HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



March
2005

Reviewed by
Roger Kanno

 


Arcam
DiVA AVR300
Audio/Video Receiver

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: DiVA AVR300

Price: $2000 USD
Dimensions: 16.9"W x 5.7"H x 17.0"D
Weight: 36 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor (five years in Canada)

Features

  • Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital Surround EX, DTS 96/24, DTS-ES, six Arcam proprietary surround modes
  • Rear surround speaker outputs assignable to left and right front channels for biamplification

Features (cont'd)
  • High-quality parts including 1% metal-film resistors, polypropylene film capacitors, OSCON electrolytic capacitors
  • Large toroidal power transformer
  • Crystal CS49400 DSP and 24-bit/192kHz Wolfson DACs
  • Video conversion from S-video to composite and vice versa, and from S-video and composite to interlaced component video
  • Eight-channel analog inputs and outputs
  • Separate subwoofer level controls for multichannel and stereo modes
  • Backlit remote
  • Independent second zone
  • User-selectable power input (120/240V)

The Arcam DiVA AVR100 and its replacement, the very similar AVR200 ($1200), were for many years my reference real-world surround-sound receivers. Although they are very basic 5.1-channel receivers, their excellent sound qualities make them suitable for use in both high-quality multichannel and two-channel music systems.

The DiVA AVR100 and AVR200 were based on an OEM platform; the AVR300 is an entirely new and original design, with many more features, that bears little resemblance to its predecessors. Arcam claims that much of the AVR300’s basic design is based on that of their THX Ultra2-certified FMJ AV8 surround-sound processor ($5000).

At a retail price of $2000, the AVR300 is considerably more expensive than Arcam’s earlier receivers, but still costs much less than many top-of-the-line receivers from other manufacturers. For a receiver from a specialist audio manufacturer, this price might actually be reasonable.

It looks like an Arcam

With its handsome, uncluttered appearance, high standard of fit and finish, and solid build quality, the AVR300 looks remarkably similar to the AVR100 and AVR200. That’s where the similarities end. The AVR300 has few superfluous features, but it has nearly every feature you’d want in a flexible, high-performance receiver. These include the latest surround-sound processing for up to 7.1 channels and a multitude of connections, including three audio/video inputs, two A/V tape loops, one audio-only loop, and one audio-only input. There are three TosLink and three coaxial digital inputs, all assignable, and one digital output of either type. Three preassigned component-video inputs are provided, along with 7.1-channel preamplifier inputs and outputs.

The AVR300 is rated at 100Wpc with all channels driven and 120Wpc in two-channel mode. As with many receivers, the AVR300’s outputs for the rear surround channels can be reassigned to a second zone -- but they can also be used to biamplify the main channels. (Loudspeakers with two sets of inputs can be biamped; i.e., separate amplifiers can be used to independently drive the speaker’s low- and high-frequency sections. This makes more power available to the speaker, and can result in better sound.)

Although only one common crossover frequency can be set for all of the channels, the AVR300’s bass management is otherwise comprehensive. The crossover can be set from 40 to 130Hz in 10Hz increments, with separate subwoofer-level settings for multi- and two-channel modes. For stereo listening, the crossover can be used to blend the subwoofer with the mains, or all of the bass can be simultaneously sent to sub and mains. Audio purists can also turn off the subwoofer completely for two-channel listening. Subwoofer output levels can also be adjusted independently for DTS soundtracks, stereo mode, and for the multichannel analog input.

There are additional surround modes for stereo sources and audio compression for late-night listening. The Stereo Direct mode, available for the analog inputs, turns off the AVR300’s digital processing. Video conversion is possible from S-video to composite and vice versa, and from S-video or composite to component-video. The AVR300’s progressive-scan component-video switching capabilities were pristine, with no noticeable loss of picture quality on my 34" CRT. Converting from S-video or composite to interlaced component video was remarkably good. Although the converted interlaced signal was slightly soft, there was no color bleeding, ghosting, or any other distracting flaws in the picture, which remained rock-solid. If you need to convert video signals going to your video display, the AVR300 should do a commendable job.

Other features include an AM/FM RDS tuner, removable IEC power cord, headphone jack, 12V trigger, IR remote inputs and output for both main and second zones, and an RS-232 port for software updates and interfacing with custom-installation hardware. The remote control is an easy-to-use backlit unit from UEI that many specialty manufacturers use in their surround-sound processors and receivers.

Sounds like an Arcam

I hooked up the DiVA (Digitally integrated Video and Audio) AVR300 to a speaker system comprising Paradigm Signature S8s, a Paradigm Reference Studio CC-570 center-channel up front, Mirage Omni 260 floorstanders as surrounds, and a Hsu Research VTF-3 Mk II subwoofer. While this system does not present an amplifier with an extremely difficult load, these speakers, especially the Signature S8s, require more power than most receivers can deliver to sound their best. The AVR300 proved equal to the task; its excellent performance seemed to support Arcam’s impressive claimed power rating of 100Wpc, all channels driven.

I could not have asked for much more from the AVR300 in terms of performance with both multichannel music and movie soundtracks. Plenty of power was always available to all channels, which always sounded distinct and crystal-clear. The sound lacked any of the harshness or glare that can make inexpensive receivers difficult to listen to at high levels.

Play: The Videos, Peter Gabriel’s excellent-sounding DVD-Video disc, sounded fantastic in DTS through the AVR300. The machine-gun-like bass that bounces between the surround speakers in "Games Without Frontiers" was subtle yet well defined. "Sledgehammer" provided real work for the system, but the sound remained smooth, the bass incredibly fast and tight. The slightly distorted rhythm track on "The Barry Williams Show" can sound muted and lifeless on some systems, but the AVR300 was able to bring out this moody song’s detail and pace.

Movie soundtracks also benefited from the AVR300’s powerful, refined character. The music in the club scene in Collateral had tight, driving bass and imaged precisely across the front soundstage. Sound effects and dialogue could easily be discerned. The gunshots were amazingly realistic, and, in the ensuing chaos, individual voices and screams from the crowd could be picked out amid the din from all of the speakers.

When I first received the AVR300, it spent some time connected to a two-channel speaker system comprising Axiom M3ti bookshelf speakers and a Mirage Omni S12 subwoofer. I was struck by how good the Arcam-driven Axioms sounded. The midrange and treble were incredibly clear and open and without a hint of strain, even at levels that I previously would not have thought possible for a receiver. Although the Axioms will sound good with just about any type of reasonable amplification, they really come alive when used with high-quality amplification. That aliveness was what I heard with the AVR300.

The AVR300 reminded me of what a really good integrated amplifier can sound like. The huge soundstage extended beyond the speakers, with a good sense of height that stretched well above the speakers’ tops. Distinct images were placed precisely within the soundstage, and again, the coherence of the presentation was amazing, even at very high levels. Listening to Madonna’s atmospheric Ray of Light [CD, Maverick/Warner Bros. CDW 46947] was mesmerizing, the sound effects bouncing across the front of the soundstage and even seeming to come from the sidewalls. Her voice had that palpable quality that occurs when vocals are placed solidly and tangibly between the two speakers.

Double your pleasure

As previously mentioned, the AVR300 allows the rear surround speaker outputs to be configured for a second zone or to biamplify the left and right main speakers. Biamping the Signature S8s took the Arcam’s performance to a whole other level. Listening to stereo CDs was simply astounding. I cued up Ray of Light, planning on listening to some excerpts just to get an idea of the improvements made to the system. Instead I ended up listening to the entire CD, literally awestruck by the sound. The sense of space and the precise control of the bass were incredible. Images had even more solidity and well-defined outlines, along with an increased sense of depth. The control and grip exerted on strings and bass on "Power of Goodbye" was amazing. Even more impressive was the finesse with which it unraveled Madonna’s delicate vocals on this and other tracks, such as "Skin."

Although only the left and right main speakers were biamped, the AVR300’s multichannel performance was also improved. "Good Vibrations," from the DVD-Audio release of All Star Tribute to Brian Wilson, truly sounded like "Brian Wilson’s greatest production," as introduced by Sir George Martin. Wilson’s band, the Wondermints, had never sounded better on my system, and the vocals of Ann and Nancy Wilson, Jubilant Sykes, and the Boys Choir of Harlem were simply sublime, with an airy quality and tons of ambience. Again, the sound was so enjoyable that I ended up listening to most of this live concert DVD.

Comparison

Not surprisingly, the AVR300 easily surpassed the sound quality of Arcam’s less expensive AVR200 ($1200), in addition to having a much more comprehensive feature set. What was unexpected was by how much the AVR300 outperformed its predecessor. It wasn’t even close. Compared to the older model, the new Arcam unmistakably improved on every aspect of performance. Because the AVR200 is a very good-sounding receiver even by today’s standards, this is an amazing accomplishment for the AVR300.

The AVR300 sounded excellent in standard mode, but in biamped mode it sounded more like expensive separates than an A/V receiver. In some ways, I preferred the sound of the biamped AVR300 to that of my reference Anthem Statement D1 processor ($5000) and Bel Canto eVo6 power amplifier ($4290). With the biamped Arcam, images were more focused, the soundstage wider and deeper. Madonna’s Ray of Light, which sounded so amazing through the biamped AVR300, lost some of its authority and power when played through my reference separates. My references did counter with a slightly smoother, more natural sound -- especially vocals, which were slightly grainier through the Arcam. However, these differences were less apparent with multichannel music and movie soundtracks than with stereo sources. Overall, both systems sounded excellent, and each had its strengths. Considering that the Arcam costs less than a quarter of the Anthem plus Bel Canto, this is an incredible achievement.

Dollars and sense

While at $2000 the Arcam DiVA AVR300 costs a lot more than a typical mass-market receiver, it costs considerably less than the massive "statement" receivers from such manufacturers as Denon and Sony. At its price or less you could even purchase inexpensive separates from, say, Outlaw or Emotiva. However, as I’ve said in the past, receivers make a lot of sense to a lot of people. Given the DiVA AVR300’s excellent multichannel and stereo sound, I can’t think of a better way to spend $2000 on home-theater electronics.

Review System
Speakers - Axiom M3ti (two-channel mains), Paradigm Signature S8 (mains), Paradigm Reference Studio CC-570 (center), Mirage Omni 260 (surrounds), Hsu Research VTF-3 Mk II and Mirage Omni S12 (subwoofers)
Preamplifier-Processor - Anthem Statement D1
Power Amplifiers - Anthem Statement P5, Bel Canto eVo6
Sources - Arcam DV79 DVD-Audio/Video player, Pioneer Elite DV-45A universal audio/video player
Cables - Analysis Plus, Audio Magic, ESP
Monitor - JVC 34" direct-view CRT
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Arcam
Pembroke Avenue
Cambridge, England CB5 9PB, UK
Phone: (44) (0)1223-203203

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

North American distributors:

Audiophile Systems (USA)
P.O. Box 50710
Indianapolis, IN 46250-0710
Phone: (317) 841-4100
Fax: (317) 841-4107

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

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

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

 


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