FOR Clear, crisp detail; Dirac functionality; stylish design AGAINST A lack of scale and authority compared with some
The AVR390 is Arcam’s attempt to bring the performance of its high-end AV amps to a more affordable level. It has taken the unusual approach of using the front-end circuitry, pre-amp section and all processing straight from the rangetopping £4500 AVR850 in a bid to deliver top-class sound.
To meet the £2000 price point, something had to give. In this case, it’s the power amp section and the power supply which Arcam has toned down to hit the AVR390’S price point.
The company has swapped the AVR850’S expensive and complex Class G power amplification for a more conventional Class A/B alternative. Accordingly, power output has gone down – from the AVR850’S 200W maximum to 80W (when driving two channels).
The power supply is also far less elaborate in terms of capacity, and it’s because of these changes that this amplifier can provide all the major features of Arcam’s top product at only half the price.
The highlight of the AVR390’S processing prowess is the ‘Dirac’ set-up software, which is designed to optimise your speakers’ performance in your listening room by accounting for room acoustics and the speakers’ design.
External so ware
The AVR390 doesn’t have the processing power on board to perform the initial calculations, so the Dirac software needs to be downloaded to your computer from the Arcam website. The process takes multiple readings around the listening position, and that data is then fed back into the amp.
While you can go through this process yourself, we would recommend you let your dealer manage that side of things – the Dirac parameters can be adjusted manually, and the dealer’s experience should mean they’re likely to achieve the best results.
Once you’ve got all that set up, you certainly shouldn’t be short of media to play on the Arcam. It supports MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, and MPEG-4 AAC at 24-bit/96khz, and has HDCP2.2 and 3D. There’s also vtuner Internet Radio and Spotify Connect available.
You don’t have to spend long with the AVR390 to twig that Arcam has designed it to be simple to use. The smooth buttons on its face and centred volume dial feel of even greater quality than the controls on the Yamaha RX-A3060.
The universal remote control is also sleeker than Yamaha’s, featuring an eight-second backlight whenever a button is pressed and multiple Device Mode keys that change the functionality of the remote based on its source, which is a nice touch. The AVR390 has seven HDMI inputs, a USB port, wi-fi and ethernet connection alongside the expected digital inputs and FM/DAB radio antenna. It doesn’t, though, have any inputs on its front. This keeps it looking sleek but also makes it
“The sound moves smoothly from the front le of the soundfield, behind your head, eventually coming back around as Sully breaks the surface”
more difficult to plug in any extra video sources, such as a camcorder, quickly. If your neighbours are desperate to show you their holiday videos, you’re almost certainly going to be fiddling around trying to squeeze an HDMI cable into the back of the amp.
Putting on James Cameron’s Avatar – a great test of an amp’s ability to convey the realism of alien flora and fauna – the AVR390 manages marine Jake Sully’s exploration into the forest with relish. In the fifth chapter, the Helicoradium spirale (a plant that looks like a biological series of interconnected horns) rapidly retracts into the earth – the AVR390 conveys the sound of each section of the plant clearly and with great definition. And when Sully sweeps his arm across the plants, and each one shrinks into the ground with an inrush of air and a sucking sound, there’s an enjoyably clear distinction between the start of the plants’ movements and their end.
When the aggressive dinosaur-like Thanator attacks Sully, the noises as he dips and dives between roots and across the grasses remain crisp and detailed – in his final leap to escape the beast into the waterfall and his plunge into the lake, the Arcam makes a good job of conveying Sully’s immersion in the water by surrounding you with the noise of bubbles rising and the wash of his powerful arm strokes.
The sound of the current moves smoothly from the front left of the soundfield, behind your head, eventually coming back around as Sully breaks the surface of the pool for air.
To its credit, the Arcam does deliver a very neat experience, but it isn’t as fun or expressive as the Yamaha, which recreates the underwater effect with more drama than the AVR390.
What the AVR390 lacks, and the Yamaha provides, is greater scale and authority in its soundfield, something that’s powerful enough to make you feel as if you’re sitting on another world. The planet feels just that bit smaller coming from Arcam’s amp, and that means the 390 can’t quite capture all the emotion of either the surreal environment or the characters in the film. While the Arcam does a good job in bringing Pandora to your living room, the Yamaha does a better job of actually transporting you there. Changing to a more musical number, the documentary ¢lm of Michael Jackson’s rehearsals and preparation’s for This Is It, the amp keeps the King of Pop’s bouncing beats and high vocals nicely organised.
Easy living in harmony
When it comes to stereo music and soundtracks, it’s easy to follow the harmonies of any track, and even in the more complex numbers that have a huge range of instruments, each one still remains clear, detailed and punchy. By the standards of the Yamaha, the results lack a bit of scale and punch, but it again remains an entertaining experience.
The Arcam AVR390 is a capably organised ampli¢er that majors on clarity and reveals a lot of the detail in whatever it’s playing. But the competition here is tough, and the Yamaha shows just what can be achieved for £2000.
Round the back everything is clear and wellorganised. Much like the Arcam’s sound, in fact