Once, tattoos were restricted to dock workers and people in dubious professions. Now they’re mainstream: You practically can’t be a musician, actor, or accountant without one. Why? Scientists are baffled. Maybe the bodyart lobby put something in the drinking water. In any case, the Integra DTR-50.2 is as tattooed as any rock star. I counted 11 logos on the front panel, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Just as many people add more tattoos on, um, intimate parts of the body, this AVR’s Webpage boasts a total of 27. True, some of them are small change: Do we really need logos for USB and Zone 3? But this AVR’s cornucopia is fairly bursting with meaningful logos from THX, Audyssey, and—my new favorite—Slacker.
THX and Audyssey and More
The DTR-50.2 is THX Select2 Plus certified, so it will play loud and clean in rooms of up to 2,000 cubic feet at viewing distances of 10 to 12 feet when mated with THX Select2–certified speakers. The AVR’s rated 135 watts per channel (see HT Labs Measures) muster “certified 4-ohm performance,” according to the spec sheet.
Audyssey-licensed features include MultEQ room correction, the version that takes measurements from six positions. In the MultEQ pecking order, this one is third out of four.
Also on board is Audyssey DSX, which offers both height- and width-enhanced listening modes. In practical terms, with this seven-channel A/V receiver, that means you can augment the basic configuration of 5.1-channel surround with two height speakers placed above the front left and right, or two width speakers placed outside the front left and right, or two backsurround speakers behind the seating area—pick one of those three. If you opt for height speakers, you can run them with either of two height modes, Audyssey’s DSX or Dolby’s Pro Logic IIz. Because the DTR-50.2 has dual subwoofer outputs, you can easily run an extra sub, which can help even out bass response around the room.
I fervently believe that all AVRs should include at least one low-volume listening mode. This one actually provides a choice. The Plus in THX Select2 Plus indicates the presence of THX Loudness Plus, which adjusts for the way human hearing changes its perception of space and frequency response once the master volume drops below reference level. As an alternative, there are two Audyssey low-volume modes that are designed to work together: Dynamic EQ, which also compensates for changing perceptions at low volumes; and Dynamic Volume, which applies advanced dynamic range compression and maintains even volume levels among sources.
The latter operates in light, medium, or heavy modes to suit your whim. Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume together make a great team. Integra deserves applause for providing both THX’s and Audyssey’s low-volume modes.
On the video side, this model includes Faroudja DCDi video processing, HDMI 1.4a compliance for a full complement of 3DTV formats, and to give your custom installer a full arsenal of video corrective measures, ISFcertified calibration controls.
Once, we lived in a world where listeners were rooted in the sweet spot listening to discs. For those who still do, the Integra comes with a moving-magnet phono input. But these days, some of us wander around the house and expect music to follow us. With this three-zone product, it can.
We also listen to a lot more than discs, and the DTR-50.2 is ready for all contingencies. Your iPod or iPhone can connect either to an optional dock (UP-A1, $109) via rear-panel connector or directly to a front-panel USB jack, thanks to Made for iPod/iPhone certification. With optional accessories, the DTR-50.2 supports both Sirius satellite radio and over-the-air digital HD Radio. Plug an Ethernet cable into the AVR to enjoy subscription music services (Rhapsody, Napster), podcasts (MediaFly), personalized Internet radio (Pandora, Slacker), and more traditional Internet radio (vTuner). You can also access media from a network-connected PC via DLNA 1.5 certification and Windows 7 compatibility.
The DTR-50.2’s seven HDMI inputs cater to the videophile who has everything. There are two HDMI outputs as well. One of them supports the Audio Return Channel, which sends signals from a display back to the AVR for surround decoding. This is one of the increasingly few AVRs to offer S-video connectivity for legacy sources in addition to the usual composite video.
The first things you’ll notice on the front panel are the darkgray volume and power controls against a black background—the gray is a longtime and characteristic Integra touch. Of course you’ll find the usual buttons for source select and listening modes. Like few other manufacturers, Integra provides a full set of navigation controls, so you can burrow deep into menus even if you’ve lost the remote. More unusual are several buttons, located below the power button, that turn zones two and three on and off and regulate their volume levels. You can also control the dimmer and monitor-out settings from the front panel.
Although it’s unremarkable looking, the remote control offers a few subtle pluses. You can toggle among zones two and three using a button that’s strategically placed at the top alongside the power on and standby buttons. The button glows red for zone two, green for zone three, and amber for zone four. (The Integra doesn’t have a fourth zone, but the remote also serves two step-up models that do.) The bottom of the remote has an indentation that cradles your top two fingers when your right thumb is in volume-adjust position. This makes it easier to find the lozenge-shaped volume up/down key by feel. Backlighting also helps, and when activated, it highlights the selected remote mode in a brighter shade of green than the rest of the buttons.
Audyssey MultEQ setup ran flawlessly. It always surprises me how much more Audyssey can accomplish with a small set of relatively subdued test tones than other room-calibration systems can with a lengthier and more raucous assortment. In the first measuring position, an onscreen graphic diagrammed a theoretical 11.2-channel speaker configuration with the full monty of height, width, and back channels. In the second and later positions, the system displayed only my five connected speakers (correct) and two subs (the only error—I only use one sub). As is typical for Audyssey, the resulting settings were reliable. No revision was necessary aside from my usual preference for the THX Select2–approved speaker/sub configuration: speakers small, crossover to subwoofer at 80 hertz, that’s all she wrote.
Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio v.4 speakers, the Paradigm Seismic 110 sub (without its built-in EQ), and an OPPO BDP-83SE universal disc player.
Learning to Trust
Before the movie demos began, I considered how to approach the low-volume listening modes. I chose not to use THX Loudness Plus. Don’t interpret that as a slam: I’ve used THX Loudness Plus in the past and found it useful. But in this case, I concentrated my attention on Audyssey Dynamic EQ (on) and Dynamic Volume (at the lightest of three settings). In several past reviews, I’ve come to trust Dynamic EQ/Volume. So for the first time, I left these settings in place, with no A/B-ing, allowing them to consistently shape my impressions of every movie I watched. I only turned them off once I started my music demos.
Robin Hood—the version with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett—arrived on Blu-ray Disc in DTS-HD Master Audio. Audyssey Dynamic EQ fostered strong surround envelopment, as it is designed to do. I wasn’t surprised to hear consistent all-channel effects in battle scenes—with whizzing arrows, anguished cries, the ringing of unsheathed swords, and the thuds of falling bodies. But low-intensity moments, like the spooky movement of air in the forest, were just as enveloping. In this and other demos, the subwoofer level was just slightly on the high side. The distinction was small enough to be a matter of taste, so I didn’t fiddle with the sub level.
Cop Out (DVD, Dolby Digital) exploits the comic interaction of Bruce Willis, here playing the straight man, and Tracy Morgan, who gushes comic energy and goofball charm. Audyssey Dynamic Volume throttled back the loud parts only a little—gunplay, crashing cars, and shattering glass were still mildly shocking. A moment of electronic percussion seemed a little on the fat side. This reinforced my previous perception of an overstated sub volume, but the effect was fleeting. Either Audyssey Dynamic EQ was momentarily boosting the bass beyond my admittedly conservative preference or a setup anomaly had tripped up MultEQ. I’m inclined not to blame MultEQ, because the perception didn’t recur in the music demos, when MultEQ operated without the low-volume modes.
Extraordinary Measures (DVD, Dolby Digital) doesn’t contain any slam-bang effects, but it did show off the Integra/Audyssey combo’s prowess with dialogue—I didn’t miss a word. Orchestral textures were sweet and vague, which I’ve found to be characteristic of both Dolby Digital and the default mixing preference for movie soundtracks in general. Brief passages with drums were well balanced, and my previous brief impressions of high sub volume didn’t recur.
Two-Channel Has Its Revenge
For my music demos, I switched off Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume but left MultEQ in the circuit. My days of anxiously turning MultEQ on and off may be behind me. As with Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume, I’ve come to trust Audyssey’s room correction.
Over a four-day weekend, I came to grips with Deutsche Grammophon’s seven-DVD set of Leonard Bernstein conducting Beethoven’s symphonies and piano concertos, along with several overtures: Missa Solemnis, Choral Fantasy, and String Quartet Op. 131 arranged for string orchestra. Given a choice between DTS 5.1 and PCM stereo, I surprised myself by consistently preferring the latter (in a mode that allows for bass management and room correction). Surround levels in the DTS mix were way too high, which made me feel like I was sitting in the last row of the balcony among a bunch of fidgeters and heavy breathers. On the other hand, the stereo mix put me in the middle of the hall, the prime spot, with the action coming from the stage. With or without the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, the stereo mix beat the surround mix consistently in tonal balance and musicality, showing Integra’s amplification at its most refined. In five piano concertos with soloist Krystian Zimerman, the Polish firebrand’s nimble yet powerful touch nestled in the heavenly textures of the world’s finest orchestra, and I was borne away.
Blue Öyster Cult’s Agents of Fortune—yes, the one with “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”—got the 5.1-channel treatment in a non-hybrid SACD release nine years ago. Once again, surround and stereo fought for my soul, and once again, stereo won. The high-resolution stereo mix had a kind of miraculous density that the high-resolution surround mix lacked. While the surround mix was less speaker-bound, it lost focus when even minor elements moved into the surround channels. The more prominent those elements were—say, the raga guitar solo in the middle section of “Reaper”—the more they broke the spell. In an A/V receiver with less resolution than this one, stereo would have had less of a chance. This is why you pay four figures for an AVR. Listening modes aside, higher overall performance gives you more choices.
Joe Beard’s For Real is a 1998 release from AudioQuest Music (the label now known as Sledgehammer Blues). Beard’s songwriting style sticks close to the blues tradition, leavened with covers from John Lee Hooker, Lightning Hopkins, and Sonny Boy Williamson, and decorated by the tasteful soloing of guitarist Duke Robillard. This SACD hybrid disc had only stereo soundtracks, in both DSD and CD formats. The Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode opened up the soundstage beautifully but went a little too far with the Hammond organ, which degenerated into all-channel diffusion, divorcing it from the rest of the band. So once again, I fell back on the non-direct Stereo mode. The warm, slightly rolled-off mix suited Beard’s lowkey vocal charisma well and seemed to consciously refrain from sharpening up his relaxed sibilants. To its credit, the Integra didn’t brighten up the vocal or lose track of its tinier nuances. Somehow I’m certain that what I heard was what the artist and producer wanted me to hear.
Shiny Round Things Forgotten
I started my disc-unbound listening with a little music from my second-generation iPod touch plugged into the Integra’s frontpanel USB port. It defaulted to Standard mode, which enables operation from the device itself. The front panel’s and remote’s Display buttons toggle to Expanded mode, which lets you operate the device using the AVR’s GUI and remote. One nice touch is that when you disconnect and later reconnect your iPod or iPhone, the Integra defaults to the last mode you chose. The manual notes that fifth-generation iPods and first-generation iPod nanos only work in Standard mode, but if you’re not happy with the way your iPod works with the AVR, you can always add the accessory dock.
The front panel’s and remote’s NET/USB buttons cycle through other network-enabled audio options. Nearly everything in my PC hard drive’s Music folder appeared in the Integra’s GUI, and I was pleased that it didn’t limit itself to the Windowsdefault My Music folder. The only omission was an album encoded in AAC that I’d purchased from iTunes (cut to Steve Jobs scowling).
Integra offers a bunch of Internet audio options. vTuner proved to be a conventional Internet radio interface with all the sorting options you’d expect. I chose Stations by Genre, Ambient, High Quality (because who doesn’t love high quality?), and in no time, I was unwinding to the Ambient Psychedelic Chillout channel.
As I’d used Pandora once before, I logged in with my e-mail and password, slowly picking out each character with the remote’s nav keys, shifting to access the @ sign and the period. Pandora recalled that I had previously set up a Richard Thompson radio station and started playing songs by that artist and others it deemed similar. I knew that Pandora would limit my choices if I skipped too many songs, so I skipped just one or two occasionally, rebutting those who claim, “You never learn.” Hah.
Subscription music services included Rhapsody and Napster. Note that Rhapsody’s 30-day free trial was visible in the Integra GUI. Napster offers a sevenday free trial, accessible from its Website.
And Then There Was Slacker
Slacker was a new experience for me. Like Pandora, it requires a login, so I sat down at my PC to set up an account. The choices were Free Basic and Slacker Plus. My pick? You guessed it. Back on the sofa, I keyed in my login and password and was greeted by Slacker’s opening screen: Search, News, Favorites, Recently Played, Custom Stations, Slacker Spotlight, Top Stations, and various musical genres.
Custom Stations were my choice. Back at the PC, I created one for the Orb. Slacker suggested a variety of Orb-like artists, including my chosen one, which I reiterated. Then, to my delight, Slacker presented me with a list of songs by the Orb plus a list of Related Artists whom I could opt into or ignore. I could have just stuck with my original pick, but I added Death in Vegas because I liked the name (I associate Las Vegas with the slow-motion death of the human spirit). When I tried to save my Custom Station as the Orb, it didn’t work, but saving it as TheOrb did. In no time, it was up and running on the Integra.
Once I was back on the sofa, the Integra displayed song, artist, and album names alongside cute icons as well as album art. The artist field added this verbiage: “Up Next: Upgrade to view artist.” Harrumph. I was invited to Rate Song as Favorite or Ban Song. I chose neither. Slacker seemed OK with that.
As a few songs played, Slacker informed me that I had five skips left (as opposed to Pandora, which just sucker-punches you when you hit your limit). My first skip brought on an ad that could not be skipped. Of course I had to forge ahead to see what happened when my skips ran out. No surprise: Slacker again invited me to upgrade.
Please don’t get the impression that I didn’t enjoy Slacker—I’m just recording my first experience in detail. Hugs to the Slacker people for a fun and well-designed service and to Integra for including it. Free is always a great price.
If I were to personally design an A/V receiver to suit my needs, it wouldn’t be far removed from the Integra DTR-50.2. Its licensed and other features, adjustments, interface, remote, and (oh yes) performance are pretty much what I want out of an AVR. I had to work my butt off to find anything to quibble about. Every user of an A/V receiver should be so lucky.
Integra DTR-50.2 A/V Receiver Specs
- Audio Decoding:
- Dolby: TrueHD, Digital Plus, Digital, EX, Pro Logic II/IIx/IIz
- DTS: DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS, ES, 96/24, Neo:6, Express
- Audyssey: DSX, Dynamic Volume, Dynamic EQ
- Other: THX/THX S2 Cinema, Music, Games
- 3D: Yes
- THX Certification: Select2 Plus
- Number of Amp Channels: 7
- Rated Power (watts per channel): 135 into 8 ohms, two channels driven
- Specified Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 100 kHz (+1/–3 dB)
- Video Processing: Faroudja DCDi
- Auto Setup/Room EQ: Audyssey MultEQ
- Dimensions (W x H x D, inches): 17.13 x 7.81 x 16.81
- Weight (pounds): 39.5
- Price: $1,400
- Inputs: Video: HDMI 1.4a (7), component video (3), S-video (4), composite video (5), VGA (1)
- Audio: Coaxial digital (3), optical digital (3), 7.1-channel analog (1), stereo analog (6), phono (1), 1/4-inch headphone (1)
- Additional: Ethernet (1), USB (1), RI (1)
- Accessory: Universal port (1), Sirius (1), AM (1), FM (1)
- Outputs: Video: HDMI 1.4a (2), component video (2), S-video (2), composite video (3)
- Audio: Stereo analog (3), 7.2 preamp (1)
- Additional: RS-232 (1), 12-volt trigger (3), IR (2 in/1 out)
- (800) 225-1946