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Arcam AVR850 Home Theater AVR Review

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the AVR850 Home Theater Audio/Video Receiver (AVR). It was kindly sent to me by a member. The AVR850 was announced in 2016 and was recently discontinued. It costs US $6,000 but I see it discounted online by $1000 or more.

The design language is rather nice and unique although dated compared to new models:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atmos Audio Review.jpg

Ironically, the on-screen display is more advanced than newer generation in that it shows a full screen menu rather than two lines. Otherwise, functionality is pretty similar with same set of buttons on the unit and remote.

Back panel shows modern take on AVRs:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atmos back panel inputs outputs HDMI  Audio Review.jpg


There is a fan in the back as you see and two inside. I never heard either come on. Instead, there is an aggressive protection mode that shuts the unit down the moment you stress it. However, it let the unit get quite warm in testing. I suggest you give it ample cooling.

And oh, this one heavy AVR, clocking at nearly 40 pounds. If I get a hernia as a result of dragging it around, I will be sure to remember what device caused it!

AVR DAC Audio Measurements
AVRs today are basically a DAC, processing and amplification. So let's start with the DAC, driving the unit using HDMI, setting the speakers to large with no subwoofer:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Speakers Large No Sub Audio Measurements.png


Strangely, the volume control would max out not letting me get it up to nominal 2 volts I like to see from RCA preamp output. By chance I also tested the unit with the speakers set to small, and subwoofer on. None of this should matter as the test tone is at 1 kHz. But it made a huge difference:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Speakers Large With Sub Audio Measurem...png


If I now turn on the side, and surround speakers, performance increases even more!

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Audio Measurements.png


What on earth are they doing inside these AVRs for heaven's sake???

One clue is that the moment you set the speakers to small, you can then keep increasing the volume from pre-out well past 2 volts even:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI THD+N vs Level Audio Measurements.png


As luck would have it, most people will use this AVR with speakers set to small so I guess it is fine that it gets better there. Running with that number we still get "OK" ranking among all devices with DACs in them:

Best audio DAC 2020.png


Withing AVR and AV processors however, this is a very good rating:

Best Home Theater DAC AVR Review Measurements 2020.png


Amazing how much better it is than say, ARCAM AVR10 which is near bottom of the pile, despite being the new generation.

These variations make it a maddening task to measure this device. The combination of all the modes is huge! I tried to sort my way through it but it is obviously not a complete analysis.

Here is our dynamic range with all the speakers on and set to small:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


Not bad.

Intermodulation+noise test using same setting shows mediocre performance at low volumes but gets much better at the limit:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atmos IMD HDMI Audio Measurements.png


The dashed orange line is a cheap little phone dongle by the way.

Linearity by desktop DAC standards is bad but by AVR standards is not horrible:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atmos Linearity HDMI Audio Measurements.png


Jitter performance is not very good from engineering point of view:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atmos Jitter HDMI Audio Measurements.png


But because the louder jitter components hug the main tone at 12 kHz, they are likely masked. And the spikes at the bottom are too low in amplitude to be audible. I expect far better performance though for such an expensive AVR from measurement point of view. Clearly noise is bleeding into the DAC for no good reason.

We see the same multitone problem as in other ARCAM AVRs and processors:
Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atmos Multitone HDMI Audio Measurements.png


Notice the roll off due to speaker being set to small at low frequencies. Here is the same graph with them set to large with the problem remaining:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Speakers Large No Sub Multitone Audio ...png


Something in the Arcam digital pipeline is broken, causing digital overflow and such.

Most surprising result is from THD+N (SINAD) versus frequency but with a wide bandwidth of 90 kHz instead of 22 kHz used in the dashboard above:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Speakers Large No Sub THD+N vs Freq Au...png


This graph normally goes up to 1% distortion but I had to rescale due to AVR850 popping the chart at 2.5% noise and distortion!

To see what all is adding up to that horrible figure, independent of frequency, we need to look at the spectrum of a sample tone:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Speakers Large No Sub 1 kHz FFT Audio ...png


Ah, we see a rapid rise in noise above 30 kHz or so. This is called "noise shaping" and is a technique by DAC chips to push audible noise into inaudible one. In modern DACs though, they resample and the noise is usually pushed up across wider spectrum and at higher frequency.

Strangely, turning up the sample rate made no difference which is very odd:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Speakers Large No Sub 1 kHz FFT high r...png


That is fair bit of noise to pump into the tweeter and ask the amplifier to produce even though we don't hear it. I wonder if the upsampling mode of the DAC is turned off.

Finally, here is our DAC reconstruction filter:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Filter Response Audio Measurements.png


Typical default filter in DAC chips.

AVR Amplifier Audio Measurements
Given all the variations in the performance of the pre-amp/DAC portion, the amp tests are made more difficult. Let's start with the simple case of HDMI input, speakers set to large:
Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Switching the speakers to small+sub reduces the DAC distortion letting the amp shine more:
Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Speakers Small Amplifier Audio Measure...png


Now in CD Direct which bypasses the ADC and processing:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms CD Direct Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Strange. Expected this to be better than digital input. Could be due to interaction of volume control, input level, etc. Running with this one as our ranking we get:

Best Home Theater AVR Amplifier Review Measurements 2020.png


Which is above average for all amps tested. Within AVRs we get similar status:

Best AVR amplifier review.png


Using the best case scenario of HDMI and speakers to small, this is our dynamic range:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms HDMI Speakers Small Amplifier SNR Audio Mea...png


Can't figure out why it did not improve at max power. Perhaps it is limited by the DAC performance.

Frequency response is naturally much better in CD direct input:
Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms CD Direct Amplifier Frequency Response Audi...png


Versus normal:
Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms CD Amplifier Frequency Response Audio Measu...png


Thankfully the sample rate for the analog to digital converter is high (96 kHz) so we get a flat response in audible band. Other makers screw this up with much lower sampling rate causing response variations below 20 kHz even.

Staying with CD input for the rest of the tests so we don't get crazy, here is our power into 4 ohm:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms CD Amplifier Power into 4 ohm Audio Measure...png


You see the dramatic difference between digitizing the input versus not (CD Direct). Why in this day and age, in a $6000 AVR we can't get a transparent 2-channel ADC/processing is beyond me.

We have good bit of power here though especially for momentary peaks:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms CD Amplifier Power into 4 ohm Max and Burst...png


Granted, we are only driving two channels but we are getting 500 watts.

8-ohm picture is similar:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms CD Amplifier Power into 8 ohm Audio Measure...png


Crosstalk measurement was uneventful:

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater Receiver AVR Dolby Atoms CD Direct Amplifier Crosstalk Audio Measure...png


Conclusions
It is abundantly clear that the complexity of these devices has gone beyond the capabilities of the R&D and testing of these companies. Tons of odd behavior is observed such as setting speakers to small and performance of a DAC improving. It seems ever setup change modifies the noise and distortion level of the product likely to pipelines that are not designed to any standard of quality. No wonder we get nearly useless specifications with no statement of conditions under which they were gathered:

1592016892128.png


I like the statement that the 850 is "are audiophile products by any measure." No they are not. They are not even close to being competitive with $99 desktop DACs.

I was grumpy enough after spending two days to test this device to give it the headless panther (failing) grade. But at the end, it is a usable AVR with actually better performance than some of the new generation ARCAM AVRs so went with the "postman" panther.

But no, I can't recommend the Arcam AVR850. As with many other AV product companies, they need to go to a clean sheet of paper, set performance standards for full transparency in all pipeline modes to get my blessing. Until then, it is a pile of mess like many of their and competing products.

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

It was hell testing this AVR as you see. It actually blew the limit on the number of pictures in a post and I had to up that limit to post it! So surely I deserve some overtime pay in the form of donation from you all: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

North_Sky

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When that model came up I was following its trajectory (customer satisfaction, overall professional reviews, Dirac Live implementation, power measurements, sound quality, ergonomics, overall performance versus value). Dirac Live was a strenuous exploration in its implementation.

The exact weight (net) of that unit is 36.8 lbs (that's light for a six grands receiver), but it uses class G amplification.

One of several reviews ...
https://hometheaterhifi.com/reviews/receiver-processor/receivers/arcam-avr850-surround-receiver/

* 34.2 lbs is for the Arcam AVR 550 (the weight given in that review above for the AVR 850 ... a small simple mistake).
 
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North_Sky

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Amir, all the AV receivers you measured so far, they diverge from how other reviewers take their measurements. Yours are very detailed, much more complete, they tell beyond the marketing and audio reviewers promoters.

* I would love seeing measurements of ultra high end audio gear.
 

Voo

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Amir, all the AV receivers you measured so far, they diverge from how other reviewers take their measurements. Yours are very detailed, much more complete, they tell beyond the marketing and audio reviewers promoters.

* I would love seeing measurements of ultra high end audio gear.

has he reviewed his own personal high end gear?
 

GXAlan

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What inspired you to test small vs. large? Could that benefit be seen with other processors or receivers from Arcam or might we even see the Denon reach even higher performance?
 

North_Sky

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digicidal

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The specs on THD for 1kHz is worse than measured. I wonder what kind of gear they are using.
Based on some of the discrepancies... I think they "just eyeball it" or "tune by ear" or some other euphemism for slapping stuff together. ;)

Oh yeah, "good enough for government work" - one of my favorites I'd hear my grandpa say often when I was little. It was particuarly humorous to me considering he worked on numerous government construction contracts when he was younger. :facepalm:
 

Doodski

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Wowowow. Arcam is going to need to get back to the drawing board and up their game.
 

restorer-john

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Very comprehensive review Amir. I can see how the strange behaviour would have frustrated you, especially as these things soak up a vast amount of time testing.

Kudos for not throwing it into the valley and having a few drinks instead.
 

North_Sky

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I counted 31 pictures in your review Amir (one single post); what is the usual max?
 
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amirm

amirm

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What inspired you to test small vs. large?
Accident. :) I forgot to test for the speaker setting until I ran a few tests and realized it. Reset to large and was very surprised that performance dropped.

I have run into it with other AVRs but don't recall any of them having these large variations. It only impacts frequency response and such.
 
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amirm

amirm

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I counted 31 pictures in your review Amir (one single post); what is the usual max?
30. Note the emojis also count as pictures. I set the limit to 31 to get this review done.
 
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amirm

amirm

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North_Sky

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30. Note the emojis also count as pictures. I set the limit to 31 to get this review done.

Very true indeed, the emojis. I forgot those; you have none here in that review (measured analysis).

* 30 is a fair bunch; normally it's 10 average on other audio sites. ...Some more some less.
 

maty

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https://www.soundandvision.com/content/arcam-avr850-av-receiver-review-test-bench

Arcam AVR850 THD.jpg


[ This graph shows that the AVR850’s left channel, from CD input to speaker output with two channels driving 8-ohm loads, reaches 0.1% distortion at 125.9 watts and 1% distortion at 142.8 watts. Into 4 ohms, the amplifier reaches 0.1% distortion at 222.0 watts and 1% distortion at 248.8 watts... ]

[ There was no multichannel input to measure. THD+N from the CD input to the speaker output was less than 0.004% at 1 kHz when driving 2.83 volts into an 8-ohm load. Crosstalk at 1 kHz driving 2.83 volts into an 8-ohm load was –101.28 dB left to right and –88.37 dB right to left. The signal-to-noise ratio with an 8-ohm load from 10 Hz to 24 kHz with “A” weighting was –107.48 dBrA. ]

The SNR-A must be at max power I said.
 
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