HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



January
2004

Reviewed by
Doug Blackburn

 


Integra
DTR-8.3
Audio/Video Receiver

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Integra DTR-8.3

Price: $2200 USD
Dimensions: 17.125"W x 6.875"H x 18.125"D
Weight: 40.1 pounds

Warranty: Three years parts and labor

Features

  • Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Surround EX, THX Surround EX, DTS, DTS-ES (Matrix, Discrete), DTS Neo:6, DTS 96/24
  • Seven amplifier channels, 110W each into 8 ohms
  • WRAT (Wide Range Amplifier Technology) analog amplification for all channels
  • THX Select certified
  • Preamp outputs for eight channels

Features
  • Auto signal sensing
  • 24-bit/192kHz DACs for 5.1 channels
  • Two zones
  • FM/AM tuner with 40 presets
  • Digital audio connections (three coax inputs, three optical inputs, two optical outputs)
  • Six S-video inputs, three S-video outputs
  • Component video convertible to S-video
  • Component and S-video convertible to composite video
  • MM phono input
  • Eight-channel analog input for DVD-Audio and SACD (RCA jacks)
  • One LFE subwoofer output
  • Software update capability
  • Two-channel source-direct audio mode
  • Two wideband HD-ready component-video inputs; one HD-ready component output

Integra is a division of Onkyo, a company well known for making home-theater electronics that are a bit better than those from many mass-market companies. Integra is Onkyo’s upscale brand, much like Toyota’s Lexus. Integra products differentiate themselves from regular Onkyo gear by being a step or two up the ladder in terms of design, build and parts quality, features, and price. The DTR-8.3, at a suggested retail price of $2200, is one model down from the top-of-the-line Integra receiver.

Odds and ends

The 100Wx7 DTR-8.3 incorporates some interesting and useful details. You can change the names assigned to the various inputs on the remote control (more about this later), in the onscreen menus, and on the front panel of the DTR-8.3 itself. Instead of Video 4, I could program in Laserdisc, for example.

I liked that the available surround modes change for each type of input. With an analog stereo input, all that’s available is Dolby Pro Logic II Movie and Music, and DTS Neo:6 Cinema and Music. That saves you from having to keep pressing the button to scroll through surround modes that don’t apply to the current input. When the source is a digital input, you get various Dolby Digital and DTS surround modes, but no Pro Logic II or Neo:6. THX can be applied to the Dolby Digital or DTS surround modes.

With certain combinations of video displays and surround-sound processing equipment, the sound and picture can sometimes be out of sync. The DTR-8.3’s A/V Sync option can fix this. The Relative Delay setting allows the DTR-8.3 to make a small room sound bigger -- or a very large room smaller -- by adjusting the relative delays from speaker pair to speaker pair and the center-channel speaker. This is especially useful in smaller rooms, where the speakers may have to be fairly close to the listener. Using Relative Delay, a speaker only 4’ or 5’ from the listener can be made to sound as if it is 10’ or more away.

Upsampling

One of the DTR-8.3’s menu options enables upsampling of digital inputs, which reportedly allows the use of less destructive digital and analog filters further down the signal path. The DTR-8.3 simply doubles the frequency of the digital format; 48kHz Dolby Digital and DTS are doubled to 96kHz, and 44.1kHz CD sound is doubled to 88.2kHz. The result was audible to me when connecting the digital source component directly to the DTR-8.3 with a digital coax cable. Using a TosLink optical cable, the improvement from upsampling was masked. When using a high-quality source component and digital cable, the DTR-8.3’s upsampling resulted in a subtle improvement in detail and smoother high frequencies.

Control

The DTR-8.3’s remote control is a programmable LCD touchscreen that will do just about anything you want it to do. Not only can you program the remote while holding it in your hands, you can also download software from Integra’s website that allows you to set up the entire remote (less infrared codes, of course) on your computer, then download your handiwork to the remote. Because of the touchscreen, the arrangement of buttons and the graphics on each menu page can be customized to almost any degree. There are seven programmable hardware buttons. On the right side, you’ll probably want to set up the buttons for the functions marked near them: volume, channel, and mute. These will be active all the time, no matter what page of the menu system is displayed. Below the touchscreen, two larger buttons can be assigned menu-navigation functions or can send commands to equipment.

I had some problems getting the remote to recognize my touch. Thinking I had a bad unit, I played with one at a dealer’s for five minutes and found that it, too, would not always recognize my finger touches. Applying more pressure didn’t seem to help -- only repeated taps produced the desired result.

The remote’s LCD panel lights up when the screen has been tapped anywhere on its surface. This worked reliably all the time. The duration of illumination was a bit brief for my taste, but, like everything else on this remote, the delay time before the remote goes dark again is adjustable. The touchscreen isn’t readable without the backlight except in a room lit too brightly to watch movies and TV in.

The remote’s display can be changed from its factory default appearance. You can add and delete touchscreen buttons and organize commonly used functions onto a single screen to minimize having to change to a different screen. While each touchscreen or hardware button can be assigned only one function, you can create macros that are as complex as anything you can imagine -- up to 255 commands per macro. The remote’s 2MB of flash memory is shared for touchscreen page graphics, device-control codes, and macros. I set it up for two different DVD players, the DTR-8.3, my preamp, two different VCRs, an LD player, a high-definition video display, and a high-definition cable-TV box. There was plenty of memory for everything.

Another of the remote’s useful tricks is that it can send RF (radio frequency) controls instead of IR (infrared). RF penetrates walls, doors, floors, and ceilings -- useful when components are behind walls or closed doors. If the device to be controlled via RF requires IR codes, separate RF-to-IR converters are available. Integra quotes distances for RF performance at up to 66’, and up to 33’ for IR. (The RF function is available in the US and Canada only.)

The receiver’s editing software, available from www.integrahometheater.com, allows you to custom-program essentially everything. Custom installers can download saved configurations they have created for standard equipment packages. End users can reload the program in the event of a catastrophic failure without having to re-create everything from scratch. This capability is extremely useful and well-thought-out.

Sound

The DTR-8.3’s amplifiers reportedly have increased frequency range, to provide better resolution of the hi-rez audio present in SACD, DVD-Audio, DTS 96/24, and select Superbit DVD titles. Driving my Vandersteen 3A Signatures -- full-range, 4-ohm-rated speakers whose impedance can dip to 3 ohms -- required that I navigate the DTR-8.3’s onscreen Hardware submenu to get to the Speaker Impedance screen, where I changed the setting from the default of 6 ohms to 4 ohms. Nothing untoward happened with these difficult loads connected, and the DTR-8.3 provided as much volume as I would typically ever want for music. When I connected the Vandersteen VCC-1 Signature center-channel and VSM-1 surrounds -- also rated at 4 ohms -- the Integra got a little heated but still pushed them all to adequate volume levels. Very loud sound levels sustained for more than five minutes produced significant amounts of heat; I suspect the DTR-8.3 would have shut itself down had I continued without reducing the volume level. Every other receiver I’ve tried this with overheated and shut itself down in less than three minutes -- and compromised the sound quality as well. Driving the Vandersteens should be considered a torture test for any receiver.

Driving speakers rated at a more modest 6 to 8 ohms (in my system, Clements two-way bookshelf speakers), the sound of the DTR-8.3 opened up and really worked. While not as three-dimensional and vibrant as the very best external, separate amplifiers, the DTR-8.3 was in the upper echelons of receiver sound. There was none of the flat dullness common to the sound of most receivers. When critically evaluated with high-quality sources and loudspeakers, receivers usually sound congested, thick, and opaque -- the music seems overlaid with wallpaper paste. The typical receiver can’t capture the velvety-black backgrounds and silences between the notes, or make instruments float in three dimensions. But the Integra DTR-8.3 had none of those problems -- a refreshing change. Tonality was quite good, with a strong sense of instrumental character in each sound. Even complex symphonic music held up well; subtle variations in instrumental tone let me clearly differentiate between violins and violas, flutes and piccolos, oboes and bassoons.

The Direct Stereo mode bypasses the Integra’s internal processing, including the tone and balance controls. Once in Direct Stereo mode, you can then select Pure Audio mode, which turns off all internal video signals. I found Pure Audio to be the best-sounding mode for two-channel music. The normal Stereo mode splits the audio signal, sending bass to the LFE subwoofer. The Direct mode was nicely transparent, with good dimensionality and well-integrated sound, from the low to the high frequencies.

As usual, the DTS surround modes sounded better to me than any of the other modes offered. Stereo TV programming sounded best in either DTS Neo:6 Cinema or DTS Neo:6 Music, depending on the type of programming. Both of these modes will produce 5.1- or 7.1-channel sound from any stereo source. When listening to music critically, I preferred the Direct/Pure stereo mode. But for casual listening I switched to DTS Neo:6 Music, which never failed to deliver a nice presentation without front-to-rear balance problems. While I was working around the house, the DTR-8.3’s seven-channel stereo mode provided sound that didn’t have to be loud to be heard all over the house. If I set the DTR-8.3 to DTS but played a DVD or digital cable channel that had only a Dolby Digital soundtrack, the DTR-8.3 automatically changed to Dolby Digital in whichever mode was appropriate for the input signal.

The DTS soundtrack on the Superbit version of The Fifth Element has been a reference for me for so long that the minute details of the sound are indelibly imprinted in my mind. The Integra DTR-8.3 produced sound that was clearly in the very top category for full-featured home-theater receivers. There was more transparency and openness than from typical receivers in the Egyptian, spaceport, and lab scenes. Subtle details added interest and excitement to such scenes as Zorg's demonstration of the multi-function handheld weapon and the 3-D chase though traffic -- the DTR-8.3’s version of the sound in these scenes was exciting and new, making them interesting again in spite of my having watched and heard them many times.

Visitors who want a home-theater demonstration never seem to want Terminator 2: Judgment Day stopped at any point, once I’ve begun playing it for them. The DTR-8.3 made the indoor shotgun blasts come across as startlingly real. When young John Connor orders the Terminator to pull over, there's amazing echo in the alley from the stolen Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and the empty shotgun shells dropping to the ground, as well as distant sounds from kids -- the DTR-8.3 made that brief scene a delicious interlude from all the mayhem.

The surround modes’ adjustable parameters are available through the DTR-8.3’s onscreen menu system, which allows you to tailor the effects to your room to a significant degree. All inputs have separately selectable volume-adjustment levels, accessible through the onscreen menus. Without this adjustment, you can get some large variations in sound levels from input to input.

The DTR-8.3 includes the recently available DTS 96/24 mode, which supports 24-bit/96kHz audio for 5.1 channels, vs. the 48kHz limit for "normal" DTS and Dolby Digital. To play 96/24 DTS software, your DVD player will have to be able to output a 96kHz bitstream, and you’ll need a digital connection from it to the Integra DTR-8.3. This won’t be a problem with most new DVD players, but little more than a year ago it was common for manufacturers to limit players’ digital outputs to no more than 48kHz, in a shortsighted effort to reduce software piracy.

Net-Tune

I was somewhat skeptical of the Integra’s Net-Tune feature, having played with Internet radio on my computer a number of times and quickly grown weary of dropouts and delays over a cable-modem connection. Enabling the DTR-8.3 for Internet radio was fairly simple and straightforward. If you have just one computer in the house connected to the Internet, you’ll need a 100Base-T Ethernet router. Sounds complicated, but this simply allows you to connect more than one device (in this case, the computer and the DTR-8.3) to your high-speed Internet connection. Run your computer and the Integra to the router and both can use the high-speed connection at the same time.

Once you’ve performed all the requisite steps to make the connection to the DTR-8.3, you engage the Net-Tune mode, select which types of available Internet radio stations you want (they’re listed by genre, location, and language), and press Select. It will take some time for the XiVA Internet Radio Service to upload the available menu of stations. (You can’t tune in just any station; you’ll have access only to stations on the XiVA service.) You scroll through the list of stations on the video monitor (the front panel displays them in abbreviated format) to pick the station you want. You can preset up to 30 stations to make finding them easier next time. When you select a station, there is a short delay as the DTR-8.3 buffers the station by downloading a minute or two’s worth of music, to prevent dropouts later if there’s a delay in the Internet connection. MP3 and WMV sound are supported.

Net-Tune was a pretty neat trick, but I have one caveat: As of this writing, the XiVA service doesn’t make many Internet radio stations available. Some genres of music are represented by only one or two choices, while some aren’t represented at all. Net-Tune struck me as not being as comprehensive as the 40 music channels we get with digital cable TV, which are also available with most satellite TV services. And the XiVA service is international -- for some music genres, no US-based Internet radio stations were listed.

Comparison

The Onkyo TX-DS777 receiver (about $1000 retail when new) that I’ve used in my reference system as a surround processor for over two years was not competitive with the DTR-8.3. The DTR-8.3 sounded noticeably lighter, more perky, more transparent. As my memory of the TX-DS777’s sound faded and the sound of the DTR-8.3 grew more familiar, it was easy to forget that there was such a substantial difference. But each swap back and forth produced the same result: the DTR-8.3 definitely sounded clearer and punchier. Putting this in context: In the year I reviewed it, the TX-DS777 outperformed $1700 and $2000 surround receivers. That the TX-DS777 is no slouch makes the DTR-8.3 an impressive performer indeed.

The Onkyo's evocations of atmosphere, dynamics, and space seemed acceptable when listening without a direct comparison. But face to face, the Integra DTR-8.3 unequivocally produced more transparent, open, and dynamic sound, and a more pronounced sense of space. The Quidditch games in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are good examples. Through the DTR-8.3, the swishing and swirling noises, and the sounds of wind, crowds, impacts, and dialogue -- all were more exciting, and made the scenes more edgy, than through the slightly less exciting TX-DS777. The DTR-8.3 revealed subtle changes in ambience more clearly; I could hear the reverberant sound change as characters walked along hallways with the DTR-8.3, while the TX-DS777 required more concentration to hear detail at that level.

The end

The Integra DRT-8.3 will make almost any home-theater enthusiast happy -- it’s as good as surround receivers get at this price or anywhere near it. It lacks some fancy features, such as self-calibration via a microphone placed at the listening position, but it has everything you’ll need to build a pleasing home theater around components you’re buying today, or components you already own.

Review System
Speakers - Vandersteen 3A Signature (mains), Vandersteen VCC-1 Signature (center), Vandersteen VSM-1 (surrounds); Clements 207di (rear surrounds), Vandersteen 2Wq subwoofer (4), Vandersteen V2W subwoofer (1)
Sources - Pioneer DV-525 DVD player, Panasonic DVD-RP56 DVD player, Scientific Atlanta digital cable with high-definition programming
Power conditioning - Monster Power, Equi=Tech, ExactPower, VansEvers, Richard Gray’s Power Company, Quantum Life, AudioPrism
Cables - Nordost, Magnan, Audience, VansEvers, JPS Labs, DH Labs, AudioPrism
Monitor - Sony KV36XBR450 direct-view HD CRT
Room Acoustic Treatments - Michael Green Pressure Zone Controllers (14), Argent Room Lens (4), Vans Evers Spatial Lens and Window system (1)
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Integra
18 Park Way
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07450
Phone: (201) 785-2600
Fax: (201) 785-2650

Website: www.integrahometheater.com

 


PART OF THE SOUNDSTAGE NETWORK -- www.soundstagenetwork.com

All contents copyright Schneider Publishing Inc., all rights reserved.
Any reproduction, without permission, is prohibited.

Home Theater & Sound is part of the SoundStage! Network.
A world of websites and publications for audio, video, music and movie enthusiasts.