Home theater and audio are vehicles of escapism, in the best sense of the word. In our busy, stressful, high-productivity world, we need moments when we can relax and immerse ourselves in movies, music, or even good television programs. The more realistic our systems are, the deeper the immersion can be. Over the past several years, technology has changed the home-theater experience dramatically for the better, but with the unfortunate side effect of increased system complexity. Although there have been some attempts to engineer simpler all-in-one systems, most are low-end solutions that cannot satisfy performance-minded enthusiasts. So, the issue of bigsystem complexity remains, manifest first in the elaborate set-up procedures necessary for modern gear, and then in the inevitable maze of cabling needed in order to connect components. Consider what is involved in connecting the typical universal DVD player. At a minimum, you’ll need three component-video cables, a digitalaudio cable, and six analog-audio cables for high-resolution multichannel- audio outputs. These cables are not only expensive, but also seem to necessitate a degree in electrical engineering as a prerequisite for knowing how to hook them up. Add in other source components with their associated cables, and throw in trigger-signal cables to make sure components get turned on and off in the right sequence, and things quickly get out of hand. But help is on the way.
For discriminating buyers who want seriously good equipment that is easy to use, Integra Research has put together a complete new reference system consisting of the RDC-7.1 multichannel controller, the RDA-7.1 seven-channel amplifier, and powerful RDV-1.1 universal player. Each component is intended as a strong player in its own right, but the three elements work particularly well when used as an integrated system, together taking advantage of the latest technologies to simplify at least the cabling part of the home-theater experience. Let’s start with the fact that the RDV-1.1 universal player needs just two cables to connect to the RDC-7.1 controller: one FireWire link transfers all digital-audio streams, including streams from DVDAudio and SACD discs, while an HDMI cable carries all digital-video signals. Similarly, a Scientific Atlanta HD DVR box from Time Warner can connect with the RDC-7.1 via an HDMI digitalvideo cable and a coaxial digital-audio cable. Simple, isn’t it?
Easy connectivity becomes possible thanks to the RDC-7.1’s modular “Build to Order” construction, which allows users to purchase a base controller ($4000), and then to add whatever interface modules their systems require. The base controller features basic analog- and digital-audio inputs, a phono section, and two iLINK (FireWire) inputs, but Integra offers optional modules to add an AM/FM tuner, video inputs, BNC or RCA component video, multichannel-audio inputs with or without AES/EBU, and HDMI switching—making the RDC-7.1 one of the first high-end controllers to support this trend-setting A/V interface. HDMI switching turns out to be a pretty big deal because it means you can connect not one but two HDMI-equipped source components to the controller, each using just one HDMI cable to send audio and video data to the RDC-7.1, with the controller handling all necessary signal-switching tasks (this feature is a godsend for people whose displays have only one digital video input).
With Integra Research’s latest makeover of the RDC-7.1, the HD15 jack previously used for 5.1-channel audio-inputs has been banished and replaced with a multichannel audioinput card. But if you buy the RDV-1.1 universal DVD player, you won’t even need that card, as the player can transfer audio signals, including digital data from DVD-Audio and SACD discs, via a FireWire interface. This DVD player also provides up-scaled video signals via its HDMI port, and with the inclusion of OPlus FlexScaling, I was able to set it up to output 720p to match the native resolution of my Fujitsu plasma display. This player uses a Silicon Image chipset to perform deinterlacing tasks, and although it has excellent Burr- Brown DACs, it does not need them when used with the RDC-7.1 controller, since it is much simpler to transfer digital-audio data to the controller via FireWire. Feeding digitalaudio data to the controller via FireWire not only eliminates cabling and set-up complexity, but also allows users to tap the advanced bass-management and speaker set-up capabilities of the RDC-7.1. The FireWire connection offers some control advantages, too, implementing protocols that cause the controller to turn on automatically whenever the universal player is powered up.
The RDA-7.1 seven-channel amplifier rounds out this trio, providing 150Wpc at 8 ohms. This amplifier has quite a pedigree, as Integra Research developed it with BAT (Balanced Audio Technology)—a greatly respected company among high-end audiophiles. This 115-pound beast is a big one, and was too deep to fit into my Salamander Designs cabinet, but with its smooth finless casing, it looked very handsome sitting outside of it. The amplifier can be hooked up with an included triggercable to turn on and off with the controller, simplifying system control.