What is the SR250?
For starters, the SR250 is not Arcam abandoning multichannel. It is intended to augment Arcam's AV receiver range rather than replace it. As a company that started in stereo, Arcam is full of people that prefer two channel listening to multichannel. At the same time, they aren't blind to the requirements of making full use of Blu-ray, HDTV and streaming services and the notional benefits of 4K which all largely involve HDMI. If you truly want a stereo amp to do everything in 2015, it is going to need some of the trappings of an AV receiver.
At the same time with stereo staging a fairly impressive revival in its own right, we are at a technology point with AV receivers that for many of us means we will have to consider a change to our hardware to continue to support the material coming on stream at the moment. For more than a few people, the idea of making use of object-based surround is an unlikely one. If you are going to be making such a change, why not look at the possibility of changing your priorities at the same time? Clearly Arcam is hoping that there's a niche to be filled here. Is this the case and is the SR250 good enough to fill it?
Additionally, the SR250 has a pair of optical and a quartet of coaxial inputs. These can be assigned to HDMI connections or run independently and give the Arcam a degree of legacy support. The digital connections are then backed up with six RCA analogue inputs. The resulting input set should be sufficient to handle an extensive home system without too much of a struggle.
In keeping with a number of AV products we have seen recently, the SR250 has dispensed with legacy video connections and performs no video upscaling on the HDMI inputs. Simply put, the benefits of both are becoming more and more fringe in their appeal to consumers and they add cost and complexity to the product. Arcam has fitted an auto setup and EQ system however and here the SR250 is very sophisticated indeed. The Dirac system that Arcam has employed on this generation of products is a powerful piece of EQ Software that puts the SR250 into a very special category of two channel products- most of which continue to do without such a system.
As befits a receiver, the SR250 has a DAB/DAB+/FM tuner on board and is also fitted with an ethernet connection that allows control via app and UPnP streaming up to 24/48kHz. Arcam has also included Spotify Connect functionality as well. This places the SR250 at a slight disadvantage compared to some rivals which have wireless functionality included in their specification. As you would expect, the AV functionality also extends to an on screen menu which while not an interactive masterpiece is clear and easy to use.
Internally, the SR250 makes use of Arcam's proprietary 'Class G' amplification. This is a system that uses multiple voltage rails to avoid the audible issues of crossover distortion in Class A/B amplifiers- Arcam has included a comprehensive white paper on their website so I'll avoid regurgitating large chunks of it here, except to say that the benefits of getting shot of crossover distortion are considerable and worth the expended effort in terms of eliminating it. The amplifiers themselves have 90 watts measured 2 channels driven, 20Hz - 20kHz (or 'properly' for those not inclined to pay much attention to measurements) which compares favourably to both stereo and multichannel rivals.
The remote itself is a solid piece of kit. There are a fair few buttons on it but the layout is logical and easy enough to follow and the range and off axis performance is very good. As well as controlling the SR250 it can be used to control other devices used in the system which should come in handy. One slight quirk of this function that is worth explaining is that if you select an input, the remote will assume you also want to begin controlling this source. To control much else on the SR250 other than volume, you will need to press the 'amp' button on the remote to do so. Easy when you know how...
Arcam AR250 Setup
After some discussion, the unit was setup to the 'sofa' setting on Dirac. This means that the EQ would be relevant to a wider sweet spot than a single listening position. With this selected, the test sweeps were run and the results of the speakers in room are below.
The SR250 has set a new record in terms of connected equipment as it replaced two amps rather than the usual one. As such, it has had a Cambridge Audio 752BD and Sky HD and a Fire TV stick connected via HDMI and outputting to a Panasonic GT60 Plasma which was in turn sending Netflix and iPlayer back via ARC. Additionally, a Naim ND5XS and Avid Ingenium Twin connected via Cyrus Signature Phono phono stage were connected via RCA. The SR250 was connected to a pair of Neat Momentum 4i speakers and all equipment was connected via IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas and Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioners. Test material has- as a result- been absolutely everything.
Performance with Blu-ray
Put simply, if you have a large surround system of well setup speakers, the SR250 is not going to deliver the same experience. There is no attempt at virtual surround or any other trickery and this means that the Arcam doesn't even try to generate the same levels of immersion as a surround equivalent. What has surprised me- and was the case for me personally after about thirty minutes- is that this mattered less than I thought it would. Aided by the Neats being potent speakers in their own right, the Arcam produces a sound that has plenty of slam and impact coupled to an integration and delicacy that is rarely achieved with speakers and sub. There's still a palpable force when the train hits something but there's a speed and deftness to the effect that is very pleasing. The tonality of voices and effects is also rich and believable, greatly aided by the presentation of the SR250 being relatively neutral, possibly erring fractionally on the side of warmth.
This is also aided by the Arcam generating the best 'Phantom centre' I've ever heard despite notionally not bothering with a such a processing effect. Dialogue is locked to the screen and the panning from left to right is as cohesive as a good conventional AV system. When you combine this with a soundtrack that has less surround energy in it like the final drum solo in Whiplash, the Arcam is able to produce a seriously impressive performance. The SR250 is able to make you concentrate on the information as processed in such a way as to break your attention from the channels that aren't there.
Performance with TV
What further helps the SR250 is that as is doesn't need to balance the gain of speakers and sub, it delivers a tremendously consistent performance almost regardless of volume level. This makes it a tremendously accomplished partner for late night viewing. Also worth noting is that no latency issues were experienced with Sky which is usually the worst offender for this issue in this system.
Performance with Music
Given the size of the room node that the Dirac system has corrected, the effect of applying Dirac mid track to bass heavy material is not as pronounced as I had thought it might be. There is certainly not the drop in bass output that there might be. Instead, when the processing is applied, the bass response of the speakers tightens up and seems a little faster and better defined. My suspicions are in this case that as the Neat has no shortage of bass extension, it is still able to produce meaningful low end impact. It is possible that there would be situations that the bass response of the speakers might be significantly curtailed but I can't report on what hasn't happened.
The effect on the engineered treble lift of the speakers has also been less pronounced than I thought it might be. I suspect this may be down to how the Arcam and my resident Naim amplifier differ in the top end. The slightly brighter top end of the Arcam effectively redresses the balance of the cut treble output. This means that switching the Dirac in and out of the signal doesn't suddenly drastically change one area more noticeably over another. Instead, the sound is more uneven and has a slightly ragged feel to it. Unlike a number of EQ systems I've tried over the years, Dirac really does feel like a complimentary rather than adversarial process- extracting a little more from the equipment rather than beating it into submission.
This means that the SR250 is a very capable stereo amp indeed. With an analogue signal from the Naim ND5 XS, it produces a powerful but refined performance that works well across a very wide variety of genres. Most important for the SR250 as a premise is that the performance is directly competitive with more conventional stereo amps at a similar price. There is an effortlessness to the way it works with the Neats that can only be the result of the power output being accurately represented and backed up by good power supply arrangements.
This really comes into its own with vinyl. Connected to the Avid Ingenium twin and Cyrus Phono Signature, the Arcam works superbly. On an entirely subjective level, I feel that the Dirac implementation has been most effective here. The EQ tweaks allow analogue to sound slightly leaner, faster and cleaner than was the case without it. On a more fundamental level, the Arcam is so far the only product I have ever reviewed that has the wherewithal to play Psyence Fiction on Vinyl at the same time as you route HDTV through it.
- Exceptional stereo performance
- Strong Movie and TV performance
- Dirac is genuinely useful
- Not as immersive as surround rivals
- No balanced connections
- Odd remote process
Arcam SR250 Stereo Receiver Review
After a bit of time with the SR250, I am a convert to what the Arcam offers. There are a few products I've reviewed over the years where I'm left thinking that were I to stop reviewing, I would look to them as the basis of a 'normal' home audio system. The Arcam is one of these products. If you are looking at the basics of DTS X and Dolby Atmos and thinking that this simply isn't going to be something you are going to bother with, or even looking at speakers in all corners of your lounge and realising that this doesn't appeal as much as it used to, the SR250 might be the answer. Equally, if you are a two channel hi-fi owner and you want your system to integrate better with your TV, the Arcam is in a league of its own at offering the ability to do this. The SR250 might be a specialised proposition but it is also an exceptionally good one and as such it comes highly recommended.
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