Where I did notice the DHC-80.2's ISF Calibration controls to be of a huge benefit was when I connected my reference Samsung LCD HDTV, which was state of the art when I bought it four years ago but now is a bit long in the tooth. My Samsung lacks many of the finer image controls and adjustments found on a lot of today's modern HDTVs, which means calibrating it isn't an exact science so much as it is a compromise. For instance when adjusting my Samsung's brightness and contrast the jumps between steps is sometimes too great meaning I have to either live with an image that is a little to bright or to dark with contrast that isn't really ideal either. Well, thanks to the DHC-80.2 ISF Calibration controls, I can better dial in my Samsung and breathe a bit of renewed life into it and in turn save myself some money. While I plan on upgrading my HDTV soon, it's nice to know I don't have to put it out to pasture just yet.
Next, I cued up the James L. Brooks romantic comedy How Do You Know on Blu-ray (Sony). Wanting to catch a glimpse of the DHC-80.2's softer side, I went ahead and let the movie play, noticing along the way that while the DHC-80.2 can speak loudly and carry a big stick it's also capable of whispering sweet nothings just as easily. The ambiance of New York was sublime and textural as if made from layer upon layer of sound and subtlety until it was a complete sonic tapestry. The DHC-80.2's performance was spacious - okay, cavernous - but never vague; car horns and squeaky breaks several blocks away were still noticeable from the rear speakers but never distracting from what was happening on the screen. Dialog, again, was clean and focused and free of any noticeable coloration, keeping the actor's natural tone and inflection completely intact, especially dialog spoken by the venerable Jack Nicholson.
Wanting to go for broke, I fired up Transformers: Rise of the Fallen on Blu-ray (Paramount). I skipped ahead to the battle in the woods where Optimus Prime loses his fight against the Decepticons in spectacular fashion. I set the DHC-80.2's volume at the THX Reference point and braced myself for impact. While the entire presentation was larger and louder than life, it was never harsh or fatiguing, nor did I detect any compression. The DHC-80.2 was steadfast in its rendering of every explosion, shattering tree and metal on metal contact, retaining all the visceral qualities needed to compliment the action unfolding on screen. The DHC-80.2's high frequency performance was crystalline and, dare I say, sweet as heard in the slow motion fall of Optimus Prime at the conclusion of the battle. The DHC-80.2's low frequency performance was controlled and deep with tremendous texture and air when called for. The DHC-80.2's dynamic prowess was startling at times, though I found it was a bit sluggish in the lower registers compared to some higher end AV preamps. About the only thing that I noticed that separated the DHC-80.2 from costlier competition - at least in terms of overall sound quality - was that it seemed to let some of the most minute details, like the leading and trailing edges of a sound go in favor of the overall or big picture. Again I'm splitting hairs here, for where it matters most - one's personal enjoyment of their favorite movies and music, the DHC-80.2 more than delivers the goods.
While the DHC-80.2 may be aimed at the home theater enthusiast, one who is more likely to use it in conjunction with movie night than two channel listening, that doesn't mean it gets a pass. Happily the DHC-80.2 doesn't suck when it comes to two-channel playback, evident in my tests using Michael Jackson's "Black and White" off the album Dangerous (Sony) or Mindy Smith's "Raggedy Ann" from her album One Moment More (Vanguard Records). Like with movies, vocals were placed center stage with terrific presence and weight where appropriate. The DHC-80.2's midrange with two-channel music seemed a little leaner than it did with multi-channel fare but only just; it's high and low frequency performance remained constant. Dynamically the DHC-80.2 was equally impressive, especially on "Black and White" and from a soundstage perspective I found the DHC-80.2's soundstage to be equal parts width and depth with good separation and definition throughout. I've heard a lot of people knock the DHC-80.2 (and Integra AV preamps in general) for not being musical or good for two channel playback, to which I say - nonsense. In my room, using comparable associated equipment I found nothing offensive about the DHC-80.2's two-channel performance, in fact I enjoyed it.
Competition and Comparison
An obvious competitor to the DHC-80.2 comes from one of its own family members, the Onkyo PR-SC5508 AV preamp. Retailing for $2,199, the Onkyo is only marginally more affordable and shares many of the same features as the DHC-80.2. The DHC-80.2 is aimed more at the custom installer market whereas the Onkyo is more readily available to the enthusiast consumer - either way you'll be hard pressed to beat their performance and feature set at their respective price points.
Next up would be Marantz's AV7005 AV preamp, which at $1,499 is noticeably less expensive than the DHC-80.2, not to mention better looking. Still the AV7005 doesn't have the same number of inputs or outputs (it's a 7.2 AV preamp versus a 9.2 with the DHC-80.2) as the DHC-80.2, nor does it boast the same feature set or THX/ISF certification. Still, it's a capable performer and probably enough AV preamp for most, but you do get more with the DHC-80.2, which is why it costs more. If you want a processor from Integra that is more in line with the AV7005, then I suggest you check out Integra's $1,200 DHC-40.2.
Like I said earlier, this comparison was set to include Emotiva's $699 UMC-1, which has set the Internet and budget-minded consumers atwitter for its seemingly unprecedented value. Truthfully, the UMC-1 doesn't belong in the conversation when talking about the other AV preamps in this category for it's too limited. It doesn't have the connection options nor the features when compared to the above-mentioned AV preamps. Furthermore, if you read Emotiva's own forum regarding the UMC-1 you'll find that it's plagued with software and firmware issues -something I can say I didn't experience with the DHC-80.2. The UMC-1 appears to be a nice piece on paper but a giant killer (or a Krell/Sunfire preamp in disguise as some on our staff used to think) it is not, for its spec sheet reads more like a "can not" versus a "can do" product in comparison to the competition. If it were me - I'd buy a comparably priced AV receiver from the likes of Integra or Onkyo and mate it to an outboard multi-channel amplifier before I'd consider the UMC-1 because of reports of reliability issues and additional features for about the same money.
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There are a few issues with the DHC-80.2's performance that are worth noting beginning with its somewhat sluggish signal acquisition and source selection. When switching between inputs (sources) you'll often hear an audible click as the internal hardware goes through its handshake protocols. The process is fairly quick, though there are AV preamps that do lock on faster and without such an announcement. When watching broadcast material you'll sometimes hear the "click" when the audio signal switches from Dolby Digital to stereo as well. It's nothing to be alarmed over and NEVER happens while watching or listening to the same source material for an extended period of time, but nevertheless is present.
I wish the DHC-80.2 had built-in WiFi or at the very least some form of AirPlay-like technology, for the whole world is rapidly moving away from hardwired connections, and the ability to stream music from portable devices such as an iPhone or iPad is a big deal for a lot of consumers. Hopefully future AV preamps from Integra will have this feature for some of its competition, mainly Marantz and Denon, already does.
If you have a home theater with two HDMI-capable displays as I do (HDTV and front projector), the only way to toggle between them is via a small button on the DHC-80.2 faceplate or by going into the DHC-80.2's menu and finding it that way, which as you can imagine is annoying. I hope Integra will include an HDMI output selector button on future remotes to curb this inconvenience.
The DHC-80.2 does run a bit on the warm side. Okay - it runs hot, so careful consideration should be taken to ensure proper ventilation. Under no circumstances should any piece of equipment be stacked directly atop the DHC-80.2's vents.
This downside probably rests more on Audyssey's shoulders than Integra's, but I wish either company would step-up and make the call to include the more professional Audyssey calibration tools with the DHC-80.2. The DHC-80.2 is a flagship product and it has the capabilities to provide greater levels of EQ control via its Audyssey software, but is limited by the small microphone that comes standard with the unit. Audyssey says they'll sell you the professional installer kit; you just have to be clairvoyant and know to call their tech support line and ask for it. I know not including it is a custom install ploy, but I've bought Integra processors at local dealers in the past and never once have I been offered custom Audyssey installation or support with my purchase. Audyssey says future software will have pro-like levels of control in products such as the DHC-80.2, but who knows when that will happen. In the meantime including the installer kit or perhaps offering a special promotion between Integra and Audyssey to assist current or future DHC-80.2 owners now would go a long way in showing customers how important they truly are.
Speaking of flagship status - I kind of wish the DHC-80.2 looked the part instead of looking the same as every other Integra preamp and receiver before it. I know the DHC-80.2's looks are a cost saving measure but come on - sprinkle a little pizzazz on it ... please. With AV preamps like the Marantz and even the Onkyo squaring off against the DHC-80.2, especially with regards to the Onkyo, looks can be the X factor that either makes or breaks the sale.
For $2,300 retail I'm surprised by the level of performance and number of features Integra was able to shoehorn into the DHC-80.2 AV preamp. It is one of the most up-to-date, feature-laden, easy to use and reliable AV preamps I've encountered thus far regardless of price and provides the consumer with a level of performance and enjoyment you could spend more for - but don't really need to.
Sure there are a few odds and ends that the DHC-80.2 could improve upon but none of them are truly performance-related, meaning if you want an AV preamp that excels at bringing you your favorite movies, be they in 2D or 3D with the latest surround sound codecs, look no further than the DHC-80.2 for it has figuratively everything you need to do so. If you're looking to enjoy you music library, be it on CD or iTunes - the DHC-80.2 has you covered as well. Seriously, the DHC-80.2 is the Swiss Army knife of AV preamps - it does it all. The best part is, the DHC-80.2 does it all for a price many can afford.
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