When I recieved this piece for evaluation it came to me packed in cases worthy of transporting the most delicate substances known to man. The RDV-1 DVD player, the RDC-7, and the back breaking RDA-7 came through the doors of a quaint audio shop that I call home 8 hours a day in none other than custom made anvil cases. Obviously, it is not what a consumer gets them in but it was never the less impressive. I had heard this trio at the CEDIA show in Indianapolis with a 7.1 THX Surround EX demo and I was blown away. The dynamics, the clarity, and the ease of it all just made me believe that i had heard the best there was to offer in todays home theater market. That was a year ago. Just yesterday I had the chance to finally evaluate these pieces with what is truly important. Music. It has always been my belief that if elecetronics or speakers can accuratly reproduce the effects of music, than it must be good for home theater. I personally hooked up the RDC-7 and the RDA-7 to a pair of B&W Nautilus 804 speakers. They have been my reference speakers for the last two years and are a prime example of a fine British loudspeaker. Instead of using the RDV-1 as my source I had chosen the Marantz SA-1 Super Audio CD player. It has been put into Stereophile's A+ category of CD players and to me is the finest machine ever made. My resoning for this is that the RDV-1 is primarily a home theater piece and right now home theater was not what i was looking for. Interconnects used were Kimber Kable PBJ. A moderatly priced interconnect from a leader in the wire industry. Speaker wire was Horizon Silver Plated 10 AWG. The same stuff i use at home, therefore i was aware of its sonic characteristics. I chose all types of music but every recording is a reference choice. The first was the very melodic Patricia Barber Cafe Blue. The first track what a shame consists of piano, bass guitar, and not to mention her beautiful voice. Once the gear was fired up the bass guitar filled the room with tight refined notes. Her voice carried on without any sense of muddying or congestion. The track did seem a little bright but that might have been due to the fact that i was used to the Sunfire Tube preamplifier, and that the recording could also be considered as such. Impression so far was above average. To carry on female vocals i put in Carole King Tapestry on SACD. As sappy as this may sound A Natural Woman has always been a song able to give me goose bumps. What can i say, its a classic. Her voice was very natural, almost too natural. Trust me this is not a bad thing. It was as though she was right in frnot of me. I had experienced this before with other pieced but not in such detail! OK, so now im almost in love with the gear and ready to drop my college funds to have it. One track that i have used to demo numerous times is the infamous The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Again, a SACD. This is the piece that made me determine what a value these components are. With my eyes open or closed i could point to where each and every instrument was. I am not classically trained but i do have some knowledge as to where sections of intrumentes are, and when played on this disc they were there. It was amazing. The clarity of detail, the tonal accuracy, everything was there. Even the dancing brooms. Obviously female vocals and classical music was more than exceptionally reproduced. Actually it was like listening to music, not to electronics and speakers. So what next? Michael Jackson Thriller on SACD, and the song would of course have to be Billie Jean. From the very first bass notes to the infamous whoo-hoos of Jackson's voice everyone in the room was tapping there foot thinking in their mind of how cool it would be if they could moon-walk. Need i say that it was impressive? Lastly the guitar stylings on Al DiMeola, John McLuaghlin, and Paco DeLucia would bless us with their presence. It was Friday Night In San Francisco Live! Thanks to the wonderful people at Sony Records, Integra, BAT, and Lucasfilm I was given the concert of a life time, one that now i can go back to whenever i choose to. Thats how good it was. This amp had no fatigue to it what so ever. It did provide what Integra said it would, "effortless power." The pre/pro had the sound of top of the line home gear. Hell, it had the sound of top of the line studio gear! It has everything and it will always have everything thanks to IEE1394. These are not just amps and preamps or processors. They are not just pieces of machinery designed by perhaps the most qualified people in this industry. They are pieces that define what stereo and home theater should be, and is.
I purchased this amplifier as a companion to the Integra Research RDC-7 processor. I connected it using balanced cables in order to take full advantage of the balanced design. (The BAT web site www.balanced.com has good info on the advantages of a balanced design.) I use one of the two triggers on the RDC-7 to turn the RDA-7 on, saving me the agony of walking to the amp and hitting the power button. Speaking of which, when I first turned the amp on, the lights briefly dimmed. A dedicated circuit is definitely in order. This doesn't happen when the amp is in stand-by and turned on via the RDC-7, probably because the power supply is already juiced.
I've only had the amp for a couple of weeks now. But, upon replacing a set of NAD amps, I noticed that sound was much smoother and clearer. The difference is especially noticable at high volume levels. I am not a professional reviewer, so I won't get into too much detail, but the best way to describe the difference, is in my reaction to music and movie dialog. There is no electronic harshness to the sound distracting you from what your hearing. What you hear sounds very natural, just like it should. In fact, you don't think about how it sounds, you just listen and enjoy. That wasn't alway the case for me.
As Integra Research proudly advertises, this amplifier is designed by Balanced Audio Technology, a very well respected high-end brand. As a matter of fact, this amplifier's circuit design is practically identical to BAT's VK-6200, a $10,000 200 watt 6 channel amplifier. The main difference is that the VK-6200 uses no global feedback and the RDA-7 uses a "minimum" amount of feedback to meet THX specifications. Additionally, each VK-6200 channel has its own transformer, whereas, the RDA-7's uses 2 transformers shared by all 7 channels. The reason I state the difference between these two amps is show how similar the $5000 RDA-7 is to a $10,000 state-of-the-art high-end amplifier. Of course, this doesn't mean the RDA-7 sounds as good as the VK-6200 (although I bet its real close) or that the VK-6200 isn't worth its price (maybe it is may it isn't.) What it does mean is that the RDA-7 is high-end through and through and a bargain at that.
This doesn't mean that the RDA-7 is for everyone. Not everyone needs or wants seven channels. In fact, I found it difficult justifying seven channels myself, having perfectly good NAD amps for the rear channels. After all, I'm sure that jet flying over my head would sound just as noisy on the NAD. But I don't feel that way about the center or even the side channels, especially with the advent of multichannel DVD-Audio and SACD. Unfortunately, Integra Research doesn't make a 5 channel amp and the RDA-7 isn't modular like the VK-6200, Bryston 9B and Proceed amps. Consider that the only kink in the RDA-7's 112 pound armor.
What a beast! It's like the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. This thing exudes power, but never without finesse. At first, I thought it was a little grainy, but after a few weeks of wringing it out with some DVD movies at reference level, I went back to music listening through DVD-Audio, and things were as smooth as silk. I guess it just needed a little break-in time. I am using the companion RDC-7 pre-amp/processor and RDV-1 progressive scan DVD-Video/DVD-Audio player with it. They look and sound incredible together. I never had any experience with B.A.T. products before (this amp was designed by them for Integra Research) but if this is indicative of their sound quality, then you owe it to yourself to audition their stuff. I gather B.A.T.'s other products (made in the USA)are more expensive than this one, but maybe Japanese manufacturing allows for the better dollar value. 7 channels x 150 watts into 8 Ohms, balanced inputs, built like a tank, THX Ultra certified and runs amazingly cool, all for $5000. As Ferris Bueller says, "If you have the means, I highly recommend it." Definitely recommend using balanced cables, if you can, it makes a subtle but noticeable improvement in the noise floor and dynamics of the system.