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Integra DTC-9.8 THX Ultra2 7.1 SSP

Part II

December, 2007

Sandy Bird

 

Function

Setup of the DTC-9.8 was as simple as any receiver I have used.  The menu system is easy to follow and visually attractive as well.  It is nice to see an SSP that has put some work into making the menus look good as well as functional.

While the menus have all the same functions as a typically SSP the devil is in the details so to speak.  At secrets we are always impressed when a processor allows us to set distance in either feet or meters selectable by the user (if it uses milliseconds, we typically just send the processor back with a note saying when you build something in this century send us another one).  The next requirement is being able to set the distance in increments of 0.5 ft.  Many (even very respectable) processors have one foot as the basic unit. The 9.8 takes it one step further allowing increments of 0.2 ft. 

If you choose to use the Audyssey setup in the Integra you can pretty much bypass dealing with setting distances and levels for the speakers.  I spent a lot of time trying to find the Audyssey setup in the menu system to discover that it wasn't there.  A quick check of the manual reveals that you simply plug in the calibration mic and the Audyssey setup menu appears (very nice usability).

The Audyssey setup was very accurate in my theater although it did suggest 120/150 Hz crossover points for my side and rear surrounds, and while it is possible, they start to roll off before 80 Hz, so 120 Hz is a bit high.

A quick adjustment in the menu allows you to override this setting as well as another other basic setting in terms of distance or level. The setup also wanted to leave my main floor-standing speakers full spectrum, which I moved back to 80 Hz.

There is a lot of debate about using crossover frequencies lower than 80 Hz for your main channels.  THX would recommend (especially if using their THX certified speakers) 80 Hz as an optimal point. I am not going to cover any of that here, but you can refer to a Colin Miller and Brian Florian essay for more reading http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_9_3/feature-article-multiple-crossovers-9-2002.html.

The setup does not allow you to adjust the slopes or frequencies it set up at part of the calibration in terms of room correction.  If you want to attempt to perform room corrections yourself, you can disable the Audyssey and configure the graphical EQ manually.

The HDMI menu lets the user choose what resolution they would like the output scaled to. The choices are 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p.  There is also an Auto and a Through mode.  The Auto mode will basically negotiate supported resolutions with the display device and convert all input video signals not supported by your display to use a supported one.  In a perfect world that should be what everyone would do, but we have experienced some issues using 'Auto' methods in the past with some displays and some devices (specifically issues with games consoles and budgets displays).  The Through option allows the source device to control the resolution and bypasses the scaling in the 9.8.  In my case, about 90% of my content comes off an HTPC which outputs native 1080p, so there is no need for the 9.8 to further process the signal.  The 9.8 also allows for lip-sync delay to avoid issues of video processing delays where the video lags behind the audio.

There is a lack of a 60fps to 24fps conversion when the system is scaling.  I hope Integra will implement this in a future firmware upgrade, but the unit does pass 24fps signals if your device supports it.  Integra was also kind enough to send me a firmware upgrade for my unit, showing that they can be upgraded.  They are not sure if this is a dealer upgrade or a user upgrade, but that doesn't matter to me. I am just happy to know it can be upgraded.  This particular upgrade added minor adjustments for black/white levels and further enhancements and adjustments for picture mode, edge enhancement, brightness, hue, contrast, saturation, and mosquito, random, and block noise reduction.

As mentioned above, every stereo and multi-channel audio format I can think of is supported by this unit.  I could list every audio format the system supports but it is easier to refer to pages 80-82 of the manual which can be downloaded here http://www.integrahometheater.ca/own_manuals.cfm?cat=Separates.  To give you an idea of how complete it is beyond all the Dolby, DTS, lossless stereo and multi-channel PCM formats, the 9.8 also supports the DSD format on SACD discs as a digital bitstream from your player.

Integra has added a few (though not as many as other) surround modes (for instance Orchestra and Unplugged) to enhance your listening experience.  While these may be fun from time to time, we don't see too many serious listeners using them on a regular basis.

There are a few other features we look for at Secrets when we review an SSP or a receiver.  I will cover those quickly below. For additional details see: http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_10_4/feature-ssp-functionality-11-2003.htm

  • Time Alignment

    • Global AV Delay: Yes

    • Speaker Delay: Yes (0.2 second increments for all speakers)
       

  • Volume

    • Muting: All, or Adjustable between  -50 and -10 dB.

    • Power On-Volume/Max Volume: Last, Off, or adjustable between -81 and +18 dB max and can be applied for each zone separately.

    • Input Level Trim: -12 to +12dB per input.

    • Volume Scale and Speaker Calibration Level: No.

    • Headphone: only for Main Zone and mutes speakers upon connection.
       

  • Surround Modes:

    • All options in the Benchmark are covered by the Onkyo plus many more. We will be updating this section of the Benchmark in future reviews.
       

  • Bass Management

    • Crossover Frequency: Adjustable. (40,45,50,55,60,70,80,90,100,110,120,130,150,200 Hz).

    • LFE Trim: Yes (DD, DTS, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, DSD and Multich PCM).
       

  • Audio Customization

    • Parametric Subwoofer Eq: Audyssey MultEQ XT as well or 15 band graphic.

    • Surround Mode Pre-Set: Yes.

    • Multiple Surround Management: No.

    • Academy Mono Filter: No but has its own mono mode.

    • Downmix: Yes.

    • Setting Storage: Yes plus lock.

Comparisons to a $999 Receiver

Onkyo and Integra obviously share a lot of technology between their product lines and sell substantially more units than boutique brands of audio gear.  This helps keep the prices down and allows them to implement technology on the cutting edge.

Sometimes users question if they are getting any value in buying a higher end piece from a company like Integra over say a mid-lineup receiver and just using the receiver as an SSP.  This is one time where we can make a direct comparison of the two options.  Brian Florian recently reviewed the Onkyo TX-SR805.  While these reviews have very little to do with one another (SSP vs. receiver) you can't help but draw a few comparisons.  As an example, both have Audyssey room setup, HDMI 1.3a, and support all the latest surround formats.  One would hope that for $600 more than the 805, the Integra 9.8 would have superior audio and video circuitry.  Brian lives fairly close to me, so we measured both units using the exact same equipment.  In all aspects, the 9.8 measured better.  In the simple frequency response test, while the receiver is down almost 0.75 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, the Integra 9.8 is down only 0.015 dB over the same frequency range. This kind of performance is amazing for an SSP at this price point. THD+N was lower on the 9.8 than the 805 as well.

Some of the internal components are better in the 9.8 as well. For example, it uses a toroidal  power supply transformer, where the receiver just uses a conventional (though massive) power transformer.  The menu options are different too, as the SR805 only allowed 0.5 ft increment adjustments for speaker distance, while the 9.8 allows for 0.2.

So, don't be worried about spending the extra coin on the 9.8. You really are getting more for the money.

Go to Part III.

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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