|Integra DTC 9.8 AV Preamp/Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Tuesday, 01 April 2008|
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High-end home theater processors are quickly becoming the hot topic amongst home theater enthusiasts, and not because they’re the best. No. Home theater processors, the once-touted peak of all things audio/video, have taken a hit in recent years, largely due to the ever-changing HD landscape and a little thing called HDMI. When HD was in its infancy, component cable was king and 720p/1080i seemed to be the best anyone could hope for – for a while, it was. Even when 1080p reared its head, it took some time before it became the norm. However, the HDMI cable inevitably became the chink in HD’s armor, causing massive amounts of confusion and frustration among manufacturers and consumers alike, forcing many high-end brands to simply wait out the storm.
It was during this time that many larger, mid-fi foreign brands took up the cause and pushed forward, offering numerous HDMI-enabled products. Some worked, but most didn’t. Yet, due to their huge volumes and larger cash flow, the big brands were able to cut their losses and try again and again and again, until they cracked it. Now the marketplace is seemingly flooded with sub-thousand-dollar receivers that can take full advantage of the HD formats, both audio and video, via HDMI, leaving the once-touted high-end brands in the dust.
One such brand that has led the charge in bringing HD and HDMI to the masses is none other than Integra, a division of Onkyo. However, unlike their parent company, Integra’s focus has always been on manufacturing and providing affordable high-end solutions for the ever-changing marketplace. While I would normally argue the high-end portion of my previous statement, the release of Integra’s new DTC-9.8 audio/video processor cements their claims, for it is, in fact, very high-end – except for the fact that it costs $1,600.
The DTC-9.8 isn’t as slick-looking as, say, a Krell or a Lexicon, but it’s hardly ugly. Its looks are born out of supreme functionality, much like many of today’s higher-priced receivers. At first glance, the DTC-9.8 looks a lot like a receiver, which it should, for it shares the same chassis as Integra’s own DTR-8.8 receiver. It measures in at a little over 17 inches wide by nearly eight inches high and 17-and-a-half inches deep. You can tell it’s no receiver, for it only weighs 29 pounds, a direct result of the missing power amplifier section.
Taking a peek around back reveals an impressive array of connection options, most notably four HDMI v1.3a inputs (with two monitor outs) and a complete 7.1 and two-channel set of balanced line level outputs. The DTC-9.8 has three component video inputs, as well as two monitor outputs. It has a host of analog audio and video inputs, in addition to three coaxial and two optical audio inputs, mated with a single optical audio out. The DTC-9.8, along with having balanced line level outputs, also has a matching set of unbalanced audio outs. The DTC-9.8 is HD Radio-, XM- and Sirius satellite- radio ready (antenna and subscription sold separately) and features an Ethernet port. The DTC-9.8 has an RS-232 port for custom installation applications or third-party control support, as well as multi-room/zone support. Throw in a detachable power cord and a standard power receptacle, and you have one hell of a full-featured audio/video processor in the Integra DTC-9.8.
Behind the scenes, the DTC-9.8 is THX Ultra2-certified and features two separate power transformers for audio and video processing. The DTC-9.8 is HDMI 1.3a-compliant, with 1080p Deep Color capabilities, as well as full up-conversion and transcoding to 1080p via its internal HQV Reon-VX chip. The DTC-9.8 features Audyssey’s latest MultiEQ XT room correction software and offers Burr Brown 192 kHz/24-bit DAC’s for all of its audio channels. The DTC-9.8 features Neural THX surround sound processing, as well as support for DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS HD audio, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and everything in between. Needless to say, in today’s ever-changing marketplace, the Integra DTC-9.8 seems to cover all the bases, which is something that cannot be said for most of the competition.
This brings me to the remote. Luckily for me, I already had experience with the DTC-9.8’s remote, for it is the same remote that came with the Onkyo 805 receiver. I loved it then and I love it still. It’s big and a bit awkward at times, but it is supremely functional, easy to navigate and features full backlighting at the touch of a button. While there are other brands that also offer readily accessible backlighting, the DTC-9.8’s light button is actually easy to locate, for it’s on the side of the remote away from any actual controls, so you won’t accidentally power down your system when you’re simply trying to channel up or down in the dark.
I placed the DTC-9.8 in my reference rack, where the Lexicon MC12 HD once sat and my Meridian G Series processor had been before that. At least in terms of industry clout, the DTC-9.8 had its work cut out for it. I connected the DTC-9.8 to my Bel Canto REF1000 mono blocks; I had five of these on hand. I utilized a variety of sources, including my Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player, Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD player and AppleTV, all with the latest software updates. For speakers, my reference Meridian in-walls were up to the task, with all video being fed to my reference Sony VW-50 Pearl projector. All cabling came by way of UltraLink and XLO, with power filtration coming from Monster Cable.
Integrating the DTC-9.8 into my rack was a snap and making the requisite connections was equally easy, especially when I was able to connect all of my sources via single runs of HDMI cable. I connected the Bel Canto REF1000s to the DTC-9.8 via balanced interconnects and ran the DTC-9.8 in balanced mode for the duration of my review.
The DTC-9.8’s menus are superb. Much like the Onkyo 805’s menus, the DTC-9.8’s are easy enough to navigate and programming is simple enough to be handled without the need for a manual or installer. I connected the included Audyssey microphone to the front-mounted input (a design idea lost on most high-end brands) and followed the onscreen instructions. I set the microphone in all five listening positions and, in about 20 minutes, had a fully calibrated set-up. The change in sound quality wasn’t subtle and the Audyssey EQ proved to be robust and accurate when it came to tailoring my speakers’ sound to my room. In under an hour, I had the DTC-9.8 dialed in and ready to rock. Unless you need to integrate the DTC-9.8 into a complex control system like a Crestron or AMX or simply don’t have the time to do it yourself, I see no need for an installer. However, if you need one, there are a number of Integra dealers who would be happy to install your DTC-9.8 for you.