The Integra pre/pro’s most intriguing feature is undeniably its 4K video processing — something that we were, alas, unable to evaluate or even experience due to the unavailability of a 4K-input-capable projector or other display. (This is a complaint you’ll be hearing a good deal over the next couple years as the industry shifts, or attempts to shift, to higher-def 4K.)
The Integra’s standard-def video processing, however, was without blemish. It passed all the patterns and torture sequences from my several test DVDs with flying colors. Furthermore, I made a point of viewing a handful of scenes from some reference-quality DVDs such as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and was mightily impressed by just how good those ol’ 480 DVD lines could look. I’m not saying that your BD player (or your TV itself) doesn’t possess similar quality upscaling and processing, but if you do need it, the Integra’s got it. And it can also process and cross-convert analog signals to analog or HDMI, and HDMI to HDMI, scaling everything up to 3,840 x 2,160-rez “4K.” (As far as we know.)
On the audio front, I began my evaluation as always with stereo listening via the DHC-80.3’s Direct mode, which maintains subwoofer filtering but bypasses most other processing. I expected complete transparency and I got it, hearing nothing that might suggest anything other than a direct link from CD player to power amp. High-rez audio tracks (96/24 FLAC) streamed from my Mac via DLNA sounded pristine, with velvety silent backgrounds and smooth, grain-free ambience decays and string-tone whispers.
As an aside, Integra’s streaming-audio features worked and sounded fi ne (superb, even, with reference-grade tracks), but its interface did not thrill me. Onscreen response was rather slow, so scrolling through long lists of Net-radio stations or streamable tracks could be painful. There was no display of Netradio audio format or bit rate, and I found its menu-branching design to be occasionally confusing.
Moving on to music in surround, I explored the Integra’s multichannel abilities with front-height speakers onboard. As I’ve noted before, this can make a far greater difference when it comes to the realism of “onstage” acoustic music — classical, concert jazz, folk, and so on — than you might expect. The addition of a vertical dimension, particularly to the ambience component of even stereo recordings, introduces a degree of naturalism that you just don’t hear from a 5-channel layout, or even a 7-channel one with rear surrounds.
For example, listening to a fine stereo recording such as Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra (a live-to-2-track production recorded in front of an audience) in DTS Neo:X mode (a Dolby PLIIz equivalent) made the already big-sounding disc that much more humongous. A track like “Travelin’ Blues” underlined the front-height advantage immediately, with its between-song applause blending into the opening tympani riffs, all of which rolled audibly across the auditorium, up, down, and sidewise.
The DHC-80.3 didn’t require the extra channels to deliver consistently pristine sound from top-grade movie soundtracks. Every reference scene I screened during its tenure in my system produced reference-grade sound — as I would expect, and indeed demand, from a flagship component like the Integra. But there are still many instances where the height channel does function to great effect. For example, with the front-height speakers on the job (and sticking with those loveable hobbits), the cavernous space and endless vertical plunge in the Moria-bridge battle scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers became dramatically more sinister, even horrifying.
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