A quick glance at the DTC-9.4 manual reveals a long list of features. Bundled with it is the CHAD touch screen remote
control. Look at the price, and you’ll realize that there is value here.
Mate the DTC-9.4 with its companion, the Multi-channel DTA-9.4 power
amplifier, and you have the makings
of a fine system. It was time for a closer inspection.
The horsepower for the decoding and processing is provided by two DSPs made by Fujitsu. The MB86D41 DSP is relegated for decoding Dolby Digital, DTS etc., and the MB86344B is used for post-processing (THX, etc.) Each DSP utilizes 32-bit fixed-point arithmetic, and can process 121 MIPS. The unit is software upgradeable through the Ethernet port. However, Dolby Pro Logic IIx processing cannot be accommodated on the current system resources. Other upgrades may, however, be made available in the future.
The important task of digital to analog conversion is performed by the Wolfson WM8740 DAC. This DAC supports word lengths from 16 to 24 bits and sampling rates up to 192 kHz. The same DAC is used for the center, surround, and subwoofer channels on the Proceed AVP2. The volume control is implemented in the analog domain to preserve all the resolution of the DACs.
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The rear panel of the DTC-9.4 is anything but dull. On the audio side, there are seven assignable digital inputs: three coax and four optical. Two digital outputs are also provided, both of which are optical. There is a 7.1 multi-channel analog input. You are likely to use these with a 5.1 multi-channel analog output from a DVD-Audio and/or SACD equipped player. 7.1 – 5.1 = 2 unused inputs? I think that it is good forward thinking on Integra’s part to provide a 7.1 input instead of a 5.1 input. After all, the THX to THX Ultra2 progression went from 5.1 to 7.1! The fact that there are analog inputs means that whatever change is necessary to facilitate this progression in the source will be transparent to the DTC-9.4.
A set of 7.1 pre-out jacks, both balanced and unbalanced, are also provided. There are seven analog stereo inputs, three of which also have rec-out capability. And there is a phono input as well! The only downside of having numerous inputs and outputs is that the spacing between the connectors is tight. I found it difficult to plug in some of my cables. A little extra spacing would be nice. On the other hand, this could be a good opportunity to get your wife involved in setting up the processor, since she will have smaller fingers. Also, the jacks are color-coded in accordance with THX' suggested standard for 7.1, which makes things a lot easier.
On the video side, there is a composite video and S-Video monitor output. Of the seven analog stereo inputs, five have inputs that are linked to a composite video and S-Video input, and two have a composite video and S-Video output. There are two component video inputs and one output. The bandwidth of the component video inputs is 60 MHz. 100 MHz would have been better. Composite video inputs are converted to S-Video, and both composite video and S-Video are converted to 480i component video, for use when you have the output to your TV connected via component video. The OSD (On-Screen Display) can be also enabled or disabled through the component output. I did try an A/B comparison by passing a HD signal straight to the display and through the DTC-9.4. I noticed a very slight softening of the image. As always, if you can, connect the video cables directly to your display.
An audio/video output is provided for a second zone operation. There is a RS232 port as well as three 12V trigger outputs. One trigger output is for Zone 2 use, and another is to be used for the companion DTA-9.4 amplifier.
Drop the front panel and you have access to some A/V inputs.
Optical and analog stereo inputs are available for audio, and composite
video and S-Video inputs are available for video.
Speakers can be set to either "Large" or "Small", and the crossover can be varied between 40 Hz and 120 Hz in 20 Hz increments. I set the crossover frequency at 80 Hz (THX setting). Speaker distance is adjustable in 0.5 foot increments. These settings do not apply to the multi-channel input, which stays in the analog domain. There is one sub-menu screen (shown below) for THX audio setup.
If you are using subwoofers that are Ultra2 certified, you may need to engage "Boundary Gain Compensation". Ultra2 subwoofers are rated to have a flat response down to 20 Hz. Take room-gain into account, and you may require some bass attenuation. That is what this control does, although it would be nice to have a 1-3 band parametric equalizer which can give you finer control. If you have a parametric equalizer on your subwoofer, you may instead want to tweak the response there. This is what I did with the Atlantic Technology 8200 system which I had at the time. The second item requires you to input the distance between the rear surrounds. The distance between them can be specified to be within three intervals: 0-12 inches, >12-48 inches, and >48 inches. For best results, place the speakers close together.
When playing back a 5.1 encoded bitstream on a 7.1 speaker
setup, the signal that reaches the rear and side surrounds is
configurable. You could, for example, just choose to output the signal
from the side surrounds, which would be the normal configuration. You can
also choose to output the sound from the rear surrounds instead. Or, you
can output share the signal among the side and rear surrounds.
As per THX's requirements, DTS soundtracks are internally and transparently attenuated by 4 dB, equating them to Dolby Digital tracks at the default dialnorm of -27. The LFE level can be adjusted independently for DTS and Dolby Digital. The "Academy Filter" can be turned on only when you are in "Mono" mode. There is a global delay that can be used to time align the sound if your video processing sub-system introduces a processing induced delay. The delay is adjustable between 0 ms and 74 ms in 0.5 ms increments. Each input format can be routed through a default processing mode. For example, you may choose to engage "THX" on a Dolby Digital bitstream; or you might want to hear all your PCM material using Dolby Pro Logic II Music. The “Late Night” feature compresses the dynamic range so that subtle sounds do not get drowned at low listening levels. This can be set to “Off”, “Low” or “High”. This functionality is only available with Dolby Digital material.
Upsampling (16/44 upsampled to 24/96) can be turned on for two-channel PCM sources, or a digital signal converted from an analog source. It can be toggled while listening to music, making it easier to compare its effect. There were some CDs where I had to scratch my head trying to discern any difference, but there were some where the improvement with upsampling was apparent. I preferred to leave it turned on.
There is actually a sub-menu dedicated just to volume setup. In this sub-menu, you’ll find some very useful adjustments. The mute functionality is nice in that it provides two options. One is the obvious one, complete silence. The other, which I liked to use, allows you to reduce the output between -50 dB and -10 dB in 10 dB increments. The latter is perfect when those blasted commercials come on. You can hear the muttering in the background, and you know to switch your attention back to the program material once they are done. Volume differences between different input sources can be adjusted between -12 dB and + 12 dB. Integra calls this “IntelliVolume”.
The volume display can be set to either “Absolute” or “Relative.” A maximum volume level can be set to protect components from being damaged by excessively loud volumes. A power on volume can also be set to make the sound come out at a comfortable loudness level when the DTC-9.4 is powered on. If there is a volume mismatch between the main speakers and the headphone (this is in a different sub-menu), an adjustment between -12 dB and + 12 dB can be applied to correct this. Adjustments can still be made through the front volume dial. All settings appear to be saved into non-volatile memory, so they are not lost across power cycles.
The "Direct" audio mode is provided to bypass all digital
processing. If in addition, you want to shut off the video circuitry, you
can select the "Pure" audio mode. All processing is disabled in this mode.
For example, upsampling is disabled when you switch into one of these
modes when listening to a PCM source. The front panel display has four
dimming options. Three options control the brightness of the display, and
the fourth option only displays the volume level and source selection
indicator. There is no “all-off” setting.
As might be expected, the CHAD comes pre-configured to operate the DTC-9.4. The operating functionality has been laid out across several screens, and each one is well laid out.
Adding the capability to control other devices is relatively easy. There is a code database for other devices resident on the CHAD. If a match is not found, you could either learn the code from another remote or browse the excellent catalog over at Remote Central. You get 2 MB of memory, so configure away!
The remote is backlit and the contrast is adjustable. Viewing the LCD display in the dark is not a problem. The CHAD does not come with a re-charging dock. That is an optional accessory that can be purchased separately.
The navigation interface and the location of the buttons is
the same as the Pronto. Since I own a Pronto, using the CHAD was easy. The
newer Prontos have a few more hard buttons, and having those on the CHAD
would be a bonus. But that might add to the cost. The other issue was its
size, which is a little bigger than the Pronto; holding it was not as
comfortable as the Pronto.
Integra’s Vector Linear PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) technology is utilized for the first time in the DTA-9.4. The highly efficient PWM design results in an operating efficiency of 90%. High efficiency also translates into less heat, which is good unless you are fond of amplifiers that also double as space heaters, and in the case of the DTA-9.4, removes the need for a cooling fan. During the time I had this amplifier, I never felt that it was producing too much heat. Another bonus of this design is a small “footprint” for the amplifier.
The amplifier offers balanced and unbalanced inputs for all channels. A switch can be used to select the input type for each channel. The amplifier itself is not a truly balanced design.
A 12V trigger input is present to turn on the amplifier or place it in standby mode. If this input is connected to the 12V Trigger Out B terminal on the DTC-9.4, then the brightness of the on or standby indicator changes as a function of the dimmer setting of the DTC-9.4.
The DTA-9.4 only comes in a seven-channel configuration. If
you want to start with five-channels, you might be inclined to look
elsewhere; but budget permitting, you can always future-proof your buying
decision by having two unused channels at the start. Or, you could use the
two-channels to power the second zone.
The Net-Tune Central software needs to be downloaded from the Integra website and installed on your computer. Current support is limited to the Windows operating system. Once it is installed, you can catalog your audio file collection, which then becomes available for streaming to the SSP. I wish that this software got packaged with the SSP. When I first tried to download the software, I got error messages that seemed to indicate that there were security settings on my end that were preventing the download. I tried different machines, a different location, changed several settings on my computer to no avail. I finally called technical support. They tried to download and had the same problem. Well, the server was malfunctioning! It would just have been easier had the software arrived with the SSP. Hopefully you will have better luck the first time.
Setup was easy. I connected the SSP to my router and
voila, the song listings appeared on my display. If nothing shows up, go
through an off/on cycle on the SSP. Navigating through the list was easy.
What about the sound quality? Well, that was limited by the compression of
the source. The experience was undoubtedly better than when I listen to
music sitting at the computer. I really like this feature. It makes
listening to music that is stored on a computer so easy.
CD playback through this combination was very good. In fact, I enjoyed listening to several CDs with Dolby Pro Logic II engaged. However, playing some high-resolution recordings is what really exemplified the capabilities of this system. Chesky Records has an audio sampler DVD with two-channel 96 kHz, 24-bit recordings. The high-resolution signal on this disc does not get down-sampled on the digital output, so the input into the DTC-9.4 was a 96 kHz/24-bit bitstream. Listening to this disc was an absolute delight! The vocals of Sara K. and Kelly Flint sounded very natural. It was apparent that the DACs on the DTC-9.4 are of very high quality.
After having spent a good deal of time with this Integra combo, I swapped in my Proceed AMP5 for the DTA-9.4. The AMP5 sounds mighty good, but it also costs almost twice that of the DTA-9.4, and the DTA-9.4 has seven channels against the AMP5's five channels. With the AMP5, there was more detail, the bass got tighter, and the treble became crisp. The improvement in each area was small, but added together they made the listening experience more immersive. The DTC-9.4 and the AMP5 just proved to be a wonderful match. But the DTA-9.4 was no slouch either. I enjoyed many a movie and CD through the DTA-9.4.
This is the first time I have reviewed a SSP with Dolby Headphone
capability. I plugged in my headphones and played the Star Wars pod race sequence.
The headphones I have are not of very high quality, but even so, the sound
through them was remarkably good. The spatial cues and the ambient effects
were all preserved. In comparison, hearing the same track with Dolby
Headphone disabled was just dull. The Dolby Headphone setting in the setup
menu has three adjustment modes: DH1, DH2, and DH3. Each mode simulates
the sound field as a function of room size and adds the appropriate amount
of reverberation. I liked DH2. If you use headphones for the occasional
listening, definitely enable this functionality.
- Sumit Chawla -