So after moving into a new house, my wife has decided that we need more stereo systems. Yes, you read that correctly, my wife. After getting through the initial disbelief that she was asking me to build more speakers, I realized that I was going to have to buy some additional gear to support playback on the speakers I build. After just dropping a big down payment on a new home, this meant I would need to be thrifty in what I buy, which has led to a lot of eBay and Craigslist shopping. However, it’s also been interesting to get to test out some new (to me anyway) gear.
The first thing I decided to get was a new amplifier. Given that our new bedroom was so large, and also that it would be right next to the nursery, I decided to look into AVRs. I currently have a NAD C316Bee in there. It had done fine for me so far, but my thinking was that the AVR would not only allow me to do 5.1 if I ever chose to upgrade, but it would also give me a little more flexibility in adjusting thinks like bass output for nighttime TV and movie watching right next to our soon-to-be new daughter’s room. I liked the idea of being able to easily switch the speakers to small or to turn up the volume on a center channel (if I build one) individually.
I looked at quite a few different used models. I decided that since I only have one video playback source in my bedroom, I would focus on getting a powerful, more high-end, older model receiver, rather than something newer with HDMI. Because AVRs don’t hold their retail value well due to the constantly updating surround modes and features, you can get a pretty good deal on something like this. What I finally found was an Arcam DiVa AVR100, which I picked up on Craigslist for only $100 (original retail price was $1200). Topping in at a true measured 70 watts per channel at 8 ohms and 90 watts at 4 ohms, the Arcam was not the most powerful receiver I looked at, but it was a great deal and Arcam had a reputation for musicality that the other receivers, with the exception of a few older Marantz models, did not carry.
Sound-wise, it did not disappoint. On music, to my ears, it has a fuller and more relaxed, engaging sound. The NAD, in comparison, sounds not necessarily brighter, but more brittle (if that makes sense) and grainy. Having the extra power in the Arcam also really gives more control over the bass. Low notes have more impact and sound more tuneful on the Arcam, whereas on the NAD they often made my speakers sound like they were straining to output bass notes at appreciable volume levels.
On movies, the Arcam handles dynamic content much easier, making my easily handle the loud to soft swings of many modern movies without making me quickly reach for the remote to turn the volume down like on the NAD. In addition, I find it easier to pick out dialog in action heavy scenes. Before, the other sounds going on could drown out the dialog or make it almost impossible to hear. Honestly, I’m really happy with the sound quality from this receiver, especially given the $100 price I snagged it for.
What I’m not happy about are the features/interface. I knew I was going to be giving up some things that most modern receivers had, but I didn’t expect many of the shortcomings of the Arcam. Aracm clearly had no user experience or ergonomics designers working for them at the time, or if they did, they should have been fired, because there are so many issues that make no sense usability wise. First, there is no standby switch on the unit itself, only the hard, circuit opening push button on the front panel. This means you always have to put it into standby with the remote. It’s not necessarily a huge deal, but kind of annoying when I am standing in front of the receiver but can’t put it into standby without walking back to our nightstand to grab the remote.
Second, the 5.1 channel “setup” is pretty limited. Not only do you have limited options for setting speaker distance, but it’s not even labeled in distance. Instead, you get to pick delay in milliseconds. After you get that sorted out, you only have 3 options for how your speakers are setup. One option lets you say all your speakers are large and you have no subwoofer, the next lets you say all your speakers are large but you do have a subwoofer, and the third says all your speakers are small and you have a subwoofer. There is no ability to adjust crossover point on your mains or to adjust size on any of the channels separately.
Finally, and this was a big problem for me, there is no way to access stated terrible interface without a video connection going into your TV. This means I have to now find some way to hook this receiver up to my TV. I haven’t pulled the TV off the wall yet to check, but I’m hoping it still had an S-video connection so I can even use the interface to adjust the speakers (part of the reason I bought a receiver).
Honestly, I wish I had read more about the Arcam AVR100 before buying it. If I had, I might have gone with something else. With that being said, I’m not sure I would trade it for something else now, given how good it sounds. Even with its shortcomings, it is an excellent sounding piece of equipment. I might look at replacing it with another receiver that offers more flexibility, but I doubt I’ll be parting with it completely. It sounds great as a 2-channel amp and would be right up in terms of performance with many dedicated 2-channel integrated units.