Can this high-performance AV receiver escape from the shadow of its big brother?
When it comes to crafting AVRs, Arcam is very much from the old school. It's more concerned with the purity of performance than the number of logos on the box, an ethos that has earned it audiophile adoration, if not the attention of feature-seeking budget buyers.
This is apparent once again with the AVR450, a high-end seven-channel AV receiver that sits between Arcam’s flagship AVR750 and the £1,500 AVR380. We loved the AVR750. It lives up to Arcam’s claim that it’s the finest home cinema receiver the company has ever made, offering a refined, potent performance, not only with multichannel movies but also stereo music.
Despite the AVR450 selling for a much lower price than the AVR750 (£2,200 compared to £4,000), there’s very little difference between them in terms of features, design and connections. The price difference is mainly explained by the AVR450’s less sophisticated power amp stage. The AVR750 uses multi-voltage Class G amplification, which operates in Class A up to 20W but for anything over that switches to a different power rail and operates in Class AB.
This ‘rail switching’ makes Class G amps more efficient. However, the AVR450 sticks with Class AB, and doesn’t reach the same levels of power. It delivers a claimed 125W with two channels driven and 90W with all seven running, while the AVR750 musters 130W and 100W respectively. To some, that extra juice will be £1,800 well spent; to others with a less demanding system to drive, it could be an unnecessary expense.
But the difference in price doesn’t affect the AVR450’s build quality, which is mind-blowing. Its high-grade electronics are encased in bodywork so solid that you could probably drive a truck over it (not recommended). And at over 15kg it’s a heavy lift, yet still a kilo lighter than the AVR750.
Looks-wise it’s identical to the AVR750, which means more of the same clean, esoteric styling that has defined Arcam’s kit for years. You’ll find a 3.5mm minijack input and 3.5mm headphone jack on the front, but the rear-mounted USB port makes connecting an iPod or thumbdrive a real pain. Any connected HDMI cables (there are seven inputs and two outputs) and other wires obstruct access to the socket.
The rest of the connections include two optical and four coaxial digital inputs, three sets of component inputs and 7.1-channel pre-outs, but the lack of multichannel analogue jacks for legacy players is surprising.
Integrating the AVR450 into a custom installation? No problem. RS232, 12V trigger and IR receiver sockets for Zones 1 and 2 are provided, as well as a 6V output for Arcam’s rSeries peripherals. An Ethernet port allows you to tap into the AVR450’s network streaming and web radio functionality.
Glitzy features are few and far between – don’t expect stuff like Spotify and AirPlay. You can, however, access 'net radio (and DAB), and stream files over a network. The experience is smooth thanks to fast handshaking and straightforward menu architecture, but I was miffed to find that it wouldn’t play my hi-res audio files via USB – in this case 24-bit/96kHz FLAC and ALAC. It did, however, play MP3, WMA, WAV and ‘standard-definition’ FLAC, but doesn’t display cover art.
The AVR450 is easy to configure thanks to an auto setup system that calculates speaker size, distances, levels and crossovers, before applying EQ filters to cancel resonant frequencies. You can choose which inputs use this EQ and which don’t – I left two-channel playback untouched but liked its effect on Blu-ray playback.
For manual setup there are plenty of options in the onscreen menu, which is old-fashioned but logically laid out and responsive. The Arcam’s slick, hassle-free operation is enhanced further by an uncluttered backlit remote.
The AVR450’s drop in power compared with the AVR750 doesn’t stop it making a big impact with multichannel movies. It’s a muscular, insightful and organised performer, thrashing out the Kryptonian chaos at the start of Man of Steel [have you worn that disc out yet? – Ed] with aplomb.
As Jor-El looks upon his home planet being destroyed, explosions sound positively thunderous while lasers zap energetically around the soundstage. The Arcam uses quick steering and huge dynamics to create an immersive, involving surround image, and when Jor-El summons his beast H’raka, his voice cuts cleanly through the chaos and his steed swoops down with thick wafts of bass.
It’s incredibly thrilling stuff. The Arcam remains unflapped by the relentless action; crank up the decibels and it stays resolutely in control. Also impressive is the AVR450's high-frequency handling. It excavates the finest details from a soundtrack, enhancing a movie’s softer moments with absorbing background textures and half-heard noises. The sound is crisp but not clinical.
And like its big brother, the AVR450 is a dab hand with music, delivering an atmospheric rendition of Thievery Corporation’s Stargazer (FLAC). The echoey guitar chords pulse rhythmically with the beat, while dubby effects and crisp percussion ping-pong around the stereo stage without affecting the clarity of the vocals. This sparkling performance is proof that top-drawer movie sound needn’t come at the expense of musicality.
It may lack eye-catching features, onscreen sophistication and nine-channel amplification, but the AVR450’s bravura performance is the real draw here – in both multichannel and stereo modes its sound is utterly captivating and remarkably muscular.
Price: £2,200 Approx
Highs: Outstanding build quality; captivating sound quality in multichannel and stereo; easy to set up and use
Lows: USB port on back; wouldn’t play hi-res files via USB; low on features; only seven-channel
Dolby TrueHD: Yes. And Pro-Logic IIx
DTS-HD Master Audio: Yes. And Neo:6
Multichannel input: No
Multichannel output (claimed): 7 x 90W (into eight ohms)
Multiroom: Yes. Zone 2
AV inputs: Yes. 4 x composite; 6 x digital audio (2 x optical and 4 x coaxial)
HDMI: Yes. 7 x inputs; 2 x outputs (ARC)
Video upscaling: Yes. To 4K
Component video: Yes. 3 x inputs
Dimensions: 433(w) x 171(h) x 425(d)mm
Also featuring: Network music streaming; internet radio; MP3, WMA, WAV and FLAC playback; DAB and FM radio tuners; 7.1 pre-amp output; Dolby Volume; Auto Setup; ArcamRemote app; RS232, 12V triggers and IR control
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