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 . . .