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The Pinnacle of The Electrostatic Sound

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Home Cinema Review! Integra DHC 80.1
Surround AV Preamplifier/Processor



Brevis...
Price: $2,300;
Like: Easy Set-up, Sound quality
Dislike: Slow synch-lock.


by John Gatski

I am a big fan of Integra A/V components. Since 2000, Onkyo’s high-end offshoot, the installer-only Integra line of products have offered good-performing, full-featured and easy-to-use components. I still have a DTC 9.4 preamp from 2003 that, other than its lack of HDMI capability, it is an amazing sounding preamp/processor for BD players with analog output. But time marches on; we now have much more feature-filled Integra products with all the connectivity, internal decoding and Internet capability one can use.
The $2,300 Integra DHC 80.1 is a 9.2 channel THX Ultra-2 Plus certified preamp/processor that offers features for just about every use in the home theater world.

Features
The pre/pro is equipped with HDMI 1.3a, three zones, HQV-REON VX video processing, balanced stereo inputs, 9.2 channels of balanced and unbalanced outputs and full decoding of the lossless multichannel audio formats (DOLBY TruHD, DTS Master HD), as well as the latest versions of the lossy multichannel audio formats, Dolby Digital DTS, etc.
The 3D compatible DHC-80.2 pre/pro previewed in this post) will be released in a few months with additional features and upgrades, but basic A/V performance of the DHC-80.1 and the new model are essentially the same.
Audio-wise, the DHC-80.1 sports Burr Brown 32-bit/192 kHz converters Audyssey MultiEQ XT room correction (Audyssey Pro capable), Audyssey Dynamic EQ, Audyssey Dynamic and Dolby Volume. For you SACD fans, the Integra DSD Direct mode enables digital DSD decoding via the HDMI connection.
And the Integra pre/pro is a dream for audio streamers; its connection options and easy setup menus allows streaming from such services as Rhapsody, Pandora, and Sirrius Internet Radio and vTuner.
As with most high-end pre/pros, the connection options are numerous, but fairly easy to master. On the back panel, there are seven HDMI inputs, two HDMI outputs, three sets of component video outputs, six SPDIF digital inputs (no SPDIF digital outputs though), Universal Port Dock, Ethernet port, two USB ports, and a host of two-channels inputs and outputs.
The balanced XLR multichannel jacks are a welcome feature for those who want to connect with professional-grade amplifiers and audiophile/pro stereo input sources. For the unbalanced connections, the ubiquitous RCA multichannel I/Os are in abundance, including 11 outputs. The multichannel output jacks enable the ‘80.1 to output L-R front high/wide channels, as well as the surround back channels and two subwoofers. (Designed to give extra ambiance and steering in larger rooms, those high/wide channels fold back into to the main fronts and primary surround — if they are turned off in the set up.)
The DHC-80.1 sports three zone I/O options with full control of the inputs via the remote. Other connections include a Sirrius/XM Radio port and two-channel RCA jacks for CD, TV, tape, Game, VCR and Aux. A PC RGB video and wired-remote jacks complete the rear panel.

For $2,300, this all-in-one audio/video box is quite a bargain — with quality sound from all formats, plus its excellent video circuit.

The front panel contains the large volume control, display, input jacks for USB, HDMI optical digital audio, and RCA composite video/L-R audio. There are numerous front-panel buttons for selecting DSP modes, input selection, Zone, EQ, and Setup. All of the input, and EQ/Setup functions are also contained on the remote. And, of course, the unit sports an AM/FM tuner. (Do people still listen to the over-the-air radio for music in the home?)
The Integra is a nice looking pre/pro with an uncomplicated layout, considering how many functions it contains. Internally, the machines contains a good selection of parts with a toroidal power supply transformer and high-grade analog parts. The high-end Integras however, are no longer manufactured in Japan; they are now produced in Malaysia.
The remote control contains numerous buttons, but is not intimidating to use. Read the manual if you feel uncomfortable mastering it, but I thought it was easy to navigate without the manual.

Set Up
I have found that Integra home cinema products are not overly complicated in their setup. Yes, there are quite a few setup parameters and menus, but I found that I could do a basic setup without ever reading the manual.
The Audyssey MultiEQ XT setup modes allows for a auto setup (level, distance/delay, and room EQ) with an included measurement microphone. This mode also enables Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume modes. I ran the set up for the auto mode and I also did a manual set up using my real time analyzer, the venerable Audio Control RTA-3050.
I found that the Audyssey setup gets the delay and level matching correct, but in my room, it always over compensates in the mid bass, 150 Hz to 300 Hz, adding too much bloom for my taste. It happens on every product I have used with Audyssey features.

The zones were easy to activate and the software updates were a snap, thanks to the unit’s Internet connectivity. They should all be this intuitive. I sampled the zone functions by setting up additional stereo speakers and an amplifier in an adjacent room. The zone room had a CD player feed, and everything worked flawlessly, as controlled by the Integra.

Since I have professional measurement gear and test BDs, I prefer the manual set up. But for the person who does not have the time or the the aptitude for a manual setup, the Audyssey gets your basic setup close enough — with minimal fuss. And, hey, most people probably like that extra bass compensation.
The DHC 80.1, was linked to a Carver amplifiers, a three-channel 200-wpc for the front speakers and a two-channel 200-wpc for the surrounds. Sources included Pioneer BDP-09FD Blu-ray player, Oppo BDP-83-SE, and Sony BDP-550 Blu-ray players, and Verizon Fios HD TV service.
Speakers included a pair of Westlake LC 8.1s, Westlake LC-2.65 center channel, two NHT One rear channels and a Paradigm Pro 15 subwoofer (a separate review is coming on this product, but suffice to say, it is an incredible subwoofer for almost any room.)
I also connected an Esoteric DV-50 universal audio player to the setup to check out the balanced analog input capability. I wired all preamp connections with Alpha-Core solid-silver cables, and the speaker cables came from MIT. I used Wire World solid silver HDMI cables for the HDMI links to the BD players and the Sony XBR-4, 52-inch LCD.
Based on a similar platform, the Integra is very similar in operation and setup to my 2008 Onkyo Professional PR-SC-885, which is delightfully common sense. The set-up menus are straightforward and include functions, such as custom source naming, video input and audio input connections, speaker size, distance and level. Other user adjustable set up modes affect the zones, default audio settings — as well as various video connection and adjustment parameters. The internal video processor can be bypassed, and the video routed directly to the TV via the HDMI cable.
I did notice that the remote-operated, “temporary” level control that allowed you to tweak the speaker levels from the listening position had been moved into a sub-menu, but is still acessible by the remote. It is a useful feature, and I am glad Interga kept it, though it is a bit deeper in the menu than in the previous generation. This “temporary” channel level control is effective on BDs or DVDs with surround tracks that are too aggressive; the subwoofer or another speaker can have a too high level that unbalances the overall soundtrack. The ability to temporarily adjust the level on a given channel(s) — without permanently altering the overall level set up for other components — is a handy feature.
The zones were easy to activate and the software updates were a snap, thanks to the unit’s Internet connectivity. They should all be this intuitive. I sampled the zone functions by setting up additional stereo speakers and an amplifier in an adjacent room. The zone room had a CD player feed, and everything worked flawlessly, as controlled by the Integra.

The audition
To check the DHC 80.1’s audio capability, I selected the HDMI input from the Pioneer BDP-09FD. Key to a processor/preamp’s desirability is the ability to decode high-quality soundtracks, especially with lossless linear PCM, Dolby TruHD and DTS Master HD. That feature is even more important today — with the dwindling number of analog output BD players. The pre/pro or receiver is, in most cases, the main decoding engine for Blu-ray players.
After a final check of my set up, I popped in the Blu-ray Bolt. I often use that disc’s first action sequence to showcase the dynamics of a well recorded and mixed surround soundtrack. the Ironman BD also is a fine example of lossless multichannel audio — especially its extended use of the subwoofer.
As I expected from Integra, the DHC 80.1 delivered a very good sounding surround presentation with various BDs. Channel separation with sound effects was effective with a realistic transmission of music transients and rock-solid center placement of dialogue. Bass extension was deep and satisfying, as was the critical midrange/low treble frequencies on the music.

As I expected from Integra, the DHC 80.1 delivered a very good sounding surround presentation with various BDs. Channel separation with sound effects was effective with a realistic transmission of music transients and rock-solid center placement of dialogue.

On the music-emphasized Woodstock and The Who Live at The Isle of Wight BDs, the onboard decoders did a good job with the lossless multichannel soundtrack. The Who BD, in particular, contains a multichannel presentation that is just incredible, and the Integra relays that mix quite convincingly. Judicious mixing of guitars, drums and vocals reflect the Who at the top of their game with this BD — and the DHC-80.1 showcased the music quite convincingly.
For you DVD fans, the ‘80.1‘s lossy Dolby Digital and DTS decoding was commendable with fairly smooth, convincing surround width and depth from some of my demo DVDs (The Incredibles, for example). They are not lossless, but the Integra makes the best of these well-entrenched audio formats.
I also plugged into the multichannel analog inputs of the Integra. The now-defunct,Pioneer BDP-09FD is one the of the best sounding, internal-decoding BD players ever produced, and I wanted to hear how well the ‘80.1 relayed that player’s magnificent sound. The analog connection reminded me just how good Pioneer’s internal decoders are. (The high-end designed, Pioneer BD player was more expensive than the Integra pre/pro.) As is in the case of most pre/pros I have tested, the Pioneer’s analog output was a tinge smoother and a bit more enveloping than the pre/pro’s internal decoding. Still, unless, you compare directly, the Integra’s decoding prowess is still quite good.
The Integra’s video-scaling capability is excellent, and its pass-through mode allows the purist to pass on unprocessed video from the ‘80.1 to the TV. (Speaking of HDMI, the DHC 80.1 is version 1.3a. The 3D capable, HDMI Version 1.4a is contained in the new DHC. 80.2 pre/pro. But if you are not planning on the 3D upgrade route, the basic audio and video operation and performance are the same).
Since many audiophiles also use their home theater products for music playback to some degree, I connected the ever-popular Oppo BDP-83SE and the Esoteric DV-50 high-end universal player to the Integra for reference multichannel and stereo playback audition.
I listened to DVD-As and SACDs through the Esoteric’s balanced stereo jacks. Because the Oppo BDP-83SE outputs DSD directly to the HDMI and the Integra can decode the native bitstream to analog, including 5.1 music tracks, I listened to numerous surround SACDS, such as Pink FloydDark Side of The Moon, via the $899 Oppo. The Integra-decoded DSD is quite good, a tick less smooth than the Oppo analog output, but all the ambient detail, nuance and spatial cues were just as easy to localize.
Sonically, I found the Integra DHC 80.1 to be good sounding stereo music preamp, but not the equal of my high-end separates. DVD-A and SACD output via the Esoteric revealed significant audio detail with a good soundstage, but it lacks that last degree of sonic refinement and smoothness that the best audio components share. But in defense of the Integra, the audiophile preamps are often $6,000 to $10,000 or more. For $2,300, this all-in-one audio/video box is quite a bargain — with quality sound from all formats, plus its excellent video circuit.
My nitpicks are few; the lock-on mode when switching between components took as long as 8 seconds, in some instances, to get video and audio lock. And it does run quite warm. Placing items that block the top vents is a no-no.


The verdict
Having used several Integra preamps over the last few years, the DHC 80.1 is comfortably familiar. Although sold through the installer dealers, it is easy to setup and operate, offers the latest features and audio/video performance for the home theater fan who likes the nicer stuff. Throw in plentiful network capability and numerous zone modes, and you have a complete package for A/V control. The upcoming DHC 80.2 has 3D, Audyssey MultiEQ XT32 and a few more setup and network modes, but the ‘80.1 and the new pre/pro are essentially the same. Stellar Sound Award? But of course.
Click Integra DHC 80.1 for more info.




EAN Extra!

The 3D is Coming!

Integra DHC-80.2 THX Ultra-2 Plus

Surround Preamplifier/Processor




With the 3D push now underway in the A/V world, Integra has introduced the 9.2-channel DHC-80.2 — a THX Ultra-2 Plus certified, 3D-Ready, network capable audio-video preamplifier processor with professional-grade balanced outputs. This pre/pro will replace the DHC-80.1, but the price stays the same at $2,300.

The AV controller is equipped with eight 3D-Ready HDMI 1.4a inputs for delivering signals to state-of-the-art video displays, including 3D systems. HDMI 1.4a also supports the ultimate in lossless digital audio via Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, plus Audio Return Channel and HDMI Thru.

Like the the DHC-80.1, its replacement uses HQV Reon-VX processing to provide video upscaling of all sources to 1080p, plus full ISFccc Certified Calibration Controls to support individual color calibration for all video inputs.

The 9.2-channel Integra DHC-80.2 contains the latest audio processing from Audyssey, Dolby, DTS, and THX. It equipped with the updated top-of-the-line Audyssey MultEQ XT32 advanced room equalizer and included SUB EQ HT, which claims to properly combine the sound of two subwoofers in a room.

The ‘80.2 also supports the added acoustic dimensions of Dolby Pro Logic IIz and height or width expansion provided by Audyssey DSX, with the 9.2-channel systems capable of combining height channels plus rear surround. The DHC-80.2 includes Dolby Volume and both models include Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ.

As part of the trend toward more connectivity and networking, the DHC-80.2 includes extensive audio networking and Internet radio capabilities using built-in Ethernet and USB interfaces. These connections are also used for firmware updates. The DHC 80.2 is certified for Windows 7 and DLNA Version 1.5. Internet Radio connectivity is configured for the popular commercial portals, such as Pandora, Rhapsody, Sirius Internet Radio, Napster, Mediafly, Slacker, and vTuner.

The DHC-80.2 includes extensive custom integration features, with bi-directional Ethernet and RS232 interfaces, up-to Zone 3 capabilities on the DHC-80.2, three programmable triggers, two IR inputs and one output, and lockable dealer settings. The DHC 80.2 is Sirius/XM Satellite and HD Radio Ready, and have 40 AM/FM/Sirius radio presets. Click Integra DHC 80.2 for more info.



—John Gatski








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