AOM Logo January 2004



The Integra DPS-8.3 THX Ultra Certified Universal Player
One Source Component for DVD-V/A, SACD, CD, and MP3 Audio



Martin Appel

In our ever expanding world of audio, it's become apparent that the battle for our listening dollar has intensified due to the promise and availability of the new high resolution formats: SACD and DVD-audio. If this was not enough, we're also faced with making decisions about stereo sound or multi-channel surround sound formats. Let us not forget MP-3 and CD-R/RW. And that's just for music.

Integra DPS-8.3 universal playerThe home theater/video world has it's own set of formats that must be dealt with: THX, Dolby Digital, DTS, and DVD-video. That's a lot to chew on. What's a manufacturer to do? Some have opted for one format or another, but any manufacturer worth its salt will produce a player that will play both standard CDs and at least one of the new, higher resolution formats, in both stereo and 5.1 Surround. The consumer would then have to choose a player with his/her preferred format and hope enough music will be produced to make the purchase worthwhile. Does this sound like a logical approach? I think not. Happily, several manufacturers have answered the call and have produced universal players that will play all formats.

The Integra DPS-8.3 is my first experience in the realm of the all in one player and one with true DVD audio and SACD. Previously, I've reported on the Birdland upsampling DAC and its wonderful contributions to the sound in my system, and now I can report to you on the higher resolution formats of the Integra DPS-8.3.

As I begin to write, I should point out that I intend to cover the stereo sound this unit portrays, both in standard CD and the higher resolution formats. If and when I install a surround sound music system, I will then explore the effects this has on the listening experience at chez Appel. The review will also not cover video or home theater, again for the same reasons.

The Integra is manufactured by Onkyo. Its internal audio DAC resolves 24bit/192kHz data, true high resolution DVD audio in stereo. Sony licenses its SACD decoding to them. The unit is rather heavy at 11 lbs. This is in good part due to the different power supplies for the digital and analogue domains. Its black faceplate looks cool with a center location for its tray and surrounded on either side by symmetrically placed function buttons of a rather unobtrusive nature. It does have a headphone jack with volume separate volume control. The open/close, stop and play buttons have attractive blue lights surrounding them when activated. Directly below the tray is a medium sized display window indicating what is being played: CD, SACD, and DVD. There is also an amber pinpoint indicator light next to tiny lettering indicating the same info. This seems totally redundant and more than a few inches away, unreadable. It comes with a sufficient number of analogue and digital outputs and inputs for about any configuration. Video is equally represented, including a 12 volt trigger, RS 232 connection and IR remote capability.

My first task was to purchase some high res discs. There seems to be more SACDs out there than DVD-As -- I also tried to find 2-layer, hybrid SACD discs so I could also play the CD layer on my stereo reference system. My current Meitner Museatex transport will not read DVD-A but my Sony DVP-7000 does (dumbed down to only 48kHz, which is the case with just about all DVD video players out there). Both transports were used via Acoustic Zen's E=MC squared reference digital cable into the Birdland Silver Odeon Ag DAC w/upgraded clock. Even the digital outputs of the Integra are set to 48kHz. Copy paranoia is still the driving force at work here.

Rear viewSetting up the Integra was quite easy for stereo listening in all formats. To do this requires a TV. If that's a problem, then these multi format players are not for you. By pressing the set up menu you can scroll through the options, which are logically presented, and in a few minutes your system is ready to go. Multi channel surround sound audio and video set up menus are also fairly easy to use. There is also bass management for subwoofer use but the setup menu doesn't specify what the crossover point is. I discovered that it is fixed at 80Hz, after a quick call to Integra. Bass management is implemented for SACD and DVD-V, but curiously excluded from DVD-A. In my system setup this was not a factor. I used the left and right analogue outputs from the Integra into my Kora Eclipse preamplifier and the Kora's second set of outputs to my Sunfire True Subwoofer Mk II. Innesound's ESL Mark II stereo amplifier powered it all. Interconnects were Acoustic Zen's Silver Reference II's except their Matrix Reference between preamplifier and subwoofer. Acoustic Zen Gargantua II's and Gargantua power cords were used on all equipment. Black Diamond Racing cones and Things, as well as Vibrapods, were used for vibration control.

After a week of burn in, I began with tried and true CDs. First up was Capital's Frank Sinatra sings for Only the Lonely. It was immediately apparent that the Integra played standard CDs quite well. The presentation was smooth, without harshness, with very good detail and instrumental separation. Frank's voice was well placed with good focus in the soundstage. The soundstage itself was portrayed with good width and height, but not quite as much depth to which I am accustomed. Several other CDs gave me more clues into the performance of this unit. The bass performance was first rate, reaching into the depths with power, authority and wonderful detail. After many hours of listening I can conclude that the Integra performed very well as a stand alone CD player.

I turned to my recent SACD purchases. Two Chesky products, both superb recordings, Bucky Pizzarelli, Swing Live and The Persuasions Sing the Beatles have become part of my favorites along with a Telarc rendition of Orff's Carmina Burana via Donald Runnicles and The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, another superbly recorded effort. Since these were hybrids, it was appropriate and easy to compare the two channel stereo CD tracks with the SACD two channel versions. The recording quality of these CDs was exemplary. The 'live club' presentation of Bucky Pizzarelli had you right there in the club, with the energy and atmosphere that a small club can engender. The four Acapella voices of the Persuasions were soulfully captured with weight, detail and focus. The symphony and chorus were well done with full dynamics and articulation of voices and instruments. However, a little thinness and brightness was noticeable here. These observations were direct from the basic CD versions. Switching to the SACD layers proved very enlightening on all the recordings. The soundstages opened up. The voices had more body and definition. The overall improvement in naturalness and ease was apparent in all the recordings. The sonic character of the Integra remained lively and vibrant, but richer, warmer and fuller in SACD. If anyone had any doubts about the efficacy of SACD, let me lay them to rest. This format is a clear improvement over standard CD.

DVD Audio has the capability of 24bit/96Khz in two-channel stereo and in 5.1-multi-channel music, as well as the capability of 24bit/192Khz reproduction in two-channel stereo. The availability of DVD Audio is very limited at this time and I only had some samplers to use as references. Whether or not you like video while listening to music, these discs have it. You do have the option of turning off your TV. The first DVD was The Warner Music Group Does DVD Volume 2, a compilation of live performances of popular groups and opera singers, Alanis Morisette, Ricki Lee Jones, Eric Clapton, Madonna, R.E.M., Hootie and The Blowfish, to name a few. Along with these performances, selections from The Three Tenors in Concert, provided some opera/classical music for comparison. This DVD was very well put together with respect to both the sound and video quality. The Integra did an excellent job bringing the sound of the live event to this reviewer. The two channel mixes were easily listenable and the energy of the live venue was captured by the higher resolution format very well. On this DVD, watching the video and hearing the accompanying 24Bit /96Khz sound brought another level of enjoyment.

How did the Integra compare to my digital, two-channel reference? I felt both high-resolution formats bettered the performance of my reference system. They offered greater precision and a clearer window onto the soundstage. When playing basic CDs, the opposite was true. The Integra does not have the benefit of up sampling that my Birdland reference supports so well. Tonally, my reference system is richer and fuller than the Integra, with a more analogue sound.

The Integra is a well made unit that deserves serious consideration for those who want excellent features, ease of use, fine sound, and the benefits of playing all digital formats. I should mention that its video performance knocked me out when I compared it to my old Sony DVD player. Video quality has come a long way! I can only imagine what developments await us in both sound and video when the higher resolution digital formats are fully realized.

Keep listening.


Postscript

I brought the Integra over to a colleague's house. The longtime audiophile/writer has a complete surround sound music system, using the Sunfire III preamp/ processor and matching Sunfire multi channel amplifier, along with a customized video set-up. It was in this setup we could experience the full multi channel capability of this unit. As good as music sounded in the higher resolution formats in two channel, in most instances, it was bettered by the multi channel presentation. It was quite an epiphany. It was ear-opening at replicating the ambiance of the venue. Later, we had some fun by comparing original vinyl with SACD versions. I know how controversial it is to even hint at the possibility that analogue has met its match, but we both found it to be true. Epiphany squared!


The Integra DPS-8.3 THX Ultra Certified Universal Player

Manufactured by Integra
18 Park Way Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Tel: 800 225-1946
web: http://www.onkyo.com e-mail: contact@gspr.com
Price: USD$1200.00
Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan
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