As someone whose living situation and priorities render surround sound
impractical, my main focus remains on two-channel audio. While one might
expect that I would have gotten into the high-resolution SACD and/or DVD-A
formats a long time ago, reviewing the Integra 8.5 presented my first
opportunity to audition these formats in my home. Needless to say, I was
very eager to give them a listen.
Comparing the $700 Integra to my $11,000 heavily modified Sony transport and
the Theta Gen. VIII reference combo may at first seem grossly unfair.
Happily, I discovered that the Integra has enough going for it to make
listening both satisfying and enlightening.
Because Onkyo manufactures Integra, many consumers view their products as
virtually interchangeable. According to the engineer I spoke with at Integra,
while the Integra DPC-8.5 shares many features with the Onkyo DVCP 802, the
DPC-8.5 is designed for professional installations and manufactured in Japan
using higher quality parts.
Integra also manufactures the single-disc 8.3 ($1,000) and 10.5 ($2,500). The
same engineer said that while these costlier units boast more video
features, their audio playback is very close to that of the 8.5.
This review focuses on the Integra's two-channel sonic performance with
DVD-A, and SACD.
The Integra's many features may come as no surprise to readers accustomed to
surround sound receivers. To this listener, a unit that boasts a pleasant,
blue-character display with track numbers large enough to read across a deep
space is a definite plus. So too is the initial “Integra Home Theater”
message, and clear declarations (such as “Loading” and “Good-bye”) of where
the changer is at. I wish the readouts on my transport and Theta DAC/preamp
were equally readable across the room.
The Integra comes with a multi-purpose RC-543DV remote, basic
component/video cable, and basic S-Video cable. I did not use the included cables,
auditioning the digital out via a Nordost Silver Shadow digital cable. The
remote is conveniently small and easy to manipulate. What is hardly as
convenient, however, is the need to choose a host of on-screen set-up
options before you can be sure of getting optimal sound from the unit. The
hassle, however, is certainly worth it.
Among the plethora of choices facing the listener are whether to listen to
SACD in two-channel or multi-channel, and whether to read the CD or SACD layer
of a hybrid SACD. If you use the Integra as a transport, outputting a
digital signal via its optical or coaxial outputs, you must also choose if
the signal will first be downsampled for units that cannot accept signals
greater than 44.1 kHz.
I auditioned the changer with PCM-recorded
standard CD, DVD-A, and SACD. All listening was conducted in two-channel mode.
When the Integra was used as a stand-alone player, all interconnects were
the same Nordost Valhalla as used in my reference system. When the Integra
was auditioned as a stand-alone transport, however, I connected its coaxial
digital output to the Theta using a Nordost Silver Shadow digital cable.
With thanks to Naxos of America for overnight delivery, I had the extreme
pleasure of auditioning their new recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto,
performed by violinist Henning Kraggerud with the Bournemouth Symphony
Orchestra conducted by Bjarte Engeset. This DSD-recorded
performance has been issued on both hybrid SACD and DVD-A, enabling me to
judge how well the Integra handles the same material in SACD, DVD-A, and redbook CD formats.
(The fact that the recording may have been made in one format and converted
to the others, and that many SACD players convert the SACD bitstream to PCM
is another story.)
First, I listened to the CD layer of the Sibelius on my reference Sony
modified transport/Theta Gen. VIII combo. A wide soundstage, beautifully
deep and resonant bass, and clarity on highs, were immediately apparent. I
marveled at the meaty tone of the violinist's Guarneri, and the darkness he
was able to summon forth. The orchestra captured Sibelius' dark and vigorous
sound with equal skill; the first entrance of the brass, and the orchestra's
first opportunity to expostulate on its own, were especially impressive.
While the recording lacked ultimate transparency, and the presentation could
have sounded more three-dimensional, the richness and beauty of the music
were so satisfying that I sat entranced for quite awhile. (There were brief
moments when the sound seemed “real.”) In fact, it was only after I had
promised myself that I'd include the disc in my current crop of CD reviews
that I was able tear myself away from listening and switch to the Integra.
Then, I played the SACD version of the concerto on the Integra. My reaction was mixed. The
sound was less transparent, but the images at first seemed even rounder than
from the Theta. Highs seemed to fade out and get weaker as the violin
ascended the scale, and highs that had shimmered on the Theta seemed less
extended. At the other end of the scale, the bass was definitely weaker
(bass has always been a Theta strongpoint). While I sensed an engaging sense
of three-dimensionality, the soundstage was unquestionably smaller. What did
come across as clear was quite musical, but I could tell from my experience
with the Theta that there was a lot more information on the disc than what I
When I played the DVD-A version of the concerto, on the Integra, the sound also lacked ultimate transparency, but
it had a wonderful three –dimensionality to it. If in the end I was still
getting less sound than from the Theta, what I did hear was musically
When I returned to the Theta, I again confirmed that its soundstage was
wider than that of either format reproduced on the Integra. There was also a
magical sense of space around the violin. The highs were definitely more
vibrant, the bass was fuller, and there was definitely more of the music to be
heard. The Integra seemed to get the main shape of the music, but it missed a
lot of the detail and nuance that make for music's magic. Of course, that is
compared to a much more expensive DAC. In and of itself, the Integra held
its own quite well.
The new Telarc disc of the Berlioz Requiem with the Atlanta Symphony
Orchestra conducted by Robert Spano (SACD-60627) has been issued in both
two-channel CD and multi-layer SACD formats. This enabled me to compare CD
and SACD versions of the same recording on the Integra with the CD version
on the Theta.
There can be no question that the Integra's forté is with high-resolution
formats. It may have a 24/192 DAC, but CD reproduction involves neither bit
interpolation from the Redbook 16 nor upsampling from 44.1 kHz. The flatness
of image and lack of frequency extension characteristic of Redbook CDs are
everywhere apparent. So too is a certain harshness on highs. The Theta sets
the music farther back, reproduces double basses with considerably more
extension and richness, has a far blacker background (and thus conveys more
color), and renders highs with more vibrancy and smoothness.
The Integra's two-channel SACD reproduction of the music takes a giant step
forward from Redbook CD. The music moves back in the soundstage (which grows
larger in the process), there's a lot more depth and layering, and the
increase in air around voices and instruments allows the voices increased
resonance and the ability to stand out more in the space. There's also an
almost ghostly quietness, something I especially heard on the new Silverline
DVD-A of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 featuring a young Beverly Sills as soprano
I also auditioned Warner Classics' new How Sweet the Sound (Warne) Redbook
CD of spirituals from Chanticleer on both setups. The first track starts
with the sounds of a congregation, a pretense to live recording. You can
hear far more detail from the Sony modified transport/Theta combination (as
one might expect). When the Integra is used as the transport and the Theta
as DAC/preamp, there is more information than from the Integra alone, but it
still ain't the same. Again though, the Integra holds its own.
Auditioning the Integra has really whet my appetite for DVD-A and SACD. If a
$700 multi-format player can go this far with those formats, I can only
imagine what a far more costly player can do with them. I now understand
what Secrets Editor John Johnson meant when he sent me an e-mail stating
that the $8,000 one-piece Classé SACD player blows my transport/Theta
Redbook CD combo
out of the water. (At least, until the Theta Gen VIII acquires the
ability to decode SACD bitstreams - Ed.)
The Integra's strength in audio lies with reproducing high-resolution
formats, especially SACD. It gives enough of a sense of these formats'
potential to deliver a satisfying listening experience. Those accustomed to
live performance, especially of orchestral and choral music, will note a
lack of bass and treble extension. Equally apparent is that the Integra's
enviable degree of clarity, depth and air on high resolution formats are
achieved in part by eliminating detail that might otherwise muddy up the
image. What you end up with may have an overly quiet, slightly sterile sound
that will never be mistaken for the real thing. But taken on its own terms,
it is also quite pleasing. (My own experiences with SACD are that the
detail is there, but just not so much in your face. And, the bottom line is
that a high end CD setup can still outperform a modest priced DVD-A/SACD
setup, which is why I asked Jason to review this player. Nevertheless, DVD-A
and SACD are big steps forward, keeping the overall price the same - Ed.)
The Integra DPC-8.5 offers a degree of musicality that makes it highly
competitive. If memory of the now-discontinued $299 Sony SCD-CE775 5-disc
SACD/DVD-V changer (auditioned in a very different system) serves me right,
the Integra represents a giant step forward. It also sounds a lot
better on SACD and DVD-A than the $499 NAD 541i did on HDCD-encoded CD.
For $700, the Integra DPC-8.5 is a noteworthy achievement. And that's simply
in two-channel audio. When you add in such bonuses as DVD-A's video options,
multi-channel DVD-A and SACD, along with DVD-V, you realize just how far we've come in a
remarkably short time.
- Jason Victor Serinus -
Digital Front End
Sony 707ES transport modified by Alexander Peychev of APL Hi-Fi
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
Jadis Defy 7 Mk III or IV modified with a Siltech silver harness
Talon Khorus X speakers MK. II (with latest modifications and Bybee filters)
Nordost Valhalla single-ended and balanced interconnects and balanced
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II balanced interconnects
Either Harmonic Tech Magic One, Nordost Silver Shadow, or Nirvana digital
interconnect for DVD-V
Power cables: Nordost Valhalla and Nordost Vishnu; Elrod EPS Signature 2 and
3 plus EPS 1, 2, and 3; WireWorld Silver Electra 5, PS Audio X-treme
Statement, Harmonic Tech, and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2.
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and room treatment
Ganymede supports in main digital chain and under speakers
Michael Green Audiopoints, and Black Diamond Racing Cones elsewhere
Shakti stones for Amp and Theta
Stillpoints ERS EMI/RFI sheets on some components
Bedini Dual Beam Ultraclarifier
Audioprism CD Stoplight
Marigo as yet unreleased Signature Mat for use atop CDs
Ayre demagnetising CD and the original Sheffield/XLO degmagnetising and