December 2005

Arcam AVR-300 A/V Receiver

I routinely mention the British Arcam brand (aslgroup.com) in any roundup of high-value, high-performance electronics. This now legendary firm consistently offers some of the best sound for the dollar to be had anywhere. And not only do their amps, DVD and CD players sound great, but they are built for the long haul, like a good tank should be. Arcam supports an amazing in-house engineering department that regularly astonishes the high-end audio industry with its innovative and forward-thinking designs. Rest assured that the Arcam product you purchase today will easily allow for future upgrades to that particular component's technology, so you have little to worry about in regard to obsolescence.

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The Arcam AVR300 ($1,999) audio/video receiver continues the company's tradition of groundbreaking engineering and construction quality. Plain and simple? It would be nearly impossible to find anything close to the AVR300's performance at anything near its quite affordable price point. If you are planning to upgrade an existing surround system, or are thinking of finally taking the plunge into the full-blown home theater experience, you cannot go wrong considering Arcam's AVR300; it absolutely blows the lid off all but the most expensive separate components.

In the power arena, unlike most of the more familiar mass-market brands, the Arcam delivers on its promise of 100 watts per channel, even while all seven of its on-board amps are firing. Some of the bigger-name units fall to as low as 25 actual watts when shooting from all seven barrels, and with the extreme power demands of movie soundtracks this can be an important fact to remember when comparing receivers: Is the advertised juice for real?

So why seven channels? Well, the most up-to-date digital formats offer 7.1 sound, requiring seven separate amps and a subwoofer channel (that's the ".1"). These formats offer two rear channels in addition to the two front channels, center channel and two rear/surround channels. Don't want to go the 7.1 route? Then use the two additional "rear" channels to fire up another system in another room--the AVR300 will let you do that--or use those two extra amps to bi-amp suitable front speakers in your main system. This is an extremely flexible, user-friendly component.

The Arcam also offers state-of-the-art digital circuitry on all fronts, including the latest Dolby and DTS surround formats, Dolby ProLogic IIx and DTS Neo 6 as well as the company's own proprietary surround modes, which synthesize surround effects from two-channel material. Video processing is also top-notch and allows for a more-than-generous number of input and output combinations, making connections to the video screen extremely painless. And all these options are controllable to the nth degree from the helpful learning remote, which will allow you to eliminate that tabletop clutter of multiple remotes.

My time with the AVR300 was always enjoyable, seductive and definitely musical--attributes not always applicable to many of today's A/V-receiver options. It's a stupendous home-theater component, but it can also serve as the foundation for a no-holds-barred music system as well, with plenty of tonal accuracy, purity of sound and gusto for even the most hard-to-please audiophile. Just look at all those other features as gravy, a hard-to-turn-down package of home-theater freebies on top of a high-performance musical instrument.

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