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Arcam AVR390 AVR Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Arcam AVR390 Audio/Video Receiver (AVR). It is a 7.1.4 unit kindly purchased and drop shipped to me (refurbished unit). It seems to have been announced back in 2017 and available in 2018. I don't know if it is still a current unit or not. It seems to cost US $1,499 from what I can find online.

Note: our company, Madrona Digital is a dealer for Harman which acquired Arcam a while back. I am also friends and a professional colleague with founder of Arcam, John Dawson (no idea if he is still with the company -- I hope not). So feel free to read as much bias into this review as you like.

The AVR390 has a unique and rather serious look:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Audio Review.jpg

I found the controls a bit non-intuitive. There is a button labeled "RTN" on the remote which you would think stands for return as in go back to upper menu. But it doesn't do that and instead reserved for some oddball function on other devices. Selecting inputs on the remote puts it in a mode to control that source device rather than the AVR. Anyway, it does the job but won't impress anyone at Apple for usability.

The large vents on top allows easy peaking into the unit. There, we see a giant void in the front which I assume is for more amplification channels in higher up models. A little fan sits there in that space which never came on. The heatsinks on the amplifier are the most substantial I have seen on any AVR which massive fins (2 to 3 inches deep) and large number of packed high power discrete transistors mounted on it. This no doubt contributes to the heaviness of the unit.

The back panel shows the usual connections:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Back Panel Connectors Inputs Audio Review.jpg

Notice that there are only 7 channels of amplification even though there are provisions for more channels, needing external 4 channel amp for those (height 1 & 2 and second sub).

AVR DAC Measurements
As usual we start with analyzing the digital to analog (DAC) converter performance. I fed the unit a 1 kHz tone with HDMI as the digital input and these are the results at the pre-out:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Audio Measurements.png


The AVR390 is unique in AVRs in that it limits the output to 1.3 volts at volume level = 75. You can turn up the volume after that but nothing changes in the output! Other AVRs allow the output to keep increasing, albeit often with sharp increase of distortion. Sadly, the AVR390 generates copious amounts of distortion even at this low output level (we like to see 2 volts output). Third harmonic is the highest which establishes the SINAD (a measure of noise and distortion) to a sorry 70:
Best Audio DAC in AVRs Measured Review.png



Best Home Theater AVR Audio DAC Review 2020.png


This is as broken as it gets folks.

Noise level is dismal as well:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


The high noise level demolishes intermodulation+noise versus level measurement:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby IMD Audio Measurements.png


The dashed orange is a cheap mobile phone headphone dongle!

Bad news continues in linearity test, most likely due to high noise level:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Linearity Audio Measurements.png


The high noise level hides myriad of sins but still, the AVR390 manages to show some jitter/spurious tones:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Multitone test shows more decent results since it is not run at full output level:


ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Multitone Audio Measurements.png


Lowering the output voltage from max of 1.3 volt improves performance some but shows other issues:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby THD+N vs Level Audio Measurements.png


Notice that below about 0.5 volts, there is a sharp drop due to much increased noise. Our total SINAD is now down in 50 to 45 dB! This is incredibly bad for any device producing audio.

Filter response is OK:
ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Filter Audio Measurements.png


This is one stunningly bad implementation of digital to analog conversion. :(

AVR Amplifier Measurements
There are multiple ways to drive the amplification from analog to digital and with "direct" mode. Let's start with the best one which is analog input with direct mode on which disables all processing including bass management:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Amplifier Analog In Audio Measurements.png


This is quite good! Turning off Direct mode activates digitization of input and performance goes to hell:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Amplifier Analog In non-direct Audio Measurements.png


Likely performance is limited by the lousy DAC subystem which we see when feeding the unit with HDMI:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Amplifier HDMI Audio Measurements.png


When used in analog direct mode, performance ranks way up there:
Best home theater AVR amplifier review.png


And is respectable even across 2-channel amplifiers:

Best AVR stereo amplifier review 2020.png


Signal to noise ratio is also very good in direct mode:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Amplifier Analog In SNR Audio Measurements.png


Frequency response is quite good even when the input is being digitized:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Amplifier Analog In Frequency Response Audio Measurem...png


AVR Power Measurements
Here is the performance with analog input with direct and non-direct modes:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Amplifier Analog In Power into 4 ohm Audio Measurements.png


I could not get the unit to clip as it would go into protection mode complaining about excess DC on the output. Notice how much performance you lose when you digitize the input (in green) and that strange gain staging (steps).

Oddly in 8 ohm mode, it would go into clipping:

ARCAM AVR390 HDMI Home Theater AVR Dolby Amplifier Analog In Power into 8 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Conclusions
A great analog engineer designed the amplifier in the Arcam AVR390 and did a great job both in measured performance and proper cooling. Sadly the digital section received no scrutiny and produced some of the worst results I have seen at its max output of just 1.3 volts. Given the legacy of Arcam and marketing material for the product/brand, this is truly shameful performance.

Needless to say, as a package I cannot recommend the ARCAM AVR390. Maybe wait a few years until they are given away for nothing and buy it for its amplifiers and run them in direct mode.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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stunta

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#3
A great analog engineer designed the amplifier in the Arcam AVR390 and did a great job both in measured performance and proper cooling. Sadly the digital section received no scrutiny and produced some of the worst results I have seen at its max output of just 1.3 volts
Why? Why would any proper engineering company shoot themselves in the foot like this? These HT receiver/processor reviews are just depressing.

Thanks @amirm. Is an Anthem unit in your backlog?
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #7
Why? Why would any proper engineering company shoot themselves in the foot like this? These HT receiver/processor reviews are just depressing.
If you look at their specs, you see that they only rate the analog performance, not digital!

1588618540176.png


So they must know something is wrong with digital input.
 

TulseLuper

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#9
I bought one of these when the price dropped from $2500 to $1500. It has Dirac which, to me, makes up for a multitude of sins. I've enjoyed using it compared to the mid range Yamaha it replaced. Still, shameful.
 

audioBliss

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#11
Out of curiosity what firmware version did you use? Very big changes to bass management etc. in later versions. Quite bad performance I have to say! Then at least we know it would be worth going for some of the more expensive options like HTP-1 if the money is there.

Imo though Dirac Live is such a big deal that I would choose this over something that does not have Dirac.
 

North_Sky

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#12
Arcam, the UK King of receivers...for quality stereo sound.
And their higher end models with the highly regarded Dirac Live.

Their reviews are always stellar when it comes to best stereo sound compared with other Asian brands. They are also well regarded for their stable high power.

Where do I send my stimulus cheque back to ...
 

Jimbob54

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#13
Imagine spending that much money (looking from the ground up) on something when the best you can say about it is, "I plug things into it and sound comes out".
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #14
I mean that maybe something has gone wrong in the process of refurbishing
That is what I answered. :) When something breaks, it doesn't just increase distortion and noise in two channels no less.
 

direstraitsfan98

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#15
"Note: our company, Madrona Digital is a dealer for Harman which acquired Arcam a while back. I am also friends and a professional colleague with founder of Arcam, John Dawson (no idea if he is still with the company -- I hope not) "

Why do you hope not?
 
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amirm

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Thread Starter #16
Out of curiosity what firmware version did you use? Very big changes to bass management etc. in later versions.
I looked all over the menu and nothing says the version number. The issues I found are not firmware problems though.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #17
"Note: our company, Madrona Digital is a dealer for Harman which acquired Arcam a while back. I am also friends and a professional colleague with founder of Arcam, John Dawson (no idea if he is still with the company -- I hope not) "

Why do you hope not?
Because I sure don't want him to be associated with this mess! Arcam produced some of the best HDMI AVRs when HDMI was introduced. That is when he was in charge (some 12 to 15 years ago).
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #18
Ah good, he left a while back:

1588619927792.png


Of course it is bad for people wanting to buy Arcam gear.
 

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