External DAC and Theta Casablanca II


i'm thinking of adding an external DAC in front of my Theta Casablanca II (w/Superior DACs). Just wondering how far up one would have to go to exceed the performance of the Theta Superior DACs...

$400 CambridgeAudio DACMagic
$750 PS Audio DLIII
$1,000 Benchmark DAC1
$1,800 Bryston
$2,500 Weiss

I know theta makes great stuff, but the DACs in my CBII have some yers on them, and things improve so rapidly in the digital side... just wondering if anyone has done what I'm thinking of, what results they found, and how far up one has to go to to exceed the performance of the CBII Superior DACs.

Many thanks,
i will be watching this thread as i have a similar question re my casanova. i had started a thread but did not get much so hopefully your timing is better. i run the digital out from sb duet to the casanova. considering adding the transporter (analog out) or another external dac and not sure which would be the most upgrade. thanks for starting this one scott!
Hi Scott,

You could call Theta, but I believe that the Casablanca I , II or III all convert the analog to digital. Therefore you cannot by pass your superior dacs and use the Casablanca at the same time. That is why the made the six shooter.

mds...i think scott was just referring to going to the analog inputs after doing the conversion to digital externally...
Hi Richard,

You are exactly right... i was considering running from the source to an external DAC (via Coax / TOSLink) and then going from the DAC to the analogue inputs on the Casablanca II.

Theta is great stuff, no doubt, but digital has come a VERY long way since the CBII superior DACS were state of the art. And for what Theta charges to upgrade the DAC cards, one could but a really nice external unit. A Weiss DAC2, which I think would represent a considerable improvement, can be had for half the price of just one upgraded DAC card!


are you suggesting the the Casablanca, one receiving an analogue signal, will convert it to digital and then run it through the internal DACS to convert it back to analogue?

I never would have guessed that - sounds like a question for Theta.

i emailed theta and got a very prompt response from their technician carl (impressive). he told me to check the manual and search for Analog Direct Mode... so i did precisely that and here's what i found...

"Analog Direct: this mode takes the selected analog input and routes it directly to the main Left/Right outputs via the volume controls. Since there is no surround processing in Analog Direct, the sub woofer, EQ, phantom center channel, and crossover effects are not available. Note: If these effects are desired, use the STEREO mode. The Analog Direct mode will route only an analog signal to the outputs.

Analog Matrix: The signal routing in this mode is the same as Analog Direct, left and right analog input signals routed directly to the main outputs via the volume controls, and at the same time, the input left and right signals are routed through an analog to digital converter in order to derive the other channels, which include left and right surround, sides, center, and center surround. These other channels can have EQ and be crossed over (creating a SUB channel), but the front left and right channels may not have EQ, be crossed over (routed to the sub woofers), or perform phantom center speaker. The Analog Matrix mode processes an analog input signal only."

so, seemingly one can input an analogue signal to the CBII and bypass the internal DACs with some limitations.
You could also buy a digital out card and use it in one of your open slots in the CB. If you don't have an open slot just remove one of your lower quailty dac cards and replace with the digital out card. Then you can plug and external dac via coax or AEU into the card. I use the Gen 8 V2 for my L/R channels and extremes/Super 2 dacs cards for the remaining channels. It's seamless. You would just need to reprogram the channels in the theta.
thanks, Stick70. i've been looking for a digi out card, but no luck so far. running into the analog inputs and using the analogue matrix mode is also a good option.

are there any opinions on the level of external DAC that would be required to exceed the performance of the internal CBII Superior DACS out there?

Hey Scott,

Well the Superior II Dacs are a bit dated so most of the current Dacs would probably yield better Sonics. But some may disagree. The digi out card is about $500 retail. I found one here on the gon for less but any Theta dealer would probably give you a discount. If you’re going to keep your CB the digi card is the best way to go. Plus you'll get the added benefit of the better DAC for your HT as well. Again, the CB is the only processor, that I know, that will do this function. There are a bunch of CB's for sale on the gon, just send a message to the seller and see if they'd be willing to sell you digi out card (if one is in that CB). That's what I did and to my surprise the seller was willing to do it. Also, I've seen the Superior 2 cards and extremes card fo sale as well.
Hi Scott,

I have not been following this tread and did not realised you asked me a question. Yes, I thought that all analog signals sent into a casablanca were converted to digital. That was what I was told when looking to buy one. Carl is their technical rep and if he says it can be bypassed in Analog Direct then it must be so. I bought a Meridian 568.2 instead and know all analog signals are converted to digital for processing in this unit.

I went a different route by installing a tube preamp in my system which sounds better for volume control than the meridian processor. Even routing the L & R channels out of the meridian and into the preamp sound better for music than using the meridian straight to the amp. To get the best sound I set the volume in the meridian close to the max and control the volume thru the preamp (obviously this is only for stereo). This was a recommendation from Richard Hardesty on line magazine "Audio Perfectionist". As in his opinion he thought the Casablanca II while being an excellent Processor was not as good at volume control as a modestly priced preamp.

Analog Direct... Holy Crud... Didn't even know there was such a thing! Question... Do you have to have an Analog Out Card to run the Analog Direct Mode?

I've got a II with Extreme DAC's and until I read the above I was under the misguided impression that I was by-passing the DAC's for 2 channel Stereo by running my Amalog outs from my Compli CD / DVD to the Analog In Card on the Casablanca II. Prompted by the above I took another look at the Imput Processing Sections of the manual and sure enought there it is... clear as mud.

I set mine up to play 2 channel Stereo from both the Analog In Card and the Digital In Card and IMHO the Analog In Card is much better.

Have you tried a preamp and bypassing the Casablanca altogether. Maybe you could borrow one from one of your friends and try it out. You would probably be supprised.

Doug... I haven't tried a plain old preamp to see if I'd like it better than my Casablanca. I've thought about that, but with DAC's being are all the rage right now, considering the fact that my Casablanca has the Extreme DAC's, I have the same question that Scott asked being "how far I'd have to go to hear an improvement". Sometime I think Theta owners have the best of both worlds with DAC's built in to everything from the Casanova on up the Theta ladder, and other times I want to dump it all and go straight 2 channel.

I really think I'd be better served to find someone who actually knows their way around the Theta Casablanca's and pay that person to fine tune that monster. Whenever I pick up the manual, my IQ automatically drops to 5.
Hey Raks,

If you set your Casablanca to Analog Direct you will not be using the Dacs in the Casablanca. The only controls the casablanca will do in this mode will be volume control and speaker levels. Nothing else. Stereo mode will kick in your Dacs, levels, delays, crossovers, and pink noise generator. Analog Matrix will turn off the Dacs for the L/R but will provide Dacs and all the other controls for the remaining channels.
I own a Casablanca 3 and Gen 8 Dac . I've got many yrs of experience with fine tuning these. Feel free to ask me any questions or PM me.
stick-hello again...do you know if those features are on the casanova? i hae not seen them so i doubt it but i could have missed them. thanks!
Hey Richard,

Do you mean the Analog Direct, Matrix ect... I'm pretty sure they are but I've never used that piece so you might want to double check. The Casanova was just a step down from the CB but does provide alot of the sa,e functions.
yes, the analog direct, matrix features. correct, it was the entry level version which theta abandoned. i have a love hate with theta as a result. so much for open architecture! i will take a run back through the manual but i thought i had a pretty decent handle on it. hope it does...
Let me know your findings.
i find no way to do it with the caasanova. the way i understand, the only way to get a true analog direct process with the cbiii is using the six shooter which would pretty much create a world class line stage that also is capable of multi channel.
So no analog direct in the casanova? Wow that's a bummer. Currently I'm using the Gen 8's analog section for my 2 channel. I've had the six shooter and have used it for 2 channel. IMO the Gen 8 is better for pure analog. Only downside with the Gen 8 is no multi-channel but as soon as the HDMI upgrade comes out for the CB3 that will end that problem.
Going to school on the above Posts about Theta’s Analog Direct mode by-passing the Extreme dac’s on my Casablanca II, I switched things around so I'd have one of the front buttons configured to play CD's in the Analog Direct mode (single ended analog connection). Sooooooo... now I've got buttons configured to play CD's in Analog Direct mode, Stereo mode via AES/EBU digital, and Stereo mode via single ended analog.

Before I went through the riggers of reconfiguring one of the buttons, I played around by just switching the mode on the single ended analog connection from Stereo to Analog Direct. What I heard intrigued me enough to take the next step.

After setting all the levels to match, I was really surprised to hear that there was a substantial improvement with the dictated Analog Direct configuration compared against what I hear when I just change modes from Stereo to Analog Direct.

The dedicated Analog Direct configuration was night and day better. I’ve had this itch to upgrade my Usher BE 718’s, and the itch didn’t get any better after hearing the Focal BE 1007’s. I walked out of the showroom wondering if it was the room… the mega money front end… or the Focal’s. I had myself pretty convinced the Focal’s were the way to go, until today. Bottom-line, Theta’s Analog Direct mode made cymbals sound much better… tightened the base… and produced smack you in the face dynamics. The moral of this saga is to suggest that anyone that hasn’t tried Theta’s Analog Direct mode for 2 channel, should give it a try.
thanks for the update raks. you guys are pushing me to finally let go of my old casanova and dive into a casablanca. it is really holding me back.
Raks, Are the DACs in your CDP that much better than the DAC's in the CB3's? I would agree the analog section is very good for an HT processor but the extreme DAC's would kill most CDP's and or DVD players. I used the CB's analog section for my turntable setup and preformed very well. I use an Esoteric UX3pi for my universal player and found the DACs in this player comes very close to the extremes.
Recently, I decided to introduce tubes into my 2 channel system to obtain a warmer sound. I finally decided to go with a tubed DAC to go in between my Theta transport and my Theta CB3. This way, I get to keep all the functions of the crossovers, but still get the tubed sound by going direct into the Theta's analog inputs. I'm currently debating whether to go with the Predac or the Kora Hermes II. Both have their good attributes-just have to decide which one. There is no doubt this will work those of you whom have questioned it. The CB3 is very versitille and a great 5.1 - 7.1 processor. When I get hooked up and running, I will give you a review. Anyone care to recommend Predac over the Kora or visa-versa? Both have great reviews. The Kora has xlr outs, but the Predac has a "tubiness" control for adjusting the "warmth"
Stick70... I use the Theta Compli which is a universal CD, DVD, SACD & etc. I seriously question whether the dac's in the Compli are anywhere close to the Extreme dac's in my Casablanca II. All I can tell you is by-passing the II's dac's made my system sound far more transparent with greater dynamics. With the Analog Direct connection it's like I took a blanket off my speakers. Try switching the mode on you turntable from Stereo to Analog Direct and let us know what you think.
Hey Raks,
Wow that's very interesting. Hey if the Sonics are better using the Compi Dacs that's all that matters. I actually looked at the Compi before acquiring the Esoteric. It's a top notch player especially for Redbook! My turntable setup is: Art Audio Vinyl Reference Phono preamp (using NOS tubes) into the Gen 8. I'm using the digi out card in the CB3 to control the speaker levels. Only reason why I have that configuration is because I've integrated the Gen 8 into my entire system. I use the Dac section of the gen 8 for my HT as the L/R channels and the Cb's extreme dac and superior 2 dac for the remaining channels. This way I can eliminate the need for two separate systems. I have used the analog section in the CB3 for my turntable before I got the Gen 8 with the setting to Analog direct with excellent results. I'd high recommend anyone trying this if they had a need for pure analog.
Stick70... You sure know your way around Theta. I sincerely want to thank you for sharing your expert knowledge about what’s possible with Theta. Your comments about the Analog Direct mode tweaked my system to the point that the “better speaker monkey” is now on the shelf… at least for the time being. Your system is incredible. Does Theta have a picture of you on their “Hall of Fame Wall”?
Hey Raks,

Thanks for those kind words. Glad I could help. Enjoy your newly tweaked system!!
I was blown away a few months ago, with Foobar playing (thru USB) into an Empirical Audio USB to SPDIF Converter, which in turn fed a Theta GenVII.

Bettered an AR CD player by FAR (to my ears)
i know this thread is a bit dated, but since i recently answered the question i was originally posting, i figured i'd revive it in case anyone else was curious..

A friend of mine generously loaned me his Cambridge Audio DACMagic to compare to the DACs in my Casablanca (Superior). To test, I ran an analogue input from the DACMagic and a digital input directly from the same source to the Casablanca II. All that was required to hear the difference was switching inputs on the Casablanca, done right from my listening chair. The DACMagic in all areas, save bass, was superior. The bass from the Theta was tighter and more powerful, but otherwise, the DACMagic won the day.

i went in this not knowing what to expect, but in the end, the answer was clear. DAC tech has come a long way since the CBII was introduced.
I'm not surprised by this test. The Superior DAC is really dated compared to many reasonably priced DAC on the market today. Unless Theta comes out with their HDMI upgrade there's really no reason to upgrade any older CB. I've got a CB3 w/extreme & Superior II DAC's + the Gen VIII v2 and the sound is spectacular and only for HT but 2ch as well. I’ve not heard the new Audio Codes but sometimes I find it hard to believe they are that much better. I'll continue to wait for the upgrade. Got too much invested in this brand to walk away. It's not like the Sonics I’m hearing with my setup are bad by any means!!
Stick 70:

I have been with the Theta sound for 20 years; still use my Generation Va in the system at the lake. Recently into computer audio (ripped 2200 Redbook CDs). Here at home I use a CBII with Xtreme DACs, pre-Gen VIII days. I have struggled a little with the CBII and computer music, but an asynchronous USB->S/PDIF converter on the BNC input is producing some mighty fine sound, better than using the Jade.

It looks like the USB -> S/PDIF converters (in asynchronous mode) may be breathing new life into some of the older DACs that don't have their own clock defenses or buffering strategies like the Gen VIII's. I am considering options like dispatching the CB to the lake, retiring the Gen Va, and installing a Gen VIII here.

I am over the home theater thing.

Since you have experience with both converters, can you comment on the CB Xtreme dacs vs. the Gen VIII for 2-channel Redbook?
I have an CB3 w/superior boards (best you could buy when I bought it). My DAC started missing the 1st second or two of most songs. Amplifier Technologies, who purchased Theta, kept it for weeks and weeks and returned it in the same condition. They refused to help me, even though it was still under warranty. (Even though I love my CB3, I will never buy Theta again due to this. When John Bayloff was with Theta-he really took care of his customers) Anyway, I purchased a Kora Hermes II tubed DAC and it is head and shoulders above what I had. Very smooth and warm. If I were you, I would consider an outboard DAC and run it analog matrix direct. This way, you can still crossover your subs if you want, while keeping the clear sound of direct. If you have an analog output on your CD transport, try running it analog direct. You won't believe the difference in quality.
Guess I should have read the other threads before responding. I see my subject was covered very well before my input. That will teach me...It's all in fun anyway.
been about a year since i started this thread... lots of changes in my system since then. i'm no longer running the Casablanca, having moved to an aesthetix calypso preamp and weiss minerva DAC.

i'll not get too effusive here... suffice to say, my system has never sounded this good.

I'm using my Gen VIII v2 as a straight 2 channel (analog/digial) but also intergrated into the CB3 for HT (L&R). For 2 channel, I would not compare the Gen VIII's DAC's to the CB3's extreme DACS as they are different. CB3 excels in HT not pure 2 channel digital or analog(though they are better than most IMO).

Currently Theta CB seems so be in flux (being polite). I wouldn't buy into this brand right know. Hopefully the 1.4HDMI upgrade will happen but who really knows. I'm sticking with them only because 90% on my gear is with them and of course I love the sound of Theta. But again who really knows if that upgrade will ever happen. This is what happens when you buy into the small high end brands. Buyer beware