Sean Killebrew began his writing career in the '90s, covering football for UCLA (his alma mater). His first foray into publishing was in 2000, with the below-the-line film- and TV-production guide books LA 411 and NY 411. For the past decade, Sean's passion for audio/video has been poured into writing for HomeTheaterReview.com. When not chasing A/V deals, Sean spends time skiing and losing to his son in basketball.
Integra is a very popular brand amongst professional home theater installers for a number of reasons, including sound quality, reliability, and the fact that Integra products typically include a number of installer-friendly features like ISF-certified calibration controls and HDBaseT support. Enthusiasts who "know" know that Integra consistently does a good job combining high performance with latest features that the uber-high-end companies often struggle to keep up with.
The DTR-70.6 receiver is Integra's flagship, carrying a price tag of $2,800. What sets it apart from most of the receivers on the market are its 11.2 channels of Dolby Atmos-capable glory. Many consumers scoff at anything beyond a 5.1 home theater setup as being not worth the hassle, mostly due to the incremental increase in sound quality/enjoyment versus the hassle and cost of setup. While I tend to agree with this sentiment, I'm here to tell you that the jump to 11.2, if done properly, is exactly the game-changer many of us have been hoping and waiting for. Trust me when I explain that I'm as skeptical as (if not more so than) the next guy when it comes to being duped by manufacturer smoke and mirrors, but Dolby Atmos, when setup accurately and given the proper source material, is exactly the jolt that the home theater realm needs. This is not simply adding more speakers to entice people to buy new gear; this is a completely redesigned methodology in terms of sound recording, sound engineering, and ultimately sound encoding onto a Blu-ray disc. Since the focus of this review is the Integra receiver and not Atmos in general, I'll supply you with a link that's worth your time if you want to research Atmos. Also, if you have experience with Atmos and disagree with my assertion that this technology is game-changing, please share your thoughts in the comments section, and I'll be sure to engage.
The DTR-70.6 is an 11.2-channel, 135-watt-per-channel beast of a receiver. It measures roughly 17 inches wide by eight inches high by 17 inches deep and weighs a hefty 47 pounds. The feature set includes everything you'd hope for in a flagship receiver being rolled out in 2015, including eight HDMI inputs and three outputs. The HDMI 2.0 connections include support for HDCP 2.2. copy protection, 3D, and 4K upscaling and pass-through. This receiver is also THX Select2-certified and features built-in support for Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, and more. The amplifier and processor blocks are independent of one another, preserving and enhancing sound quality by limiting interference.
As I mentioned in the intro, Integra has wisely included HDBaseT, which allows for the transmission of full HD video and audio content over long cable runs, using either CAT5e/6 or HDMI cabling. This allows the unit to function as a central hub in a multi-room system. Ultimately, the DTR-70.6's feature set is too vast for the confines of this review; so, if you're hungry for more detail, take a look at Integra's product page.
Having used separates in my listening room for the past several years, I must admit that it felt good to set aside my XLR cables, along with my Integra amp, in favor of a single, cutting-edge unit. While there would be a few sacrifices with said reduction in gear and cabling, ultimately it was a welcome tradeoff. I connected the Integra to my reference rig, which consists of a pair of Focal 836Ws for the front left/right, an Episode 700 series center channel, four Episode Signature 1300 Series in-ceiling speakers for the Atmos height channels, and four Definitive Technology Mythos Gems for the surround and surround back channels. My source components for this review included an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, a NAS drive, and my Music Hall 2.2 turntable. Connecting to a home network is hard-wire only with the Integra, so I ran an Ethernet cable to my range extender and had no problems.
Once all my gear was connected to the receiver, I ran Integra's AccuEQ auto calibration software, which detects from only one position: the sweet spot. Interestingly, the most difficult portion of running the calibration software was trying to keep my five-year-old son quiet during the measurements; other than that, it was a quick and seamless process. I allowed the Integra to break-in a bit, which also bought me a bit of time to install the four ceiling speakers for Atmos, although you do have the option of using upward-firing speakers or Atmos modules that sit atop existing speakers, should you choose not to go the ceiling route.
This section might well end up being the longest performance section I've written in a review. I say that in an exceedingly positive light, as the Integra is, on multiple levels, a true game-changer, especially for someone who is using a dated home theater receiver or separates.
Typically, with a receiver review, I begin critical listening with two-channel material. In the case of the DTR-70.6, however, I felt like a 10-year-old with a new bike and had to test its Atmos mettle right out of the gate. Was it worth tearing up my ceiling to add four speakers? The answer is a resounding yes. Dolby Atmos is commensurate with other big leaps in audio/video technology: SD to HD, lossy to lossless, etc. The first thing I cued was the Dolby Atmos demonstration disc, which includes multiple Atmos promos, a couple of which reminded me of the original, now-classic THX intro. After playing the demo disc for myself several times, I played it for my wife, kid, various neighbors, and a couple of guys I paid to come in off the street. In other words, even a demo disc sans any film clips--just a loop of various promos and shorts--was captivating.
Moving on to what is admittedly a slim selection of Atmos-capable Blu-ray discs, I fired up Keanu Reeve's latest effort, John Wick (Lionsgate). Put simply, it's the finest and most immersive audio to ever grace my home theater. From the first action scene, up to and including any scene that included rain, I was blown away. The rub? Now I'm spoiled, as this is how every action film should be recorded, engineered, and enjoyed. What we as reviewers and casual home theater fans all thought was immersive is not, at least not when compared with Atmos. Also, due to the fact that I was taking listening notes while watching the film, I was so caught up in how great everything sounded, I wanted to re-boot the film as soon as the credits appeared. It heightens the whole film-watching experience, especially in action sequences--as it places you in a bubble of sound, for lack of a better way to put it. It's hard to imagine four ceiling speakers making that significant a difference, but one must realize that Atmos is much more involved than that.
Sticking with Atmos material, I cued the Blu-ray of Dana Brown's On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter (Anchor Bay). This is a follow-up to Dana's father's now classic film from 1971 and a decent successor. It might be difficult to wrap one's head around ceiling speakers adding much to a film about motorcycle riding, but with Atmos it's a good idea to dispense with conventional wisdom and just enjoy the ride (pardon the pun). While the film went overboard with both narration and interviews, the riding sequences were well shot and captivating, especially with the added layer of sound emanating from above. Motorcycle engines produce all manner of sound, from throaty hogs to high-revving dirt bikes, and the Integra did a masterful job of conveying every little nuance, across the frequency spectrum.
Moving up in terms of production value, I booted up the last of my Atmos demos: Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity (Warner). In the opening scene, which is one extraordinarily long shot, the communication between Houston and the shuttle crew was reproduced with an almost spooky sense of immersion. As the crew and shuttle come into view, the dialog moves around the room, creating the sense that you're sitting out there, 62 miles above the earth. As the tension mounts and the satellite fragments begin to wreak havoc on the crew, I noted that the music was also used to great effect with Atmos. Herein lies the true beauty of the technology: it's not simply sound coming from above, it's the fact that the sound engineer can program sound to an area, rather than to a specific speaker. Previously, sound engineers had to direct sound to a specific speaker, which is incredibly limiting. Hearing this new found freedom of sound engineering (coupled with the additional speakers) in a movie theater or well-set-up home theater is simply astonishing. No matter how much I write, it's not going to be possible to convey how realistic and immersive this new technology is and how well the Integra delivers it. One simply needs to experience it. Watching Gravity made me want to jump on Amazon and buy every available Atmos Blu-ray...all nine of them. You can view the regularly updated list of Atmos Blu-ray discs here.
The logical question is, will this technology take off, or will it suffer the same fate as 3D? I have no idea. As with most technologies, it will likely come down to the marketing effort. That said, there are things that can be done to help drive it, such as upconversion of existing Blu-ray titles. While an upconverted title surely won't sound as good as something engineered natively in Atmos, it will help bridge the gap as we await more content.
In terms of music, I played all manner of lossy and lossless material and came away feeling more than satisfied with the sound quality, especially as it related to resolution, soundstage, and bass. Thanks to the Integra's built-in phono stage, I was also able to cue up some vinyl and ditch my phono amp. In listening to Elton John's Live in Australia (MCA), I was impressed with the soundstage, warmth, and transparency put forth by the Integra. I kept it in Direct mode for most two-channel listening, but installing four speakers in your ceiling provides plenty of impetus for experimentation. As such, I found myself switching to All Channel Stereo, a decidedly mixed bag with music. For example, listening to an admittedly absurd remix of Depeche Mode's "Fly on the Windscreen" with all channels firing was cool and would be great for a party. Switching to that mode while listening to Elton on vinyl made the vocals sound distant and wrecked havoc with the soundstage.
Listening to the music I have stored on my NAS drive was seamless, and the Integra had no problem recognizing and playing back my hi-res files. Not having to connect my Mac, boot up the Decibel playback software, and switch my DAC to the correct input was another bonus. As with Pandora on the Integra, just select and play, whether from your own collection or online. Nice.
I've yet to find an audio or video product that doesn't have some sort of a rub, and the Integra, I'm sorry to admit, is no exception. Despite my earnest attempt to will the Integra into being the poster child of audio perfection, it did leave me wanting in terms of speaker connectivity. The good news is that, beyond what I'm about to mention, I could find no other negatives to report. So here's the rub: once you've hooked this beast up in full Atmos glory, you're out of speaker terminals, leaving no powered speaker option for zones two and three. I would've liked to power my two outdoor speakers with the Integra, but that would mean giving up two of the Atmos height channels, which I wasn't willing to do. That was a drag.
Lastly, while you can press the display button on the remote to see the resolution of the music track that the receiver is currently playing, that data is not available on the control app. Hopefully Integra can address this with a future update, as we audio geeks love to check it and re-check it, especially when playing hi-res files.
Comparison and Competition
As this is a new technology, the list of Atmos-capable receivers isn't excessively long, but familiar names abound in Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, and Pioneer. More specifically, Denon's comparable model in terms of price and feature set is the AVR-X7200W, which retails for $2,999 and ups the ante in terms of power at 150 watts per channel, but only features nine channels. In fact, I could find only one Atmos-capable receiver (from Integra's sister company Onkyo) that features 11.2 channels: the TX-NR3030. Marantz does make two preamp/processors with 11.2-channel capability, the $4,000 AV8802 and the $2,000 AV7702, but you'll need to bring an amp if you want to party with Marantz.
By now it should be clear that I highly recommend the Integra on multiple levels: overall sound and build quality, its Atmos capability, power, and bleeding-edge features set. And it's that last bit I'd like to focus on as I try to wrap this up. The Integra is the first receiver I've auditioned that has made me second-guess my $8,000 worth of separates. Does the Integra sound better than my reference rig? In terms of resolution and transparency, it does not, although at $2,800 that's not a reasonable expectation. Where it wins is obviously with Atmos, but also in the areas of features and convenience as a whole. There are plenty of little perks that this receiver delivers, as well--like convenient app control of streaming sources and the fact that, when powering up the receiver after listening to Pandora, it will default to playing that same station. On paper, it sounds trifling; in practice, it's incredibly convenient to press one button and be greeted with streaming bliss.
Further, due to the fact that the Integra has such a vast feature set, I was able to greatly simplify my setup, as I no longer needed my Mac, phono amp, Squeezebox, DAC, etc.--not to mention all of the cables associated with those components. It was liberating and speaks to what many are trying to accomplish these days in their systems: convenience and simplicity.
Let's just forget about Atmos for a moment. Even if you remove this receiver's most cutting-edge feature, the Integra is still a paragon of audio engineering, both in terms of sound quality and feature set. It's also the first piece of audio or video gear that I've given five stars across the board; that should be all you need to know.