Separate digital to analogue converters used to be the preserve of the few. Good processors did not come cheap, and even today many entry level black boxes, although very good, have many a rough edge. Add to this South African import duties and the exchange rate, and a good processor means plenty of money.
However, every so often one finds a product that is so good, and so musical, that price becomes the limitation that dictates whether or not one obtains it. The Chroma 396 Digital Audio Converter is one such product. In comparison to many other DACs it is most affordable, and it offers music lovers one magic package.
The Chroma 396 is manufactured byTheta Digital Corporation, and enjoys all the benefits that the Theta processors enjoy. High spec parts quality, good build quality, and most importantly quality sound. So why then is it not badged as a Theta you may ask? Simply, it is not DSP based.
The Chroma utilises an 8 times oversampling rate with 18-bit resolution.
The Chroma looks identical to Theta’s Progeny sans the Theta ‘wings’ badge. Two green LEDs illuminate to confirm power and digital signal lock. On the HDCD equipped unit, the lock light illuminates orange when playing HDCD encoded discs.
An HDCD capable unit was not reviewed, but is available at an additional cost.
A phase switch is provided allowing the listener to choose absolute polarity or inverted polarity, whichever gives the more defined soundstage and improved bass clarity. Experience assists in choosing the correct orientation.
The Chroma is provided with two digital inputs: Toslink plastic optical and the preferred coaxial digital input, which was the only one used during the review period. AT&T glass, and Theta Laser Linque are both available as options, but, the consideration of the additional cost aside, I doubt whether either option would outperform a high quality digital interconnect.
The digital and analogue RCA jacks provided are high quality gold plated units.
Power is supplied via an IEC power plug, and the unit is designed to be continually powered for best sound quality. Although priced in the more competitive market segment, the Chroma offers all the features found on the more expensive Theta processors. No corners have been cut.
Listening to the Chroma, one can enjoy many of the sonic traits that have made Theta processors loved, enjoyed and desired.
Although the Chroma is not a processor based unit, I still think of it as a Theta.
The bass performance gives it all away. Comparably priced units simply don’t have bass that is as tight, defined or as textured. The soundstage is also very well defined with dimension, depth and space. The midrange is well bodied with very good balance, warmth and depth.
The all revealing top end is smooth, detailed, and open. One is never alerted to the Chroma’s limitations. It suffers very few errors of addition, rather it is limited by its design constraints.
A substantial amount of air is also produced, which surprised me. This is not usual for processors under the ten grand mark, and then only reference units get it right.
So when listening to the Chroma and hearing it open up a window on the music, I was stunned.
Sure I was using reference interconnects, but what was important is that the Chroma is capable of offering the kind of performance that would have cost a lot more money only a short while ago.
It also seems not to be too fussed by transports, performing very well whether being driven by a CD player or a laserdisc player. Oh, and you cannot believe what it will do for your home theatre system – revolutionise it.
The Chroma 396 by Theta is a killer. I would buy one without hesitation. Not only is it superb value for money, but its musicality makes it a must have component. Listen to your system with the Chroma. Then listen without it again . . . and you tell me if you could do without it.