What is the Arcam AVR30?
The Arcam AVR30 is the latest flagship AV receiver from the famed audio manufacturer, replacing the outgoing AVR850. The new model forms part of the HDA (High Definition Audio) range, which also includes the entry-level AVR10, mid-range AVR20, and the AV40 AV pre-amp/processor. The refreshed line-up has been given a makeover, with a revised chassis, a full-colour LCD screen, and expanded specifications.
The new models build on Arcam's previous receiver, retaining many of the same strengths but adding useful features like eARC, built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, along with support for Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2. In addition, these products are Roon Ready, and can decode Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D – with the latter new to Arcam. There's also the latest version of Dirac Live room correction, including support for the optional Bass Management add-on.
The AVR10 uses seven channels of Class AB amplification and is limited to 7.1.4 decoding on all formats. The AVR20 has the same Class AB amps, but increases the decoding up to 9.1.6. The AVR30 also decodes up to 16 channels, but swaps the Class AB for seven channels of Class G grunt. Finally, the AV40 pre/pro retains the same processing but swaps the AVR30’s amplification for balanced XLR outputs.
The features and specifications are impressive, although it's surprising there's no support for DTS:X Pro or HDMI 2.1 in a product with a five-year life-cycle. It would also be fair to say these new products have had a troubled development, with numerous bugs and firmware updates since launch. They're also not cheap, with the AVR30 costing £4,999 as at the time of writing (September 2020). Let's see if it's worth the outlay.
The Arcam AVR30 boasts a redesigned chassis, and it's the most obvious difference between the new HDA models and the previous FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) line-up. The new styling is intended to be more modern, swapping the earlier industrial appearance for something slightly softer.
The redesign might not be a complete success, but the full-colour LCD display is a great addition
It certainly retains Arcam's trademark minimalism, with a large volume dial on the left, a power button on the right, and a display in the middle. Beneath this are some basic buttons, and on the far left there are headphone and auxiliary connections using 3.5mm jacks.
Whether you feel this cosmetic makeover is a success will largely depend on personal preference. However, the two-tone styling that juxtaposes the dark grey facia with silver buttons and controls might appear cheap to some people. The AVR30 looks better in real life than in photos, and the build quality is excellent. It measures 433 x 171 x 425mm (WxHxD), and weighs in at 18.1kg.
One aspect of the redesign that is sure to be a popular is the new full-colour LCD display that replaces the decidedly retro green dot-matrix display that graced previous generations of Arcam products. The display not only shows the current source, signal type and processing, but can also render album art when streaming. There's a full setup menu as well, and in the absence of any on-screen setup menus this is the primary method of interacting with the AVR30, unless you use the web-based interface.
Connections and Control
The Arcam AVR30 boasts a decent set of connections that are laid out in a tidy and logical fashion. The main emphasis is on HDMI, with seven inputs and three outputs. One of the outputs supports eARC (enhanced audio return channel), and all the HDMI connections support 4K/60p, HDCP 2.2, 4:4:4, wide colour gamut, 3D and high dynamic range (HDR10, hybrid log-gamma (HLG), HDR10+ and Dolby Vision).
There's HDMI-eARC, plus the ability to pass HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, but the lack of HDMI 2.1 disappoints
That's the good news, but all these connections are HDMI 2.0b rather than the newer HDMI 2.1, which limits this receiver's future-proofing. While the inclusion of eARC does help mitigate any limitations, and it's possible Arcam may offer an upgrade path, it's still disappointing on a product with a five-year life-cycle. It definitely limits the AVR30's appeal to gamers looking to invest in the upcoming next generation consoles.
In terms of other connections there are four coaxial digital audio inputs, two optical digital audio inputs and an optical digital audio output. There are six analogue audio inputs, along with an analogue line out and an analogue second zone output. There's an aerial connector for an FM/DAB tuner, a USB port, and trigger outputs and IR extenders for two zones, along with an RS-232 serial connector and an Ethernet port for a wired connection.
The inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is welcome, freeing users from the need to run a wired connection
The big addition with this generation is built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, along with support for Chromecast and Apple AirPlay2. There are three aerials attached at the rear, and these are quite large, so bear that in mind when installing the AVR30. Finally there are phono outputs for all 15 channels and two subwoofers, along with high-quality binding posts for the seven channels of built-in amplification.
The included remote is the same controller used for the previous FMJ generation, and the only difference is a couple of long-overdue input name changes – USB is now BT, and the VCR is now UHD. The remote remains elegantly designed and intuitively laid out, with all the key buttons present and correct. It's also well made, nicely balanced and comfortable to hold, making it easy to use with one hand, and it has a useful backlight.
The included remote is almost identical to the previous generation, and remains annoyingly quirky
In addition, it retains Arcam's usual remote control quirk: if you press one of the input buttons, UHD for example, then the remote thinks it is controlling a UHD player rather than the receiver. To actually control the AVR30 again, you need to remember to press the AMP button on the remote.
For those that would rather use their smart device as a controller, Arcam also offers its Music Life app. This is well designed, attractive to look at and intuitive to use; making it an effective way of controlling the receiver. You can also control and setup the AVR30 using a web-based interface, which I found to be particularly useful. I could access the receiver from anywhere, which made adjustments easy, and saved me from lying down on the floor to use the front panel display.
Features and Specs
The Arcam AVR30 supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D right out of the box – with the latter being new to Arcam. There's also support for other surround 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.
The AVR30 has seven channels of Class G amplification built-in, with a claimed output of 100W (8Ω)/140W (4Ω) per a channel. While it might be limited to seven channels of amplification, the processing can handle up to 16, which means Atmos at 15.1. However Arcam’s implementation of DTS:X and Auro-3D are both limited to 11.1-channels, with the company currently having no plans to upgrade to DTS:X Pro.
The headline feature is the 16-channel processing with support for Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D
If you're wondering why the AVR30 only has seven channels if it can decode up to 16, the answer is that Arcam believes it’s better to offer high quality Class G power, rather than compromise performance by cramming in more channels. If you plan on using more than seven channels, Arcam offers the PA410 power amp with four channels of Class AB, or the PA720 with a hefty seven channels of Class G grunt.
Arcam has been using Class G since 2009, and the idea is to reduce amplifier power consumption but boost output without sacrificing audio quality. It uses a conventional output stage fed by two power supplies that are introduced according to signal demand. Arcam believes its approach is smoother, thus avoiding the ‘glitching’ or distortion typically associated with this amplification.
The AVR30 also uses ESS 9026PRO audiophile DACs, boasts a toroidal transformer, and supports Dirac Live 3.0 room correction. Arcam includes a calibrated microphone, allowing you to measure the speakers in your system and then correct for the room’s acoustic aberrations. You can customise the target correction filters, group speakers together to create system-wide crossovers, and create up to three profiles for different content or room conditions.
There's support for Dirac Live 3.0 and the optional Bass Control, although the latter wasn't tested
The AVR30 also supports optional Dirac Live Bass Control for an additional fee. This allows for correction of areas of bass decline, smoother bass reproduction in the crossover area, flexible subwoofer placement, a visual representation of the predicted bass performance (subwoofer and speaker summation), and bass management for multiple subwoofers. When reviewing the AVR30 I didn't have access to Dirac Live Bass Control, so I can't comment on its effectiveness. However, based on owner feedback it would appear there are a number of bugs that Arcam are hopefully in the process of addressing.
Whether you use the built-in Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection, the AVR30 supports UPnP streaming, Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast. DSD and MQA are also supported, and maximum PCM handling is 192kHz. Last but by no means least, the AVR30 is able to function as a Roon endpoint. I'm not a big music streamer, but overall I found the interaction with Music Life to be stable and effective. Once again, I am aware that some owners are experiencing certain bugs when it comes to music streaming. For the purposes of this review I'm going to concentrate on the AVR30 as an immersive audio amplifier, and I'll leave Ed Selley to address the streaming side of things in his review of the Arcam SA30.
Setup and Operation
When it comes to setting up the Arcam AVR30 there are two stages: first you configure the receiver itself, and then you run the Dirac room correction. Setting up the receiver is relatively straightforward but there's no on-screen setup menu (just on-screen information about volume, source etc.), so you either use the front display or the web-based interface. I preferred the latter because it's quicker and easier.
Whether you use the front display or the web-based interface, the sub-menus are the same: Input Config, General Setup, Speaker Types, Speaker Distances, Speaker Levels, Video Inputs, HDMI Settings, Zone Settings, Bluetooth and Engineering.
The fact that the latest Arcam receivers have built-in Wi-Fi is definitely a big plus in my book, allowing for easy access without having to resort to a wired connection. I used AirPlay to setup the Wi-Fi, and it only took a couple of minutes. I also had no problems pairing the receiver with Bluetooth sources. The Music Life app also worked well for me, as did streaming from Spotify and Tidal.
Setup is straightforward, but there's no OSD setup menu, so you either use the front panel or the web interface
Then all you need to do is connect your physical sources, name them appropriately, and wire up the speakers. If you're going to run a full 15.1-channel system, you'll obviously need to connect the height and width channel outputs to additional amplification. You still can't reallocate the internal amplification to different channels, which is a shame.
As you can see in the screenshot below, channels 13 and 14 are for the width speakers, and channels 15 and 16 are for the middle overhead speakers. Arcam don't actually specify which is left and which is right, but channels 13 and 15 are left, while 14 and 16 are right. Finally, you can connect up to two subwoofers directly to the AVR30, although it's the same signal going to both.
You need to choose your speaker layout and crossovers, whether you're planning a manual setup or using Dirac Live. If you're going for the former, you'll need to measure the distances from the sweet spot for the delays and set the levels for each channel using an SPL meter.
However, since Dirac Live 3.0 is available, you'd be crazy not to use it. All you need to do is download the Dirac software from the Arcam website and use the provided microphone and ideally a tripod if you have one. In reality, the microphone included with the receiver isn't that great, so I'd recommend buying a high quality calibrated microphone – the results will justify the investment.
Despite the obvious sophistication of Dirac Live, it's a user friendly piece of software, with all the interaction taking place over your network. As you can see from the included screen shots, the room correction process is well laid out with an excellent graphical interface and plenty of instructions. You can take up to 13 different measurements at various heights and locations, but this can take a while, especially if you're measuring a total of 16 channels.
Once you've taken all the measurements, the software shows you the frequency and impulse response of all the speakers. You then decide on your chosen target filters before running the calculations and loading the results back into the AVR30. It's a fairly straightforward process, and worked flawlessly for me with some excellent results in terms of correcting for the negative aspects of my room.
I initially set-up the AVR30 as a 7.1-channel system, which allowed me to test the built-in Class G amplification. This system was based around MK Sound S150 speakers at the front, MK Sound S150T speakers at the sides and rear, and a pair of MK Sound V12 subwoofers. After that I expanded the system to 15.1 channels, by adding two MK Sound 750 speakers as width channels, and six JBL Control Ones for the overhead channels, with an Emotiva XPA-11 Gen3 power amplifier to provide the additional eight channels of amplification.
For testing, I employed a range of content including movies with 5.1, 7.1, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D soundtracks. As my primary sources, I used an Apple TV 4K and a Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
The Arcam AVR30 and its stablemates have suffered from a difficult launch, with numerous bugs and multiple firmware updates. As a result, I was delighted that the unit I was sent didn’t give me any issues during the period I was testing it. I’m not saying all the bugs have been fixed but, based on my experience, I found the AVR30 to be a superb immersive audio receiver.
In general terms, this AVR produces a clean, punchy and powerful delivery, regardless of the configuration you choose. The soundstage is balanced, with all the energy, poise and responsiveness I have come to expect from Class G. There’s also some impressive dynamic range, going from silent to shockingly loud in an instant.
With the Arcam in the 7.1-channel configuration, I popped on the House of the Flying Daggers Blu-ray. The ‘drum dance’ sequence is justifiably famous, and ideal for testing the frequency response, bass integration and overall cohesion of a system. The AVR30’s soundstage is fantastically tight and controlled, with precise steering of effects and a well-timed low-end.
The House of Flying Daggers disc uses a 5.1 mix, so I then watched Edge of Tomorrow with its storming 7.1 soundtrack. The first beach assault is a sonic tour de force, and the AVR30 delivered it with skill and precision. Bangs and crashes surround you inside the helicopter landing ship, rockets zoom across the room, and explosions hit with a pleasing percussive thump.
Precision decoding, powerful Class G amps and Dirac Live room correction combine to produce a superb performance
Once I had established the Arcam’s performance with seven channels, it was time to go full immersion. Mainly out of curiosity, I ran 9.1.6 test tones, and then a series of test scenes. It was often breathtaking, with the Arcam coordinating all the channels, and Dirac effectively eliminating the room and producing a cohesive soundstage.
The Amaze trailer is an object-based mix designed to showcase the strengths of Dolby Atmos, and from the bees buzzing around behind me to the bird that flies across the room, it’s staggeringly immersive. Thunder rumbles overhead, and rain lashes down all around in a sound field that’s articulate and believable.
The film Unbroken has a fantastic Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and the AVR30 expertly rendered this immersive mix, from the sound of the throaty propellor engines moving overhead, to the wind whistling around the crews in their rickety bombers. But within all this noise the centre channel pulls the dialogue out with focused clarity.
The flak rips through the air, with each explosion placed within a well-defined hemisphere of sound. The subs give the flak added kick, and there’s a fantastic deep bass rumble as the bombs hit their target. As a Japanese Zero tears across the room, 50-calibre machine guns open fire, benefiting from some perfectly timed bass that gives the ordnance added weight and impact.
I then moved on to Midway, another film set in the Pacific during World War II. This movie boasts an incredibly immersive soundtrack that makes full use of every channel. Planes swarm around the room, and the added speakers allow the receiver to seamlessly move effects from channel to channel, until you’re completely enveloped by the frenetic action.
Explosions pepper the soundstage, gunfire strafes the room, and planes roar overhead with frightening realism. When you’re inside the cockpits, the sound is a complex blend of explosions and gunfire outside, combined with the rattle of the plane all around and the thrum of the engine underneath. The resulting experience is both immersive and visceral.
I don’t have many Auro-3D discs (three in fact), and the speakers aren’t in the correct configuration for this format, but I popped on my Blu-ray of Pixels just to check the AVR30 can actually decode Auro-3D. It does, and during the Caterpillar sequence there were some nice sound effects emanating from above, with the attackers swirling around the room.
The AVR30 handled Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D, DTS:X and IMAX Enhanced soundtracks with skill
I then moved on to Atomic Blonde, which sports a bone-crunching DTS:X soundtrack. The film is full of 80s pop classics, which the Arcam delivered with musical flair. The dialogue was precise and clear, the soundstage was detailed, and the bass gave the punches, kicks and gunshots added low-end impact.
Bad Boys for Life boasts a DTS:X IMAX Enhanced soundtrack, which the AVR30 correctly detected. The soundstage is as bombastic as the film, with plenty of funky music and ballistic mayhem, such as the climactic shoot-out. Gunfire blasts overhead, ricochets echo up the walls and an exploding stained-glass ceiling showers down shards from above.
The AVR30 delivered a superb performance with all the soundtracks I tested, combining a precise and detailed three-dimensional soundstage, with deep and well-integrated bass, and powerful and responsive Class G amplification. It was an assured and controlled performance that sounded almost as good as my reference Lyngdorf MP-60 system at three times the price.
- Fantastic sonic performance
- Powerful Class G amplification
- 9.1.6-channel decoding
- Dolby Atmos, DTS:X IMAX Enhanced, Auro-3D
- Dirac Live room correction
- Full colour LCD display
- eARC support
- Dolby Vision and HDR10+ passthrough
- Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast
- Effective remote app
- Only 7 channels built-in
- Can't reassign channels
- No DTS:X Pro support
- No HDMI 2.1 support
- No setup on-screen display
- Remote is still quirky
- Numerous software bugs
Arcam AVR30 AV Receiver Review
Should I buy one?
The Arcam AVR30 is designed as a seven-channel AV receiver that can decode various immersive audio formats up to 16 channels. As far as that ambition is concerned, I consider this particular flagship to be a success. It not only delivers 15.1 Dolby Atmos, 13.1 Auro-3D and 11.1 DTS:X (plus IMAX Enhanced), but it also boasts seven channels of wonderfully powerful Class G amplification.
In a full 9.1.6-channel system I enjoyed a fantastically immersive experience, with sounds steered all around the room. Dirac Live did an excellent job of eliminating the egregious aspects of my room, and the bass was tight and well integrated. It sounded fantastic with music, but it's with movies that the AVR30 really impressed, producing the best performance I have experienced from an AV receiver.
The Arcam has suffered numerous bugs during its launch, but the unit I tested didn't cause me any problems. It might well be that the issues are related to the sources you are using, and I didn't test the Bass Control add-on, so I can't comment on that aspect. But it would appear that the majority of the issues are software related, so hopefully Arcam will address them in the coming months.
There are also a couple of limitations that are hardware related, and thus harder to address. The lack of HDMI 2.1 seems shortsighted, and it appears Arcam currently have no plans to support DTS:X Pro, restricting the format to 11.1 channels. Finally, you still can't reallocate the internal amplification to different channels, which feels like a missed opportunity with this generation.
However the cosmetic changes are largely a hit, especially the new front panel display, and the build quality remains excellent. The addition of built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is most welcome, and the eARC support will help mitigate the lack of HDMI 2.1. The Arcam AVR30 isn't perfect, but this cracking AV receiver delivers insane levels of immersion that would give systems three times the price a run for their money.
What are my alternatives?
At the rarified end of the AV receiver market, your options are limited and you'll need deep pockets. In terms of sheer bang for buck, the Denon AVC-X8500H is hard to beat at £3,499. It sports 13 channels of built-in amplification and 13.1-channel processing to match, there's Audyssey room correction, along with support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D. There's no tuner, so technically this is an AV amplifier, but the X8500 boasts almost every other feature imaginable, and Denon will even be offering an HDMI 2.1 upgrade.
The NAD T778 is another cracking option, and at £2,499 this AV amplifier is even better value than the Denon, although not quite as feature-packed with only nine channels of built-in amplification and 11.1 channels of processing. However, it decodes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, supports Dirac Live, includes NAD's modular design construction and BluOS multi-room system, and even has a very groovy touch-sensitive display on the front. There's no HDMI 2.1 at the moment but, like the Arcam and Denon, there is eARC, which helps. There will be a full review of this receiver coming soon.
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