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Integra DTR-7.6 THX Select2 7.1 A/V Receiver

Part II

June, 2006

Ross Jones

 

Integra includes a couple of extremely user-friendly packaging features. When you first open the box, one of the flaps contains a diagram of the packing materials, layout, and inventory of materials in the box. While most people (other than reviewers!) aren't in the habit of having to repack home theater components, it is nice to know that you can figure out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Another nice touch is the inclusion of a full-page of stickers to attach to the various speaker connections, for the receiver and speaker ends of the cables. Classy.

The fully back-lit remote control is essentially the same model used on Onkyo receivers. The buttons are well laid-out, readable (when lighted), and allow the user to adjust the most-used variables without requiring multiple button pushes. In fact, the only quirk I've found with the Onkyo/Integra remotes is that the ergonomic design makes me want to pick up and point the remote control backwards, especially in a dark room. It just feels more natural in my hand that way.

The DTR-7.6 has an automatic speaker set-up calibration system, and comes with the familiar microphone shaped like a two-inch flying saucer. I have had mixed experiences with automatic speaker set-up routines, but was extremely impressed with the ease and accuracy of the Integra's set-up routine. I placed the microphone in the sweet spot listening position, then waited quietly while the Integra sent two series of test tones to all eight channels. The DTR-7.6, being THX-certified, automatically calibrates to reference level, so the test tones are quite loud. When finished, you can check the results, apply them if satisfied, start over, or manually set the various parameters.

The set-up routine accurately detected speaker size and distance, and separately calibrated each speaker's volume. The automatic calibration adjusts five bands of parametric EQ for each channel (three bands for the subwoofer channel).

Using EQ to deal with room acoustics is a controversial issue. While most agree that the better solution is to address room acoustics through treatments such as diffusers, absorbers, and bass traps, many consumers have neither the inclination to do so nor an understanding spouse who will allow room treatments in a multi-use listening space. Strategically placed rugs, pillows and blankets can only do so much.

Some of our Senior Editors have argued that the automatic EQ available in most receivers can actually make a system sound worse. [See this article: http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_13_2/feature-article-auto-eq-5-2006-part-1.html] My own subjective experience was that the sound quality was better using the Integra's calibration/equalization system, instead of leaving the EQ alone (perhaps a damning review of my efforts to acoustically treat a listening space that doubles as a family room, but that is a reality for most home theater enthusiasts subject to the dreaded SAF - Spousal Acceptance Factor). One downside to the calibration system is that, should you choose to manually adjust EQ, the five bands are pre-set. In other words, using the automatic calibration, the Integra will locate and reduce a standing wave at 52 Hz, but if you use the manual adjustments, you can only EQ low frequencies at a fixed setting (such as 80 Hz).

The DTR-7.6 possesses all the usual processing modes, along with THX Cinema, THX Select2 Cinema, THX Music Mode, THX Game Mode, and plain ol' THX Surround EX. You can tell the Integra what listening mode you want for each input, or set it to automatically detect the decoding flag in the source material. For this review, music was played back in Stereo mode (with subwoofer), Direct mode (no processing), Multi-channel hi-rez (DVD-A and SACD), and Dolby PL-IIx Music mode (7.1 channels). DVDs were mostly Dolby Digital EX, with the occasional DTS disc.

The Sound

I have spent quality time with both high-end and entry level Onkyo receivers, and always thought the sound quality was equal to or (usually) better than found on similarly priced units. The Integra 7.6 was no exception. Well-produced tracks, like Steely Dan's "What A Shame About Me", off the Two Against Nature CD, showed off the DTR 7.6's ability to combine razor-sharp detail with dead silence in the space between instruments.

Long listening sessions of both CDs and DVD-Audio discs (which are initially converted from digital to analog by the DVD player before additional A/D/A processing by the Integra) produced equally satisfying results. "Wasted Time", from the Eagles Hotel California DVD-A, is a modern meditation on failed romance that draws its power from the trills, tremolos and phrasing of Don Henley's vocal. I listened to the track on speakers normally described as warm in the midrange (B & W), speakers with a deserved reputation for being extremely revealing (Anthony Gallo), and speakers designed to accurately reproduce voices over a wide soundstage (Crystal Acoustics). Each produced a different experience with the Integra, testament to the fact that the receiver was not dictating the sound, but accurately producing it to the speakers without its own coloration.

Since I fall into the musician (as opposed to engineering) discipline of home theater, I cannot determine whether the superb imaging and low noise floor are the result of Integra's amplifier design, implementation of high-quality D/A conversion, a combination of both, or something completely different. All I know is that the Integra produces wonderful music, and that really is the bottom line for all of us, regardless of our background.

Likewise, the Integra recreated the cinema experience (without the ringing cell phones and five dollar sodas). Nicholas Cage's recent effort, The Lord of War, combines quiet moments of dialogue and voice-over narration with grenade explosions and AK-47 rounds of ear-splitting clarity. I cranked the Integra up in my larger-than-average listening room to near reference level (about 7 dB, above which the experience ceases to be enjoyable in my case); the sudden transients from near silence to armed battle created a physical reaction with my guests, while I observed not a hint of compression or stress from the amplifier. Listening to the baritone rumblings of A3's theme song from The Sopranos (via HD-cable, DD 5.1 sound), I understood clearly that Tony was born under a bad sign with a "blue moon," not a "boom-boom" in his eyes.

Conclusions

The Integra DTR-7.6 lists at $1,400, a price point where consumers are confronted with numerous offerings from well-respected manufacturers. I've had the luxury of setting up the DTR-7.6 with three very different speaker systems, plus the time to get comfortable with its functionality and sound in each of those systems. The Integra has the right combination of ease-of-use, set-up, and sound quality. In fact, I'm sufficiently impressed with the Integra to make it a permanent part of my reference system.


- Ross Jones -

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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