Arcam AVR-390

FOR Clear, crisp de­tail; Dirac func­tion­al­ity; stylish de­sign AGAINST A lack of scale and author­ity com­pared with some

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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.

Con­ven­tional ap­proach

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.

Sounds nat­u­ral

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.

Ex­press your­self

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

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