The AVR400 is modestly equipped by some standards, yet it includes basic audio streaming from Internet radio (vTuner) or home-network (DLNA/UPnP) sources via wired connection, as well as from locally connected USB media. All these worked smoothly and reasonably quickly on standard MP3, AAC, and FLAC files, though I encountered the usual navigation annoyance or two. The worst: In a sub-list (say, Albums) when you back up to the previous list (say, Artists), the menu always defaults to the top — even if you simply wanted to move from Zombies to ZZ Top. Arrgh!
Somewhat more seriously, playback of high-rez 96/24 files was only intermittently possible. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes playback would hang. Worse, subsequent media-player “moves” would be molasses-slow, folders containing 96/24 tracks would display files twice (none playable), and networked playback mostly became impossible. Restarting the Arcam and my server (TwonkyMedia on a Mac) restored normalcy every time, and I must observe that Arcam does not specifically claim 96/24 compatibility anywhere I could find.
Otherwise, day-to-day usage was very pleasant as far as the receiver itself went, but the supplied remote won’t win many ease-of-use awards. Its many small, round buttons, though mostly well spaced, are identical in size and shape, and the print is too small to decipher without strong light. The handset’s own blue backlighting helps here, but it’s not enough. Volume/mute and channel keys are lost in the crowd, and even worse, you must first depress one of those miserable “Shift” keys (assuming you can find it in the dark) to access certain occasional functions. More curious still, there’s no Standby button on the receiver itself: You can turn the master power altogether off from the front panel, but only the remote can perform the more usual everyday shutdown mode, which strikes me as very odd indeed.
On a more positive note, there are thoughtful nuggets scattered throughout the Arcam’s operating system. One of my favorites: In the Setup menu you can delete surround modes from the rotation so that you don’t have to cycle through the useless (to me) PLIIx Game and all three non-“x” PLII modes every time you want simply to toggle between Stereo and PLIIx/Music. And the AVR400’s onscreen displays are all made up of lovely, crisp, unadorned text on attractively muted backgrounds. More important, they are all sensibly organized and intuitive to navigate. Best of all, there are one-touch screen-bottom pop-ups for volume, channel trim, and several other adjustments.
It seems abundantly clear that Arcam’s goal in designing the AVR400 was sound quality first, foremost, and forever, and this it has most certainly achieved. Does the AVR400 “sound better” than a flagship-class receiver from the top Pacific Rim makers? That’s a slippery slope I don’t much care to scale, but there’s no doubt that this British design sounds at least as good, in the audiophile sense, as any single-component solution of similar power I’ve encountered.
Clearly, $2,500 will buy you more wattage (at least on paper), more features, and more gross weight from any number of big brands than what Arcam’s AVR400 offers. But those who value the peace of mind that comes with knowing their system has true audiophile potential, and the pedigree to prove it, will want to give a close look and listen to Arcam’s latest.
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