Integra DTR-9.1 A/V receiver
In case you hadn't noticed over the last year, the high-end-receiver war is on. With this donnybrook comes a blurring of the formerly distinct line between the bottom end of the separates market and the high end of the receiver market. It used to be simple: If you had X amount of money or less to spend, you bought a receiver; if you had more in your budget, you bought separates. Now, the competition for home theater dollars in the $2,500-to-$4,000 price range has become fierce, not only between receivers and separates but also amongst receivers themselves.
It isn't hard to figure out why the big boys all want to get a high-end receiver on the shelves right now. Simplicity and user-friendliness have always sold in home theater. Now more than ever, most people want something easy (easy to buy, easy to use, easy to upgrade, etc.), an area where receivers have always held an advantage. Receiver buyers also love long lists of features, and most of these high-enders are stacked accordingly. Then there's performance, which never seems to be as high on many priority lists as it should be (i.e., number one by a long margin). The upper crust of receivers has significantly pushed the bar for performance in this class—and, with it, people's perceptions of what a receiver can really sound like. I wouldn't expect to see receivers taking over the dedicated theater market anytime soon; however, considering that receiver sales account for maybe 10 to 15 percent of the overall home theater market, I don't think high-end-receiver manufacturers are too concerned. Receivers are selling well at all price levels these days. The only trick is differentiating yourself at the suddenly crowded bar of one-box home theater control centers.
To accomplish this feat, Onkyo has taken what I would guess to be a cue from the automotive world. There's no less value in the Onkyo name than there is in Ford, General Motors, or Honda; however, like these companies, Onkyo has determined that the best they have to offer deserves a moniker of its own. And thus, in the spirit of Lincoln, Cadillac, or Acura, the Integra name was born—and, with it, a new line of high-end receivers looking to stake their claim in these receiver-friendly times. The flagship of that line is the DTR-9.1, a $3,200 job with just about every receiver trick you can imagine and maybe a few you can't.
Processing starts with Pro Logic, Dolby Digital and Surround EX, DTS and DTS ES (only the matrixed version, but a DTS ES Discrete upgrade should be available very soon), and THX Ultra. There are, of course, plenty of DSP modes, as well, if that's your kick. Power specs are listed at 130 watts by seven channels into 8 ohms (150 watts per channel times five into 6 ohms).
The healthy dose of inputs and outputs includes eight assignable digital inputs (five coaxial, three optical), one each of coaxial and optical digital outputs, six A/V input sets and three output sets (including a second-zone output set) all with composite video and S-video options, two monitor outputs in composite and S-video, and four analog audio inputs with two outputs. The DTR-9.1 also features three high-bandwidth (45-megahertz) component video inputs (and an output) that will accommodate progressive-scan and HDTV signals, as well as an AC-3 RF input for use with Dolby Digital laserdisc players and a multichannel audio input (DVD-Audio and SACD users, take note) in the form of a DB-25 connection (which sends all of the channel signals through a single cable). There's also a full set of preouts (including two subwoofer preouts) and control options including an RS-232 port, IR mini-plug jacks for the main and second zones, a jack for Integra's RI control system, two 12-volt triggers, and two AC outlets. If all that doesn't keep you busy, future-proofing is addressed with an IEEE 1394 expansion port and the DTR-9.1's slick flash-memory system that allows for easy upgrades as new software options (i.e., processing modes) become available. Last, but certainly not least, all seven main channels have top-shelf AKM 24-bit/192-kilohertz digital-to-analog converters.
At demo time, I hooked up the DTR-9.1 to the Teatro 11.5 speaker system from Phase Technology, a comparably priced rig that performs well beyond its MSRP. Signals were delivered, for the most part, by a Toshiba SD-9000 DVD player, although I also used the Toshiba SD-9200 and the RCA DTC100 HDTV tuner/DBS receiver to see how the Integra would handle progressive-scan and HDTV signals—all of which appeared to pass without a hitch. I supplemented the Phase Techs with a pair of a/d/s/ dipoles for 7.1-channel configurations and for some surround-channel duties with 5.1 tracks—since the surrounds that come with the 11.5 system are direct-radiators and I wanted to see how the DTR-9.1 would handle different types of rear speakers.
Despite all of the tricks this receiver can perform, I started as I usually do: with good old two-channel music, based on my old-fashioned belief that—if a piece of audio equipment can get music right—there's a pretty good chance it will do most other things right, as well. The DTR-9.1 didn't disappoint in this regard. The Burmester sampler disc I opened with is an excellent piece of audio engineering, and it lost none of its luster through this receiver. The haunting saxophone from track 6 (Ben Webster's "Gentle Ben") displayed the DTR-9.1's ability to deliver space and airiness, the quick attack of tracks 2 (Paco De Lucia's "Live in America") and 15 (Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall II") indicated its accurate timing, and the complex presentations of the classical tracks let me know that this receiver is dynamic and engaging and doesn't lack for resolution or power. Track 8 is particularly intricate and unpredictable at virtually all points of the frequency range, and never did I detect any hints of flinching or any instances of compression or murkiness.
Multichannel music proved to be no less satisfying. Given the Integra's multichannel input, I'd be remiss if I didn't give DVD-Audio a try, although I haven't yet found a great deal of material in this form that I'd consider to be reference quality. The Strauss collection from Hardencourt directing the Berlin Philharmonic comes close and sounded quite nice through the DTR-9.1. The soundstage was deep and defined, and I again detected little in the way of fatigue or sloppiness through the dense imagery of these tracks. The high-quality, high-rez DACs got an extra chance to shine here—and they did, unmistakably. The merely mortal low-rez multichannel material sounded good, as well, whether it was the Eagles' DTS-encoded Hell Freezes Over or the Dolby Digital Silverline classical sampler (which has a DTS version, as well). The timbre of the instruments and the layering of the soundstage weren't quite as pristine as they were with the DVD-Audio material, but overall accuracy remained intact, and the DTR-9.1 displayed less in the way of sonic editorialization than just about any receiver I've listened to.