Arcam AVP700 Controller and P1000 Multichannel Amp Page 3
To get a fix on how it stacks up in pure sonics I began by shuttling the AVP700 into my system with my reference amps- Theta Citadel monoblocks with a Theta Dreadnaught for center and surrounds. In my system the AVP700 produced sound that was spacious and refined, if a bit lacking in detail in comparison to my memory of the Arcam flagship, the FMJ AV8.
In years past this reticence could have been regarded as a savior for a controller with no simple Re-EQ. But as I explained earlier, I find fewer and fewer bright soundtracks. In this case, I felt like I simply wasn't getting as much detail out of the best soundtracks, like Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The opening space battle has Anakin and Obi-Wan hurdling through the interstellar carnage to rescue Chancellor Palpatine. Sonically it's as much of a thrill-ride as one would expect of the opening of a Star Wars movie. Not only was I not hearing as much resolution of finer details as I wanted, I wasn't get as much spatial sensation of the ships and debris hurtling past, and I found the scene surprisingly restrained dynamically.
The slight softness in sound is an artifact that I can live with, especially with the AVP700's formidable feature set, and friendly price. But the lack of dynamics kept leading me to edge up the volume higher than I typically listen to try and get some punch out of active, aggressive soundtracks like Revenge of the Sith, or even Polar Express which features an abundance of sonic delights both subtle and aggressive in nature. While the higher volume levels gave me some of the drama I was looking for, it also made the sound harder, and almost brittle. During very loud, dynamic passages I'd end up riding the volume back down. I was concerned enough about this aspect of the Arcam's performance that I had a second sample sent over and essentially found the same thing.
My reference surround processor is Theta's mucho-more expensive Casablanca II Xtreme DAC version. Obviously that controller makes an unfair comparison, and the commentary above is not made on that basis. I had the Theta when I reviewed Arcam's FMJ AV8 as well. In direct comparison I thought the Theta subtly superior in sounding a shade more resolved, a little sweeter and less digital, and also a bit more spatially dimensional and convincing. But the AV8 was so dynamic and punchy, and did such an outstanding job of carving believable soundscapes in my room, that I didn't miss the big Theta. I enjoyed the AV8 in its own right for its own considerable charms, and while I know the AVP700 is not intended to be a scaled-down AV8, I found myself thinking that I'd willingly sacrifice some of the AVP700's bells and whistles for a little more of the AV8's explosiveness and detail, which is supremely unfair.
Enter the P1000
I used the P1000 both with the AVP700 and my reference Theta Casablanca II with home theater/movie material, and did some further listening with my high-end, two-channel music components to confirm my findings. My Vandersteen Model 5A speakers use built-in powered subs and require a passive high-pass filter at the amplifier's input. Testing the P1000 I ran the front left and right full range out of the controller, and used the AVP700's internal bass management to route the surround and center speakers' bass to the LFE subwoofers (the AVP700 has only one sub output, so I used a Y-adapter to get bass to my twin Mirage BPS-400 LFE subs). Effectively, my system was functioning as satellite/sub system, relieving the P1000 of its deep bass chores.
The P1000's sound is defined by surprisingly good imaging, and a slightly lean character that occasionally sounds strained and hard during loud, dynamic passages. Tonally the P1000's lack of bass weight and energy results in a midrange emphasis that's oddly beneficial to movie soundtracks and to the sound of the AVP700, which if anything lacks some degree of detail. The slight spotlight that results from this tonal balance makes dialog a little forward, but always crystal clear and intelligible. The imaging of the amplifier gets the sound safely away from the loudspeaker's physical positions, which has a very convincing effect of making voices anchor up at my front projection screen, seemingly right at the visual position of the actors on screen. Spatially I was extremely impressed and surprised by the P1000.
To get a fix on how the Arcam stacks up to an amplifier that I know and respect, I had a friend drop by with his Anthem PVA 5. This amp retails in a seven-channel version (PVA 7) for $1499. It's essentially a standard class A/B amp that uses a conventional power supply and doesn't use rail switching and thus runs hotter and needs more space for air-cooling.
I thought the Arcam had more oomph and dynamic contrast with movie soundtracks, but that the Anthem tended to clip just a little more gracefully without sounding hard in the bargain as the P1000 would occasionally. Amps I've heard from ATI and Sherbourn in this relative price range are more muscular than either, without strain or congestion. Switching up to music, I liked the Anthem's organic, natural sound. The imaging with vocalists and musicians was a toss-up, which is impressive as the Anthem delivers depth and dimension exceptionally well. The Anthem may have been just a little rounder, and more fleshed out. I preferred the Anthem's musical soul, but it was an admirably close contest.
Overall the P1000's performance is impressive in many respects for a seven-channel amplifier that's so compact, runs so cool, and is thus so flexible in terms of the range of installations in which it can be used. At $2299 it's a solid performer with a considerable balance of strengths.
On paper Arcam's AVP700 is everything you could want at its price and more. During the time I spent with it I found using it on a daily basis to be a mostly rewarding experience (with a slicker remote I'd have been all the way there), that in spite of its complexities and extensive feature set was not overly complicated to use. Quite the opposite, in fact. But after experiencing Arcam's flagship FMJ AV8 controller, I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. The AVP700 is a competent performer at an excellent price that fair or unfair left me wanting just a little more in absolute sonic performance.
The P1000's sonic signature fits the AVP700 quite well, offering a little complementary emphasis in some areas where the controller lays back. I've heard amps in this price range that are more musically satisfying to me, and I've also heard gutsier amps in this price category that handle extreme home theater dynamics with less noticeable strain. But the Arcam walks the line between these camps deftly, and meets is makers' goals of being compact, efficient and running cool. I think it represents a smart set of compromises overall even if it gives up a little something to meet its priorities.
Highs and Lows
• Outstanding feature set at an excellent price
• Transparent HDMI switching even with HD signals
• P1000 amp offers a lot of performance in diminutive, cool-running package
• Less than stellar remote control
• Sound from AVP700 lacks detail, dynamics