Originally Posted by Enigma
As you have done more extensive audtioning than most posters, I was curious if you could provide a quick summary of Arcam, Anthem, Sherwood, and Sunfire?
Sure I had to find all my notes.
The Arcam was a big disappointment after I had been somewhat impressed with the 300. The 700 was veiled and lacking in detail both low level and in the high end. I had high hopes for it but consistently in blind testing it finished bear the bottom of the pack. I am a huge fan of Arcam in general but to me, maybe not to anyone else, it was decidingly lacking for musical reproduction.
It was never offensive, produced a decent sized soundstage although the rear corners were somewhat triangular, but it just didn't have that "they could be performing in my living room factor".
The Anthem has a lot going for it in terms of sheer settings and tweakability and that has assured it a strong place in the market. It is well constructed and very well supported. While in the middle of testing there was a firmware upgrade made available and surprisingly it had a major impact on the sound quality.
With 2.16 of the firmware this was a very neutral and uncoloured pre. I marvelled at the sound quality they were able to get out of what are rather cheap DACs.
The analogue circuit is extremely good and seems to me to be the key to the SQ.
Voices while lacking in warmth and the conveyance that they were coming from a human body was unfailingly clear and very transparent.
Bass was taut and well defined and the highs. while slightly prominent, were well portrayed with no electronic glare or haze. The soundstage was of a decent size and well layered. In short a very decent piece for the going used rate of around $1500.
With version 2.21 of the firmware however all that changed. It crossed the line from neutral/bright into very bright and was virtually unlistenable in our two systems. To confirm my findings I picked up another AVM20 and it was exactly the same. Sibilance became a major problem in both our systems and two others we tried it in. Holly Cole, always a great test for a sibilance factor crossed the line from her natural sibilance, due to her voice and mic technique she uses, into a sea awash with Ssssssssssssssses. Clearly something had gone awry and it was confirmed as I said on two units and three different systems. With 2.16 this is a solid if unspectacular choice and would probably satisfy a lot of users.
The Sherwood uses good DACs and a well executed ADC, is well constructed, has some useability quirks and is a fair performing cheaper pre/pro. While it did nothing overtly offensive, which is a GOOD thing in a preamp, neither did it do anything particularly well.
Music wasn't bright, electronic sounding or offensive in any way but it also lacked the ability to pull me into the music. We all want that magic listening session that gets extended into hours as we pull out album after album and CD after CD and the Sherwood never evoked that response in me. I'd find my mind wandering and not feeling the emotion from whetever piece we were auditioning.
In it's price category the Refinement was better for music in every way.
The Sherwood has nice setup options, is a fine looking piece but to us was boring and quickly was sold.
The Sunfires are both very nice pieces. Not being a huge Carver fan I was somewhat surprised. Music was well reproduced and it had no glaring faults. There were some sins of omission but those are very acceptable in a pre. Nice setup options, movies and music sounded good and I probably could have temporarily lived with it had I not purchased the Cary which was better and more organic in every way.
The Cary does pull you into the music, your foot taps, you find yourself listening for the rear most row of musicians and you can easily hear the walls of the venue.
In the mid range of pre/pros nothing we heard came close to the Cinema 6. It does have some very annoying quirks in terms of setup and useability but when it sounds so damned good you quickly forget about that.
The more a processor tries to do the more opportunity there is for things to go wrong. Drop the tuners, drop the video switching and keep things to a minimalist level with short signal paths, good DACs and OPamps and PAY ATTENTION TO THE ANALOGUE section and you should have a very good sounding piece.
All the above pieces were fine with movies and lossy formats like DD and DTS. In my opinion if it does music well then movies will sound just that little bit better.