the money on a really good stereo upgrade. I think that a lot of people, myself included, get into it thinking that they'll save not going to the theater, and the HT can be built in pieces as money becomes available.

However, when a person looks back and sees the outlay for the five speakers and subwoofer; the amps; and the processor, if they had all of that cash up front they could have put together a really good stereo. The imaging would be good enough to make up for the center channel, and I never even missed the rears.

I returned to having a 'date' with my wife every one or two weekends, going to the theater seeing the movie on the BIG screen, eating my popcorn and Milk Duds, and drinking my coke. It's fun!
I have limited technical knowledge, but I don't believe you can feed a DTS signal to a DAC (or at least most DACs that I know of) and get sound. But you can always feed it analog signals of course.

All I can say is that if you do love/like/enjoy HT, you will be tempted to upgrade it sooner or later. I personally did sell my center channel and rear center surrounds and used the money towards upgrading my 2ch music system. I do miss the center channel but can live without it. I do miss the rear surrounds on ES/6.1/7.1 sources but I can live without it. I highly caution you against getting rid of your side surrounds and HT processor though, unless you don't watch any action movies. With what you've told us, I would not spend $8000 on the upgrade. Use the money on a separate pre and DAC and spend the rest on a HT processor or receiver(depending on your desired HT performance you can spend anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand for essentially top of the line unit) or keep your current unit if you have DD and DTS already and are happy with your current HT performance. Just turn on the Theta when you're watching a movie.
I fell into the HT trap some years ago. I had all the toys, and got rid of it all and went back to straight 2 channel. No HT preamp/processor I tried got straight 2 channel right.

Now I may be biased as I'm an old-timer and used to GOOD 2 channel.

Today I run my DVD player into the DAC on the Levinson 390S. All DVD movies contain a 2 channel PCM soundtrack.
This is all I need.


Paul :-)
Thanks all, I think come January, I'll probably ditch the Casablanca, the extra ARC VT-50, and the rears. I'm now interested enough in the dCS products to be thinking the Purcell/Delius combo will be the fit between the digital sources and my tube amps. Gotta find a way to audition 'em in my rig tho'.

Guess I'll probably keep the Casablanca around; I'm on the path to building a w/e place, and might incorporate multichannel there for a dedicated HT.

Howie--I think I'm viewing the switch as being an "upgrade" from HT to two channel. The Casablanca is a HT processor, as well as a 24/96 DAC and pre-amp. It still ranks up there with the state of the art in HT and will blow the socks off most processors for what it does. Bottom line is that multichannel is a distraction. What I really care about is music, and all the HT stuff is making my system too complex, taking up too much space, and not really increasing my enjoyment of movies, notwithstanding that it is state of the art.

Hmmm... wonder how the Monitor Audios would sound in the master bedroom driven by the now extra VT-50. :)
Edsilva, Okay it might take up too much space. But it shouldn't get in the way of your music unless you have your TV in between your speakers (which I then would recommend spending the money on a projector and screen as a better upgrade than anything else) and it shouldn't be that complex to integrate everything especially if you get a preamp with a passthrough function which you can certainly do with the type of budget you have. I know what you mean by upgrading 2ch rather than HT. But I was just thinking that it's not like selling your rear surrounds and your Theta would generate that extra money to really improve your 2ch system (not with your ample budget anyways). But if you can really live with 2ch audio from your movies then go right ahead and sell your HT system.