When you delete the subwoofer from the AVR600 setup menu, it can spread the LFE .1 channel among all your large full range loudspeakers, and the AVR600's bass performance is so amazing that it drove the full range B&W 802Ds from this LFE energy with ease, to infrasonic, powerful impact that actually shook my stone castle (so it will certainly shake your wood frame house). The B&W 802D might have puny 7.8 inch woofers, but when 14 of these woofers (2 per loudspeaker) are all pumping out at you the same LFE bass signal, you'll be getting a much larger diaphragm area than a couple of 15 inch dynamic subwoofers give you (large diaphragm area is crucial to acoustically give you truly authoritative bass). And all of these 802D woofers are temporally synchronized in a circle all around you, directed at pressurizing, from all sides, the center of the circle, where the pit of your stomach sits, so this can be perceptually more impactive/impressive/frightening than a couple of subwoofers stuck off at the side of your room.
The AVR600's bass sonic performance here is all the more remarkable because these B&W loudspeakers are notoriously difficult to drive, with wild variations in load impedance that are tough for a power amplifier to tame. In order to handle this difficult loudspeaker load as superbly as the AVR600 does, a power amplifier has to have very low source impedance (to handle the huge variations in load impedance imposed by the loudspeaker); and very high current capability (to drive the low load impedance portions and the reactive portions of the loudspeaker's imposed load); and the ability to sink reactive kickback currents from the loudspeaker (which correlate with the wild variations seen in the loudspeaker's impedance curve). We infer that the AVR600's power amplifier is superb at these tasks. In fact, the bass performance we heard from the AVR600 sounded as though there were a 300-500 watt monoblock power amplifier right behind each loudspeaker, feeding each via a very short loudspeaker cable (in our system, the AVR600 had to feed the 7 loudspeakers through 50 feet of cable for each, which made it even more difficult for the AVR600 to achieve the intimate woofer control that it in fact evinced).
I'm very fussy and discriminating about bass quality, and I know what response down to DC and perfect transient response sounds like as a reference standard (having studied the Thigpen rotary subwoofer and also live artillery explosions). Only a very few power amplifiers in history have come close to driving a dynamic loudspeaker to this reference sound of bass quality, e.g. the Electron Kinetics power amplifier with its huge current capability, and the Citation 16. Even then, the Electron Kinetics was a hair too full and heavy in bass quality, while the Citation 16 was a bit too tight and dry. The new Arcam AVR600 now joins this elite group. And indeed, its bass quality is actually the best of all, being right in between the Electron Kinetics and Citation 16, at the ideal balance point of fullness and power vs. tight control. The AVR600 might be merely a receiver, but I'm duty bound to report what I objectively hear: the Arcam AVR600 simply has the best quality bass of any power amplifier I've heard. Ever. Anywhere. At any price.
In the bass, and indeed throughout the spectrum, the AVR600 also sounds far more powerful than its rated 7 channels at 120 watts per channel. Consider what it had to do for me. The 7 B&W 802Ds are moderately inefficient, and are a difficult load to drive, and my listening room has a huge 15,000 cubic feet to fill (it's the ballroom of an old Spanish castle). Yet, faced with this difficult task, the AVR600 effortlessly played as loud as I could stand. If your listening room is smaller than this, you'll get even more loudness capability from the AVR600. Incidentally, the AVR350 also did well for its rated100 watts per channel, but I could get it to clip and sometimes sound strained when playing really loud in this huge ballroom, while the AVR600 sounds happy, relaxed, and powerful as it knocks me over. The AVR600 maintains its authoritative, direct, powerful control of each loudspeaker, even into loud levels, and over the entire spectrum, again sounding as though there were a 300+ watt monoblock power amplifier right behind each loudspeaker.
The AVR600 has superb dynamics, thanks to its high, powerful headroom, and its authoritative control, as noted above - and also thanks to its superb articulation, coherence, and speed. Other audio components smear and disperse the energy of a transient over time. That has three bad sonic consequences: the transient itself is rendered as being smeared or defocused and fuzzy or rounded, instead of articulate and coherent; the smeared energy, dispersed to a later period of time, is then released later as a kind of noise garbage, which veils and obscures subtle program details (degrading transparency); and, most pertinent to our point here, that energy smeared to a later point in time has to come from somewhere, and it has been taken away, robbed from the initial transient, making that initial transient less dynamic, less coherent, less focused and articulate. With the AVR600, each transient is superbly articulated and individualized, with superb focus and coherence - and, because all parts of this transient occur at their correct time, in superb synch and coherent focus, with no energy being smeared to some later point in time, this transient achieves its true, accurate peak energy, in other words its true high peak dynamics.
The AVR600 also sounds exceptionally clean and pure, free of the subtle distortions, and the time smearing and energy dispersion, that afflict virtually all other electronics. And the AVR600 maintains this clean purity for the whole spectrum when playing loudly, and even when pumping out massive amounts of LFE bass (thus obviating the need for separate subwoofers and/or separate subwoofer power amplifiers).
At the treble extreme of the spectrum, the AVR600 sounds as spectacularly superior as it does in the bass. Here too the AVR600's sonic performance hits the ideal point of balance, to be very revealing and accurate in presenting treble information. The ARVR600 is very articulate (not soft or mushy like some other products), yet at the same time very delicate (not artificially hard like some other products). It is very fast in handling treble detail, yet at the same time handles it with finesse and subtlety. It is very coherent and focused, not smeared or defocused like so many other products. It sounds open and airy, not at all closed in like some other products. And its upper extension at the treble extreme matches its deep extension at the bass end, taking our loudspeakers beyond what we had ever heard from them before.
The best is yet to come. The Arcam AVR600 is so transparently revealing that it achieves new heights and sets new standards for the state of the art. And this transparency also enormously benefits the rich ambience and spatial believability of the portrayed surround space imaging, since the cues for all this imaging are very subtle pieces of information contained in each recording, so they require the maximum transparency to be revealed by the system and heard by you (see next section for discussion).
The AVR600's new standard of transparency is markedly superior to any other electronics (processor and/or amplifier) we have heard, in making music, film sound, and surround space itself all sound more real and believable. And, bottom line, isn't this reality and believability exactly the goal you most want your system to give you?
We tested the AVR600's transparency by directly comparing its performance against state of the art components (including the AVR350) on transient sounds. In both examples, the AVR600 was far more transparently revealing than anything else we had ever heard before.
Furthermore, we were shocked to hear that the AVR600 actually revealed new sounds, new sonic details, that were simply and utterly missing from the presentation by the other state of the art components. The AVR600 clearly revealed important details of reality that other components are simply unable to. With other components, these details of reality have been utterly missing - with the AVR600, these details of reality are suddenly right there, clearly revealed. That's what you call a dramatic transparency difference!!
Let's look at two examples, one from a music CD and one from a DVD film soundtrack. On the Reference Recordings CD titled Crown imperial, there's a high pitched glockenspiel very well recorded on track 10. It's a very difficult treble transient to reproduce accurately, and contains a lot of subtle detail. On most competing high end AV receivers this glockenspiel 'ding' sounds like "beng", i.e. softened, smeared, dulled, and closed in. On great high end separates and an excellent AV receiver like the AVR350, their better sonics more accurately portray the attack sharpness (as a "d" instead of a "b") and open up the bright vowel (the ongoing sound of the glockenspiel key after having been struck), so the sound is more accurate, like "ding" instead of "beng" (incidentally, some solid state electronics that sound too hard will artificially harden the attack transient, giving you a "ting" instead of the correct, more delicate "ding").
Then, compared to all the above, the sound of this same difficult-to-reproduce glockenspiel note through the AVR600 was a revelation. We couldn't believe the improvement when we first heard it. First, the open, airy treble extension of the AVR600 removed the closed in quality heard through all other electronics, and freed this note to virtually sail up and off into the ether. Second, the new level of transparency achieved by the AVR600 revealed more nuance in the ongoing sustain of the note, revealing for the first time the true complexity of the key's ongoing vibration patterns (a rectangular key has very complex vibration modes, after being hit), so we could hear that the true, more realistic sound of the vibrating key was not simply "ding" but instead a more complex, wavering "di-i-i-i-nnggg".
Finally, the AVR600's transparency revealed a sound we had never heard at all before. The sound of the glockenspiel note was no longer a mere unified "ding", but instead had a new, different sound at its beginning, a totally new piece of sonic and musical information that had never been there before, so that the note now sounded like "kdiing" instead of merely and simply "ding". What was this newly apparent "k" sound? The glockenspiel is a percussion instrument, and the key that makes the bright, ongoing sustain sound is first struck by a mallet with a very hard head (usually brass, hardwood, or phenolic). This mallet strike itself makes a distinct, very different sound, both from the struck key and from the mallet head itself vibrating. And the uniquely different sound of this percussive mallet strike occurs before the key itself emits its long sustain note.
Now, other electronics, lacking the AVR600's new reference benchmark transparency, fail utterly and completely to reveal this initial mallet strike as a separate sound at all, possibly because they absorb and swallow the energy of this initial mallet attack sound and smear/disperse it into the later key sustain sound (thereby corrupting both sounds, as they make the first distinct sound literally disappear and then corrupt the later sustain sound by infecting and injecting it with delayed noise energy left over from their absorption of the initial mallet strike sound energy). The AVR600 makes both distinct sounds (the mallet attack and the later key sustain) distinctly apparent, and each much more realistic and clear, since the AVR600 is much more transparent.
An integral adjunct to the AVR600's transparency is its phenomenal intertransient silence, an utterly black, quiet background, against which all sonic details are thereby much more transparently revealed. Intertransient silence can be achieved only when a circuit does not time smear energy, i.e. does not take some of the energy from a transient peak and deposit that energy as spurious noise later in time, into the valley of relative silence following that transient, thereby obscuring subtle details that would like to be heard in that period of relative silence. The AVR600, by refusing to time smear energy as other circuits do, achieves far better intertransient silence, and thereby also further improves its already spectacular transparency, since those subtle details in that valley are not obscured by leftover time-smeared noise. This transparency, intertransient silence, and lack of smearing also play a key role in the AVR600's spatial imaging, for both stereo and surround (see below).
Next, to cover all bases, let's look at an example of sound effects from a film soundtrack. And, to cover all bases, this example will probe how the AVR600's superior transparency reveals a brand new sonic detail at the trailing edge of a sound, rather than at the leading edge (as the mallet strike was). This tests how well the AVR600 settles to black silence after the strong main sound, in order to be able to reveal the new sonic detail that was previously inaudible. In the movie Daredevil, chapter 18 (19 in the director's cut version), there's a sudden rain shower. Small raindrops fall all around you, and hit hard surfaces, creating a bombardment of high pitched "pip, pip, pip" impact sounds all around you. Then, at left front, a single drip source (say a leaking gutter) releases a series of large single drops, which strike a puddle formed by their predecessors, and in so doing make a series of single, lower pitched "plop" sounds.
Now, most competing AV processors can't resolve the thousands of individual "pip, pip, pip" raindrop sounds, so they smear this energy together, and it winds up sounding like a homogenized blur, like white noise "ssshhhssshhh". And they are likewise indistinct about the nature of the lower pitched "plop", so it comes out sounding like some vague low pitched noise "bob", with no clear character, especially at the beginning and end, and indeed you can't even tell that it's the sound of water hitting water. The AV350 and the highest end separate components are able to resolve the individual small raindrop hits much better, but they still have a white noise in the background (slightly smeared together character). And they are able to convey far better, on each large drop hitting the puddle, the sound of water hitting a flat puddle of water.
Then we played this same section through the new AVR600. The AVR600 transparently resolves and individuates each small raindrop hit, each high pitched "pip", so much better that you feel you could identify each individual raindrop and count them. The somewhat soothing nature of the white noise smear is totally gone, and the scene actually becomes aurally more impactive and even frightening, since it sounds exactly like you are being assaulted on all sides by thousands of individual raindrop hits. The AVR600 also more clearly renders the lower pitched sound of the large drops hitting the puddle. But here's the punch line.
The AVR600 also transparently reveals a brand new sound, never even heard before, on each plop. And this newly revealed sound happens to be at the trailing edge of each plop transient (rather than at the beginning of each transient as was the case with the mallet strike above). Through the AVR600, the sound of each large drop hitting the puddle is not merely and simply "plop", but instead something like "plop-uh". What does this new appended sound indicate? When a large drop of water hits the flat surface of a puddle, that surface does not stay flat, so the sound we hear should not be merely and simply that "plop" sound of a large drop hitting a flat surface of water. What does the puddle surface do? The drop's kinetic energy causes the surface of the puddle's water to suddenly, momentarily retreat into a tiny hollow cup-shaped depression. That sucks in the nearby air, which creates a hollow-cup-sounding transient. And that's the subtle "uh" sound you hear at the end of the "plop". This subtle "uh" happens in real life. It is part of the reality you hear when a real drop of water hits a real puddle. Thus, when the AVR600's superior transparency reveals this subtle "uh" sound after the "plop", that other electronics totally miss, the AVR600 is bringing you closer to reality.
We discovered countless other examples where the AVR600 revealed our disc collection with thrilling superiority to what we had ever heard before. One group you should hear for yourself through the AVR600 is a 9 disc series of live concert recordings from Essay recordings (essaycd.com); their live concert CD entitled Good Movie Music contains the best massed string sound we've ever discovered on disc, and it's hair-raising to hear through the AVR600.
Note that the AVR600 exhibited these examples of superior transparency even when we deliberately employed ordinary, middle class media, redbook 16/44 CD and a movie DVD's lossy soundtrack, so you could see the margin of superiority you will get from the AVR600 on your huge legacy library collection. Then, when you use today's latest high transparency, high resolution media as sources, the AVR600's margin of superior transparency, that you'll experience, will be even more dramatic.
The AVR600's major advance in transparency, over the state of the art, is a stunning achievement. Transparency is one of the most difficult sonic areas to make advances in, and any advances are usually tiny. For any audio component, never mind a receiver, to have so dramatically moved this state of the art forward is truly amazing.
Now, you may well be saying, we're dwelling on trivia here, and these subtle details are not really important. Yes, they are important. Why? Because these details, when they sound more realistic as they do through the AVR600, are the crucial factor in taking you over the unconscious threshold of subliminal belief in the realism of your experience. You might well not be consciously aware of these subtle details, but your ear/brain subconsciously recognizes that this sound is simply somehow more realistic, and so, without you consciously realizing exactly why, you are transported across the threshold of believability.
We as professional reviewers are trained to consciously listen for and analyze details, but you shouldn't burden yourself with feeling any need to consciously work at hearing these more transparently revealed details. Your ear/brain already knows well what reality sounds like, and your subconscious will automatically recognize the reality improvement through the AVR600, so you can leave to your subconscious the enjoyable task of recognizing that your system with the AVR600 sounds more real and hence more believable. In one of our detail examples here, a glockenspiel key actually being struck by a real mallet, thus producing the "k-ding" sound heard only through the AVR600, simply and easily sounds more realistic than the mere "ding" sound heard via other electronics (the mere "ding" sounds unrealistic, because it sounds as though the glockenspiel key had somehow spontaneously erupted into making a tone all by itself, without ever having been struck by anything hard).
When your system crosses a threshold of reality in its presentation (in this case thanks to the Arcam AVR600), then your subconscious crosses a threshold and believes in the reality of what you're hearing and being surrounded by. When your subconscious crosses this threshold (aka suspension of disbelief), it totally transforms your whole music, concert, or film experience.
If you fail to cross this threshold and fail to believe, then you are constantly aware that your are merely in your small listening room, listening at your system doing its best, listening AT the film soundtrack or music. But, if the system, by more realistically revealing and reproducing perhaps triv
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