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Comparison of AV 250 DAC and amp sections

Discussion in 'Arcam Owners' Forum' started by hedrick@rutgers, Jul 5, 2005.

  1. hedrick@rutgers

    hedrick@rutgers
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    I don't claim any particular significance for these tests, but I thought some people might be interested. I at least am always interested in the results of other people's comparisons. (Details of the equipment not directly involved in the comparisons is at the end.)

    I've recently moved to an Arcam AVR 250 from a setup using a Denon 1604 (a very low-end Denon AVR) for movies and a NAD C372 integrated amp driven by a Benchmark DAC-1 for stereo. I was particularly unhappy with the Denon with movies, to the point where I started listening to movies in stereo so I could use the DAC-1/C372 combination.

    I had hoped that the AVR 250 would let me use the same setup for music and movies. I have no complaints about movies. The AVR 250 did what I wanted there. However I wanted to check out stereo performance in more detail.

    I just set up as close to AB tests as I could for stereo. (Since I live alone, these aren't blind.)

    Using a speaker switch that could be done quickly, I found that the AVR 250 sounded just about exactly the same as the DAC-1/C372 combination. In a sense that's good. I was getting as good results as my old stereo setup, but was now able to handle movies with the same setup.

    Unfortunately the stereo sound still wasn't quite as clear as I had hoped for. Thus I decided to connect the DAC-1 to the L&R of the DVD-A input on the Arcam. Somewhat to my surprise I find that clearer than either the Arcam alone or the DAC-1/C372 combination. (This changeover takes a couple of seconds, because the AVR 250 takes that long to enable a new input. Obviously I was able to compare the DAC-1 on DVD-A with the Arcam's digital input. I wasn't able to do a quick comparison with the C372, because that requires changing cables.)

    I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the DAC-1 sounds better than the AVR 250's builtin DACs. The DAC-1 is a very high quality external DAC, and Andy Dutton had already noted that the AVR 300's DACs (which I assume are the same as the AVR 250's) are not quite as good as some of their CD players. I will say that I hadn't quite expected as much difference as I think I'm hearing. (One possibility is that the sound card I'm using has significant jitter. The DAC-1 may be better at handling that.) What did surprise me is that by inference the AVR 250 when used as an amp seems clearer than the NAD C372's power amp section. That's considered a fairly good integrated amp.

    -----------

    Configuration details:

    Source is a Powermac G4 with a Revolution 7.1 sound card, using the coax digital output. All recordings come from CDs that I own, using Apple Lossless encoding.

    Old system:
    AVR: Denon 1604
    Stereo: Benchmark DAC-1, NAD C372 integrated amp
    Speakers: Vienna Acoustics Haydns in front, JBL 2600s for surround, no center, Rel Q150E sub [not used for stereo]

    New system:
    AVR: Arcam AVR 250
    Stereo: Benchmark DAC-1 into DVD-A inputs of Arcam, direct mode
    Speakers: ADS L500s in front, JBL N24II for surround, no center, Rel Q150E sub [not used for stereo]
     
  2. Bails

    Bails
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    An interesting comparison. I'm currently weighing up the pros and cons of the Arcam AVR-300 as a preamp and have been doing similar tests to yours but comparing the Arcam to a Marantz SR-9300 for stereo duties (the Marantz is undoubtedly better for home theatre but my priority is 2-channel music). I'm also using an external DAC, a Bel Canto DAC2, and think I find the Arcam a better match, with the Marantz just a touch too bright sounding. But for me, it is a frustrating process - by the time I disconnect and then re-connect all the cables it's difficult to make an accurate comparison.

    One question - is there any reason why you're using the dvd-a input for two channel stereo in direct mode? Can't you just use the cd input?
     
  3. hedrick@rutgers

    hedrick@rutgers
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    My assumption was that if there were any difference in quality, likely the DVD-A would be the best. But I have no reason to think that there is a difference, as long as the other input is in direct mode.
     

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