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Arcam AVR390 vs AVR550 Vs AVR850 AV860 As a Processor ONLY

bass007

Active Member
Hi, I'm thinking of replacing my Pioneer LX-87 with one of the above. Reason for upgrade is simply after reading about the wonders of the Dirac room correction has given me upgrade bug.

Now I will ONLY be using it as a processor, what are the main differences ? is it just the power amplifier section of each model, or are is there other improvements to the processing section the further up the models you go ?

I do not have a dedicated room, I'm looking to get a decent, worthwhile upgrade from what I have, its only going to be used for movies NO music.

While I appreciate there is a significant price difference between the AVR receivers and AV860 processor I cannot find any other information on the Arcam website, the main differences are I can see according to the website are in the power section.
 

Chester

Well-known Member
Why don't you contact [email protected] who will be able to give you all the substantial architectural differences between the processor and the AVRs? Please do let us know what they come back with as that will be useful for other members too.

Don't forget to use the balanced outputs on the AV860 for cleaner signalling to the power amps, so the power amps you choose must support this.
 

sounddog

Well-known Member
Why don't you contact [email protected] who will be able to give you all the substantial architectural differences between the processor and the AVRs? Please do let us know what they come back with as that will be useful for other members too.
Well I’m not sure they will tell you openly ... they are a business after all ... and will always suggest the AV860 is the one for if you are using pre-power setup.

As I recall / understand there are differences in the PSU as well as different power amp modules... if that makes a difference when used as a processor is debatable.

Don't forget to use the balanced outputs on the AV860 for cleaner signalling to the power amps, so the power amps you choose must support this.
Bumkum! Unless you are using long interconnects (such as to active speakers) the difference is negligible to zero and a good power amp with unbalanced inputs will beat a mediocre amp with balanced inputs. Often even good power amps work better with unbalanced signals as their balanced inputs are based on simple op-amp circuits as are the output of most processors so you are degrading the signal to prevent degedation due to cables. It all depends on the design of the whole system. The only real advantage of balanced vs unbalanced is the much superior XLR connectors vs RCA / Phono.
 

bass007

Active Member
I will email Arcam, it will be interesting to know for certain what they claim the main differences are, and also what they would recommend, and yes as you mentioned Sounddog they do run a business...

Just to put things into perspective, i'm running a trio of Nuvista 300 power amps, they do not have any balanced inputs and I agree with Sounddog and based on my previous systems i'd be pressed to tell them apart in blind listening test.
 

Chester

Well-known Member
Well I’m not sure they will tell you openly ... they are a business after all ... and will always suggest the AV860 is the one for if you are using pre-power setup.
Actually when I have chatted to the CEO and other staff at trade shows, called them, gone over to Waterbeach to see them, and got remote support from them, they've been more than helpful and open about their products. I've been an Arcam customer for over 2 decades and their support has been tremendous.

Bumkum! Unless you are using long interconnects (such as to active speakers) the difference is negligible to zero and a good power amp with unbalanced inputs will beat a mediocre amp with balanced inputs. Often even good power amps work better with unbalanced signals as their balanced inputs are based on simple op-amp circuits as are the output of most processors so you are degrading the signal to prevent degedation due to cables. It all depends on the design of the whole system. The only real advantage of balanced vs unbalanced is the much superior XLR connectors vs RCA / Phono.
It's worth noting that balanced connections can and do solve technical issues and reduce noise, and this is important whilst a signal is small and therefore more susceptible to noise. Particularly over distance or where cable crowding or parallel runs with say power cables is unavoidable. As you say yourself, XLR is technically superior as a connector as well. I will agree however that if all of these issues can be avoided, the reasons to move to balanced/XLR diminishes.
 

bass007

Active Member
I find it interesting that on the Arcam website where the receivers are pictured the AVR390 apears shorter and some what inferior than the other 2, but after looking at the detailed specs they are in fact the same height, interesting...
 

bass007

Active Member
Just an update, apparently I'm number 239 in the queue [emoji15] so they will reply sometime next week
 

Oliver Godber

Active Member
I just purchased the AV860. Haven't had much time to test it yet but what I've heard so far is impressive.

There was a thread somewhere about the differences between the 860 and the AVR850. From what I remember, it isn't just the inclusion of balance outs.
 

GMAN40

Active Member
The 860 had no power, so you’ll need amplifiers for it to function.
 

Oliver Godber

Active Member
My understanding is that there are more differences than the loss of the power amp section and addition of balance outs.
 

bass007

Active Member
Reply from Arcam,


Thank you for your email. The main difference between the amplifiers (390, 550, 850) is that the 390 has a frame transformer while the 550 has a toroidal transformer, which is acoustically quieter. The 850 builds on the frame transformer by having G class amplification.
The 860 has the purest audio as there is no amplification stage and the transformer is a super quiet, small, low powered transformer which introduces the least distortion of all.
 

Chester

Well-known Member
Oh, you had to wait for that? That's disappointing. I think any member familiar with Arcam could have told you that. Nevertheless it's still true that the 860 will be the cleanest box to use as a pre-amp processor. Is it worth the extra outlay? That's the subjective part.
 

helloall

Active Member
Reply from Arcam,
Thank you for your email. The main difference between the amplifiers (390, 550, 850) is that the 390 has a frame transformer while the 550 has a toroidal transformer, which is acoustically quieter. The 850 builds on the frame transformer by having G class amplification.
A side question - If 850 is built on frame transformer, will it perform less than 550 at higher volume when it's not operating at class A?
 

bass007

Active Member
Oh, you had to wait for that? That's disappointing. I think any member familiar with Arcam could have told you that. Nevertheless it's still true that the 860 will be the cleanest box to use as a pre-amp processor. Is it worth the extra outlay? That's the subjective part.
Yes disappointing. As you say I agree the 860 will be the cleanest sounding but at double the price I do have my reservations.
 

sounddog

Well-known Member
A side question - If 850 is built on frame transformer, will it perform less than 550 at higher volume when it's not operating at class A?
The Arcam AVR850 has a toroidal transformer (as does the AV860).
 

bass007

Active Member
For the moment I think I'll wait, I will try to get a home demo at some point. I think for me the main thing is having Dirac after reading so many positive things about it I hope this will be a worthwhile upgrade. The last stand alone processor I had was the Tag Maclaren and that was just amazing in my opinion, the pin point accuracy, speed and dynamics was just way ahead of its time, also let's not forgot the lexicon MC1 too.
 

franin1

Active Member
Hi all I’m looking at getting one of these units as a processor as well I’m just curious I’m under the impression that the bass management is fixed. For the members who have these units how do you find them audio wise? I’m looking at an Anthem as well but the Arcam has my interest due to Dirac.
 

Chester

Well-known Member
I upgraded the firmware in my 550 this weekend, re-ran the measurements but this time pushed the sub up to -3db metered before measuring (around 11 o'clock on my gain control was it was around 9:30). During this effort I spent a little more time on mapping the target curve a little closer with the speakers' voicing. I may have traced the centre a little too closely though and this needs a little tweaking.

It's really opened up the bass and made it integrate a lot better. In fact I can move the crossover around and hear the tonal difference but the performance is around the same (say going between 80 Hz and 170Hz). That didn't happen before. Impulse is better, but could be better still (and that's an issue with my room). Really pleased with the results. Now it's time to swap out the sub and improve that bass further.

To answer your question directly @Franin1, just get yourself a demo with your money at the ready! The issue with bass management was within measuring, and in the first instance the dealer should do that for you. Now measuring doesn't need to be done with specific settings in place beforehand, and worked fine for me this weekend.
 

franin1

Active Member
To answer your question directly @Franin1, just get yourself a demo with your money at the ready! The issue with bass management was within measuring, and in the first instance the dealer should do that for you. Now measuring doesn't need to be done with specific settings in place beforehand, and worked fine for me this weekend.
Will have too, thank you for your reply
 

oaklandraiders

Active Member
I’ve been having same thoughts only want the processor function and the 390 is much cheaper or just get a miniDSP and see what Dirac is like.
 

Timmy C

Distinguished Member
For the moment I think I'll wait, I will try to get a home demo at some point. I think for me the main thing is having Dirac after reading so many positive things about it I hope this will be a worthwhile upgrade. The last stand alone processor I had was the Tag Maclaren and that was just amazing in my opinion, the pin point accuracy, speed and dynamics was just way ahead of its time, also let's not forgot the lexicon MC1 too.
I still use an MC1 in my cinema room now and love it. I don't watch enough films these days to have considered upgrading to later sound formats but if you get one of the Arcams I'd love to know your thoughts. Given the MC1 has next to no re-sale value these days I can't see me upgrading until it dies and even then I have a spare but I'd like to know for when the time comes.
 

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