Initially I had intended for this review of Integra's newest no-holds-barred AV preamp to be part of an AV preamp comparison, one that would include reviews of the Marantz AV7005, Onkyo PR-SC5508 and of course the Emotiva UMC-1 published on Home Theater Review. I chose the above-mentioned AV preamps because they were all priced well below $3,000 retail, which in this day and age is a big selling point for many. While I'm sure we'd all love the chance to own a Krell Evolution 707 or Classe SSP-800, it simply isn't in the cards for many of us. But that doesn't mean we should be forced to go without. Unfortunately, we'll have to settle for three out of four because Emotiva and their UMC-1 bowed out after being the first to commit to such a review over a year ago. Happily there are AV companies out there that aren't afraid to go toe-to-toe with their competition, so with that I bring you the Integra DHC-80.2.
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The DHC-80.2 is the latest, top-of-the-line, AV preamp from Integra retailing for $2,300, which makes it the most expensive of the before-mentioned AV preamps, but then again it also packs the most features. The DHC-80.2 continues in the tradition of my former reference AV preamp, the Integra DTC-9.8, which I used without incident for four years. A lot has changed in the two generations since then, though from the outside the DTC-9.8 and newer DHC-80.2 look eerily similar. The DHC-80.2 is rather large for an AV preamp, sharing the same chassis as Integra's largest multi-channel amplifier, the DTA-70.1. The DHC-80.2 has a large, bright display sitting front and center surrounded by various hard controls for everything from surround mode to source selection. There is a large silver dial to the right of the DHC-80.2's display that controls volume. Minus a similar silver button off to the left that toggles the DHC-80.2 in and out of standby mode, the DHC-80.2 is an entirely monochromatic affair. I do want to point out that the DHC-80.2 does have a few front mounted inputs including a single HDMI, USB as well as a composite video in, mated to analog stereo inputs as well as a digital audio input. DHC-80.2 itself measures a little over 17 inches wide by eight inches tall and 17 inches deep and tips the scales at a respectable 30 pounds.
Around back things get a lot more interesting, for the DHC-80.2 hosts more inputs than I think any rational home theater enthusiast would ever need starting with seven 3D compliant HDMI inputs (HDMI v1.4a) and two HDMI monitor outputs for a total of nine -unless of course you count the front-mounted HDMI input, in which case the total climbs to 10. Below the DHC-80.2's row of HDMI ports rest its digital audio inputs, three coaxial and three optical, all of which are assignable in the DHC-80.2's menus. There's an Ethernet port as well as a RS-232 input. Below that rests Integra's Universal Port along with a host of IR and 12-Volt triggers. To the right of the various control ports rests six complete sets (composite, S-video and analog audio) of legacy inputs followed by three sets of component inputs and two sets of component outputs. There is a complete set of analog multi-channel inputs as well as unbalanced preamp outputs including dual subwoofers; hence the .2 in the DHC-80.2 model designation. Below the unbalance inputs rests an entire row of balanced preamp outs including two subwoofer outputs as well as a pair of balanced audio inputs for say, a high-end source component such as a CD player. There's even a phono stage as well as an input for Sirius satellite radio (sold separately) as well.
Under the hood the DHC-80.2 is THX Ultra2 Plus certified and features completely isolated construction between the power supplies and preprocessor units. It features shielded Toroidal transformers with four independent power supplies throughout. The DHC-80.2 is capable of decoding all of the latest surround sound codecs including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. It also has a host of other sound codecs designed to extract the best possible sound from legacy source material and downloaded music files. Speaking of best possible sound - the DHC-80.2 features Audyssey's MultiEQ XT32 room correction software, which includes support for Audyssey's own Sub EQ HT, MultiEQ Pro (professional installer kit sold separately), DSX, Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume. There is also a Multi-Band (15) Speaker EQ for your manual tweakers out there. The DHC-80.2 plays host to six Burr-Brown 192K /24-Bit Audio DACs as well as a 192 / 32-Bit Audio DAC which employ ultra-low jitter circuitry for improved two channel audio performance. On the video side of things the DHC-80.2 is ISF Certified and comes with a complete host of ISF Calibration Controls, meaning the DHC-80.2 can truly serve as the epicenter of any home theater system, not to mention provide older HDTVs with a greater level of picture control. The DHC-80.2 also features HQV's latest Reon-VX chipset for its internal video processing.
Nowadays no home theater can exist in a bubble and must be able to be connected to one's home network, either via an Ethernet port or wireless. The DHC-80.2 can connect to your network via its Ethernet port and once connected can take full advantage of its Windows 7 certification as well as play back Pandora Internet Radio as well as music from Rhapsody, Napster and more.
For more information on the DHC-80.2's copious options including which features require ancillary equipment and/or subscriptions, please visit its product page on the Integra website.
Unboxing and installing the DHC-80.2 is relatively easy considering all the connection options and features listed above. I placed the DHC-80.2 on the bottom shelf of my Omni+ Vent equipment rack next to my Parasound 5250 v.2 multi-channel amplifier, which was connected to the DHC-80.2 via five, two-meter lengths of Transparent MusicLink Ultra interconnects (unbalanced). I connected my various source components, a Sony BDP-S580 Blu-ray player, Dish Network HD DVR and Apple TV, to the DHC-80.2 via individual runs of Transparent Performance HDMI cables. I had a number of HDTVs, ranging from two 3D displays courtesy of Vizio and Samsung as well as the giant 70-inch Sharp HDTV on hand during my review period, which were all connected to the DHC-80.2 via a single run of Transparent Performance HDMI cable. I even connected my reference Anthem LTX-500 LCOS projector to the DHC-80.2's second HDMI monitor out using a 40-foot run of Transparent's High Performance HDMI cable.
Once connected, it was time to navigate my way through the DHC-80.2's vast menu options. Before I go any further I should point out that Integra (and Onkyo) have some of, if not the best on-screen menus I've ever seen. They're easy to read, intuitive to navigate and provide a level of control few AV products can match - even those costing multiples more. Setting up the DHC-80.2 is a snap and while I know Integra's products, including the DHC-80.2, are aimed at the custom installer market, you don't need to be a hot shot installer to make the DHC-80.2 dance.
I began by running the Audyssey auto room EQ software, which by now most every home theater enthusiast is familiar with. Audyssey's software has gotten better over the years and the software package included with the DHC-80.2 is their best yet, though I would like to point out that for best results you should use all the listening positions Audyssey provides you with, as well as keep the spacing of said points to one foot increments versus placing the microphone all over your room. For me, I basically traced the outline of my entire sofa at ear level one foot at a time.
Once my speakers and subwoofers (I used two JL Audio Fathom F110s) were dialed in, I began setting up the various inputs, which included renaming them to reflect the source such as "Sony Blu-ray," "Apple TV" etc. Once each source was labeled correctly, I set their individual sound and surround sound parameters and even dictated what type of video processing, if any, I required. All and all the entire process took about an hour, give or take, and was easy enough even a caveman could do it.
I began my evaluation of the DHC-80.2 with The Mechanic starring Jason Statham and Ben Foster on Blu-ray disc (Sony Pictures). Skipping ahead to the scene involving Foster's character and a rival mechanic, the DHC-80.2's performance was visceral and explosive without losing sight of the details -details like the film's score, which underpins the action. Back to the hand-to-hand combat for a moment, the body hits through the DHC-80.2 were rich with texture and weight and had a palpable presence to them. When Foster is thrown through several glass room dividers the resulting shattering sounds were violent and sharp without sounding digital or harsh. In fact the entire performance was a touch forward and energetic in nature, which leant a sense of urgency to the moment and presentation. Many of the larger hits, especially those involving various furniture pieces, showcased the DHC-80.2's bass prowess, which was controlled and deep. A word on the DHC-80.2's bass performance; the ability to integrate two discrete subwoofers (non daisy chained) into one's home theater is a worthwhile feature and one of the DHC-80.2's party pieces, resulting in smoother bass response throughout. While there wasn't a great deal of dialog in the above mentioned scene, latter scenes shed light upon the DHC-80.2's dialog capabilities, which were always clear, focused and intelligible regardless of what was going on in the periphery. I set the DHC-80.2's video scaling to "through" so as to bypass any processing from the internal HQV chipset. With "through" selected and the DHC-80.2 in the chain, I couldn't see any changes in the video signal good, bad or otherwise when compared to directly connecting my Sony Blu-ray player to the display itself.
Continue reading about the performance of the Integra DHC-80.2 on Page 2.