16 Channel Surround Sound Processor / Preamplifier w/ Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced, Auro-3D & Dirac Live Room Correction
16 Channel Surround Sound Processor / Preamplifier w/ Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced, Auro-3D & Dirac Live Room Correction
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The design of the HDA range draws upon all of Arcam’s experience as one of the UK’s most respected audio companies, to produce Arcam’s best performing range of audio products yet – using the best quality components and engineering practices, the HDA range is designed and built to give you years of listening enjoyment.
16 Channels with Dirac
We love Dirac room correction and consider it the best on the market. Couple that with an impressive 16 channels and you have one heck of a great surround sound processor
Audiophile Level DACs
Arcam’s audio heritage shines through here with DAC’s you’d normally find in high performance audio components. Not only will the AV40 sound amazing on home theater, it will provide great sound for your 2 channel needs
Flexible Subwoofer Configs
We are big fans of multiple subwoofers and the AV40 lets you even calibrate them separately, super cool!
Company & Product Overview
Arcam has had an interesting history over the last few decades. They started out as a collaboration of some engineering students at Cambridge University in 1976 who introduced a small integrated amp called the A60, under the name of Amplification and Recording Cambridge. The name was later shortened to Arcam. Audio Advice became an Arcam dealer in the early ’90s when we were bowled over with the sound of their Alpha 9 integrated amp. From the first second we heard it, we knew it was a winner with its rich, engaging sound quality. It went on to become one of our most popular lines of high-quality good value gear and it's hard to believe it's coming up on 30 years since we first became a dealer for Arcam.
From their formation in 1976 till the 2000s, Arcam focused on great-sounding two-channel components. Like many companies as home theater became so popular, they tried to enter that market and like many, had issues with the new HDMI system of multiple handshakes. While their products sounded great, they had trouble sometimes locking on to the HDMI signal. This led to them being purchased in 2012 by a Canadian company called JAM Industries. JAM is a large conglomerate of musical instrument companies and they added a much-needed experience set of technical help to solve the HDMI issues. In 2017, Arcam was acquired from JAM by the Harman Group who owns many great home audio and pro audio companies.
Throughout all of this, the Arcam design team has been in the UK and has been steadfast in producing great sound first and foremost. You can tell a love for sound quality and engineering excellence runs through their veins. Harman had the foresight to see the potential in Arcam and, with their huge wealth of in-house technology, gave them the resources to come out with several very cool new products. They were determined to come out with a line in 2020 that sets entirely new price/performance standards.
The subject of today’s review is the new AV40 surround sound processor. Audio Advice has been selling this type of product since Lexicon first released the CP-1 when a 27” tube TV was considered big! We love surround sound processors and constantly debate among ourselves as to the pros and cons of each model. When we saw the feature set of the new AV40 with Dirac calibration on board, and an impressive 16-channels audio, we were thinking, this is going to be cool. But when we saw the price, we knew the AV40 was going to be not only cool but a new leader in surround sound processors.
Arcam was able to get the AV40 shipped out worldwide before the 2020 supply chain issues; however this meant shipping the hardware before the software was complete. The silver lining to this is that we were able to work with Arcam on improving the software for 3 months with the full production AV40 prior to producing this review. So if you purchase an AV40 you will want to make sure your provider upgrades the software with all of the features we describe below. It's a bit of a time-consuming process so Audio Advice is upgrading the software ourselves and including our tips and tricks video for all customers.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
The new Arcam AV40 is a surround sound processor. This means it does not have any amplifiers on board and is designed to work with separate power amplifiers. Separate components have always been the choice when you want the best possible performance. Another benefit of having separates is the building block approach. Power amp technology is pretty stable, but if you follow the home theater side of things, the tech in surround sound changes quite often. With separates, you can keep your great set of amps for decades and upgrade just the processor when you are ready for the latest and greatest.
The AV 40 has the look of their new HDA range with a dark gunmetal finish complemented by silver knobs and buttons. In the middle of the front panel is a large display which in normal mode gives you a great readout of the current input and volume. This display changes to a different look when you switch to set up mode. We have to really compliment the team who did the GUI for set up mode. On just about every other surround sound processor we have tested, you are far better off using your TV or projector for set up as the units display menu is usually extremely clunky to navigate through. With the AV40, you can do everything very easily from the front panel which for those of us who set things up all the time is pretty cool!
Not only is the AV40 a full-blown surround sound processor, but it also gives you access to all sorts of ways to listen to music. We’ll go over that and more in the feature section.
Build quality is exactly what we have come to expect from products in this category. It’s not built like a Mark Levinson or McIntosh, but has a very good fit and finish. The rear connections are mounted to the circuit boards like a typical surround sound receiver but seem very solid for this type.
Features & Technology
The previous Arcam surround sound processors had always impressed us with their great sound, but we felt they could offer a little more in the way of set up flexibility. What we found once we connected up the AV40 and turned it on, blew us away!!!
Historically in the world of very high performance, you have small companies like Arcam who are dedicated to making the best possible sound. Those companies usually lack the financial backing to purchase license fees for all of the latest technology out there. So what you would see in the market would be mid-priced receivers from the major brands with every possible feature set, yet just ok sound compared to the really high-performance products. But the high-performance products did not have every feature.
With the backing of Harman, those same dedicated engineers gained the ability to include all of the great features along with high performance. That’s what makes the AV40 a rare combination of every part of audio/video tech you could ever want and great sound.
Let’s first talk about the sound. The AV40 uses a very high-end DAC set from ESS Technologies. ESS is recognized by the audio design community as the place to go to get the best sounding DACs. DAC is short for digital to analog converter. This is the critical piece that takes the stream of 1’s and 0’s coming in and translates them into analog. The ESS ES9026PRO Sabre DAC is a 32 bit, 8 channel DAC designed for high-end audio equipment. There are two of these in the AV40 to handle its 16 channels.
The first thing we did when we tested the AV40 was to hook it up in a two-channel system to see how good these DAC’s sounded, and we were super impressed!
You probably just thought, hmm, when we mentioned 16 channels. If you are in the know about surround sound that is far more channels than you normally see. But yes, the AV40 has 16 output channels AND they are available with standard RCA connectors and also with balanced audio outputs. Very impressive. This gives you the option of up to a 9.1.6 configuration. Or, you can configure those 4 additional outs to be some interesting combinations of subwoofer channels. So you can set up your music to play stereo with no subs while simultaneously setting up movies to use all your subs. You can even set up a set of front subs and rear subs and calibrate them separately - really cool.
There are 7 HDMI inputs and a bank of 3 outputs. The outputs are for main, zone 2, and a second ARCe enabled output. ARCe lets you get an incoming signal on the HDMI out.
The set of digital inputs is also very impressive with 4 coax digital, 2 Toslink inputs, and 1 Toslink output. But the choices of how to play music through the AV40 don’t stop there. It has a very good built-in AM/FM tuner. On the high tech side, it supports Apple Airplay2, Chromecast, and aptX HD Bluetooth. These are some of the features having big money behind you lets you include. It is also a full streamer and Roon endpoint that supports either Roon or the Arcam app which works with Internet Radio, Podcasts, TIDAL, Qobuz, Deezer, and Napster. Wow, this means the AV40 will not only be an amazing home theater processor but also a full-fledged two-channel stereo piece as well.
Featuring all the latest audio and video formats, the AV40 includes all the latest codecs from Dolby with Dolby Atmos of course, but also Dolby Volume which has some great ways to tailor volume dynamics, Dolby Vision for picture enhancement, DTS:X, and DTS Virtual:X, IMAX enhanced, and eventually Auro 3D. Again, the power of Harman allowed them to include all of these new feature sets.
We had complained to Arcam about the way they did not have the same flexibility from a speaker set up standpoint as some of the other very high-end surround sound processors have. They took this to heart as when we dove into the speaker set up menu we were grinning ear to ear.
For speaker size, you can set crossover points every 10hz which allows you in some cases to greatly improve the performance. Normally we do think 80hz works best for all channels in home theater but there are some instances where cabinets and walls affect the sound and we love the ability to play around with the crossover to fine-tune out resonances. Speaker distances can now be adjusted down to the inch. One thing we have not seen on a processor until you get to the 22K price range of a Datasat is subwoofer flexibility. Arcam has included this, allowing you to set up modes with multiple subs or no subs or pretty much any configuration! You can even adjust the crossover slope to be from 12db per octave to 48db per octave, again something we have only seen on the $20K+ surround sound processors! And there is a stereo direct which bypasses all subwoofer processing and sends a full range two-channel feed to your left and right speakers. This lets the audio enthusiast really fine-tune how they want to listen to music and gives them the option of making it different on every input!
Dirac is a room correction system that came out of Europe a few years back. We first experienced it on the top of the line Datasat RS20i surround sound processor. In our opinion, it is the best room correction system on the market. Up until now, its also only been available on more expensive units. The AV40 has the latest version of Dirac Live with full 16-channel Dirac calibration which in most rooms will dramatically improve your audio performance for every listening mode. One thing we loved about the Datasat was its ability to allow you to load up more than one Dirac setting. Imagine one setting that focused on your primary listening position and another for every seat in your theater. Every unit up until now that had Dirac Live only let you set up one. Well that all changes with the AV40, you can load in three! The other super cool part, and this even ups the game on Datasat, is you can assign a Dirac curve to an input!!! Now that is just fantastic.
And speaking of assigning things. Some of us like to listen to music while watching a game on TV or with the Arcam you could stream the local radio announcer for your favorite sports team while watching the game. A lot of home theater products only let you assign one video feed to an audio source. Not so with the AV40, it's totally flexible, another really great feature.
As you can see, the AV40 is a groundbreaking product, with its UK engineered heritage of great sound, coupled with more features than we have ever seen in a surround sound processor. While $4,500 is not cheap, it should be considered an amazing value.
Our first test was to find out how good the new DAC’s were inside the AV40 so we connected it up in a very revealing system normally reserved for audiophile listening experiences. Yes, we always like to push things to the max! We used the B&W 802 speakers with the Cambridge Edge W power amp. We fed a CD transport into the coax digital in on the AV40. A funny thing happened on the first cut, we had forgotten we had been playing around with the speaker set up and our first thought was, wow, this piece is bright with no bass! Well, lo and behold we had the crossover set to 90hz on the front speakers. After a couple of button presses, we were in business. We played several cuts from the classic Dire Straits Love Over Gold album. The subtle nuances we heard in both the voices and instruments told us this was one great piece of gear from a two-channel perspective. And this was without Dirac Live being engaged.
We like to see how products evolve so we had an early software version when we first got the AV40. There were a host of features that had not been turned on. We began working with the Arcam engineering team to help test and give feedback on the software. Over the course of three months we ran many hours of tests and went back and forth with increasingly improved software with the UK engineering team. As of the writing of this review, the processor now sounds simply amazing.
The last piece of the puzzle that we worked on was the Dirac integration. We do suspect that just like with every other Dirac piece we have tested in the past, you’ll want to use a better microphone for a Dirac calibration than the one that comes with the unit. Mini DSP makes a great one for under $200. It is very critical when Dirac is taking the measurements for the microphone to be very good. That is really our only disappointment with the Arcam, they could include a better microphone.
We did our testing and feedback for Arcam on the AV40 in a pretty high-performance home theater system with top of the line CT series B&W speakers. Just like with our two-channel experience, the AV40 was a shining star. It tracked effects wonderfully well and with its great DAC’s we were able to hear all kinds of subtle emotions in the characters.
The Arcam AV40 is a rare combination of great sound and just about every single piece of tech you would want in the home theater world. $4,500 is not inexpensive, but if you have home theater separates and have been thinking about upgrading, the AV40 belongs on your list! Hats off to Arcam for pulling together such good sound with so many useful features for the home theater and audio enthusiast. It truly does set a new standard of what you should expect in a high-performance home theater surround sound processor.
Stereo Line Inputs
- Maximum input - 4.5V rms
- Nominal sensitivity - 1V, 2V, 4V (user adjustable)
- Input impedance - 47kΩ
- Nominal output level - 1V RMS (max. 5V RMS)
- Output impedance - 560Ω
- Maximum output level into 32Ω - 5Vrms
- Output impedance - <100Ω
- Mains voltage - 110–120V or 220–240V, 50–60Hz
- Power consumption (maximum) - 50W (Thermal dissipation approx. 170 BTU/hour)
- Power consumption (idle, typical) - 40W (Thermal dissipation approx. 170 BTU/hour)
- Power consumption (standby) - <0.5W
- Dimensions W x D (including speaker terminals) x H (including feet) - 433 x 425 x 171mm
|Signal To Noise Ratio||100dB/110dB|
|Frequency Response||20Hz—20kHz ± 0.2dB|
|Included Accessories||Mains lead, Remote control with 2 x AAA batteries, Manual, DAB/FM aerial, 3 x WiFi/Bluetooth antennas, Calibration microphone, USB cable|
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