I recently had an opportunity to take home a new Arcam AVR600 receiver to play with for a couple of days. I wish I could have had it for much longer. The new AVR600 has quite a list of features and functions including some new to the industry. I just want to go over some of the useful things I found in my short time with it and give you some reasons why you would want this big boy receiver at the heart of your entertainment system.
At a price of $5,000 it is not a typical receiver and certainly will not be on the radar of many people. I think the real attraction for this receiver is anyone considering some of the separate pre-amp processors that are available at a similar price when paired with an amplifier. The benefits of separates are many but this receiver can compete in the areas people seem most concerned with, performance and value.
I want to get to some of the great things about the Arcam, but I need to state that I am not trying to provide a highly technical review. There are plenty of good reviewers with great ability to do that. This receiver will certainly get plenty of rave reviews from the industry. I'd rather focus on the facets that I think are important to people that I speak with everyday in planning their home entertainment systems.
On to my short lived stay with the Arcam. First, the sound was absolutely amazing. Arcam has always been a favorite of mine for their ability to produce great sound quality in receivers, CD players, amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, you get the point. The trend continues in their new control center. To be blunt, no receiver should sound this good. I was truly surprised at several things the receiver did well with sound.
On music playback it provided a great sound stage and excellent resolution. On Blu-Ray movies I was able to hear very clearly things I have never heard before. I use tracks that I am familiar with. I spend a lot of time using the same material so when something is so dramatically better it gets me excited about having a better product to show people. When you can do a distinctly better job on movies it is a strong statement to the overall quality of the design and ability of the receiver. Movies are what most people will be listening to and this is a very enjoyable component of the Arcam's abilities.
Lately I have been spending a lot of time gaming. There is a lot of surround information in the sound tracks of some games. What is useful is that most of the sound effects and vocals are repeated quite often. I know my room and my system well and how Call of Duty sounds at high and low volume levels. The Arcam changed everything on my favorite game. My room sounded bigger. The sound was as if I had speakers everywhere and no where. There was so much more information available to me that I felt like I must have been playing at a severe disadvantage for some time. I was in the middle of the action like never before.
Back to the speakers for a moment. The AVR600 comes with a big microphone for set up. It is a far more robust mic than any other receiver I have seen. Perhaps it is the reason the automated set up was the best I have experienced. Or, the mic is just one more detail that Arcam paid attention to in this all new product. The set up was very accurate. I always go back in after an auto calibration to tweak things and be more specific to the set up. Most auto setup processes get you close on speaker placement, size, and output volume but to be done right I need to follow up with a SPL meter and a tape measure. The Arcam was incredibly accurate. I only made one small adjustment to the distance of one speaker. I'm being very picky here because I see how coarse most auto set ups really are. The best thing of all was the subwoofer output level. I have never been happy with the volume of any auto calibration set up. Most of my customers are not happy either. My sub blended very well with the rest of the system and needed no adjustment after the set up. Truly a calibration worthy of the comment "easy auto set up."
Video is what drives most people in today's market to their choice of a new receiver. The AVR 600 has all of the latest and greatest features and did a very good job of up-sampling my HD component video game to an HDMI output. I would have liked the opportunity to see what the receiver looks and sounds like with an HD cable box but my TWC box failed shortly after getting the system set up. (my third box in as many months) Sound from the HDMI cable was excellent. As I said, improvement over my existing separates when using Blu-Ray. I couldn't try the new Dolby volume setting. Very disappointing.
The video adjustments are laid out well and provide individual adjustments per input. Nothing new, but done well. The individual brightness, contrast, and other video adjustments allow you to move back and forth in the menu and see the picture easily while you make your adjustments to the video. Good job on ease of use.
As I mentioned earlier, I want to help people make a better decision on products based on how they are used in their everyday environment. The user interface on the Arcam is very intuitive and easy to navigate. I can't tell you how many times good products are left on the shelf because they are difficult to install and use every day. My wife is very critical of this fact being a PhD in this area. What it allows for is better set up by qualified installers or a home user looking to upgrade their system. You can get what you pay for in performance with the AVR 600 and enjoy its ease of use for years to come.
The one gripe I had with the receiver comes from the labeling of inputs. My method of thinking stems from years of inputs labeled numerically or alphabetically. The Arcam has several pre-labeled inputs. (HDTV, DVD, etc..) You can rename any input like most good products, but you need to know that you hooked up the Blu-Ray to the DVD input. Not a big deal and soon forgotten once the set up is complete. I just don't like to think of things in these terms.
If you want a great receiver with the latest features and don't want to compromise on anything, I think this is a great choice. If you want the sound of separates but don't want the additional bulk in your system look no further than the Arcam AVR600.