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If you just glance at Integra products, they look pretty much like those from many other brands. But peer a little closer and you start to notice the build quality, the feature set, the sheer excellence of performance. Especially when you’re talking about a model from the higher end of its range, such as the DTS-70.4, the subject of this review.

Equipment
AV receivers have been tending over the years to become physically lighter, even while preserving performance and adding features. But apparently Integra didn’t get the memo. At 24.5kg this is the most solid unit we’ve seen for several years.

Part of the reason for that would be the nine discrete 140W amplifier channels it packs. This is, in fact, a full 11.2-channel receiver — to avail yourself of all those channels you add two more power amplifiers (pre-amp outputs for all the channels adorn the rear panel).

The receiver is very flexible with the allocation of the built-in amplifiers. In addition to powering the three external zones, some of these can be directed to power passive subwoofers, bi-amp your front speakers, or truly bi-amp your front speakers. ‘Truly’? Yes, because the receiver packs a digital crossover. If your two-way front speakers have internal crossovers that can be disconnected, you can set up the receiver to separate the bass and treble in the digital domain and send them to the respective drivers. Levels and crossover frequencies can be set.

What you can’t do is re-allocate the front power amplifiers to other duties, should you want to use your own amplifiers.

Unusually, the amplifiers here support four-ohm speakers without issue (you need to set a switch in the Speaker Settings menu).
The 70.4 satisfies even us in input terms — it has nine HDMI inputs! And Ethernet, of course, and two USB sockets, one each on the front and back panels. Composite and component video are supported, but not S-Video. While all the many RCA connections are gold-plated, Integra has used higher quality ones for the phono and CD inputs, spaced more widely to permit the use of more exotic cables.

Performance
A wizard guides you through the basic set-up. As you proceed, you get to choose between a full calibration by the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 auto set-up facility, or a ‘Quick Start’ version which does one set of measurements at one microphone position. Since this isn’t the kind of thing you’ll do every day, it makes sense to do the whole thing.

As the end of that you are presented with a screen which allows you to choose whether or not you want Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume switched on or off. If you accept the default setting the first will be on, and the latter off. We’d suggest that you switch them both off. The former in particular manipulates the frequency balance of the sound based on volume with a view to making it sound more accurate. To our ears it makes the sound less natural. You can change this setting in the menus later if you like.

We do, however, applaud Integra for showing you these settings up front, and offering the choice. Regular readers will know that we are shocked how many receivers now leave these on by default. Unfortunately even this high-level receiver implements one other process without mentioning it — THX Loudness. The brief on-screen explanation (find it at menu item 2-6) says “For rich details of surround sound at lower volume”. By “lower volume”, they mean anything under the massive 0dB ‘reference level’, and by rich details they mean tailoring the frequency response and adjusting the amount of surround sound. Again, we’d recommend switching this off. (In fairness, we’ll note that if you Google these Audyssey and THX processes, the first few links would suggest that ours is the minority view.)

One thing we think all audio fans can agree on is that ‘All Channel Stereo’ is not a good choice as the default listening mode for two-channel sources. But it was the work of only a moment to change it to a Dolby mode for our set-top boxes and normal two-channel stereo for our disc spinners.

That done we spent many hours enjoying the top-notch sound produced by this receiver. Or, rather, the sound which the receiver stepped aside from, allowing to emerge with beauty and authority. We watched Blu-ray movies and DVD ones, and especially listened to high-resolution multi-channel audio discs. It was hard to remember that our three-channel (left, centre, right) SACD of Stravinsky’s ‘Song of the Nightingale’ was actually recorded 56 years ago, when it was delivered over HDMI in DSD format to this receiver, sounding balanced, clean and with an exquisite spaciousness.

Jeff Beck’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers’, also on SACD but this time in 5.1 channels, showed that the receiver was just as good with highly dynamic full bandwidth recordings, from the brushes sliding over the skins in the opening segment through to the magnificent drum intro in the following track, ‘Thelonius’.

We had quite a bit of fun with our USB files, thanks to the wide audio format support offered by the unit. Obviously it does MP3 and standard WMA; it also does lossless WMA — something that we very rarely come across — so you can save space on WAV (which it also supports). It was also happy with iTunes’ preferred AAC format, which covers most bases. Enthusiasts for high-resolution audio downloads will be pleased, with the unit doing a fine job with our 24-bit 96kHz and 192kHz stereo FLAC files, although it wouldn’t reproduce all the channels of a 24-bit, 96kHz 5.1 FLAC recording. Finally, it delivered two-channel downloads in DSD format (i.e. one-bit, 2822kbps per channel SACD-like streams).

Network-wise there was plenty on offer as well. The highlights are the excellent vTuner internet radio portal and onboard Spotify, through which, if you’re prepared to subscribe to the premium service, it delivers decent-sounding streaming music of your choice, with a very nearly unlimited selection. Other options are simfy, Aupeo! and MP3 Tunes — this last allows the receiver to access your own music which you’ve uploaded to the ‘Cloud’.

Note that the receiver did not like our eight-port network switch, which allows all our home theatre entertainment equipment to share an internet connection. It would connect to the network occasionally through this, but mostly not. Plugged directly into the route, however, it worked perfectly.

The two HDMI outputs were quite different in operation. You should pay attention to the labelling of them: ‘Main’ and ‘Sub’. Such fancy features as the input preview function work only on the main output, and indeed the graphical interface was likewise limited to this. The ‘Sub’ or secondary output could be set to work at the same time as the main one, or individually, but either way would not display the set-up menu, and such things as it did display (for example, the list of network options) were presented as simple text lists. Video processing, such as scaling, also only worked on the main HDMI output.

So have a think about the way you’re likely going to use two displays (assuming you haven’t just redirected the SUB HDMI output to a second zone, which it also offers).

The video processing offered for the main HDMI output was pretty good, offering an ‘Auto’ progressive-scan conversion mode that, while imperfect, seemed very good at recognising film-sourced content in both 1080i/50 and 576i/50 formats very rapidly, and switching to film mode. The HDMI connections will pass through 4K video and the unit can actually upscale to 4K, should you wish.

One really nifty feature offered by this unit was its ability to display a preview of four HDMI inputs. These are arrayed across the bottom of the screen with thumbnails grabs from each input shown in a cycle, allowing you to easily choose what you want to see.

Conclusion
The Integra DTS-70.4 receiver is a first-class unit, with stacks of power, brilliant new media and network support, the ability to integrate easily into a home control system, and some excellent new features such as input preview and the ability to deliver digitally separated bass and treble to the front speaker drivers. Stephen Dawson