In weighing the relative merits of AV receivers vs. AV separates, I think even the most staunch supporters of the latter (yours truly included) have to concede that AV preamp/processors generally lag behind their integrated brethren when it comes to support for the latest features. If you absolutely refuse to settle for anything less than the latest version of HDMI, you’re far more likely to find it in a new AV receiver. Want the most up-to-date selection of streaming audio services? Buy a receiver. Looking for connectivity options that, generally speaking, won’t trickle up into the pre/pro market until next year’s CEDIA EXPO, at the earliest? You’re far more likely to find it in the receiver aisle of your favorite local big-box brick-and-mortar retailer.
All of this makes Integra’s new DHC-60.5 7.2-channel network A/V preamp ($2,000) a bit of a pleasant curiosity. Not a wholly surprising curiosity, mind you, given that the DHC-60.5 is a more affordable follow-up to Integra’s renowned (and still flagship) DHC-80.3 9.2-channel preamp, which boasted 4K upscaling and a plethora of streaming audio services way back in 2011. To those bullet points, the DHC-60.5 adds Ultra HD pass-through in addition to upscaling and, although it does lose two channels of processing as compared with the 80.3, it is among the first AV products of any sort on the market to support HDBaseT, a nascent technology that carries a fully uncompressed HDMI signal at distances up to 100 meters (330 feet) via a single Cat5e/6 cable. HDBaseT also has the potential to deliver control, Ethernet, and even power signals over that same single-cable connection; however, in the case of the DHC-60.5, Integra intends for the HDBaseT port to be used as a zone-two monitor output or even as the main monitor output in lieu of HDMI, which could be quite handy if your AV rack is a considerable distance away from your display. In fact, its HDBaseT port is kept wholly separate from the standard Ethernet jack and, out of the box, it’s covered with a foreboding sticker that reads “Custom installer use only.”
That’s an odd warning, to be sure, given that Integra products are only sold through the custom channel. So, if you’re in the market for a DHC-60.5, it also stands to reason that you’re in the market to have it installed, calibrated, and integrated by a custom installer. Given the wealth of tweakable options included in the DHC-60.5, I daresay that professional installation is a must for most consumers to get the most out of this feature-packed processor.
Granted, as feature-packed as it may be, I still found the Integra DHC-60.5 to be one of the easiest-to-integrate surround sound controllers that I’ve installed in my system in quite some time (and in that I’m including both preamps and receivers). In fact, the only other product that really compares is Onkyo’s TX-NR626 receiver, which stands to reason since Integra is the upscale, install-oriented counterpart to Onkyo. The companies’ products share similar design aesthetics and virtually identical user interfaces. In fact the Integra DHC-60.5’s remote control is a fraternal twin of the remotes for Onkyo’s TX-NR828 and TX-NR929 AV receivers. Likewise, the Integra Remote app for iOS is incredibly similar to the Onkyo Remote 2 app in terms of layout (as well as its incredible responsiveness to IP controls), even if the color scheme and button shapes diverge a bit.
Around back, the DHC-60.5 also sports a very Onkyo-esque look, by which I mean that – aside from the lack of speaker binding posts and the inclusion of balanced XLR outputs – it very much looks like a mainstream receiver. I mean that not as a pejorative, but merely a descriptor. For its size (at nearly eight inches tall, it’s quite a bit taller than most pre/pros I’m accustomed to), the Integra is nicely and logically laid out, with very little in the way of wasted space … although I feel that with a little rearrangement it could have accommodated the 7.1-channel analog audio inputs it lacks. Given that the bulk of the connected components in my home theater – my Dish Network Hopper satellite receiver , OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray player , and PlayStation 3 – connect via HDMI, hookup was mostly a snap. The only remaining connections were a single stereo RCA analog interconnect for my Control4 Wireless Music Bridge and a single optical digital connection for my Autonomic MMS-2 Mirage Media Server.
Given that no other components in my primary or secondary home theaters feature HDBaseT connectivity, Integra arranged for me to borrow an Atlona AT-PRO2HDREC HDBT receiver to test out the DHC-60.5’s multi-room video distribution capabilities. The setup is incredible straightforward: if you’re using an HDBT connection to your main display, you simply toggle the Monitor Out to HDBaseT, which disables the second zone monitor out selections in the menus. If you’re running the HDBT connect to another room, you simply select HDBaseT as the Zone 2 Monitor Out. The only point of confusion in the setup of the multi-room capabilities is that, when you set the Zone 2 Monitor Out to HDBaseT, the “Audio TV Out (HDBaseT)” options in the setup menu are grayed out (you only have the option to toggle it on or off when the main Monitor Out is set to HDBaseT), leading one to believe that audio isn’t available to a second zone. That’s actually not the case. I ran the Integra’s second zone monitor output to the Atlona receiver and from there into an HDMI input of the Anthem MRX 710 receiver I currently have installed in my second home theater system, and I can report that it does indeed deliver sound. The downside is, the sound is delivered as two-channel PCM only.
Given my familiarity with recent Onkyo receivers, I found the DHC-60.5’s setup menus familiar and comfortable, although I do still find it rather counterintuitive (at first) that pressing the remote’s Setup button doesn’t actually take you to the setup menus. Rather, it takes you to a quick list of things the end user may want quick access to: changing sound modes, quickly and easily enabling or disabling Audyssey equalization, etc. To dig deep into the meat of the setup process, one instead presses the Home button. That’s where you’ll find all of the DHC-60.5’s in-depth calibration and setup tools, THX and otherwise, including its vastly adjustable Digital Processing Crossover Network setup, which allows you to route time-aligned high- and low-frequency sounds separately to front main speakers that lack passive crossovers. That’s an impressive feature for a pre/pro that retails for a mere $2,000.
The optional Initial Setup process holds your hand through many of the settings that you’ll need to adjust – starting, of course, with the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 calibration. So, after connecting the DHC-60.5 to my Anthem A5 amplifier (which drives my quartet of Paradigm Studio 100 towers and Studio CC-590 center speaker) and pair of Paradigm SUB 12 subwoofers, I had the system calibrated, tweaked, and up and running within half an hour. The setup process was complicated only slightly by the fact that Integra’s implementation of Audyssey requires that you set your subwoofer SPL to 75dB before running the calibration, which would be easy enough with one sub, since the DHC-60.5 gives you test tones and an onscreen readout of SPL, as measured by the Audyssey microphone. However, given that I was using two subwoofers in this case (leaving my Sunfire SubRosa Flat Panel Subwoofer out of the equation just to keep the setup from being an outright nightmare), dialing in a combined SPL of 75dB meant skipping Audyssey’s helpful pre-calibration, playing my own pink noise, and setting each sub to 71dB independently with my trusty SPL meter. The upside to this is that I didn’t have to tweak Audyssey’s automatic distance, levels, and crossover settings one iota once the calibration was complete, which was a nice surprise.
With that done, the only thing that remained was to integrate the Integra with my Control4 system, a step that I normally wouldn’t delve into too deeply, but in the case of the DHC-60.5, I feel it’s worth more than a mere mention. The processor features support for Control4’s Secure Device Discovering Protocol (SDDP), which means that as soon as it’s connected to the network, Control4 recognizes the device and requires you to do no more than drag its drivers into place and map out the connections to get everything up and running. Complete automation integration took me, at most, 10 minutes, which is all the more surprising, given how sophisticated the DHC-60.5’s combination IP/serial/IR drivers are. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this is the single most integrator-friendly AV processor I’ve had the pleasure of installing in quite some time, not only because it practically installs itself on the software end, but also because the driver gives you direct access to all of the processor’s streaming music services and makes multi-room setup a breeze.
Continue to Page 2 for Performance, Comparison and Competition and the Conclusion . . .
After setup, I began my evaluation of the DHC-60.5’s performance, as usual, with a quick run-through of the test patterns found on the Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray, but by a rare stroke of luck in this case, I also happened to have Samsung’s 55-inch F9000 Ultra HD TV around for my first half-day or so with the Integra, so I got to test out the Integra’s 4K upscaling and pass-through capabilities, as well as its 1080 video processing. Its performance in both respects was, as far as I could see, flawless and, quite frankly, I couldn’t see a bit of difference between the Integra’s 4K upsampling of the 1080p output from my OPPO BDP-103 and its pass-through of upsampled 4K video from the player itself. In every respect, the DHC-60.5 is a video whiz kid.
Once the F9000 was packed up and out the door and my Samsung PN58C8000YF plasma was back in place, I settled down for some serious movie watching. Contrary to my usual habits, the first disc I popped in wasn’t one of my standard Blu-ray stress tests. Instead, I opted for Man of Steel (Warners) on Blu-ray, given that I had just watched it a few evenings before through the same speakers and amp, but with my reference Anthem Statement D2v 3D A/V processor in place. The first thing I noticed about the DHC-60.5 is its exceptionally impactful but controlled bass performance, a characteristic I’ll chalk up largely to its Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction, given that turning Audyssey off resulted in inferior integration between the subs and mains and a good bit of bass bloat (along with a general widening of the soundstage). With it on, though, the thunderous bass of Hans Zimmer’s score sounded positively delicious – powerful but well-mannered.
I’m not sure how well the low frequencies of that clip will come across on most computer speakers, but on Blu-ray, the score is punctuated in spots by 40- and 80Hz spikes, as well as plenty of energy down to 20 Hz. And the DHC-60.5 delivers it all with impeccable finesse, eking nuances out of the bass that I never heard in the cinema (where, I’m ashamed to admit, I saw the film five times), but admirably comparable to what I’m used to hearing via my Anthem preamp.
When the bass calmed down and the dialogue kicked in, though, I have to admit that something didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t just the fact that the DHC-60.5 introduces an incredible amount of audio delay with HDMI sources – a problem I was able to fix on an input-by-input basis with Integra’s excellent manual A/V Sync tools, which offer up to 800ms of correction. Even with the delay corrected, there was an imprecision in the delivery of voices – in fact, in the midrange frequencies across the board. It was noticeable enough that I immediately popped in my reference stress test for dialogue clarity, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition Blu-ray (New Line). Skipping to the second disc of the set, specifically the Mines of Moria sequence, I found the problems with dialogue clarity to be pronounced. I use this sequence to separate good audio gear from exceptional audio gear and, unfortunately, the DHC-60.5 didn’t rank as “exceptional.” As the Fellowship enters Moria, for example, if you didn’t know that Legolas hisses, “Goblins!”, I daresay you wouldn’t have a clue what he said. Likewise, as we progress deeper into the Mines and Gandalf muses that “Bilbo had a shirt of Mithril rings that Thorin gave him,” I would have been left scratching my head if I didn’t know the dialogue well enough to transcribe it from memory.
I was certainly left scratching my head as to the cause of all this. Switching Audyssey from Movie to Music mode (formerly known as Audyssey and Flat) did knock a wee bit of edgy brightness off of the dialogue and changed its timbre a bit, but neither that, nor turning Audyssey off completely, nor switching to Direct mode, did anything to ameliorate what I perceived to be a general looseness in the midrange and a stridency in the mid-to-upper frequencies that negatively impacted dialogue clarity. I even ran Audyssey setup a couple more times, sometimes with fewer mic positions, sometimes with a larger listening area, sometimes with a tighter one, and eventually settled on “Music” as the best target curve for all listening material, but nothing seemed to help with the midrange.
Were you and I sitting in the room together right now, I’m sure we might have a spirited debate about how big an issue this really is. In many other respects, the DHC-60.5’s audio performance is quite solid, and most films do present their dialogue in a more straightforward manner; as I said, with Man of Steel, the dialogue in that film may not have sounded wholly natural, but never did I struggle to understand it. And that’s true of most of what I threw at the Integra. On the whole, with movies, it delivers an appreciably coherent and tight soundstage, with nice dynamics and exquisitely musical bass performance, even if there is a sloppiness to the midrange and brittleness to the high frequencies that I just can’t tweak away.
With certain music, that lack of precision in the midrange is even more pronounced. With Andrew Bird’s “Masterfade,” for example, from the CD release of The Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe Records), I found the bass notes spot on, but the gently plucked guitar and vocals that dominate the midrange weren’t nearly as precise and distinct as I expect them to be. The notes simply blurred one into the next. Truthfully, what it sounded like to my ears was a significant amount of jitter, although I have no way of proving that.
Likewise, the crescendo of mashed-up musical elements in the remix of “Get Back” from the Beatles: Love DVD-Audio disc (Apple/Capitol) devolves into a bit of an indistinct cacophony. However, many other elements of the mix are delivered wonderfully, from the lilting, loping bass line of “Come Together” to the gloriously expansive ambience of “Gnik Nus.”
Another example of the 60.5’s ability to create a nice sense of space comes from the fourth episode of the recent Showtime series Masters of Sex (and, given the double entendre of the episode’s title, I’ll redact that in the interest of keeping things PG, but its original air date was October 20). Several scenes in this episode take place at an anniversary party held in a country club, and the dimensionality of the room itself was staggeringly verisimilitudinous via the Integra. Every wall of the environment seemed sculpted out of thin air; every voice, every instrument, every clinking dish was perfectly positioned in a rock-solid and reverberant aural holograph.
I reported my initial findings to Integra in the hopes that its representatives might be able to help me find a solution to my issues with the midrange in general and dialogue clarity in particular. The recommendation was to swap out my reference Anthem A5 amp for another model, if possible, and I did so. Unfortunately, my old B&K Reference 200.7 S2 amp delivered much the same results. Still asserting that the amp may have been the problem, Integra felt that its DTA-70.1 THX Ultra2 nine-channel amplifier may be a better match for the DHC-60.5 and asked to send one over for evaluation. I have to say, despite my misgivings about hooking up yet another amp to the processor, the DTA-70.1 is a heck of a value, a wonderful performer for the money. Its laidback sound does in fact make it a better match for the DHC-60.5; however, as the goal of trying the DTA-70.1 and DHC-60.5 together was to see if the former improved the midrange performance and dialogue clarity of the latter, I have to report that it didn’t. I went through all of the key demo scenes again and still found voices to be slightly unnatural at best and indistinct at worst. With midrange-heavy music, there was an overall muddying of the sound that I found to be fatiguing.
Of course, my impressions of the audio performance of the DHC-60.5, for good and ill, are subjective. And relative. Compared with a $500 AV receiver, its processing is certainly a step up in most respects. Objectively speaking, though, there are a few things that I think a pre/pro in its class could do better. For one thing, it doesn’t feature Audyssey Sub EQ HT, which I assumed by now was a given for any processor that employs MultEQ XT32. Not mandatory, mind you, but a given nonetheless. Sub EQ HT measures and corrects dual subwoofers independently, which can make a big difference in some rooms. In my theater, the lack thereof turned out to not be an issue at all, but it’s something to consider if you have multiple subs that aren’t positioned symmetrically.
Likewise, the DHC-60.5 is not Audyssey MultEQ Pro/Installer Ready, another odd omission for a product in this class, especially one that’s otherwise so installer-centric. For more on MultEQ Pro and why it may benefit you, especially if you’re in the market for a pre/pro as integrator-friendly as this one, see my recent article Automated Room Correction Explained.
It should also be pointed out that, although the DHC-60.5 features integrated Bluetooth streaming support, it lacks AirPlay connectivity out of the box, unless you add the optional DMI-40.4 dock. That’s not a major concern for me, but it is worth noting.
Also not a major concern for me, but perhaps it will be for some, is the fact that the DHC-60.5 only delivers 7.2 (well, really 7.1) channels of audio processing, whereas its receiver equivalent (the $2,300 DTR-60.5) offers nine channels of amplification and a full 11.2 (or 11.1, depending on how you want to look at it) channels of processing. So, if you don’t want to have to choose between front height, front width, rear surround channels, or biamping your front mains, you might be better off buying the DTR-60.5 and using it as a preamp only. Neither model, by the way, features multi-channel analog inputs, which will be a serious bummer for owners of legacy DVD-Audio/SACD players (or an audiophile player like the OPPO BDP-105).
Comparison and Competition
Unsurprisingly, the DHC-60.5’s closest competitors come from Integra itself, as well as its sister brand Onkyo. As I mentioned above, if you like the DHC-60.5’s architecture but need or want more channels of processing, the $2,300 Integra DTR-60.5 receiver paired with a good amp or three is basically an 11.2-channel equivalent of the 7.2-channel DHC-60.5. Onkyo’s PR-SC5509 THX Ultra2 Plus 9.2-channel network A/V preamplifier, at $2,499, shares practically the same pedigree, although it is a year older and lacks the Integra’s 4K upscaling and pass-through capabilities, along with its HDBaseT output. And, like the DHC-60.5, it doesn’t support Audyssey Sub EQ HT, but it is MultEQ Pro/Installer Ready.
Another alternative to consider if you’re looking for a feature-packed and integration-friendly preamp in the vein of the Integra is Yamaha’s new AVENTAGE CX-A5000 11.2-channel AV preamplifier and MX-A5000 11-channel power amplifier. The CX-A5000 is a bit more expensive at $2,999.95, but it does boast more channels of processing, integrated AirPlay support, and HD Radio tuning. Separate serial and IP drivers are also available for Control4 and other advanced control systems, as well.
I find myself struggling to wrap my impressions of the Integra DHC-60.5 with a pithy “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” and, quite frankly, it’s the sort of product that makes me loathe star ratings. One the one hand, there’s its audio performance, which probably won’t seem as bad to most people as I’ve made it sound here. Still, for a processor in this class, with the reputation that a company like Integra has, I find its audio performance somewhat problematic, despite the fact that it does so many other things so very well.
Then again, it boasts a collection of features that most pre/pros should be envious of, with streaming audio services including Aupeo!, last.fm, Pandora, SiriusXM, Rhapsody, the ever popular Spotify, and the increasingly important TuneIn. Furthermore, it sports one of the best Control4 drivers I’ve ever seen, not only in that it gives you direct access to all of those services, but also because it’s a combination IP/serial/IR driver, which sends commands in that order. So, if for some reason the IP command doesn’t take, you’ve got a double backup. Tapping into the multiroom capabilities of the DHC-60.5 is also incredibly easy, and its HDBaseT integration certainly makes this pre/pro infinitely more flexible in terms of physical installation.