Arcam AVR350 Surround Sound Receiver Page 2
I should note here that I prefer master volume controls with 0.5dB steps (actually, I like 0.1dB steps even better, but that's probably overkill for most users!). Arcam is not alone here; much of its competition also uses 1dB steps. But in my experience being able to change the volume in 0.5dB increments improves your chances of getting the playback level just right.
Don't think 100Wpc is enough? It depends. On the room, the speakers, whether or not you use a powered subwoofer, and how loud you like to play your movies. In my situation, driving five of the seven channels in a conventional 5.1-channel setup, it was plenty. Sure, a more powerful amp will buy you a little more ease at high levels in a large room. But I auditioned three different surround speaker setups using the AVR350 in my 3200 cubic-foot space and never felt shortchanged. Maybe you like to crank your soundtracks more than I do. But more than once I've wondered if the neighbors were wondering about those hard-to place, unexplained rumblings and explosions they hear late at night!
And whether we're talking about the attack in Pearl Harbor, King Kong fighting off those biplanes while clinging to the top the Empire State Building, or the crash scene in Flight of the Phoenix, nothing I threw at the Arcam phased it in the slightest.
But there's more to good movie sound than the ability to play loud. I moved the Arcam into the system immediately after reviewing the NAD Masters Series pre-pro and multichannel amp, a combination that costs more than twice the price of the AVR350. The NADs are fine pieces, with all the setup and flexibility advantages of separates. But the Arcam didn't feel like a sonic compromise in any way.
The pristine, sparkling top end was the first thing that impressed me about the Arcam, followed closely by its clear midrange and tight, well-defined mid and upper bass. I do all of my movie listening with a subwoofer, so the receiver's deep bass was less of a concern on films. But the receiver ultimately proved very capable at the bottom end when I listened to two-channel music sans subwoofer (see below).
Rather than go into extensive detail about how the Arcam nailed this or that movie soundtrack, I'll simply refer you to my recent review of the PSB VisionSound speakers, or my review of 10 new HD DVD and Blu-ray Discs. Virtually all of my listening to the PSBs was done with the Arcam in the system. And all but a few of those discs were also reviewed through the Arcam.
The AVR350 got the dialog right and never felt lame on effects, either, from the subtle to the most explosive. And on the films with the best sounding music scores the Arcam demonstrated something I've always known but all too rarely hear on multichannel music-only recordings. Music in surround, in particular music scored for full symphony orchestra, has compelling qualities—a sense of space, openness, expansive dynamics, and sheer realism—that are elusive in all but the best two-channel playback.
But most of my music listening—and yours, too, I'm sure—is still in two-channel. And the AVR350 didn't disappoint me just with two-channels operating. In fact, it was on music that I first noticed its most impressive qualities. That sparkling top end caught my ear first, together with a light-on-its-feet quality that drew the best from my reference Energy Veritas v2.8 speakers.
The Arcam does tilt a bit toward emphasizing top-end air and detail over warmth and richness. It's very clean, and never bright in any negative sense. Listeners who favor a rich, full-bodied, tube-like sound, however, might prefer a warmer balance. To a large extent, this will depend on the speakers and room. But audiophiles who don't mind experimenting with equalization might find that the individual channel bass and treble adjustments on the Arcam, used with care, can be effective in correcting for deficiencies in the overall sonic balance of their system. Or at least for deficiencies that affect broad regions at the bass and/or treble ends of the frequency range.
The AVR350 didn't just star with its open, detailed quality. When used with speakers capable of precise imaging in the first place, centered vocalists were not only locked into place, but the entire soundstage was well defined in both width and depth. The receiver did everything you could ask for in producing a convincing, compelling bubble of sound.
The bass was also tight and well-defined. I did most of my listening with a powered subwoofer in the chain, a situation in which you would not expect the receiver to make much difference. But it did, not so much in the reproduction of the bottom couple of octaves that are handled by the subwoofer, but in its crisp reproduction of the midbass and higher overtones that define bass instruments. Given a reasonably smooth response at the very bottom end, it's the precision of those overtones that make the real difference between "slow" and "fast" bass. In effect, the quality of a system's deepest bass (absent serious room resonances at the extreme bottom) is determined largely by the clarity of its midbass--and even its treble.
Since some of you won't be using a subwoofer, however, I did do some of my music listening with the left and right speakers driven full range and the subwoofer turned off. The L/R speakers were the Energys, which in my room produce an extended though slightly warm bottom. The result: very similar to the sound with the subwoofer. There was a trace more warmth (easily attributable to the speakers and room), but the bass on music was every bit as impressive. Tight bass drum whacks hit me in the pit of my stomach, organs reached as deep as the speakers allowed, and synthesized bass was rich and powerful. I wouldn't give up the subwoofer for anything with soundtracks, but if you have good, full-range speakers, the Arcam won't shortchange them on music.
I have no reservations about the Arcam AVR350's audio performance on either soundtracks or music. It produced an open, detailed, translucent sound, and while music lovers searching for a solid state receiver to emulate the sound of tubes might not find what they want here, I can't imagine anyone else being anything but thrilled by its performance.
Open, pristine, detailed sound
6th and 7th channel amps may be used to bi-amp front L/R speakers
No multichannel audio over HDMI