Arcam AV40 AV Processor Review

A top-end processor with a high-end performance?

by Phil Hinton
SRP: £3,749.00

What is the Arcam AV40?

The Arcam AV40 is the latest high-end AV Processor from the British audio manufacturer and boasts 16-channels of surround sound processing using the very latest codecs, as well as Dirac Live 16-channel room optimisation. The new processor is part of the HDA (High Definition Audio) range, which includes the entry-level AVR10, the mid-range AVR20, and the recently reviewed AVR30 AV Receivers. The AV40 is the only processor/Pre-amp in the line-up and is designed to be used with the PA240, PA410 & PA720 power amplifiers, and for this review, we used the PA720 to partner with the AV40.

As you would expect from a new line-up of multichannel products, the AV40 is Roon Ready and can decode Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D, but there are no plans at the moment for DTS:X Pro. There's also the latest version of Dirac Live 3.0 room correction, including support for the optional Bass Management add-on. There's also support for other multichannel formats such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Digital; as well as DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete/Matrix, DTS 96/24, DTS 5.1 and DTS Virtual:X.

In terms of video switching the AV40 can handle 4K/60p 4:4:4 signals with HDR format support for HDR10, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. There are seven HDMI 2.0b inputs and three outputs around the rear of the chassis. The only disappointment here is the lack of HDMI 2.1 inputs and features, although the AV40 will handle eARC so not all is lost, but for a new to market product, the lack of advanced gaming features via HDMI 2.1 will be a sticking point for some users.

We set out to use the AV40 in our system over the festive period and up until the middle of February 2021 as our main home theatre processor for music and movie playback in our dedicated home cinema room. Over this time we were able to test as many of the features as possible, using the AV40 for everyday tasks on a regular basis. There have been some issues and bug reports in the owner’s thread on AVForums so we also tested to see if we experienced the same issues and just how well the AV40 performed. Here are the results.

Design, connections and control

Design is a subjective matter and opinions will often vary, but I really do like the new modern chassis design of the AV40 and for that matter the rest of the HDA AVR range, as they are all identical in looks. 

The shared front facia design is elegant and minimalist in nature, with two 3.5mm jacks for headphones and Aux inputs to the left and then we have a sizeable brushed silver finished volume knob as we move towards the right. Next up is the large colour display and under this is an assortment of small buttons for menu options and so on. Finally, there is the power button to the far right of the facia. The main dark grey colour is used around the entire chassis, with the controls, buttons and knob finished in silver so there is a marked difference between each. 

The top and sides of the chassis are solid aluminium with no vents (the AVRs have top sided vents to allow cooling of the amplifiers), and the build quality is excellent with everything feeling sturdy and expensive. Around the back, we have the connections. 

Arcam AV40

The rear panel is well laid out and logical to follow with the 7 HDMI 2.0b inputs and 3 outputs positioned to the top of the unit. Also up top, we have two Wi-Fi and one Bluetooth antennas along with a LAN and USB port. The next layer down has six RCA audio inputs along with a lineout and Zone out as well as four coaxial digital audio inputs, two optical digital audio inputs and an optical digital audio output. There are also two trigger outputs and IR extenders for two zones, and an RS-232 control port. Down the left-hand side of the rear panel are the 16 channel pre-outs and a sub 2 out, and rounding things off are 16 balanced XLR outputs and a power slot. 

All of the HDMI inputs and outputs are HDMI 2.0b and not HDMI 2.1 which is a little strange for a new processor which we imagine will be a relevant product for at least the next four to five years. Arcam hasn’t said if there will be any future updates to HDMI 2.1, so if you will be using both of the new gaming consoles, this is probably not the processor for you. There is eARC on board which may help with the majority of possible problems in some setups but it will not solve the issue for gamers. The HDMI ports do support HDCP 2.2 with 4K 4:4:4 60p video featuring HDR10, HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma), HDR10+ and Dolby Vision HDR formats.

 

... the lack of advanced gaming features via HDMI 2.1 will be a sticking point for some users

The supplied remote control will be familiar to Arcam owners as it is carried over from the FMJ product line with a few buttons renamed. It’s a large plastic handset with well-placed buttons and a sleek design that matches that of the processor, plus it is backlit for use in dedicated cinema rooms. You have to make sure that after pressing an input button, you need to press AMP again to control the volume and other features. We also found the use of the remote control to be frustrating with the AV40 with several occasions where the remote would not work at all in powering on the processor or changing settings. While this only happened periodically, when it did happen, it was extremely infuriating.

If you want to use your mobile or tablet device to control the AV40, you can use the Arcam Control app which gives you access to the controls of the processor and zone settings, or you can use the MusicLife app which adds in streaming from the likes of Tidal, Deezer or Spotify to name a few. Again, the use of these apps in most cases was smooth, but there were a few issues now and again with failures to communicate or find the AV processor on the network. Other means of control and settings are a web interface which you can use on a laptop or computer on the same network which was easy to use, and of course you can use the menu system on the display screen by using the buttons on the face of the processor.

How was the Arcam AV40 Tested?

I found the setup and operation of the Arcam AV40 to be intuitive thanks to an easy to follow menu system and well laid out rear panel. I set up a 7.2.2 layout for Atmos and DTS:X. I partnered the AV40 with the Arcam PA720 Seven Channel Amplifier with a hefty seven channels of Class G grunt, along with the use of an ADA Amp for additional Atmos channels.  Speakers were our reference M&K MP300 LCR, S300T surrounds and two X12 subwoofers. Rear surrounds and height channels were JBL Control 1s. The projector is a JVC DLA-N5 native 4K unit with Sky Q, a 4K UHD Blu-ray player and Apple TV 4K as sources. I tested the Arcam AV40 as the main processor in my home cinema system in a dedicated room.

 

If you are someone who enjoys learning and tinkering, you will enjoy the process

I spent quite a bit of time using the provided Dirac Live and finding the perfect filter for my room through trial and error and manual adjustment. You are provided with a mic and cable to use with the Dirac Live software, however, make sure you download the EQ filter file for the mic from the Arcam and you can also download the Harman filters for use if these are of interest to you. While Dirac is a little more than a simple ‘set and forget’ EQ system, it is still relatively intuitive to use for the majority of end-users. If you are someone who enjoys learning and tinkering, you will enjoy the process. You can find out more about the Arcam use of Dirac and other set up functions by reading Steve Withers' review of the AVR30 and an article all about Dirac Live Room Correction.

Related: Room Correction Software - Lyngdorf RoomPerfect - ARC Genesis - Audyssey - Trinnov Optimizer

I have used our cinema room for well over 17 years now for review use, and in that time I have gathered a good understanding of the room and its issues. Even so, the better EQ systems have managed to eke even more performance out of my system and that is true for Dirac Live. It performs differently from the likes of RoomPerfect, but the end results are similar if the time is taken to get the best possible results. It is not as easy as the RoomPerfect system which doesn’t offer the same interactivity with graphs but is a more successful ‘set and forget’ system.

Performance

I used the Arcam AV40 daily for a period of two months within my dedicated cinema room for background music playback, critical music playback and movie viewing. I used the Chromecast feature for Spotify connect for background music, the MusicLife app for Tidal streaming along with the Apple TV 4K for Dolby Atmos music playback. For movies, I used a 4K UHD player and an Apple TV 4K for streaming content. I encountered a few niggles and bugs with most of these sources and the AV40. Mainly it would be the occasional complete drop out of the source being able to connect with the processor, some instances of music playback dropping out frequently using the Apple TV as a source, which was annoying, and apps failing to find the AV40 on the same network. These issues happened now and again and were very frustrating, but for the majority of the time, they didn’t appear. So, yes, the AV40 can be quirky and infuriating at times, but for long periods of time, it can also work like a charm. 

 

... never once did I feel the AV40 wasn’t capable of producing an accurate and compelling performance

The Masters version of John Williams: In Vienna via Tidal is a firm favourite of mine for testing two-channel and again it sounds brilliant on the Arcam. The AV40 is an incredibly musical processor with stunning clarity and detail that projects a realistic reproduction of the full orchestra in action. The performance without Dirac Live is very good, but once dialled in with our custom filter for this room, it truly sounds epic. It may be a cliché but you believe you are sitting in front of the orchestra and feeling the air move as it plays the Imperial March as a finale. The integration of our sub/sat speaker system thanks to Dirac is no doubt behind the stunning clarity and control on offer, along with the weight and force of the bottom end. I have been using the AV40 in the background music role, but have also spent a few hours sat in front of my speakers and listened at length to many favourites and new finds, amazed at the musicality of the processor which punches well above its weight and gives the recently reviewed Lyngdorf MP40 a real run for its money. 

Arcam AV40

The Arcam has a strong Hi-Fi heritage to draw upon when it comes to two-channel playback and the performance was always assured and entertaining. I could be here all day listing the tracks and albums used and the highlights of those, and never once did I feel the AV40 wasn’t capable of producing an accurate and compelling performance with everything from deep trance and electronica to classic pop and rock. The tightness of the crossover between the sub/sat M&K speakers thanks to precise filtering by Dirac was the real star here, managing to pull together a system that would challenge many much more expensive music-only systems.

But the Arcam AV40 is not a music-only product and with multi-channel sources, the performance is just as compelling and enjoyable. I watched a range of streaming and physical formats for my movie and TV show viewing with the AV40 and it is just as capable of reproducing stunning movie soundtracks as it is with music. This time, the cohesion of the full system across all the speakers produced three-dimensional soundscapes that were totally believable, no matter the content type or location. This was helped by using the PA720 seven-channel amp with Class G amplification, which provided the same power to each channel.

 

These issues happened now and again and were very frustrating, but for the majority of the time, they didn’t appear

I started with some Dolby Atmos Music via my Apple TV 4K and the Tidal app, with the volume correction required by at least 10dB due to lower levels with Atmos. The AV40 is able to create a large and expansive soundscape that makes it sound larger than the constraints of your room. Object placement around the soundstage is superb with snare drums placed top rear, with strings floating to the left-hand side and a bass guitar on the top of the front right-hand wall. Vocals are strong and forceful but without any signs of distortion or sibilance and they hang perfectly in the centre of the Atmos sound sphere. 



Arcam AV40

I moved from the classic rock Dolby Atmos playlist on Tidal to some of my favourite recent music-based films. Both Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman on 4K UHD disc offer superb Dolby Atmos sound mixes that really bring to life the music and the onscreen action. The highlight for me is the recreated live scenes from Wembley with Queen’s blistering performance at Live Aid. Once again, the Arcam AV40 manages to create the believable and expansive environment of Wembley stadium with the reverberations and time delays of the crowd and the music. The bass and bottom end are hefty, yet tight and Freddie’s vocal is powerful and clear, with the crowd noise surrounding the rear channels and above. The Arcam AV40 never misses a beat and the placement and speed of the effects and music are superb. Moving to Rocketman and ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ once again shows off the speed and fluidity of the AV40 with the superb placement of effects and objects, as well as a powerful vocal bang in the centre and the swell of the musical score all around the soundstage. Dynamics are also first-class with superb weight and impact of the bass mixed with a strong snare and expansive mid-range filling up the room. The AV40 is more than capable of producing the goods.

 

As a two-channel and multichannel performer, the Arcam AV40 is a stunning device that offers up a superb performance with everything I threw at it

Finally, we swap musicals for the smells and sounds of the pits with Le Mans '66 and the thunderous soundtrack of big-block V8 powered Ford vs. Ferrari. The final race is the spectacle we expect it to be, with crashes, fast passes and fireballs, set to a pulse-racing soundtrack and a sound mix so realistic you can smell the petrol burning. Object-based effects set the scene as we swap from the pit lane to sitting inside the GT40 pulling 200mph down the Mulsanne straight and, once again, the Arcam AV40 produces the goods without really breaking into a sweat. You quickly get lost within the convincing sound mix and the cliché of the walls of your room disappearing becomes very true indeed.  Everything is precise, sharp, detailed and nuanced with no issues of distortion or vocals being buried within the scene.

Arcam AV40

While most AV Receivers will give a good account of themselves, with most of the listening tests I put the AV40 through, the Arcam just has that little bit more to give. When used with the PA720 amplifier, there is a headroom available that allows the processor to work at its very best and the end result is capable of giving far more expensive processors a run for their money. If you can work around the slightly buggy performance issues highlighted above, you will be rewarded with one of the very best performances available from any AV processor for the money. 

Verdict

The good

  • Superb two-channel sound quality
  • Excellent multi-channel sound quality
  • 9.1.6 decoding
  • Dirac Live room optimisation
  • Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced, Auro-3D
  • Dolby Vision and HDR10+ passthrough
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Apple Airplay 2, Google Chromecast
  • eARC support
  • 16-channel balanced XLR outputs
  • Seven HDMI inputs
  • Full colour display

The not so good

  • No HDMI 2.1 inputs
  • No on-screen set up
  • No DTS:X Pro
  • Some software bugs with some use cases
  • Quirky remote control

Arcam AV40 AV Processor Review

The AV40 is the latest high-end AV Processor in the Arcam line-up and boasts 16-channels of surround sound processing as well as Dirac Live 16-channel room optimisation. It is Roon Ready and can decode Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D along with support for other multichannel formats such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Digital; as well as DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete/Matrix, DTS 96/24, DTS 5.1 and DTS Virtual:X. So, it is a well-sorted surround sound processor, but also a very talented two-channel performer, as you would expect from Arcam.

In terms of video, there are seven HDMI 2.0b inputs and three outputs but the disappointment here is the lack of HDMI 2.1 inputs and features, although there is eARC support. All current 4K 60p 4:4:4 video sources with HDR10, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Vision are supported with full pass-through allowing video switching of most modern input sources. Video gamers may find the lack of HDMI 2.1 an issue in some use cases. 

The user interface is intuitive to use, but there are a few quirks and bugs that have been reported in the AVForums owner’s thread and also witnessed with our review unit. These could be very annoying depending on your use case for the AV40 and I would suggest you read up on the issues to see if they may affect you. They are all software related and should be fixed given time, but never buy an item on the promise of something it doesn’t have at the time of purchase. I didn’t find the issues with the review unit a deal-breaker for me personally, but I can see other users finding them annoying enough to pass on or return an AV40. I have taken this into consideration in the marking.

As a two-channel and multichannel performer, the Arcam AV40 is a stunning device that offers up a superb performance with everything I threw at it. Dirac Live lives up to the hype and after some personalisation of the filters for my room, the system cohesion was faultless with stunning dynamics and an enveloping surround scape. Our speakers were as one with object and effect steering of the highest order giving us a convincing and believable soundstage. There is superb separation and detail retrieval, even when faced with a soundtrack that could, on other systems, feel like a wall of sound. Here, you can still pick out separate objects or sounds within a scene where everything is going to hell and back. There is also an amazing sense of headroom with the AV40 and PA720 where you know it has the resources to go incredibly loud and dynamic and back to absolute silence in a heartbeat.

It is a shame that some of the shine does get taken off with a buggy interface and UI for some users, but this is a very capable performer that will give other processors, even the Lyngdorf MP-40, a real run for its money. Even with the caveats above, the Arcam AV40 is a very capable AV Processor that should be on your demo list and comes highly recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
9

Connectivity

.
9

Build Quality

.
9

Value For Money

.
9

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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