|Millennium DTS Decoder/AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Kim Wilson|
|Tuesday, 01 April 1997|
The Millennium DTS Decoder/Preamp is a simple black box, offering an upgrade path for most multi-channel sound systems. Using the Millennium's multi-channel preamp inputs and outputs, you send the signal from your current A/V preamp through the Millennium for decoding and back again. The Millennium offers two digital inputs, coax and optical (Toslink). A digital output is also provided, which I used to feed a Theta 396 D-to-A converter (DAC). In the event you don't have a full five speaker plus subwoofer system, there are dip switches for down converting the DTS bitstream into a configuration that matches your system, be it 5.1, 4, or 2 channel.
A set-up CD, with white noise for calibrating each channel, is included in the packaging. While there is nothing difficult about the set-up, the manual-only controls mean you have to continually get up from your listening position to adjust the levels until they are right. Additionally, the Millennium doesn't have separate left and right controls for the mains or the surrounds. While this is odd, the difference in levels from left to right was never more than 1 dB to 2 dB, which isn't enough to audibly notice a significant change in level.
As an aside, if 5.1 audio is going to be a staple of your sound system, I suggest you get a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter at your local Radio Shack. Adjusting these decoders by ear is do-able but for the most accuracy and ease of set-up the investment of a SPL meter is well worth it.
After placing a disc into your CD or LD player, the Millennium takes a fraction of a second to determine if there is a DTS datastream. If there is a DTS datastream, it locks on to the signal, sending the digital data to the appropriate channels. If the source is not DTS-encoded, the signal passes through the decoder for standard stereo playback, Dolby Pro-Logic or Dolby Digital.
It should be noted that the DTS datastream is more sensitive than a standard PCM signal. Dust particles or debris on the optical disc's surface is more likely to cause audio dropouts. Whipping down your disc with a soft, lint-free cloth should ensure perfect playback.
The Millennium 2.4.6 incorporates three stereo Delta Sigma D-to-A converters. I started my evaluation using the internal DACs, and then for comparison inserted the Theta Chroma 396 DAC. The performance was excellent in both cases.
Using "Hotel California" from the Eagles Hell Freezes Over, I compared the Millennium's internal DAC with the Theta and found the difference in sound quality to be almost visceral rather then dramatic. With the Theta, there was a felling of greater clarity with deeper, richer tones on the acoustic guitars. Bass appeared to be slightly tighter and more articulate. However, for an additional $829 you might find it unnecessary to go beyond what the Millennium already offers. I must say the built-in DACs on the Millennium 2.4.6 are pretty impressive and superior to your average CD and LD players.
I found the clarity and separation between channels astounding on all DTS-encoded CD's. My personal favorite comes from famed producer Alan Parsons. His latest album, "On Air" is available in both stereo and DTS 5.1 audio. He uses the 360 degree; sound palette with style and artistry. Rather than painting a static picture at the front of the listening environment, Parsons takes you on a journey, immersing you inside the soundfield where you become part of the music.
Listening to DTS-encoded Laserdiscs was the closest to movie theater sound I have ever experienced in my home. If you already have Dolby Digital, you owe it to yourself to compare that format with the new DTS Laserdiscs. These transfers are quiet simply more transparent, exhibiting greater dynamics, clarity and detail.
I found a similar orchestral passage in two separate movies to compare the sound quality between Dolby Digital and DTS Laserdiscs. Using the DTS-encoded Apollo 13 and Star Trek: First Contact available in Dolby Digital, I discovered there is a real difference here! Apollo 13's soundtrack was crystal clear and beautiful. It was just more musical. There was smearing and distortion in the Star Trek soundtrack. The strings were mushy and poorly defined, while the French horns tended to sound thin and honky by comparison. In further testing of the two movies, Star Trek: First Contact just didn't have the wide, even spread of Apollo 13. There was good channel separation but not as good a blend between each channel. The DTS-encoded Apollo 13 just sounded bigger and more spacious. For consistency I ran this test using the Theta Chroma 396 DAC and not the DAC from either the Millennium or the Pioneer CLD-79 LD player.
As much as I have grown to love Dolby Digital, particularly when you compare it to Pro Logic, I am now a firm believer that DTS transfers are sonically superior. What is more, the localization abilities are significantly improved. Where I could detect "holes" in the soundstage when sound moves front to rear or side to side in Dolby Digital, movement in the DTS soundstage was more coherent and enveloping.
Appropriately named, the Millennium 2.4.6 DTS decoder/preamp, demonstrates what may become the standard in sound reproduction for the 21st century. As the only stand-alone DTS decoder on the market, this is the least expensive way to upgrade to this exciting new format, at a mere $699. Unless you are ready to ditch the digital processor or A/V preamp you currently own and spend thousands of dollars on a new high-end processor incorporating DTS, the Millennium 2.4.6 is your best upgrade choice.
While the company states this decoder can be integrated into just about any current multi-channel sound system, we discovered a huge exception. A/V receivers must have both preamp inputs and outputs to accommodate this piece. While top Denon and Yamaha A/V receivers are promising these inputs for 1998 units, this simple interface problem eliminates the Millennium for millions of people who own 5.1 systems driven by Dolby Pro Logic and or AC3 receivers. For those with A/V preamps and the lucky few with A/V receivers that have 5.1 inputs, the manual does provide several complex hook-ups for various multi-channel sound systems, including those already incorporating Dolby Digital.
If you can configure a Millennium into your 5.1 music and film system you will be very satisfied. Make no mistakes, the Millennium can not compete with other high end DTS products on the market like the Theta Casablanca ($12,000) and the Meridian 861 ($14,000) in the realm of ease of use, design quality, inputs and flexibility. The Millennium can provide you dynamic and resolute, cutting edge 5.1 DTS playback that will have you awestruck in a complete system including 5 great speakers, a 5 channel amp, a killer sub, cables et all for less than half of the price of one of the big processor-preamps. The Millennium is a high performance, low cost product with its compromises in all of the right places. It is a sure winner.