Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity - Thumbs Up Awards
The Arcam AVR850 stands out as one of the best sounding receivers that I have ever had in my system.

It is compatible with the latest audio and video formats while it includes one of the best room correction packages on the market. The built-in amplification provides plenty of power for most any system. The independent bench tests I conducted indicated that the unit was very conservatively rated and the distortion profiles are incredibly good for a surround receiver. All this adds up to excellent performance with surround sources as well as with two-channel music!

Highlights

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver

  • Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 included
  • DTS:X ready
  • 4K and 3D video passthrough
  • Dirac Live room correction
  • 7-channel Class G amplification
  • Free iOS control app available
Introduction

The 2015 CEDIA Expo was in Dallas where the HQ of Sound Organisation is located. SoundOrg is an importer and distributor of high quality stereo and home theater products. Arcam is one brand they handle.

They had opportunities for press and dealers to come to their office and preview a number of new products. One major demo I heard that evening was of the Arcam AVR850 surround receiver. They were making a big deal out of this receiver. They played some different clips of various sources, most of them featuring Dolby Atmos.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - Front View

Though the setting was better than a show room floor, I still felt that the receiver just wasn’t being shown in its best light. So I requested a review sample of the Arcam AVR850 to review on my own personal system. Just as I suspected, this receiver is quite praise worthy and my appreciation of it was solidified during this review.

ARCAM RECEIVER REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
Codecs:

Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby Surround, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS-ES 6.1 Matrix, DTS 5.1

Power Output (2 channels driven):

20Hz – 20kHz, <0.02% THD – 120W (8Ω), 200W (4Ω)

Power Output (7 channels driven):

1kHz, 0.2% THD – 100W (8Ω), 180W (4Ω)

Dirac Live®:

Room Correction

Inputs:

HDMI (7 Total, 1 MHL Compatible and 1 ARC), SPDIF Coax (4), Toslink (2), Analog RCA (6), 3.5 mm Aux (1), USB (1)

Outputs:

HDMI (2 Zone 1, 1 Zone 2), 7.1.4 Pre-amp output (Unbalanced RCA), Zone 2 Stereo (Unbalanced RCA)

2-Zone:

Operation

AM/FM:

Tuner

Dimensions:

6-3/4" H x 17-1/16” W x 16-3/4" D

TITLESPEC:

DESCRIPTION

Weight:

34.2 Pounds

MSRP:

$6,000 (USD)

Company:

Arcam

SECRETS Tags:

Arcam, Arcam AVR850, Surround Receiver, Receivers, Receiver Reviews 2016

Design

The Arcam AVR 850 is Arcam’s top of the line surround sound receiver. It has all the latest bells and whistles required to be the heart and soul of a high end surround sound system.

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The biggest part for me is that the AVR850 is capable of decoding Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Atmos is one of the newest surround formats on the market. Not only is it high resolution but it involves mastering techniques where the mastering engineer can move sound objects throughout the room, including overhead. This creates a high resolution surround “bubble” in your theater. The AVR850 can also synthesized Dolby Atmos from pretty much any source and the effect was at times quite engaging. This was all very exciting to me as I had recently installed in-ceiling height speakers in my theater.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - Upclose View

The AVR850 is also DTS:X ready via an upcoming firmware update. DTS:X is DTS’s latest surround format that, though it is lagging Atmos in its roll out, is also expected to be widely released in the coming months.

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Another major benefit of the AVR850 is that it comes complete with Dirac Live room correction. Dirac Live is a high end room correction system that not only corrects for proper frequency balance but it also manages to correct certain impulse response anomalies. The Arcam AVR850 is the second product I have tested that has Dirac Live and Dirac has proven to be in the same class as Anthem’s “Anthem Room Correction (ARC)” system.

The AVR850 is also 4K ready and supports HDCP2.2 protocols. It’s HDMI 2.0 interface is 3D compliant as well and includes Audio Return Channel (ARC) functionality. There are plenty of ins and outs with 7 HDMI inputs and two outputs.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - Inside Components

The AVR850 contains 7 channels of on-board Class G amplification rated up to 120 wpc into 8 ohm loads. Class G amplifiers use multiple power supplies which kick in as more and more power is required due to the signal waveform and the volume setting. Arcam has designed their own circuitry here which is governed by a very fast switching power supply so there is no audible lag in delivering the power required at any given moment in time. Arcam also employs multiple power output devices per channel so the amplifiers maintain a firm grip on your speakers.

Compared to Class A/B, the Class G topology allows a more efficient design. The greater efficiency means the AVR850 delivers more power when multiple channels are being used and the claimed grip on the speakers was readily heard in my listening sessions.

Arcam spared no expense in offering a high quality resistor-ladder analog volume control. This was one reason I am sure why I measured such low levels of THD+N in my bench testing of the AVR850. I have been impressed lately by what I have heard and measured from receivers over the last few years and the Arcam receiver is right up there with the best.

The AVR850 includes a high quality AM/FM tuner but no HD Radio capability 🙁 You can also listen to network streaming via the rear panel Ethernet hook up. And, if you connect your receiver to your home network, it can then be controlled by iOS devices.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - Remote

The unit comes with a nice full-function back lit remote. This remote can be programmed to control up to 8 devices. These can be accessed by included codes but also the remote can learn codes of any products not listed on the extensive library of preset codes. I liked this remote very much. It was lightweight, fit in my hand comfortably and the buttons varied by size and shape so using the remote became second nature rather quickly.

The look of this receiver is one of industrialized elegance. The AVR850 is part of the FMJ range of Arcam products and it shares the family look of other products in the range. The slick front panel, dominated by a large center-mounted volume knob is adorned in a dark matte gray, curvy aluminum fascia. The big volume knob is flanked by 10 buttons that inconceivably provide full control of the product. Above this row of controls is a rudimentary green dot matrix display that confines itself to just the most basic of information (input, volume level and sound mode). The right side of the panel has two ports for mini plugs – Auxiliary in and Headphone out. The main power toggle is just under those jacks. There are no HDMI or USB front panel inputs. Though this omission lends to the clean look of the AVR850, I am sure most users would hope for these inputs at one point or another.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - Rear View

The receiver’s back panel layout is clean, reasonably uncluttered and logically laid out. The HDMI board is along the top and is where you will find the 7 inputs and two outputs. There is an additional Zone 2 HDMI output which is a nice plus.

The analog inputs and outputs are situated below the row of HDMI jacks. And next to them are the S/PDIF coax and optical inputs. There is a USB port there too, but it is for playing files from a jump drive or a hard drive, it is not for computer audio. Also on this row are the Ethernet port, 75 ohm antenna jack and the various control ports which include four programmable DC triggers.

Speaker outputs are heavy duty five-way binding posts for all 7 channels. The two outermost channels can be readily configured for height, rear or Zone 2 speakers.

Setup

Setting up the AVR850 was about as painless as possible for a complex product such as it is. I placed the unit in the rack where I typically keep my surround processor and then hooked up all my sources, displays and speakers. Then I was ready to calibrate the unit. But first, I’d like to make a few observations about the set up.

Most of my sources are HDMI anymore. I have a satellite receiver/DVR, a Blu-ray player, a DVD player, a Roku and an AppleTV. I connected all of these via HDMI. My last analog source is my Parasound phono stage. I connected this to the “STB” input because it was available and I thought I could watch satellite TV while listening but I found that I needed to switch the video input each time (because the STB input has its own native video source). So I will switch this to the CD input so I can make the SAT video pass through a permanent choice.

I connected all 7 of my satellites to the speaker binding posts using banana plugs. I then configured outputs 6 and 7 to be used for the height channels. I was honestly thinking I would just test the internal amps for a while, become disillusioned with their quality and/or power output and then switch back to my big outboard amp. But in actuality, I never stopped using the AVR850’s Class G amps during the entire evaluation period. They were nothing short of awesome!

The last connection I made was to connect the subwoofer out to the line level input on the back of my sub. I defeated the EQ in my sub and proceeded to calibrate the AVR850.

The set up for Dirac Live is very similar to the way you set up a system with many of the other high end room correction packages. The unit comes with a USB soundcard and analog mic that you connect to a laptop on which you have downloaded the Dirac Live for Arcam software. You then connect the receiver to the same network via its Ethernet connection. The laptop and receiver need to be on the same network. Once all the connections were made, I launched the software on the laptop and was pleased with how simple and straight forward the calibration process was.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - Dirac Live for Arcam software

It was all script based and the software walked you through the process with a simple step-wise process. It is about as idiot proof as a complex system can be. Dirac Live has a default target curve, but you can also play with the curves to make revisions for your own tastes, to avoid the system trying to fill room-induced suckouts or to prevent the system from pushing your tweeters beyond their comfortable working limit.

I mostly evaluated the system using the default curve and the performance I heard was magnificent throughout. But I did need to manually balance the channels after Dirac Live was done. The channels balance adjustments I made did substantially improve the immersion factor. So now I was ready to enjoy some movies and music!

In Use

The Arcam AVR850 was so good, I’m having a hard time deciding where to begin my comments. After thinking it over for a few minutes, I’ve decided the best place to start would be with its core functionality – surround sound.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

I recently upgraded my system by installing in-ceiling height speakers and that’s why I was most excited to test out Dolby Atmos. I have found “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” to be one of the best among the early wave of Dolby Atmos Blu-ray releases.

The best demo material on this disc would be the extended chase scene through the streets and walkways of Morocco. The AVR850 delivered a scintillating performance throughout this scene. The growl of the engines was very satisfying for sure. The engine noises were fleshy but realistic sounding – the Arcam passing these effects just the way they were intended; strongly, powerfully and with vanishingly low distortion.

But much more than that, the mix in this scene is very complex. Lesser receivers might devolve the presentation into a grungy morass of blended noises. But not the Arcam. It presented the audio with extreme clarity and a specific ability to separate out all the sounds on disc. Add that the Dolby Atmos created a true surround bubble and the effect was more akin to high quality separates as opposed to a single box solution. A big part of this observation is that I never felt that the amplifiers were straining up to their limit even when listening at very loud playback levels.

Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys

There was another action-packed Dolby Atmos Blu-ray that I enjoyed quite a bit while reviewing the AVR850 – “Terminator Genisys”. Similar to Mission Impossible, this is a film that would seriously tax the amplification built into lesser receivers. The AVR850 left its competition in the dust with the way it reproduced the complex, full-range effects in this movie. My main speakers are moderately efficient with a claimed in-room sensitivity of 94 dB.

But when you have a large room as I do and crank up a movie like Genisys, all sorts of bad things can happen if your amplification is not up to task. And the strength of the amplifiers in the AVR850, particularly with multiple channels firing, will be one of the most lingering impressions I will have of this fine product.

The AVR850 also offered up a clean presentation with lots of space between individual sounds. In many ways, it brought me very close to what I heard in the Datasat RS20i which is a product that costs over $25,000 and has no included amplification. I would estimate that on a movie like Genisys, the AVR850 provided over 90% of what was heard with the incredible Datasat in the system. The Arcam simply is that good.

As mentioned earlier, the AVR850 could synthesize the effect of Dolby Atmos from normal material. It was a little hard for me to figure out how to engage this effect as the manual was not altogether clear. A quick email exchange with Arcam’s US distributor cleared this up right away. You need to select “+ Dolby Surround” in the main menu. In other words, you set the AVR850 to pass the native format and then it overlays Dolby Surround which then engages the height channels.

The Revenant

The Revenant

I tried it on a movie that I happen to have missed in theaters – “The Revenant”. So the first time I watched it was over the AVR850 with the height channels engaged. I was blown away!! Of course a big part of being blown away was this incredible movie and part of it was the Arcam AVR850. This movie turned out to be the ideal choice for adding height information. Most all the scenes were outdoor scenes and the sounds of the wind rustling leaves and the rainfall/snowfall on those very leaves was incredibly convincing. And what about the sound of a grizzly’s paws raining down on you. Yikes!! I was fixated.

Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga

Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga “Cheek to Cheek Live!”

So the movie watching was pretty awesome with the AVR850 in my system. A lot of surround receivers do well with movies but fall woefully short on music. But this is not the case with Arcam’s AVR850. I found its ability for musical playback to rival many of the best 2-channel receivers I have heard. Take the Blu-ray of Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga “Cheek to Cheek Live!”.

This is a well recorded and properly mastered presentation. Listening to the 2-channel LPCM track, the AVR850 let this work shine unlike anything I would have ever expected from a surround receiver. The sound is warm and rich which was truthfully conveyed via the Arcam’s excellent response characteristics in the mid bass. Also, the singers’ voices were uncannily real and let me feel I was right there enjoying this amazing performance side by side with the audience.

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams “Heartbreaker”

When it came to vinyl, the Arcam once again impressed with an incredible performance. One record I enjoyed was Ryan Adams “Heartbreaker” special anniversary edition on vinyl. Listening to this record proved to be a major high point in my review of the AVR850. Despite all the nice things I’ve said about this receiver heretofore, this proved to be a major high point so not sure how to describe what I heard other than to say it was singularly the very best reproduction of a 2-channel source than I have ever heard from a surround receiver.

My favorite song on this album is “Oh My Sweet Carolina”. I could have listened to it a hundred times over the AVR850. The sound of the strings, the drums and most especially the voices were amazingly true to life and emotive.

One more point – the unit makes it easy to toggle the Dirac Live on and off. When I would turn it off while listening to vinyl, the soundstage collapsed dramatically. When on, the Dirac spread the stage as wide as possible and opened up the top end in a way that I cannot fully explain with just words. It is something you must experience for yourself.

On The Bench

The below test plot is the analog frequency response of the AVR850 through the line level outputs. The unit was set to stereo direct and the room correction was turned off. The frequency response is ruler flat from DC to beyond 30 kHz and then its starts a gentle roll of up to 48 kHz at which point the filters kick in.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - On The Bench

This is the basic THD+N reading for the AVR850 with the same set up parameters described above. At 2V out, the THD+N is 0.00324%. I tried testing the unit at 5V out over the line level outputs which caused the unit to go into protection mode and shut down. This was not a concern as 2V out is ample to drive most domestic amplifiers to clipping so shutting down just before 5V is not a problem. This was in fact evidence that the protection circuits were working as expected.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - On The Bench Stats

This is the first of the IMD tests we do on amplifiers. The test signal comprises two simultaneous tones of the same amplitude, one is 19 kHz and the other is 20 kHz. The B-A peak is the difference signal that is sympathetic to the input signals, 1 kHz in this case. The AVR850 offers amazing performance with this B-A peak measured at 101.76 dB below the test signals.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - Stats

This is the other IMD test with 60 Hz and 7 kHz signals. The reported IMD at 2V was 0.0027%. There was a day not too many years ago where this low a reading would have only been possible from the most expensive of 2-channel preamplifiers.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - On The Bench Stats

The next three plots give the THD+N of the AVR850 at the speaker outputs. All tests are 2 channels driven into 8 ohms. The third and last test plot shows the THD+N is less than 0.005% just below the amplifier’s rated output of 120 watts per channel. This exceeds manufacturer claims.

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - Stats

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - On The Bench

Arcam AVR850 Surround Receiver - On The Bench Stats

Conclusions

THE ARCAM AVR850 RECEIVER has Pristine Video Pass-through, Modern Audio Technologies and Some of the Cleanest, Most Powerful Amplification of Any Receiver on the Market.

Likes
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X ready
  • UHD and 3D video passthrough
  • Low distortion
  • High power
  • Clean and vibrant sound
  • Extremely musical
  • Excellent processing for matrixed height channels
  • Dirac Live room correction
Would Like To See
  • Front-panel digital inputs
  • Asynchronous USB input

The Arcam AVR850 gets my highest recommendation. I was very much sold on it after my extensive listening sessions. There is no doubt in my mind that it can and does offer performance that rivals many of the separate processor/amp combinations on the market. My positive impressions were further reinforced by the superior bench tests results obtained.

Let me break it down a little more. The AVR850 is on the cutting edge of today’s technology with the most up to date audio processing available for the consumer market. It also has Dirac Live, one of my favorite room correction systems out there. It has an easy to follow, script-based set up routine that virtually anybody can successfully implement. It has robust and clean sounding amplifiers on board. I never had one single reliability issue with the unit throughout a very long evaluation period. Lastly, the AVR850 is very well put together and I see no reason why it wouldn’t be a reliable performer year after year.

Some may think the price of the AVR850 is a little high and I get that. There are a lot of cheaper receivers on the market that, on paper, may seem to offer better value. But I can attest through my hands-on experience with the AVR850, there are substantial benefits that the Arcam has over the competition. It reminds me of the old adage, “You get what you pay for” only that isn’t exactly correct: You can pay for it and not get it. More correctly, it should say, “You don’t get what you don’t pay for!” When you buy an Arcam AVR850, you get the best circuit designs, the best componentry and the best build quality available in any mainstream receiver. You owe it to yourself to give the AVR850 receiver a try before you invest in a new receiver.

  • josephnunn

    No Apple Lossless/ALAC support.

  • detroit1

    Arcam is excellent stuff, but this is way overpriced especially when you can get the Anthem middle receiver for around 1K if you talk to the right dealers and it has a newer version of ARC room correction that is probably in the same league as the Dirac or at least close

  • josephnunn

    Alas detroit1, I’m still looking for those ‘right dealers’. The ones I’ve met so far where I live have not generally been inclined to cooperate.

  • detroit1

    worst price for Anthem MRX 520 is 1,399 but I know for a fact many will sell it for less. Much better value than the Arcam
    Emotiva has a separate Pre-Pro with Dirac for like $2,499, less than half the price of the Arcam. The Arcam is nice but they are clueless on how to price their products

  • josephnunn

    I have considered the Anthem MRX 720, list price is $2500, what have you seen it go for?

    I think the Arcam is expensive for sure, but I do believe its probably the best if money isn’t something that concerns you. I have listened to the 850 and 550 in a Best Buy and I can clearly hear the difference, the 850 is almost separates quality so if you need an amp already you can just buy that and be done, will cost a little less than separates.

    The 550 makes less sense IMHO, even though its significantly cheaper, I’ve read forum posts on avforum where it shuts down with low impedance speakers. TBH that shouldn’t be a problem at its price point.

  • detroit1

    you can buy the separate Emotiva pre amp and their power amp for like 3,500; that blows away the value of the Arcam and at least as good a quality if not “better” for those separates die hards out there

  • josephnunn

    Ok, I looked at the Emotiva pre amp, the XMC-1? It will be updated in early 2017 to gen 3 with support for Atmos and DTS-X, but that will cost $3K as per their website, same as the Anthem AVM 60 prepro that you can get today with those features. The Arcam 550 has all that but also comes with amps for $3400 but I’ve seen it for $500 off at Best Buy.

    In the case you are already going to a separate amp, the Arcam 550 seems like it makes sense used as a prepro with amps at $500 off @ BB instead of a prepro from above.

    I don’t know what Emotiva amp you are looking at, the XPA? Configured for 7 channels that is like $1900 list. Best buy recently had the Arcam 850 @ $1000 off, so that is $5000, which is $2000 more than the prepros above, and about equal in cost to adding the Emotive amp. The question is how much watts do you get in Class A with the Emotiva XPA? You get 30 watts Class A with the Arcam 850 and I can tell the difference when listening to Sonus Veneres.

  • detroit1

    does the lower Arcam have Dirac Room Correction ? That is a big deal. The Emotiva has it and the Arcam 850 has it

  • josephnunn

    The Arcam 550 has Dirac, and as far as I can tell has the same pre-amplifier section as the 850. The only really differences are the amplifier sections and I think the 850 has better binding posts.

    Ultimately though, I am taking into consideration the recent sale at BB on the Arcams, which gave $500 off the 550 and $1000 off the 850. These discounts are essentially the overpriced part of their cost, and with the discounts brings these products in line with their competitors.

    Of course you might find a dealer that will give you an even better deal on an Anthem MRX 720, but I haven’t been able to find someone like that yet 🙂

  • detroit1

    I think the max price on the Anthem 720 is also 2,499, even that is less than half of the Arcam. How much real difference is someone going to hear given that the Arcam costs twice as much. Thru HDMI, I don’t think anyone will hear any difference

  • josephnunn

    I don’t know what the Anthem 720 sounds like, but its more appropriate to compare it to the Arcam 550 @ $3400 without discount than the 850. The Arcam 850 here is more appropriate to compare against separates as I’ve done above.

  • Jim Clements

    I have a lot of music on my home server that is ALAC encoded. I stream it over my Apple TV to the Arcam via HDMI. It sounds very good this way as Arcam has gone to great lengths to reduce jitter over HDMI.

  • josephnunn

    Apple TV downsamples ALAC files, it is no substitute for having ALAC support in the AVR itself, as Anthem, Pioneer, Yamaha, Integra, Denon, Marantz, and Onkyo all do. With ALAC in its AVR, Arcam would be capable of hi res streaming of ALAC without downsampling via its MusicLife app, which can also turn on/off and otherwise control the receiver. As ALAC/Apple Lossless is royalty free and open source there is no justifiable reason not to include it at this price.

  • Justin

    Been thinking of getting either the Arcam or the Anthem. Sound quality wise, have you any thoughts seeing as two flagship models were recently reviewed.

  • Zander

    I owned the Arcam AVR600 a while back, which was the predecessor. It was plagued with HDMI switching issues (clicks, unmuting problems, etc..). It would also fail after 3 to 4 months on average, the amp would start to overheat (it was sitting on an open air shelf in mild Los Angeles weather) and it would develop massive distortion in the right or left channel. Arcam replaced the entire unit twice until I finally gave up and sold the third one they sent me to some poor soul. I would seriously reconsider buying any Arcam product.

  • Pascal

    Hi ,
    What choice, Arcam avr 850 or Anthem 1120 ???

  • Anthem and Arcam are both top notch, so you really can’t go wrong with either manufacturer. That being said, now that Arcam has room correction (Dirac Live) that is on par or better than Anthem’s venerable ARC (Anthem Room Correction), I would have to give the nod to Arcam as their power stage is far superior (much more robust and musical sounding amps (especially in the case of the AVR850), bigger power supplies, etc.). Let me know if you aren’t already working with a local dealer – we have clients all over the country and I’d be happy to work with you any way I can.

  • Jim Clements

    To Pascal and Justin, I want to point out that we recognized three surround receivers for awards in 2016. The 2016 Best Surround Receiver went to the Anthem MRX 1120. Meanwhile, the Arcam AVR850 and the Yamaha Aventage RX-A3050 received 2016 “Thumbs Up” Awards. I mention this because the Editorial Team here at Secrets felt that any one of these three receivers would provide excellent performance.

    So you can be confident in buying any one of these receivers. The interesting thing is that they all have different room correction packages. They also vary in terms of amplifier channels, power rating, features and price. Consider all these aspects first and then let your ears guide you on which one is a best fit for you, your system and your needs.