HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



October
2002

Reviewed by
Roger Kanno
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2002


Arcam
DiVA AVR200
Audio/Video Receiver

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Arcam AVR200

Price: $1199 USD
Dimensions: 17"W x 6"H x 13.5"D
Weight: 26 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor

Features

  • Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Pro Logic II decoding
  • Radio Data Systems (RDS) AM/FM tuner with 40 presets

Features (cont'd)
  • Six-channel inputs and outputs
  • Analog Direct path for two-channel sources
  • Three coaxial and two TosLink pre-assigned digital inputs
  • One digital output
  • Four S-video inputs and composite video inputs
  • Two audio/video tape loops
  • One audio-only tape loop and one audio-only input
  • 550VA toroidal transformer
  • Removable IEC power cord
  • Full remote control
  • Onscreen display

Following in the footsteps of the DiVA AVR100 audio/video receiver that I reviewed very favorably last year, Arcam has introduced the AVR200. Although the name might lead you to think that the AVR200 is an entirely new design from Arcam, it is actually an upgraded version of the original.

The AVR200 is very similar to its predecessor, but it does have several additional features such as the inclusion of Dolby Pro Logic II, a new backlit remote control, and enhanced circuitry and connectivity. Although not numerous, the improvements Arcam has incorporated should not be taken as unimportant.

Power ratings and most of the basic features remain the same as that of the AVR100. However, some subtle design changes to the audio circuitry -- namely the analog outputs and the grounding scheme -- are said to improve audio performance. The best thing about the AVR200, though, is that the price remains the same as that of the original AVR100, which is $1199 USD.

It still looks like a duck

The AVR200 is nearly identical in appearance to the AVR100 save for the tiny lettering that identifies it as the AVR200 and the Dolby Digital logo, which now sports the additional Pro Logic II insignia. It is available in either black or silver finishes, as are all Arcam DiVA products. I still think it is one of the most attractive and sophisticated-looking receivers in its price range with its sleek and uncluttered faceplate and simple, but informative display. On the front panel are buttons to select the source and DSP mode (sensing of Dolby Digital or DTS is automatic). There is also a large volume control and smaller knobs for both bass and treble, which can be bypassed via the Direct switch.

Around back there are still four audio/video inputs including two that are tape loops, but the AUX tape loop has been upgraded to include an S-video input. There are composite and S-video monitor outputs, but like most receivers the AVR200 will not convert between the two types of video signals.

Six-channel inputs are provided for connection to a DVD-A or SACD player as well as outputs for the use of an external power amplifier. There are now two optical and three coaxial digital inputs as opposed to the one optical and two coaxial inputs on the AVR100. Also new to the AVR200 is the addition of an optical digital output for connection to an MD recorder or CD burner, although the output is limited to a sampling rate of 48kHz. There is an analog stereo input for a CD player as well as an audio-only tape loop.

The speaker outputs are no longer the BFA (British Federation of Audio) variety, but now utilize standard binding posts that will accommodate single banana plugs, as well as spades, pins, and bare wire. The BFA connectors on the AVR100 worked very well when used with the supplied male BFA terminators, but would not accept standard banana plugs. They did work with "rolled" banana plugs such as those from Nordost or Analysis Plus. Although they are still spaced a little too closely together, I think that most people will find the banana-plug-compatible binding posts to be an improvement over the BFA connectors. The power cord plugs into an IEC-compatible receptacle, and there are also switches to select speaker impedance and mains voltage and another to lift the ground.

The new backlit remote control is unique to the North American version of the AVR200, and it is an improvement over the standard remote supplied by Arcam. There is no mention of this new remote in the manual, which appears to be a customized OEM unit similar to those used by several other manufacturers. It takes a little getting used to as the buttons on the original remote are all replicated on the new one, but some are placed in different locations. Once you get accustomed to it, the new remote is much easier to use, as the buttons are larger and more easily recognizable, in addition to being backlit.

The limited bass-management capability of the early AVR100 -- which consisted of three preset options for the entire speaker system -- was "fixed" in later production models and carries over to the AVR200. It now allows for the individual setting of the speakers to either Large or Small and for use with or without a subwoofer. There is also the option of turning the subwoofer off for stereo sources and thus bypassing the DSP. The six-channel analog inputs remain "direct" at all times. Channel delays can be set in increments of 1ms (0ms to 5ms) for the center-channel speaker and between 0ms and 15ms for the surround speakers. There are additional adjustments for Dolby Pro Logic II Music Mode, which control the amount of signal sent to the center-channel speaker and the balance of the levels between the front and back speakers.

In addition to 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, the AVR200 has surround modes consisting of standard Dolby Pro Logic, Pro Logic II Movie, Pro Logic II Music, Pro Logic II Panorama, Pro Logic II Matrix, and Hall. There is also a Radio Data System (RDS) tuner, but unlike most other Arcam products, there is no provision for a phono section.

It still quacks like a duck

The AVR200, like the AVR100, is a very "musical" sounding surround receiver. By that, I mean the AVR200 made very few compromises when it came to reproducing music even though its main purpose may be to play back multichannel movie soundtracks. No matter what the source -- be it DVD movies, multichannel music, or stereo CDs -- the AVR200 had a consistently neutral sound that was suited to any type of material. And when matched to a speaker system of comparable quality, the AVR200 became the centerpiece of an incredibly satisfying system for both movies and music.

The AVR200 sounded its best and impressed me the most when it was playing back multichannel music discs. This really showed off its exceptional sound quality while still utilizing its surround-sound capabilities. The wonderful Boyz II Men II [Motown/DTS 71021-51001-2-8] in DTS, with its mix of lush vocals and R&B rhythms, was stunning. The opening cut "Thank You" bounces the sound very aggressively among all five channels while still maintaining a stable front image, mostly with vocals. Perhaps the best track on the album is the a cappella cover of the Beatles’ "Yesterday." The melodies were incredibly sweet and again the voices emanated from all five channels, but the effect was remarkably balanced and effective and not distracting as many surround music mixes can be. The high-resolution DTS recording was well served by the Arcam’s internal amplifiers, which provided a very high quality of sound. Each of the voices sparkled, with a good sense of body and solidity even when coming from the rear channels. The AVR200 had a pristine sound quality with multichannel music that could rival the fidelity of some of the best receivers I’ve heard.

I noted the same exceptional sound from other DTS CDs such as Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth [HDS 71021-54430-2-7] and the Tom Jung-engineered Gaudeamus: Sacred Feast [MAS CD-805]. Lovett’s unique vocals and the mainly acoustic instruments sounded extremely clean and clear with exceptional imaging from all around. For example, the piano on "Church" was powerful and vibrant and placed back in the soundstage, while the background vocals were equally as sweet and came mainly from the rear speakers. Lovett’s vocals were more up front, which placed him squarely in the listening room for a very intimate and immediate sound. On the other hand, Sacred Feast places the listener inside a large cathedral. The ethereal sound of the large choir seemed to wrap around the room with phantom imaging from the sides and to the back. There was even a sense of height to the recording, which translated into an expansive soundstage with a good sense of depth.

The AVR200 possessed the same refined sound quality with movie soundtracks as it did with multichannel music. The presentation was a bit laid-back, with the overall sound being smooth and balanced, which made especially bright soundtracks bearable even at high volume levels.

Playing back the incredibly well-recorded Rush Hour 2 DVD showcased the AVR200’s ability to reproduce the 360-degree music mix and the sometimes extremely aggressive foley effects. The music in the opening credits was coherent, powerful, and enveloping, yet background sound effects were still clearly defined within the mix. The scene at the Red Dragon Casino shifts from the very subtle and enveloping reverberation of Alan King’s voice over a large PA system to the explosive sound of Chinese drums and firecrackers, and then back to well-recorded music with the ambiance of the casino in the background. The Arcam was able to switch effortlessly between these very different scenes without missing a beat.

The AVR200 may be rated at only 70Wpc, but it never seemed to lack power. Even when the volume was set at high levels, loud transients did not seem to perturb the Arcam and dynamics were not suppressed. For instance, when using the Athena Audition AS-F1s as mains without the aid of a subwoofer, the AVR200 was able to drive the floorstanding Athenas to room-filling levels with deep, rumbling bass from the DTS version of The Haunting.

As previously mentioned, two-channel music playback through the AVR200 was superb. Compared to other receivers in this price range, the sound was very neutral yet robust with a naturalness that was not unlike what you might expect from a good budget integrated amplifier. All of the "audiophile" qualities were present such as pinpoint imaging, soundstage width and depth, and vocals with a tangible quality. Listening to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Fairytales [Universal 360994] demonstrated the AVR200’s dynamics and control of this surprisingly powerful, but straightforward recording of acoustic instruments and simple vocals. The bass and percussion on "Flake" and "It’s All Understood" were energetic with a startling realism that could be explosive at times. Johnson’s guitar and gruff vocals were palpable with a coherent sound that was amazingly realistic.

The subtler Come Away with Me [Blue Note 7243 5 32088 2 0] from Norah Jones, with its lilting vocals and soft melodies, demonstrated the AVR200’s more delicate qualities. Jones’s lucid vocals ranged from strong and forceful to barely more than a whisper, and emerged from a very quiet background.

Dueling DiVAs

The AVR200 sounded better than the AVR100, but only by a slight margin. Listening to the high-resolution 24/96 DVD of Sarah McLachlan’s Touch [Classic DAD 1042], the soundstage was larger with greater depth on the AVR200 than with the AVR100. The complex instrumentation was also better delineated with more layering, and the cymbals and high hat sparkled without becoming splashy. The vocals had more body and were more distinct on "Vox" and were slightly laid-back on "Strange World," while the AVR100 placed the vocals ever-so-slightly forward. The CD of McLachlan’s Surfacing [Nettwerk 0 6700 31116 2 4] also exhibited a more spacious soundstage with the AVR200 on cuts such as "Angel" and "Building a Mystery." The piano had more weight and guitars seemed to hang in mid air with more stable and solid imaging, although the breathy vocals sounded very similar between the two receivers.

Using Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, the differences between the AVR200 and AVR100 became indistinguishable. Mind you, the Dolby Pro Logic II processing of the AVR200 was significantly better than standard Pro Logic on the AVR100 with matrixed two-channel sources. Interestingly, I thought that the Hall mode that is available on both receivers was nearly as enveloping as Dolby Pro Logic II, but was a little brighter and more forward sounding.

The AVR200 may not have the slam and impact of some more expensive receivers or separates, but it conveyed all the nuances of well-recorded movie soundtracks. And when mated to a high-quality home-theater speaker system, it sounded astonishingly good. Its two-channel music reproduction was not quite the equal of some more-expensive integrated amplifiers, but with the exceptional performance of the AVR200, Arcam further improves upon the quality of sound that is possible with a mere receiver.

Conclusion

The AVR200 is a worthy successor to the AVR100 -- a unit that was already a standout performer at its price. There are still a few features you should be aware of, that it does not have, such as 6.1 processing and component-video switching. What is does have, though, is quite impressive.

Arcam has provided some worthwhile additions in the AVR200, most notably Dolby Pro Logic II and upgraded audio circuitry and functionality. Heck, even the remote has been improved. All this, while keeping the price the same as its predecessor. There are less-expensive receivers with more features than the AVR200 and there are better, more expensive ones to be sure, but for me, the AVR200 is the ideal compromise among price, performance, and features.

Review System
Speakers - Athena Audition AS-F1 (mains), AS-C1 (center), AS-B1 (surrounds), AS-P400 (subwoofer), Axiom M3Ti SE (mains, center, surrounds)
Source - Panasonic DVD-A110 DVD player
Cables - Audio Magic, TARA Labs, Analysis Plus
Monitor - JVC AV-27D201 direct-view monitor
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Arcam
Pembroke Avenue
Cambridge CB5 9PB, England
Phone: (01223) 203203

E-mail: custserv@arcam.co.uk
Website: www.arcam.co.uk

North American Distributors:

Audiophile Systems, Ltd. (USA)
8709 Castle Park Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46256
Phone: (888) 272-2658
Fax: (317) 841-4107

E-mail: aslinfo@aslgroup.com
Website: www.aslgroup.com

Emerald Audio Resources (Canada)
R.R. 1
Palgrave, ON
L0N 1P0
Phone: (905) 880-7070
Fax: (905) 880-7071

E-mail: emerald@pathcom.com  
Website: www.emerald-audio.com  

 


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