Help finding a Cheap Arcam350 Alternative - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 26 Old 11-03-2007, 07:40 PM - Thread Starter
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Ok, I've been lurking for nearly a year, but its time I recognize my problem and ask for help. Sorry to sound so clueless to hifi, but here's the story.

Looking for a run-of-the-mill AVR I happened across an arcam avr350. I literally had tears welling up it was so amazing. I swear I don't know what I had been listening to all my life, but it wasn't music. Not like that. It was as if you added color to music or smell, it was something new alltogether. I went back for many visits listening to my music which I thought I knew over and over. 2channel sound had depth and texture I didnt know was possible.

Unfortunately price tag is too rich, so I need some serious help finding a cheap arcam alternative. (1k? idunno) I'm wondering what models and price points might reasonably approximate the dimensional soundstage and blackness (noise floor? THD?) of the AVR350. I have a Boston surround+sub set (VR2 as mains).

Thanks for any opinions you all might have.



(shortened for your convenience - thanks to Russdawg and mtrot for wading through the original novel of a post)
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post #2 of 26 Old 11-03-2007, 08:23 PM
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I've been doing a LOT of reading, and some listening to recievers, and , so far, I'm thinking that the closest audio quality to something like the Arcam I'm going to find is probably going to turn out to be with Yamaha. I believe they do a better job on the audio side of things. They are a music company, making pianos, guitars and such, so they should have people that know how instruments sound.

Today, I compared at Tweeter three receivers listening to two-channel CD. I tried to level-match them and set them all on "direct", and even persuaded the salesman to turn off the subs. They were the Sony 5300, Pioneer VSX-91, and Yamaha RX-V1800. Speakers were some Focal floorstanders they had.

Actually they all sounded decent, but the Yamaha did just sound a bit better with regard to the vocals, piano and percussion. It also seemed the placement of the vocalist and instruments was a bit better.

If I could make a move right now in the $1500 range(which I can't, but that's another story), I think my top choice is the Yamaha RX-V3800. I have read user comments and some professional reviews commenting on the audio quality of that unit.

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post #3 of 26 Old 11-03-2007, 09:38 PM - Thread Starter
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1k is an arbitrary starting point. I was hoping to see if the aspects of the arcam sound (low bg noise, demensional soundstage, ??) that can be had in lower end models. For example, if an indie like lmc/lpa emo can stand up to the arcam in detail, musicality.

mtrot - thanks, I'll check the 3800 out. I didn't pursue because I figured 40 DSP modes means they're over compensating for true sound. The local rep liked marantz more (or thought i would), so I didn't spend much time in the yamaha room. (incidentally marantz I thought sounded thick and a little lazy). BTW, the Arcam was hooked up to focals as well - maybe the trick is to pick up focals and not worry bout the AVR!

There doesn't seem to be much difference between 1800 and 3800 on yamaha's compare sheet.
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post #4 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 12:41 AM
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Might want to be on the lookout for an AVR300. From what I've read of people who've owned both, there is no difference in sound quality. You might luck up and get one used at or close to your $1000 budget. Have you auditioned NAD, they get steller reviews for sound quality as well.
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post #5 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 03:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DEV0 View Post

1k is an arbitrary starting point. I was hoping to see if the aspects of the arcam sound (low bg noise, demensional soundstage, ??) that can be had in lower end models. For example, if an indie like lmc/lpa emo can stand up to the arcam in detail, musicality.

mtrot - thanks, I'll check the 3800 out. I didn't pursue because I figured 40 DSP modes means they're over compensating for true sound. The local rep liked marantz more (or thought i would), so I didn't spend much time in the yamaha room. (incidentally marantz I thought sounded thick and a little lazy). BTW, the Arcam was hooked up to focals as well - maybe the trick is to pick up focals and not worry bout the AVR!

There doesn't seem to be much difference between 1800 and 3800 on yamaha's compare sheet.

You make a good point. How do you know it was the Arcam and not the speakers that were largely responsible for the sound you heard?
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post #6 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 03:58 AM
 
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You need to determine what will be the biggest improvement. If you consider what has the biggest affect on sound, the room is the number one factor and the most overlooked. The best system in the world with every EQ imaginable will still sound like garbage in a racquetball court.

If you can't put the money into treating the room for one reason or another (there are some very good aesthetic options) the next on my list would be upgrade the speakers and lastly the receiver. The one caveat to this is that you have a good source, without a good source the rest doesn't matter

Hope this helps.

Bob
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post #7 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 07:27 AM
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What about Cambridge Audio 640R? It seems like modeled after the Arcams but priced cheaper ...
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post #8 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 08:23 AM
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I agree Cambridge Audio models are worth a listen for those who have Arcam tastes but not the budget.
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post #9 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 08:30 AM
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For two channel audio the only receivers priced better in that league are the Marantz products. IMO. Toroidal power supplies, etc.

Parasound Halo gear is great, but even more expensive.

I'd recommend looking at an older Marantz flagship receiver if you don't mind missing the HD audio codecs of the new HD DVD players. The Marantz SR-14EX, 18EX, 19EX are all good examples. The 9000 series too.

An older Pioner elite VSX56 TXi and 59 (I think) was a great product designed more strongly for 2 channel music than the newer pioneers. These things are much heavier than all the newer gear.

NAD is another good suggestion to take a listen to.

Yamaha, HK, etc, are not in the same league. IMO.

kw.......
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post #10 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 08:58 AM
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I have had the Cambridge Audio Azur 640R for about a month now and I am very impressed with the audio quality and the build quality. You can see the huge toroidal transformer through the top vents. The 640R has seven discrete amps. The beauty of this design is that it has no problem driving my 4 ohm fronts and center and my 8 ohm rears. I have listened to the Arcam 350 but I have not had the opportunity to do an A/B test against the 640R. However, I believe the two are very close sonically.
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post #11 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 10:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kwtoxman View Post

For two channel audio the only receivers priced better in that league are the Marantz products. IMO. Toroidal power supplies, etc.

Parasound Halo gear is great, but even more expensive.

I'd recommend looking at an older Marantz flagship receiver if you don't mind missing the HD audio codecs of the new HD DVD players. The Marantz SR-14EX, 18EX, 19EX are all good examples. The 9000 series too.

An older Pioner elite VSX56 TXi and 59 (I think) was a great product designed more strongly for 2 channel music than the newer pioneers. These things are much heavier than all the newer gear.

Yamaha, HK, etc, are not in the same league. IMO.

kw.......

kwtoxman,

Of those older Marantz flagships you mentioned, do any of them have HDMI inputs? It seems to me HDMI inputs are kind of necessary going forward from here.

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post #12 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 11:35 AM
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Good point.

I've never been huge on running my video signal through the receiver. I don't see the need for it and haven't done it. Only the audio side.

The older marantz do not have the HDMI, they have S video and component. Some of the 9000 series should have HDMI.

As most know, if you want to run the video signal through the receiver HDMI is the standard now. This is more of the video side of things for AV receivers where yamaha and many others are very well optioned.

My recommendation should be noted as focusing on the audio side.

Every choice is going to be a compromise, it depends on what compromises you want to make.

Good luck.

kw........
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post #13 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 12:13 PM - Thread Starter
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I priced a few of the AVR300, but I agree about hdmi. That's why the Azur 640R looks so promising. I haven't see the chatter on the 640r like the other brands, I hadn't considered it. Thanks for the recommendations, after reading a bit I think it just took first place on my list. The tone of the reviews sounds similar to those on arcam.

quad user: what were the other contenders when you picked up the Azur? And what put you over the edge on the Cambridge?

Jakeman, I don't have a chance to listen to NAD here. Have listened to Rotel and its in the "I'm not sure yet" category. With the arcam there wasn't a doubt - I actually went to buy it and a friend called on the drive over and talked me out of it.

Bob, I know I'm not going to get the sound of a 2500 cd player into a 2500 AVR out through 4000 dollar/pr speakers. I have a hardwoods and a long room. Its a question of finding a set that gets me a 'glimpse' that would make me want to discover music. It might not be doable - and then I'll be ok with a Denon. I'd just hate not to try.
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post #14 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 06:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DEV0 View Post

I actually went to buy it and a friend called on the drive over and talked me out of it.


You should tell your friend to mind his own beezwax. If you loved the Arcam then you should get it. I have had my avr300 now for about 6 months and love every minute of listening to it. BTW. Did you get to sample any movies on it at all? If you do then you will definitely not even give a thought about the middle of the line stuff like HK, Denon, Yammie etc. I had a Denon 3805 and my Arcam knocks the hell out of it for both 2 channel and 5.1. Go have a listen...i guarantee you will be sold.
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post #15 of 26 Old 11-04-2007, 07:25 PM
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I was in the same boat as you DEVO. I listen to Arcam AVR350, Cambridge Azur 640R and Marantz SR7001. I finally end up trying a combo from Emotiva. LMC-1/LPA-1. They have a 30 day return.

Man this system is amazing. It's been since 5 months i got the combo and never look back. This system is incredible for the money. It sounds so damn good and he's so nice and well built. Give it a try, you don't have much to lose.
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post #16 of 26 Old 11-05-2007, 09:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Well he was right, I wasn't in a financial place to get one at the time. When i get a little distance, I can't justify it. There's bathrooms to renovate and motorcycles to buy. Thus the hunt.
Yes, I listened to movies and loved it. I'm not a klipsch/THX Ultra Plus and then some guy. I want the nuance, and arcam delivered like I've never seen. The 2-channel had me wanting to put music I don't even like on repeat, just to appreciate the details.

Yeah WhiteMax, I've been through most of the Emotiva threads on the net and thought that was my answer. I just wasn't completely sold and I thought I might be missing some models that might be a little under the radar. Now Emotiva has the lmc-2 around the corner. But yeah, that's where I was headed until the 640r peaked my interest.

What was your take on the cambridge (and emotiva) vs the Arcam? I'm really interested to hear from people who are sold on the sound of the arcam and their take on similar sounding gear.
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post #17 of 26 Old 11-10-2007, 08:25 PM - Thread Starter
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I know this thread is dead, but if someone runs across it on search, I wanted to let them know the arcam350 is more of a beast than I thought.

I had a kick-ass audio sales guy demo a marantz on the focals with awesome cables. It was the best I've heard a Marantz sound. Yet I didn't appreciate how much heavy lifting the arcam was doing. BobL suggested it was the speakers - which is a huge factor, but I got a new appreciation of the arcam on top of the focals.

Basically, marantz with focals - amazing. Just awesome. The warmth and smoothness of the Marantz gave me a new respect for the brand that I hadn't heard before.

That said, I realized arcam was still a good head and shoulder above. Arcam with Focal = mind-blowing (which i described earlier). Mind blowing like it makes you wonder how much you can get for your car and talking yourself into the fact walking wouldn't be so bad cuz you need the exercise anyway.

So good in fact, I'm considering a cheap 50 watt 2channel arcam AND a cheap onkyo 605 or something for surround.

My next idea is buy the arcam for an inhome trial to see just far the legs go on the the Boston VR2. In the showroom BTW, I like the Arcam on the Focals a good amount more than B&W (It went from unbelivable to really good). If the Bostons fall flat, I might go for a focal replacement.

I'll try to post my findings as I know it would've helped me, and I'll try to return in my small bit cuz this forum has helped me.
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post #18 of 26 Old 11-10-2007, 11:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DEV0 View Post

...

So good in fact, I'm considering a cheap 50 watt 2channel arcam AND a cheap onkyo 605 or something for surround.

My next idea is buy the arcam for an inhome trial to see just far the legs go on the the Boston VR2. In the showroom BTW, I like the Arcam on the Focals a good amount more than B&W (It went from unbelivable to really good). If the Bostons fall flat, I might go for a focal replacement.
.

Came late to the thread, but here's a thought: If you really like the Focals, get 'em. Instead of a cheap 50 watt 2channel arcam, what about the CA540Rv2. It is the little brother of the 640. I use it with Rega R5 speakers in a fairly large room and have been very happy. You can pick up B stock and demos at several sites for ~$500. It'll do all the surround you need and has a 2 channel mode that gives you 100wpc. I think you'll enjoy the 540 driving the Focals more than the Arcam driving your Boston setup. Then, when you have more cash you can pop for the Arcam, sell the CA on audiogon (or whatever) for most of what you paid for it and end up with the system you really want. I find the Arcam and CA to be very similar in terms of character, thought the 350 had more control at very high volumes. If you need info on places to get the 540 cheap, pm me.
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post #19 of 26 Old 11-11-2007, 11:42 PM - Thread Starter
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BRILLIANT !!!

Excellent advice. I'm trying to buy a 540 right now. I havent been 100% on arcam or cambridge (which I haven't heard), and wished both had their next versions out now. This gives me the breathing room to decide what's next (my system sounds horrific with an ancient borrowed sony, absolutely horrific).

I'm picking up a squeezebox as soon as I can get one (who demos something without ever having inventory, not "just sold the last one"?). The squeezebox with the 540 should give me some relief (over the 360/Sony). I feel bad for making the bostons spit out such awful sound.

This way I dont break the bank on something I'm not 100% sold on, and I can concentrate on the truly future-proof - speakers.

Who knows, I may love the 540r w/ the bostons... great! Whatever the case, this feels like the best, non-painful move to get the ball rolling.

fantastic. Thanks cdnewmanpac.
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post #20 of 26 Old 12-01-2007, 04:45 PM - Thread Starter
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RESULT / POST WRAP UP :: for others like me who search this place like mad

I bought a new 540r v3 after this thread, and it arrived yesterday. I'm very very pleased and would highly recommend it over anything less than double its price. The v3 has hdmi, and the dealer has an amazing 1yr upgrade offer, which is why I went new v3 vs 200-300 less v2 new/used.

The 540r made my existing VR2s (and surrounds/sub) sound so good, I'm in no hurry to buy the focals. The sound opened up and more tactile (if that makes any sense), and I'm hearing details I hadn't. I've been digging out all my CDs, because the mp3 versions don't cut it anymore. Its silent driven hard, so I find myself cranking the system up and playing music I never listen to, classical, spanish guitar, bluegrass, etc... Unless there's an post-holiday screaming audiogon deal, music and soundtracks are exciting so I'm happy for now.

Now, its not an arcam on focals, and adding focals would get me closer than upgrading to arcam (I would agree the CA is close to arcam in terms of sound "flavor"). The CA/BA pair:
less imaging (3d-ness): Its there, but not rock-steady like a/f pair.
less mid-high distinction: I think this fault is 70% BA, 30% CA
sound curve that is bass heavy and drops in the mids: I think this is due to the power of CA - I've never heard bass pour out of the BA like this. Focals would mitigate the effect, but jeez the CA pushes hard. (I instinctively went to turn down the sub, but realized i forgot to even hook it up)
less intimate vocals: this is slight, but maybe the biggest actual difference. This is where focals beat out B&W, and where arcam shined over Marantz's ham-handed effort.

I certainly don't feel shortchanged, especially for the 5k price difference. I guess the difference is CA/BA sound makes me want to actively discover and enjoy, the arcam/focals held me in awe. I think the CA/BA is 80% there- 15% focal 5% arcam, and far closer than a denon or onkyo would get me.

There's more work in the calibration, source, connection and room treatment, but its sensitive enough to really notice these changes.

I wanted to give a big thank everyone for their help, and give my first impressions here in case others might find them helpful.
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post #21 of 26 Old 12-02-2007, 05:00 AM
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Thanks for your update -- enjoy
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post #22 of 26 Old 12-05-2007, 10:11 PM
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I have a 540R v3 showing up tomorrow to drive a pair of Dana 630s up front along with 660 center and Hsu STF-2 sub (and some old rear surrounds). I'm anticipating they'll like the CA a lot more than the Onkyo 605 they are replacing. Back in the day I always ran NAD and/or B&K stuff. Seems like the CA will get me back closer to that. Good to hear your review.
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post #23 of 26 Old 12-22-2007, 12:16 AM
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my update

The slippery slope struck, and I now have a pair of Dana 930s up front along with the 660 center, and the 630s moved to the rear. Running the 540r it is incredibly articulate at reasonable volumes (the 930s are sick speakers). At higher volumes it feels a tad strained, but there is a fairly cheap solution for that that I'm going to try. The 540 can run in a "main pre out" mode where the internal amps power the center and rear and the preamp signal for the mains is sent to another amp. I'm going to pick up a used Parasound, Rotel, or Adcom and use that to drive the front speakers. Should cover all my bases for awhile.
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post #24 of 26 Old 12-28-2007, 05:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Focal Update - "Unless there's an post-holiday screaming audiogon deal"....

Well, there was. I took cdnewmanpac's advice and am now running 826v's and the sound is smack-yo-mamma good. I also picked up a squeezebox and control it via the iphone. I'm enjoying 2chan so much haven't tried running 5.1 or even turned on the TV.

obsessive drooling doesn't help, so quasi-objectively:

Where the VR2s had plenty, the 826s lack bass. More specifically, it lacks obnoxious bass when you want it. Fine for plenty of genres, but your homies will laugh at you. I use light sub to beef up the very low end.

Everybody knows the 826s look fantastic so i wont expand, except yes.

Tho liking the improvement of the 540 on the VR2s, the sound improvement with the focals is staggering. I can pass the driver's license eye chart without glasses, but with glasses i think, "wow, trees have leaves!" Everything comes into focus so you can "see" all the details in songs you thought you knew.

540 added articulation, 826v added resolution.

I agree with nostatic, the 540 could have a little more juice. Focals are very efficient so I'm not that worried, but at beyond reasonable volumes you loose a little of the effortlessness of the setup.

If you have the cash, go for the 640. Its not a huge difference, but I can see an eventual upgrade there.

Cambridge is not Arcam, but its close enough. I think if I went arcam I'd gain another 5%. With the 540, the focals are a bit more in your face than when they're on the 350. A stitch harsher - but not less detailed.

With the 540/VR2 I could hear quality differences lossess vs MP3. With the 540/826 I can hear differences in production quality. Sometimes I think, "I don't remember that song sounding this bad." Well produced tracks are full of layers and nuance, poorly-engineered songs sound... well poor.
(note: I always thought this was audiophile snobbery, but its really true)

Imaging: solid and stable.
Soundstage: Well-mixed music (even/especially live) melt the walls away. This is a massive improvement.
mid-high distinction: yeah - and then some. I never realized all the sounds you get from smacking a drum.
Sound curve: Though lighter bass, seems level if not a wee bit much on the highs. I didn't understand what "a bit forward" meant, but it really means the highs sound closer than the mid/low. Its engaging not fatiguing though.
intimate vocals: stupid impressive. I find myself replaying phrases of songs because they've never sounded so emotive.

I'm done for awhile. I have more than enough hardware to tweak and play with. The next big purchase is music. I'm rewarded with each new disc.

Be careful with friends however. One got pissed because tool never sounded like that before and an average sound system wasn't going to do anymore.

Good luck to all, thanks again and I hope this thread helps.
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post #25 of 26 Old 12-28-2007, 07:29 PM
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Nice writeup on the 540, even though I own Arcam gear I always recommend Cambridge as an alternative if cost is an issue. Just fantastic sounding stuff without all the bells and whistles for the money.

Russ
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post #26 of 26 Old 12-29-2007, 12:51 AM
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I know you have decided on the Cambrige but as an Arcam AVR300 owner, I can say the Rotel 1057 is pretty good and a deal at about 1k.
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