Component Reviews

Integra 80.3 9.2-channel Network AV Processor/Controller

An extremely versatile and good-sounding pre-pro with every imaginable decoding, processing, networking and upsampling option, including even 4K video!

Published on November 18, 2011

Integra 80.3 9.2-channel Network AV Processor/Controller

Integra 80.3 9.2-channel Network AV Processor/Controller
SRP: $2600

Integra Division of Onkyo USA Corp.
18 Park Way
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
800-225-1946
www.integrahometheater.com

SPECS 

Amplifier Section:

THD+N (Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise): 0.05% (20 Hz-20 kHz, Half power)
Damping Factor: 60 (Front, 1 kHz, 8 Ω)
Input Sensitivity and Impedance: 200 mV/47 kΩ (Line)   2.5 mV/47 kΩ(Phono MM)
Rated RCA Output Level and Impedance: 1.0 V/470 Ω (Pre out)
Maximum RCA Output Level and Impedance: 5.5 V/470 Ω (Pre out)
Rated XLR Output Level and Impedance: 2.0 V/470 Ω (Pre out)
Maximum XLR Output Level and Impedance: 11.0 V/470 Ω (Pre out)
Phono Overload: 70 mV (MM, 1 kHz, 0.5%)
Frequency Response: 5 Hz–100 kHz/ +1 dB, -3 dB (Direct Mode)
Tone Control: ±10dB, 50 Hz(Bass) ±10dB, 20 kHz(Treble)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 110 dB (Line, IHF-A) ; 80 dB (Phono, IHF-A)

Video Section:

Input Sensitivity/Output Level & Impedance
1 Vp-p/75 Ω (Component and S-Video Y)  0 .7 Vp-p/75 Ω (Component Pb/Cb, Pr/Cr)0.28 Vp-p/75 Ω (S-Video C) 1 Vp-p/75 Ω (Composite)
Component Video: Several inputs
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 100 MHz/ 0 dB, -3 dB

Tuner Section:

FM Tuning Frequency Range: 87.5 MHz– 107.9 MHz

Processing:

Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus
DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD Express
DTS Neo:X (front high / wide channels)
Dolby Pro Logic IIz (front high channels)
Dolby Volume
THX processing modes & Loudness Plus
Audyssey MultiEQ XT32 room correction & calibration
Audyssey Sub EQ HT
Audyssey DXS (front high / wide channels)
Audyssey dynamic EQ & dynamic volume
Game surround modes
Music Optimizer 2 enhances MP3 files
DSD processing / direct mode
192K/24-bit audio DAC
192K/32-bit Burr-Brown DAC x6
Vector Linear shaping circuitry (VLSC)
Ultra-low-jitter PLL circuitry to improve audio
Adjustable crossover by speaker pairs
Accurate speaker distance setting to .2 ft.
AV lip sync delay up to 800ms
Multi-band speaker EQ with 15 settings
Picture control settings per source
ISF-certified calibration controls

Connectivity:

HDMI v1.4a (3D & Audio Return Channel (ARC))
Deep Color, x.v. Color, CEC support
7 HDMI Inputs, 2 outputs
Simultaneous or independent HDMI outputs
Front panel HDMI input
HDMI 1080p upscaling & upconversion
4K upscaling
D-Sub VGA input (15-pin)
3/2 component video inputs/outputs
Component video upscaling & upconversion
5/1 Composite video inputs/outputs
4/3 digital audio inputs (Opt/Coax)
9/1 analog audio inputs/outputs
MM phono input built-in
Front panel AV inputs – L/R/V/Optical
Multi-channel 7.1 input
9.2 analog pre-outs
9.2 balanced XLR audio outputs
iPod/iPhone ready – USB input or optional UP-A1
HD Radio ready – any analog input for HD tuner or optional UP-HT1

Other Features:

Both Qdeo (can upscale to 4K) and HQV3-Vida Video processing (can upscale any video source to 1080p). HDMI ARC, Lip Sync, 192K/32-bit converter, Jitter Cleaning Circuit Technology, DSD Direct for SACD playback, Audyssey, 8 HDMI inputs and 2 outputs, Integra/Onkyo RIHD technology for system control, 4 optical and 4 digital inputs, Universal port for accessory iPod, iPhone or HD Radio tuner.

Also: Audyssey automatic setup, Dynamic Volume, Dynamic EQ, and Audyssey DSC.  HD Radio ready (needs only a tuner); VLS video conversion software, Ethernet network capability for streaming audio files, universal port for docking iPods/iPhones, 40 FM/AM station presets, crossover adjustment, front panel HDMI/ optical/USB inputs, headphone jack, THX UItra3 Plus for home theater setup. Music Optimizer to enhance the quality of compressed music files. Among the audio codecs it can handle at either front panel or rear USB or Net inputs are: MP3, AAC, WMA, WMA Lossless, FLAC, WAV, OggVorbis and PCM files. 12v triggers and Zone 2 and 3 outputs.


Intro

It was time to replace the Sunfire preamp I have been using as my reference preamp for some time now. Integra seemed to have the best choice of options built in, including all those you see above. It is also offered front height and side height speaker outputs, which the Sunfire had not included. (I have side/height speakers set up.) Everything the pre-pro user might want seems to be included in this latest model in the top-of-line Integra preamp or receiver lines. The idea was to offer a pre/pro that could handle all of today’s entertainment sources and allow for detailed calibration and customization.

In my case, several of the new options were beside the point since I don’t have an iPod or iPhone, don’t play computer games, don’t have a set-top box, don’t have XLR inputs on my several amps (which must be turned on and off manually), don’t use front wide speakers, and only a single subwoofer. My other components lacked the RIHD technology for system control, and my Samsung TV lacks both the HDMI audio return channel and the circuitry that would allow the sync circuit of the 80.3 to automatically adjust lip sync, so if I watch broadcast TV frequently enough to be bothered by lip sync problems I may have to hook up my Felston lip sync processor.

As you can see by the above icons, the choices of AV processing offered by the 80.3 are staggering. There is, of course, the decoding of standard lossless video audio codecs from DTS and Dolby, as found on Blu-ray discs. If your Blu-ray deck doesn’t have them, which is unlikely.  Then there is Dolby Pro Logic IIz, which derives surround information from any source—2-channel to 7.1-channel—to create wide-front and front-height speaker signals.

Yet another choice is the brand new DTS Neo:X technology, which allows users to employ up to nine speakers with distinct direction cues to enhance the height and space dimensions of a home theater room. It allows you to specify the amount the front left and right channel will be attenuated to create the center channel. The latest Audyssey DSX technology also features the creation of both front height and front wide channels. There are 11 different Onyko/Integra original DSP listening modes, such as Orchestra, Unplugged, Games, TV Logic, mono and all channel stereo.  For a system in which the disc player does all the decoding (including HDCD—which the 80.3 lacks)—as does my Oppo—the 80.3 would be set for Direct in listening modes; that means no processing in the preamp.

The latest IDT Vida video processor incorporates Auto HQV and HQV StreamClean to enhance video images and eliminate noise in compressed video, such as those from online. It can optimize image quality of both standard and hi-def video images, and does the traditional upconversion, since there are no 4K video sources to speak of yet to use the Marvell Qdeo video processing which is also included.

Setting Up

As expected, the rear panel of the 80.3 is crammed with many jacks of various sorts. There could be clearer organization and labeling of some of them; in one area the inputs and outputs have only tiny labels and are crammed together. The primary thing that threw me was the complete absence of any digital out jack. Thus one can only record from the 80.3 in analog form, which seemed surprising.

There are two separate zones for other rooms: 2 and 3, and each has it own subwoofer output. You can even send video to Zone 2.  I use it for the signal to my system in my garage area. I used Zone 3 for the analog output to feed my wireless Amphony headphones.

Although the row of buttons on the front of the 80.3 as well as the buttons on the remote are labeled already: BD/DVD, VCR/DVR, CBL/SAT, GAME, PC, AUX, TUNER, TV/CD, PHONO, PORT, NET & USB, you can connect almost any source to any of them, be it HDMI, analog, coaxial, optical or where appropriate multichannel.  Then you go to the onscreen Setup display to assign the inputs. But although you can use, for example, both a digital input and an analog one on the same input, in order to switch from one to the other you must navigate thru several steps in the on-screen Setup display.  It would therefore be best to have completely separate inputs for digital and analog. (That is why I am using the front-panel optical input for my TV audio.) You can also change the names to what labels you want to use, employing the rather primitive on-screen keyboard layout (since there is no actual keyboard). But the original names on most of the screens and on the buttons will remain, so you must make note of what you are using each one for.

I ended up with using only four of the original input designations: BD/DVD for my Oppo universal deck input – using the HDMI-1 input, Tuner for the built-in FM/AM tuner, Net for the Internet sources accessed from my Ethernet connection, and USB for USB drives connected either at the front or rear of the 80.3 of both. I used the remaining inputs for my Tape switchbox fed by my three decks: cassette, DAT & open reel. My Radio Shack HD Radio tuner is plugged into the PC input, the optical TV audio out is plugged into the front panel AUX input (since my TV lacks the ARC feature which allows audio to be sent back to the 80.3 on the HDMI cable), and my laserdisc and Betamax decks use two other inputs. While the Phono Input sports a built-in moving magnet pre-preamp, I use the separate outboard Phenomenon II phono preamp and thus used the TV/CD input for that. (The Phono Input was not used.)

The 80.3 feeds the TV display via one of the two HDMI outputs. I used No. 1 of the seven HDMI inputs for the video signals from the Oppo deck, but turned off HDMI audio in both the Oppo setup and the 80.3, using the analog 6-channel cables instead, since in A/B comparison I found them to have slightly less fuzziness sonically than using the HDMI connection for audio as well.


Operation of the 80.3

The 80.3 has two main control options on its remote: Receiver (never mind it’s really a preamp) and TV. You must press the proper one before it will control anything. The three buttons at the top for My Movie, My TV, and My Music worked perfectly from the start, and will be a boon for less-hip household members in running your system. The fourth button, All Off, didn’t always work so I found it simpler to just get up and manually turn off components, since I have to turn off my various amps anyway.

There are a dozen buttons at the top for the various inputs—all labeled Remote Mode.  Immediately under them are three more buttons also labeled Remote Mode! So when the manual says to press the Remote Mode button, one is at a loss. Don’t be confused by this; someone at Onkyo just wasn’t thinking very clearly; work around it. You press the TV Remote Mode button to control your TV, and press the Receiver button every time before you want to change things in the Setup on the 80.3. Under the three buttons for Mode, TV & Receiver are two to the immediate left, the first labeled with the on/off symbol, and the second labeled Input. The Input button is actually the Source button for the TV, and will switch between your cable or broadcast TV and your DVD/Blu-ray input – which is also the 80.3 Setup display screen.

The Net button brings up a screen full of options.  Using the rear Ethernet port you can stream all sorts of online audio sources. It is set up for Windows 7 and DLNA, so we Mac users are out of luck on that option. (DLNA is a tricky PC-only industry standard for sharing data on home networks.) However, you can access the preformatted setups for Pandora, Rhapsody, vTuner, Spotify, Mediafly, Slacker, Napster, SiriusXM Internet Radio, and Last.fm.  Some of these come with two-week or monthly trial deals, but if you accept a few commercials on Pandora, Last.fm, Spotify and others they are free. Spotify’s music-streaming service, for example, is $10 per month. (You might want to set up your accounts with them online using your computer and keyboard, since that avoids struggling with the on-screen keyboard of the 80.3.) The vTuner allows easy access to thousands of netcasters, and organizes them according to hi-res, genre, country of origin etc., which is really nice. It’s more fun than accessing them thru your computer, and via your multichannel system the sonics will be much better.  I found some great jazz outlets in Russia, Denmark and Switzerland. I’ll have to try the Music Optimizer on some of the low-sampling-rate stations. I was surprised how good the free Sirius streams sounded without any enhancement; I had seen negative comments online about their sonic quality.

The 80.3 instruction manual is quite a tome. It’s got almost more footnotes than actual copy. Quite a few were along the disappointing lines of “If you select xxx, you won’t be able to use xxy.” Perhaps the problem was in translation. I haven’t had time to compare the various better-than-5.1-channel options that are offered.  I was happy to get some sort of signal for my side-height speakers which I have had mounted for years but lacked a proper input from my previous Sunfire processor as earlier models had. Instead of the front-mounted height speakers of Audyssey and Pro-Logic IIz I use side-mounted height speakers. That is following the theories of David Greisinger (Lexicon) about the importance of sounds from the sides in surround, vs. the different philosophy of Audyssey and Dolby. (For 2+2+2 SACDs I mount front-height speakers over my Left and Right frontal speakers and feed them from the center and sub channel outputs via a patchbay. I can also use my patchbay to send the center and/or sub channels to the side-height speakers for the few early Telarc, DMP and Chesky SACDs which had height information.)

I made three attempts to get the Audyssey single-sweet-point automatic setup to work with its test mic, and finally was successful. On some tries it displayed “Too much ambient noise” although there was no ambient noise. I was surprised at the different + and – level settings for the eight speakers, but the system sounds fabulous now when playing standard CDs with the Dolby Pro Logic IIz option. As well as discrete hi-res surround. (All my speakers except the sub are equidistant from my sweet spot, so the speaker distance equations were easy.)

It was a pleasure to be able to put aside the remotes for my Oppo deck and Samsung HDTV and use the controls on the Integra remote; also to use the macro buttons of My Movie, My TV and My Music to turn the proper components on all at once. I had to add one action to the macro for My TV—turning on the AUX input for the TV audio. I also have to remember that one must point the remote at the TV to control it, rather than at the 80.3. There is no Eject on the 80.3 remote for the disc player, evidently keeping in mind one needs to arise to change the disc anyway.  The wide variety of different audio listening modes can be quickly accessed—both on the unit’s display and the on-screen display—with the central Home button on the remote or by pressing the Listening Mode button on the front of the unit.

 

Video and Audio Quality

I ran some laserdiscs and BetaMax tapes via the 1080p upconversion feature but saw no visible improvement. This is the first time I have run all video inputs thru the processor rather than direct into the HDTV display, but image quality was excellent, especially on Blu-rays. Broadcast TV was fine, and it was not difficult to transfer the control of both my Samsung HDTV and my Oppo deck to the universal Integra remote, using the numbers published in the back of the Integra manual.  Which was good since I could not get the learning process from original remotes to the Integra remote to work.

I set up the 80.3 for an A/B comparison between the HDMI audio multichannel out and the analog multichannel out.  It was not difficult to isolate a certain fuzziness in the sonics—especially on headphones—which was reduced with the analog multichannel output, so I stayed with that option. With more entry-level disc players you might want to use the simpler HDMI option for both audio and video.

One of the outstanding qualities I quickly learned with the 80.3 was the sonic quality in some A/B comparisons I have had to do in writing reviews. With my previous preamp/processor comparisons between audiophile vinyl reissues and CD reissues frequently sounds almost identical. Now, however, the audiophile vinyl usually sounds superior to the CD and often the equal of a SACD reissue. It has more presence, warmth and fine detail than the digital version. My turnable headend and Oppo universal deck remain the same as before. I also felt the analog multichannel reproduction via the 80.3 benefitted from the superb DSD decoding in the Oppo BDP-95, and was passed on without degradation by the 80.3.  While I had to bypass the front/side/height speaker generation when sourcing pure 5.0-channel DSD from multichannel SACDs, I found the subtle additional surround immersion of the two side-height speakers in Pro Logic IIz for two-channel CDs and LPs added a noticeable improvement to the surround immersion.

The 80.3 will now be the reference pre-pro in my system. There is also a DTR-80.3 Receiver available, with built-in 45 watts-per-channel amps and most of the above features.

—John Sunier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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