Having built its reputation off audiophiles, Arcam has always been known for its musicality, regardless of being audio or audio/video products. From their stereo amplifiers to their FMJ range of AV amplifiers and even Blu-ray players, refined and poised are the words that come to mind. But the world of multichannel and object-based sound is fast evolving and while Arcam hasn’t been known to be the earliest adopter of new standards, the AVR30 comes pretty well-equipped and surprisingly, even catches out the prolific Japanese brands unaware!
Arcam AVR30 review
Home Cinema to end all cinemas
Based around its acclaimed Class-G amplifier design, the AVR30 promises all the nuances and emotional impact of a Class-A amplifier when the power needs are low but kicks it up several notches when the signal demands it by deploying additional power supply rails in an instant, almost like a Class-D design. But this hybrid blend has been difficult (and expensive) to master by many and even in the Arcam scheme of things, is only reserved for the top-end models, like the AVR30. For the record though, there is an AVR31 already out in some markets globally, but the only real change is the inclusion of HDMI2.1 standard, for 4K gaming and 8K streaming.
Aesthetically, the HDA series which is the official name of the range, is a major departure from the FMJ and might polarise opinions. The two-tone front panel with a matt grey fascia and silver buttons is different to the say the least, but what stands out is the outstanding build quality and the large display which is visible from across the room. And that’s probably a requisite in this case because one area where the Arcam clearly lags behind the more mainstream competition is the clarity in set-up information and on-screen display, which is a single-line monochrome struggle. It almost assumes that the owner of an Arcam AVR30 is an advanced user and as such, isn’t complicated, not just the easiest for newcomers to the AVR world. Alternatively, it’s a cinch to get it on your Google Home network and even carry out the entire set-up process via a laptop.
Unlike few of the competitors though, the AVR30 includes Dirac Live room correction as standard and you can upgrade to the Dirac Live Bass Control package if you have more than two subs and are looking for extracting the smoothest bass response from multiple subs vis-a-vis your main L/R channels. But even in the “standard” form, this is no watered-down solution, but in fact one of the most powerful room correction systems there is. Again, its efficacy will depend on your understanding of crossovers, delays and levels since it requires the bare minimum set-up to be in place before it can weave its magic wand across your room. If you’re not an acoustician, nor intend to be, you can simply select one of the recommended Harman curves. If you belong to the other side of the spectrum, you can make your own target curves too.
As the flagship AVR in the range, connectivity is strong with 7 HDMI inputs (4K capable) and 3 outputs. Yes, it is eARC compatible so we could extract a DTS:X lossless signal directly from our Sony Bravia Core app to stream IMAX-Enhanced movie soundtracks. The AVR30 is one of the few AVRs on the market as of writing this with IMAX-E support but it’s a format showing up in the 2022 range of many other makes now. Auro-3D is supported too, if you’re into dotting your room with more speakers than cement, besides the defacto Dolby Atmos. With so many channels to play with, Arcam has taken the righteous call to amplify only seven of the 16-channels it can process, justifying it by prioritizing sound quality over convenience. So what we get is a generous 100W x 7 channels, along with pre-outs for every conceivable object-based surround sound configuration. Although there is only one marked pre-out for subwoofer, you can assign up to four pre-outs for using four active subwoofers and that’s when the Dirac Live Bass Control comes into its own. Arcam’s use of ESS9026PRO DACs is a strong hint at its audiophiliac intentions and along with Class G amplification, make this a potent package that is as powerful as it is refined, be it in stereo or multichannel mode.
Playing The Gray Man via Netflix, the Dolby Atmos mix through our 7.2.2 Focal Kanta, SVS, REL and PMC set-up came to life like never before. The increase in resolution, space and precision in panning was instantly tangible. Class G makes itself felt clearly during the gunshots and crashes by making it more visceral and immediate, without ever sounding forward. You can add Dolby processing for an added dollop of oomph but if you have speakers and subwoofer capable of handling dynamics, you won’t need to. The AVR30 excelled at transients and imaging, qualities that help elevate a movie-watching experience from great to truly immersive. Immersive 3D sound formats like Dolby Atmos, IMAX-E, Auro-3D and DTS:X don’t simply become immersive by adding a soundbar to your telly. Both, it’s ability to process the signal cleanly and amplify it without any signs of stress or congestion is what makes it stand apart from the far-eastern competition. Streaming Spiderman: No Way Home on the Sony Bravia Core service, the AVR30, instantly flagged it off as an IMAX-Enhanced DTS soundtrack and the effect was just as captivating as the Dolby Atmos, but with even more body to the sound. This is the audiophile’s AV receiver and the proof is in Dolby Atmos music on Apple Music, which sounded stupendous playing Billie Eilish’s NDA in multichannel surround. It created a space that melted away the speakers and simply filled it with sound that was richly detailed, musical and totally transparent. If you choose to use Dirac Live, the results could be even better, depending on your room, preference and quality of microphone.
Some of the hot keys on the remote do take getting used to as the markings aren’t the most intuitive and just like the on-screen menu, lack the clarity in communication that the competition has so well mastered now. Overall, one gets the impression that the Arcam AVR30 is designed for the advanced user, and of course, while its price point makes it obvious, it’s also manifested in its UX/UI design.
The remote unit is backlit though and is capable of controlling other devices too, either through the learning method by the device remote or its built-in code library. Wireless conveniences make it compatible with AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast, Bluetooth and is even Roon ready, making it a capable endpoint.
Those wanting HDMI 2.1 connectivity for being future-proof and ready for 8K might be disappointed, but the AVR31 should be landing on our shores soon. But, if you’re content with 4K and slot audio quality above all else, the Arcam AVR30 is peerless when it comes to a truly dynamic, clean and articulate home-theatre experience. It isn’t exactly easy on the pocket, but if you want the best, your search for the ultimate AVR should end here. In fact, in our time with the AVR30, it impressed us so much that it found a permanent space in our reference system. That should encapsulate how addictive this piece of technology is!
If you value your time in your home-theatre, do yourself a favour and listen to the Arcam AVR30 before any other AVR.
|Power:||7 x 100W / 2 x 120W|
|HDMI:||7 in/ 3 out|
|Wireless:||AirPlay2, Bluetooth, WiFi, Google Cast|
|Dimensions (WDH):||433 x 425 x 171mm|