Monday, November 19, 2012

Emotiva UMC-1 vs. Theta Casanova

This one will be quick.  I've accumulated a lot of gear and have to start deciding what to sell.  I have four preamplifiers, three amplifiers, three pairs of speakers... you get the picture.

Lately I've been having a lot of fun with friends who have been coming over to watch movies or listen to music, mostly jazz.  I have refrained from really doing a lot of critical listening because of my floors.  I live in a converted 19th century brick schoolhouse with the original wooden floors.  You can imagine how flat and even they are.  So I purchased two pairs of outriggers from Soundocity.  It took a little while but they were
very communicative.  The products were perfectly finished, but the bolts included were English size only.

Anyway, between that and a Bosch Laser Level I was able to get my speakers perfectly aligned, so I thought the time had come for some real listening tests.  My friends came over, and we started listening to NPR's Jazz Set with the existing setup which consists of:

  • Logitech Squeezebox Touch
  • Emotiva UMC-1
  • Blue Monster Cables selected for their length, with 90 degree plugs on one end. 
  • Yamaha P2100 professional amplifier (100w/ch, ca. 1980's)
  • Focal Profile 918 (2 1/2 way speakers, aluminum tweeter)
Before I go much further I should say that the Emotiva easily beat an Onkyo receiver/processor which was used only for the processing.  The UMC-1 had much better transparency and mid to high end and was a lot of fun to listen to. 

After listening to Jazz Set for a little while I swapped out the Emotiva for a 1990's vintage Theta Casanova via balanced Vampire cables I had left over.  Unfortunately I was not able to swap cables on the Emotiva easily because of physical logistics, so I put that off. 

Since they began coming over to listen to music, my friends had been noticing that the double bass and drums seemed out of balance with the rest of the system in the past.  The difference after swapping out the UMC-1 in favor of the Casanova was not really subtle.  The biggest and most clearly demonstrable difference was in the mid-range to lower octaves.  The bottom of the double bass and drums really came alive.   More sublte differences were in the way the decay of notes were handled.  Theta preserved them more clearly than the Emotiva, or as Richard called it "less dry" and "wetter" sound.  Another difference related to this is noise level.  You can't really hear the Emotiva's noise at any distance, but by comparison the Theta was simply dead quiet. 

The Profiles' drivers are arranged in a normal array starting with the tweeter at the top and the woofer at the bottom, with a midrange/woofer in the middle.  What was interesting to note was that the swap also seemed to cause the location of the music to drop a few inches towards the middle driver. 

I next tested the Theta using single ended Vampire cables.  The improvements were still there, but noticably reduced.  I found this really interesting becuase the Yammie's are single-terminal amplifiers with a differential amplifier at the inputs.  That is, they are only balanced at the jacks, then convert everything to a "normal" amplifier design, where the positive terminal (+) is connected to the output of an amplifier that goes from positive to negative, and the negative terminal (-) is really just ground.  The single ended cables were still better than the Emotiva's (which only has single ended outputs) but not as full as the alternatives.

While this sounded better on most recordings, on Denise Donatelli's 'When Lights Are Low' some tracks could take on a significant amount of mid-bass bloat.   

The last thing we tried was running the Theta through a Conrad Johnson PV-10 through two sets of the single ended Vampire cables. This was probably the least favorite demonstration, as the sound got even thinner than before. 

So, before I completely declare the Theta a winner, I will move everything around so I can swap cables as well as processors.  I am not a huge believer in the sound of cables making such a difference, but I am open to the idea, and for me not to try the experiment would be close minded.