Receiver: $2000 (CAN)
DVD Player: $2500 (CAN)
Distributor; Emerald Audio Resources Ltd.
RR #1, Palgrave, Ontario, Canada, L0N 1P0
(905) 880-7170 FAX 880-7171
(Reprinted from the Spring 01 Audio Ideas Guide)
Things get complicated. Especially home theatre receivers. I recently gave up in frustration on an HT receiver review because I simply could not make it work! And I’m the guy who takes pride in never having to read the manual…hey, I’m a reviewer, I know how these things work, trust me. But sometimes you have to read the manual just to find out how to wade your way through the levels of menus and other onscreen trivia. Finding the way to a phantom centre channel can become the phantom menace.
And then there’s the Arcam Diva AVR100. I had this receiver up and running in about a half-hour, with the DV88 player running through it to the S input of the Seleco HT200 projector. With S and composite video inputs with matching RCA audio ins for DVD, VCR, and SAT, and composite-video/audio RCAs for Aux, it handles the usual sources, and there’s additional audio-only ones for CD and Tape, with appropriate outs for the latter and VCR. Also provided are a 5.1 set of 6 RCAs to pass through Dolby Digital/DTS analog signals, and full 6-channel pre-outs. S-video and composite monitor outs are also offered. Digital ins are a single Toslink and a pair of coax RCAs labeled DVD and SAT. Perhaps someone can tell me why the optical jack is marked VCR. While the AVR100 doesn’t do component video (which is not much used in Europe or Arcam’s native Britain), it does have the flexibility to handle and switch most common A/V sources. Switching of surround modes is automatic with input signal, handling Dolby Digital and DTS, with Pro Logic and a Hall mode manually selected on the remote.
The loudspeaker outputs are a little close together, and share that new European banana phobia, but adaptors are supplied, and bare wires or spades can also be used. Apparently, small, impressionable children all over the EU have been plugging banana connectors into wall sockets just to see speaker cones fly across the room in flames. Or, more to the point, “Yes, we have no bananas!”
The 5 amplifier channels are rated at 70 wpc, all channels driven, and 100 watts one channel driven. The FM tuner has 10 presets, and does RDS readouts, something I’ll say more about below. There’s also an AM section. The AVR100 also has bass and treble controls, with a Direct (defeat) button between them.
Setup of the receiver was very simple, channel balances, speaker sizes and delays easily accessed on simple onscreen menus using the remote control. Channel levels can also be set on the fly by pressing a button labeled Trim on the remote; it engages the white noise sequence, and while each channel is sounding, its level can be adjusted up or down. You can also hit Test first, after which Trim will stop the rotation to allow time to set each channel individually.
I found this remote initially intimidating, since it has a host of small buttons, with their functions shown in even smaller type right on the button. There are 36 in all, the most frequently used in darker grey than the others. There is no back lighting, so getting used to using the remote becomes a learning experience, but that is not to say that this is a learning remote: it operates only the receiver and matching DVD player. In fact, when I commented on this remote and that of the DV88 player, Emerald Audio’s Jeff Soltysek joked, “It’s a teaching remote: it teaches you to remember where the buttons are.”
There are some other interesting features in this otherwise well-designed A/V product. For example, dynamic range can be set in steps from 100 to 25%, 4 steps in all, making it useful for taming the extreme dynamic range of some soundtracks without necessarily ending up with AM radio compression. Also, level changes can be made on the fly with a press of the Test button, which is nice when it can be a process that is buried beneath layers of menus in other processors and receivers. Curiously, no sound is heard when scrolling through subwoofer, so you’ll have to do a little extra experimenting with setting levels on the receiver or at the sub.
I gave the standard tests to the FM tuner, using our Lindsay bowtie (double dipole) omnidirectional outdoor antenna. 46 stations were received, most in quiet stereo with excellent selectivity. The between-station tuning increments were such that there was a step between the normal, for example, 91.10, 91.15, 91.20, and so on. This allowed reception of stations with interference from the adjacent frequency by tuning off an increment in the other direction. For example, I could not cleanly get 94.5 because of interference from a station at 94.7, but by tuning to 94.45 I could receive it, but only in mono.
Being a British tuner design, this one offers the RDS station ID and extra information system. However, it is so little used here, that I saw only 3 readouts: CJBC on the French CBC station (but nothing on Radio One or Two), EDGE on 102.1, and ENERGY at 107.9. In general, this tuner is very sensitive and selective, and, most important, very good sounding.
That could also be said for the receiver, which is a cut above most home theatre receivers sonically. If you must combine home theatre and Hi Fi, the AVR100 is an excellent choice, and I enjoyed it coupled to the Kinima speaker system. I’ll say more when describing what was seen and heard from the DV88 player.
Diva DVD Delights
The DV88 seems a quite expensive player when models with all imaginable features, like the Denon DVD-2800, are coming down towards $1000. However, except for the transport mechanism, all of the Diva player was engineered and manufactured in-house by Arcam. They aren’t saying too much about the technology, but I did find out that the internal DAC (stereo) is a variant on the dCS Ring DAC, and plays 96/24 discs without downsampling. It also handles HDCD decoding with CDs. Analog outputs, 2 pair, are RCAs, while a single Toslink and RCA coaxial out provide digital signals. On the video side, the player provides composite, S, and component outs, but only interlaced format. It can also be configured to output RGB signals, the composite output then becoming the Sync signal. There is also a SCART multipin output for European TVs and computers.
Setup of the DV88 was quite straightforward, with the usual menus to master to set such things as aspect ratio for the TV. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at the remote control. Initially I thought the two remote controls were identical, and I mused, “How clever of Arcam to make sure you have a spare if you buy both components!” Then I took a closer look. While they are identical in colour scheme (grey on grey), the button count balloons on the DVD remote to 45. However, you’ll never use most of them, particularly the ones at bottom with such labels as Angle, or Subt[itle]. The main buttons for transport operation are above and below the large cursor button, with numeric buttons at top. By the way, in the bottom button group is one marked Zoom, that allows 3 levels of picture magnification, something that might be of interest to adult movie fans. I’ve seen this feature previously only on Toshiba players.
I did not develop a fondness for either remote, the buttons small, unlit, and monochromatic, and the long, thin shape not lending itself to easy handling. I guess I should be positive by saying that since you’re going to drop this thing a lot, it’s good it doesn’t weigh as much as the machined aluminum Bryston remote control. Given the button arrays and their locations, I can see these remotes being used for strengthening your memory skills, the Pavlovian punishment being the need to turn on the light when you don’t remember where the right button is. It certainly worked for me. Jeff was right.
Actually, after setup I mostly did everything from the AVR100 remote, which has basic DVD functions at bottom. It was only when doing our Video Essentials tests that I found the dedicated remote more useful. Overall, I was unimpressed by these remote controls, and suggest that Arcam consider hiring an engineer from Marantz or the company that actually designs and builds the identical Rotel, Cambridge Audio and Sunfire touchscreen remotes.
Getting back to Video Essentials, I ran the DV88 through all the video tests, the relevant ones being for greyscale, colour accuracy, and resolution, comparing it with our now venerable Pioneer Elite DVL-90 DVD/LD player. Both grey scale gradation and colour purity were equal or better, but where the Diva shone was in resolution, with better than 500 lines of horizontal resolution visible. There was a little bit of twinkling visible in the Snell & Wilcox moving target test pattern, but this did not translate into motion artifacts on the sequence of film and video images after the tests of chapter 15. In fact, the freedom from dot crawl and the sheer clarity and detail of the Arcam picture through both the S and component outputs were outstanding, pretty much the best I’ve seen from a DVD player.
And this was proven time and time again as I watched a variety of IMAX full-screen, letterboxed (anamorphic or cropped) DVDs. These included Michael Jordan To The Max (which gives a really exciting preview of what basketball will look like in HD; it’s that good a DVD!), The Living Sea, and The Magic Of Flight. All looked spectacular through the Seleco projector. The only thing I did notice, very rarely, was brief sound dropouts between chapters, mostly on early-authored DVDs like Africa, The Serengeti and Ring Of Fire. Recent ones did not experience this rare problem, and I’m told the glitch has already been fixed in software.
No such things happened when listening to CDs like our Chuck Israels jazz recordings, or Jennifer Warnes’ superb sounding The Hunter through the DV88’s own DACs. Particularly delightful was the Classic DVD 96/24 reissue of Gershwin: All the Works for Orchestra & for Piano & Orchestra, the Concerto In F and An American In Paris being great listening experiences. Forget video, this DVD player competes sonically with $2500+ CD players, and sounds even better playing 96/24 recordings.
So, there it is, great picture, great sound. If only Arcam would make a user-friendly remote, things would be perfect. And the receiver, by not offering component inputs, seems to hint that the DV88 should be directly connected to the TV. I agree. You can switch all your other video gear through the AVR100.
And, finally, some thoughts about S versus component outputs. I compared the picture out of the S output into our 51″ interlacing RPTV with the output from the component outputs into the progressive Seleco HT 200 front projector (the hung screen could be set up to be mostly above the Pioneer TV screen), and marginally preferred the RPTV for detail and consistent contrast values, while the slightly bigger front projector picture had its own impact in brightness, vividness, and depth. But I wasn’t really able to see the marked improvement with component video claimed by Arcam, though I might have with the higher resolution Seleco HT 250 projector. I’ll give them the benefit of a doubt, as even the picture resolution from the S connection pushes the state of the art in DVD reproduction. And that about says it all.