Long winded impressions of the Arcam AVP 700 [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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Jim Clark
01-17-2006, 09:14 AM
I’ve been living with the Arcam AVP 700 for about a month now so I figured I’d write up some impressions of my experience to date. I went with this model after an incredible deal on the Anthem AVM 30 fell through. “If it sounds too good to be true…”, but the guy was honest and when it became clear he wasn’t going to get the Anthem he returned all of my money. Blessing in disguise? Probably. In the end it kept up my faith in Audiogon.

During my wait I kept reading about the incredible 2 channel performance of the Arcam. Professional reviews are mixed on this product. The problem seems to be with the paired amp Arcam is offering but since I’m not using it, it’s a non-issue. Picked up the Arcam with a bonus cable tossed in for a bit less than 1,900 delivered from an authorized dealer. All that was left was to hook it up. Oh yeah, I went with the sexy silver this time around.

Basically the user reviews are dead on perfect. This is a beauty with two channel audio and since that’s my main concern I’m happy with my selection. I’ve been fortunate with some of my selections of the years. Every now and then a piece shows up that not only lives up to the hype, but exceeds it. The Denon 3300 was one of those magical pieces, ditto for the AVP 700. I have no explanation for why in Direct mode that the Arcam and Denon 3802 (which the Arcam replaced) sound so different. The 3802 never approached the 3300 in musicality but in Direct mode my brain tells me everything should essentially sound the same. That’s not my experience however. The Arcam was lovely from the start. The Jolida 100a CDP came to life in a way that I never expected. Captivating to listen to true high end audio in my home for the first time. I’ll spare you the cliché’s since they are overused to the point of being meaningless. All I will say is that for two channel I’ve not heard an HT setup do it any better. The usual caveats apply here. I certainly haven’t heard all of the receivers/pre’s in my own room. The most recent demos of Outlaw/Rotel/B&K were done in other systems. While they had their charms and appeal, two channel audio wasn’t impressive to me overall.

Movies seem like they’re being handled competently enough. Not really sure how much more I can say on this issue. While I can listen to a great CD over and over and become very familiar with it, I don’t tend to do the same with movies. Maybe it’s that there’s too much else going on to really focus on things like soundstage, depth, etc. Honestly I’ve never really seemed to find fault with movie processing on any pre/receiver I’ve played with. I have something like 100 movies and somewhere between 2000-3000 CD’s. That pretty much sums up my listening habits. HT is important but the time demands make evening the odds impossible.

Features are slim especially compared to current offerings from the big receiver companies. No auto eq for example. Focus seems to be entirely on sound quality. If you can live without all of the whistles and bells you will not be disappointed as the sound quality is amazing. Again, it’s basically my impression with music sources. For movies I’d have to defer to someone with more expertise. One good thing is that the Arcam does offer RDS and it’s my first piece of HT gear to do so. It would be really cool if the only radio station I listened to (KJHK, Lawrence Ks) used this feature. What are you going to do? Future HD audio standards will be accommodated with the analog inputs, as with most gear being sold now. I doubt it will be upgraded to handle them on it’s own. That would be nice though.

It’s not all good though, there’s some crap I could do without. I’m hopeful that future firmware updates are going to address some of the most painful problems.

-Hideous green display. What on earth were they thinking? Stand out in the crowd by offering superior sound quality, not an ugly display. Oh how I long for a cool blue readout.

-Remote is a piece of caca. Where to start? It has a similar initial look and feel to the excellent Radio Shack 15-1994 but then reality comes crashing down. The number pad is placed in the top half of the remote. If it was on the bottom half like every decent remote you could actually use it with one hand easily. As it is you can’t. Poor ergonomics.

You can’t access the “direct” mode via the remote. Trust me, if you get this pre/pro you will be pissed off at this oversight as well. Having to do it from the front panel is a pain in the ass.

There are functions on the remote that the Arcam doesn’t support. Like THX for example. Even worse is that on the remote there is an input for “cable”. The problem is that on the Arcam there isn’t an input for cable, it’s Sat. only. Try getting your wife used to that quirk if you happen to be on cable, as we are.

Features that are accessible via remote aren’t intuitive or labeled on the remote. Try to dim or shut off that green display with the remote. Better have the manual handy. Ditto for trying to change surround modes. Even the Denon remote, which was universally regarded as junk made this stuff easy enough.

IR aspect seems finicky. On several occasions I’ve pointed right at the Arcam and pressed a function and it doesn’t work. The backlight comes on so I know I pushed the button but I have to repeat it all to often. As much as I dislike the idea, I’m going to have to get a new remote. I’d hate to have to spend 200 for the Harmony though. I’m thinking about trying out the 688 (74 bucks at Sam’s) or maybe even the One for All URC9910 which is a measly 29.00 at Buy.com. Either is bound to be an improvement. Plus the One For All has RF capability. Not sure how that would work with my gear but it can’t be much worse.

Many people report hearing loud pops when changing sources on the Arcam. For whatever reason that’s not a problem I’ve had. What is killing me however is the popping when changing channels on the cable box. There is a loud static electricity sounding popping sound whenever I change channels. Before being too quick to blame Scientific Atlanta I’ll point out that I’ve never had this problem prior to the Arcam. The sound is especially loud going from an analog channel to a digital channel. Perhaps because for some reason there is a big volume difference between those two types of channels. I guess it’s caused by the Arcam searching for a signal lock. Other types of gear defeat this by using a short muting period when changing channels. The Arcam must include this work around in a future upgrade. It’s embarrassing to have spent nearly 2 grand on a pre that exhibits this problem. Outlaw owners must be pretty smug over this bug.

When looking at the Arcam’s ugly green display, the only information that’s visible from a seated position is the volume. Everything else I’ve ever seen shows the format being used whether it’s stereo or DTS or whatever. I wish the Arcam did this, I really miss not being able to see if the show is being received in DD 5.1. Minor gripe but what good is a big display with the volume? I go by the sound level, I really don’t care what the number shows. I wonder if this bothers anyone else?

Setup-calibrating was a ***** using the internal pink noise on the Arcam. With my speakers I wasn’t able to calibrate to 75 db’s since I could never get it loud enough to hit the mark on all speakers. I’m not alone in this problem. Despite the fact that a firmware upgrade supposedly dealt with the issue, it still doesn’t work. My work around was to calibrate to 65 db’s. So long as they are all the same I should be in business. Still it’s best to use Avia and forgo the internal noise generator. It’s not a power issue, it’s a design or implementation flaw.

That’s a lot of complaints about a single piece of gear. I’m going to hang on to it though, it’s that good with 2 channel music. If movies are your main thing I could highly recommend the Outlaw 990 at a substantial savings.

Associated gear:
Room-untreated. Going to work on that next
Arcam AVP 700
Sunfire Cinema Grand (5x200)
Oppo OPDV971H
Scientific Atlanta 3250HD
Jolida 100a
Von Schweikert VR 4 jr
Von Schweikert LCR 15
AR DIY rear - after a sub upgrade I'll add the VS VR1's.
Klipsch KSW 12- After room, weak link although it's from the well reviewed first generation.
Sony KDF-55XS955

**This review, unlike anythng from Lexmark 3200, has not been plagerized**