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Integra DTC 9.8 Home Theater Processor Review

By: Andrew Robinson

It used to be you were only a true audio enthusiast if you had separate components that required a second mortgage on your house or recklessly jeopardized your kid's future. Now, with the economy in the toilet and your kid's college fund most assuredly in harm's way, high-ticket luxuries like home theater separates have had to adapt to the masses in order to woo consumers into spending their hard-earned money. The Integra DTC 9.8 reviewed here represents the pinnacle of what I like to call the "new way of thinking" among AV manufacturers. It offers incredible performance, features and connectivity options for a modest cost. At around $1,500 retail, the Integra DTC 9.8 isn't expensive, considering I'd put it up against the likes of some of the industry's most touted offerings. Does it do everything as well as its more expensive rivals do? No, but it does such an awful lot right that it's hard to fault its shortcomings at these prices.

So what does your $1,500 get you? For starters, it buys you four HDMI v1.3a inputs and two (yes, two) HDMI outputs, all of which are capable of upsampling legacy sources to 1080p via its internal HQV video processor. It also buys you access to the latest uncompressed audio formats, such as Dolby True HD and DTS Master Audio, as well as featuring Audyssey's weapons-grade automated EQ and room correction system. Other receivers boast a watered-down version of Audyssey's EQ, but the DTC 9.8 comes equipped with the pro version, without the need for a custom installer and/or an expensive microphone kit. The DTC 9.8 has both balanced and unbalanced preamp outputs, as well as more inputs and outputs (both analog and digital) than you are likely to ever need or use. Hell, it even has a decent phono stage. The DTC 9.8 is satellite- and Internet radio-ready. It can also be mated to a local network for audio streaming. Speaking of networking, the DTC 9.8 can also operate three zones (both audio and video) simultaneously, making it a centerpiece for a small whole home audio/ video system.

Once connected, the DTC 9.8's menu and set-up procedure is as good as it gets and despite the button-laden "receiver" look, day to day livability is a breeze. The remote, like the one included with the Onkyo 805, is loaded with features and functional on a level that is unprecedented.

High Points
• Four HDMI inputs and two outputs puts the Integra DTC 9.8 at the top of the heap in terms of relevant connectivity, behind the reference Lexicon and Mark Levinson processors, both of which cost more than 10 times as much as the DTC 9.8.
• The DTC 9.8's sound quality is especially good for its modest price tag, possessing a rich full sound and surprisingly musicality with a taut, punchy low end and refined top end.
• The DTC 9.8 is the electronic equivalent of a Swiss army knife, in that it will do just about everything a modern home theater will require, as well as enhance your legacy components, should you call on it to do so.
• The DTC 9.8's internal video processing is good and cleans up some of the rough edges on SD material, while staying completely out of the way when you are enjoying the latest HD and 1080p content.
• Dual HDMI monitor outs is a blessing for front-projection enthusiasts like me, allowing me to connect my system to a smaller LCD to do basic functions without having to fire up and waste valuable bulb hours on my main projector.
• The DTC 9.8's remote is fairly omni-directional, which is surprising, considering it's an IR design.

Low Points
• Though it never fails to lock onto a signal, the DTC 9.8 isn't the fastest in making changes between HDMI connected components.
• The Audyssey EQ is an awesome feature, but defeating it isn't a simple one-button command. Instead, it's buried in the nether regions of the DTC 9.8's otherwise stellar menus.
• While solidly built, the DTC 9.8 doesn't look like a reference-grade product, nor does it appear as special as it truly is.

Conclusion
It used to be that a home theater processor with the feature set found on the Integra DTC 9.8 would run you an arm and a leg. Like first-generation plasma screens, everything becomes more affordable with time. However, Integra didn't skimp on the performance in order to make their latest reference-grade home theater processor. Unlike the competition, Integra sank every dime into the DTC 9.8's sonics and video capability, foregoing a more attractive finish, which is just fine by me. This is why the DTC 9.8 costs less, does more and sounds better than any other processor this side of $5,000 and why I've chosen to call it my processor of choice.
 

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Helping my cousin w/his HT setup. I've checked out a used Integra 9.8 that the seller wants $500 for. I'll be selling him a Rotel 985 amp for $300. Godd deal? Or should he go for a new AVR in that price range.
 

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I used to own one of these units and was not impressed with the sound at all. It's good for HT, not so good for music. I like the Marantz AV8xxx/AV7xxx series much better
 
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