When I started out in this hobby, I was part of that club, with a turntable and tape deck. I hardwired my TV’s audio output to the auxiliary input on a Marantz receiver and enjoyed “stereo” movie sound. The Arcam SR250 Stereo AV Receiver is just a more sophisticated and powerful update to that scheme. Unlike most other stereo receivers, the Arcam SR250 has two features that set it apart from the competition; Class G amplification, which provides Class A sound quality with ample reserves, and Dirac Live room correction.
Arcam SR250 Stereo AV Receiver
- 2 x 90 watts of Class G amplification
- Seven HDMI inputs and two outputs
- HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 content protection
- Dirac Live room correction
- Video pass-through for 4K and HDR
If you are like me, your spouse has allowed you your own room in the house where you can indulge your audio and videophile fantasies. Some of you call it your “man cave”, but I prefer “multimedia room”. The point is, you may only have this one space for both movies and music. Most have the music room setup for stereo listening, either with digital or analog sources, but the new Ultra HD TV you got for Christmas is also on the wall in this room and you want to hear it over your system and not the tiny built-in speakers. Since you have chosen not to go with a full 5.1 surround system and want to keep things simple, you chose to run it through your receiver, but alas, your older receiver doesn’t do 4K. The Arcam SR250 Stereo AV Receiver is designed for you. Now you can watch the latest 4K movies and still enjoy listening to your stereo music without having to purchase a multi-channel receiver.
Continuous power output, per channel, 8Ω:
90 watts – 2 channels driven, 20Hz – 20kHz, <0.02% THD
Audio Performance (Stereo line inputs):
Signal/noise ratio (A-weighted, stereo direct) – 110dB
Frequency response – 20Hz-20kHz ± 0.2dB
HDMI x 7 (6 x HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2, 1 x MHL compatible)
HDMI – Zone 1 x 2 (out1 ARC, HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2, out2 HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2), Zone 2 x 1 (HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2)
HDMI x 7, Coax S/PDIF – x 4, Toslink – x 2, RCA x 6, 3.5mm aux, USB input, Ethernet, Internet Radio, ARC (from display)
2.1 pre-amp output – 4 x RCA
Zone 2 output – 1 x RCA
FM / DAB / DAB+ (in appropriate markets)
IR in x 2
6V rSeries PSU x 1, Power consumption (max) – 600W
Power consumption (standby) – <0.5W
Dimensions & Weights:
WxDxH – 17” x 16.7” x 6.7”
Weight – 33.2lbs
Arcam SR250 Stereo AV Receiver MSRP:
Arcam SR250 Stereo AV Receiver, Arcam, Arcam SR250, Receiver Reviews 2017
So why would you consider a two-channel home theater product? The thought seems a bit strange at first, but as I spent more time with the SR250, I began to appreciate its unique character and functionality. Because I have immersed myself in surround sound for over the last decade, I had forgotten that there is still a large portion of the consumer base that does not have a dedicated home theater with speakers on the side and back walls. Many people like listening to stereo sound and prefer to run their TVs through those same speakers. Why would you spend the money on a multi-channel receiver and never utilize those extra channels? Enter the Arcam SR250. Now you can have seriously decent stereo sound for your music (both hi-res and streaming) while enjoying an occasional movie with just one box.
The Arcam SR250 utilizes 90 watts per channel of Class G amplification, which in the lower power range is essentially Class A. When the demand for more power kicks in at around 20 watts, the amplifier jumps into a more traditional Class A/B amplification as multiple power supplies start adding into the mix. This allows for excellent sound, robust power, and little wasted energy dissipated into heat. The DAC chipset is Cirrus Logic’s CS42528. The SR250 weighs in at 33.2 pounds and has a very uncluttered and clean front panel made from extruded aluminum. The overall feel and heft of the SR250 gives the impression of a solid build and quality design. The dark color helps it blend nicely into a home theater décor and the florescent display is easy to read from across the room. The display can be turned off or dimmed if you find it too intrusive. Centered on the unit is a large volume knob that feels like quality. To the right and left are small buttons that control the inputs, listening modes, info, and menu navigation. Of course, all these features are included on the fully backlit remote. At the far right is a headphone jack, auxiliary input, and a power button that leaves the SR250 in standby mode when off.
Moving on to the back panel, we have seven HDMI inputs (4k HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 1 utilizing ARC), three HDMI outputs, six assignable analog inputs, two coaxial, and two Toslink connections, one set of analog preamp outs and two sub-woofer outputs. An Ethernet connection, Zone 2, and USB round out the back side of the SR250. The speaker terminals are solid and heavy duty five-way binding posts that are closely spaced together. For a “home theater” receiver, the back has a clean and simple layout that a novice would not be intimidated by during the setup process.
For this review, I hooked up the SR250 to my Revel F36 towers and ran the sub out to my Earthquake Audio CP-8 sub under my seating position. I connected an Xbox One S gaming console via HDMI and an OPPO UDP-203 universal disc player with Morrow Audio analog interconnects. The SR250 will automatically downmix all multi-channel signals to stereo, but will display the actual incoming format information so you know at a glance what’s going on. The real magic of the Arcam SR250 is the secret sauce; Dirac Live. This was my first foray into this room correction software and I was anxious to put it to the acid test in my room. The setup for Dirac includes the use of a supplied microphone (you have an option to provide your own, more sophisticated mic), and a laptop. The instructions were easy to follow and a typical setup can be done in about 20 minutes. Mine took an hour (I discovered I had loaded the wrong mic correction file) and it seemed that during the crucial measuring of the room response, a motorcycle club would drive past my house. It is imperative to take your measurements in a quiet room! Once I was done, Dirac displayed the speaker response curves and asked if I wanted to apply the filter for correction. After confirming this, the software loads via ethernet onto the SR250 and the corrected curves are displayed over the original curve for comparison.
The results were interesting. The sound was more open and three-dimensional, and the speakers disappeared in my room. You can turn Dirac on or off on the fly with the remote and the difference was obvious, but with a few caveats. At first, I noticed the voices of the singers were pulled to the left of center. This happened consistently with all the music I played. With Dirac off, the voices snapped to the center of the soundstage. What was going on? It wasn’t a balance issue, but in the receiver’s menu, I noticed that Dirac had added an 11-millisecond delay to my right front speaker. When I brought it down to zero, the vocals moved into dead center as they were supposed to be. Always check the results of an automatic room correction system. They are not infallible. I also noticed the sound was louder with Dirac switched on, making A/B comparisons a bit more difficult. In the end, Dirac allowed for a more spacious soundstage and almost made me forget I wasn’t listening to a 5.1 system. Almost.
The other thing that surprised me was the few days of listening it took for me to get accustomed to the corrected sound. I liked the enhanced soundstage and greater presence of the vocalists, but the dynamics seemed a bit suppressed. This was most likely because my mid-bass was probably much more emphasized prior to Dirac being applied and now I was hearing it more the way it should be for my room. In any case, as time went on, I liked it more after a few days of intensive listening. I could always dial up my bass output to taste if I wanted to at any time. Bottom line – Dirac makes the SR250 much more than just a stereo receiver. If you are listening to 4K movies on your current stereo receiver, the SR250 could be a game-changer if you are thinking of moving up to something better. Though it is not as good as a real surround setup, it opens up the sound in front of you so well that you’ll barely notice you’re watching a movie in stereo. It also will transform your stereo music catalog listening experience. Though the Arcam SR250 is not inexpensive, Dirac alone could easily justify the price of admission; it’s that good!
Running the Dirac setup from my laptop was fairly easy and intuitive. I did make a slight mistake that cost me about an hour of time, though. When selecting the microphone correction file, I chose the wrong one (hey, it was one of only two options, next time I’ll pay attention). I could not get the positions to pass the setup test, but once I discovered my error, the actual process went well and I was finished measuring all nine locations in less than 20 minutes. The mic is furnished, but the other file allows you to use your own more sophisticated mic if you have one. Once the corrected file was loaded into the Arcam SR250, it allowed you to see the before and after curves and then it allows you to customize it to your specific taste. You can toggle Dirac on and off for comparison, which is nice because the changes are pretty dramatic.
My only complaint is the volume changes when toggling, so an accurate comparison is a bit tougher to make. I found Dirac presented a much wider sound field, with a slightly more forward presentation than with it disengaged. It was definitely more 3D, but dynamics were a bit relaxed. Because you can adjust your curves or turn Dirac on and off on the fly, it makes for some fun comparisons, especially with music. I had to turn my sub down after Dirac, as it boosted the output too much, but with an SPL meter, I was able to pull it into shape quickly. (Again, I want to iterate the importance of always checking things out the old school way, with your ears and a good SPL meter. Dirac is good, but it is not always perfect). Internet radio stations and Spotify were easy to set up and navigate. Streaming stations online gives you an almost unlimited selection of music from all corners of the world. What a wonderous age we live in!
I recently acquired a few action movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray that allowed me to evaluate the Arcam SR250’s ability to reproduce the expanded sound field that Dirac was able to provide. Atomic Blond is an action spy flick that takes place during the Cold War era. The soundtrack is a hit parade of 80’s dance hits. In both instances, the action and complimentary music was presented with a broad front soundstage, with plenty of bullets and shattering glass sounds extending fully across the front of the room. Many sounds appeared to be coming from around and behind my listening area. The space between my front speakers was broadened and extended more forward with Dirac engaged and audibly noticeable artifacts.
I also recently got all five Transformer movies, and I dare any sane person to watch all of them in one sitting without their brain turning into marmalade. They have a lot of continuous high impact sound, yet its openness allowed what dialog there was to come through the cacophony clearly. The display on the SR250 showed that it was taking a surround signal and seamlessly down-converting it to stereo. Picture quality was pristine and the Arcam passed Dolby Vision HDR beautifully. This is the first processor I have used that allows me to connect to my Vizio P55 without running the video signal directly to the display. This then allowed me to hook my Xbox One S to the Arcam directly and use the SR250 as a UHD switcher, rather than changing inputs on the Vizio.
I played a wide range of music, from solo guitar to full orchestra and was pleased with the way Dirac opened up the sound. For soloists, the Arcam with Dirac moved the overall sound a bit more into the room. The sense of air and space was almost palpable. Solo voices sounded just right with the perfect balance of detail and natural timbre. Orchestral music had expansive room to breathe while maintaining detail and naturalness. The dynamics were excellent without an emphasis on any part of the audio spectrum. I enjoy my organ music, too.
Dirac did a great job simulating the huge space inside a cathedral. It was the great equalizer of sound quality and the effect it gave to my music was almost always preferred to the uncorrected version. Did it best my SACD multi-channel listening experience? No, but it made listening to stereo more enjoyable, and that’s a real win! Since multi-channel music listening is probably considered a niche, the vast majority of two-channel enthusiasts might well like the benefits of having Dirac step in and enhance their listening experience.
THE ARCAM SR250 STEREO AV RECEIVER is premium-priced, but few other components can boast its home theater chops and the enhancement of Dirac Live.
- Dirac Live works well
- Class G amplification sounds great
- Ultra HD video pass-through with HDR support
- Very solid construction
- Volume equalized for easier comparison of Dirac
The Arcam SR250 Stereo AV Receiver is an unusual product, but it’s perfectly suited for the music lover who doesn’t want to waste money on a multi-channel receiver, but wants to occasionally be able to watch a movie on the Ultra HD TV he got for Christmas this year. Though the Arcam SR250 is not inexpensive, it offers some features that set it apart from other stereo receivers – solid build quality, Class G amplification, and Dirac Live. If you like music and movies, you can have the best of both worlds in a receiver that is ready for the future, whether it be hi-res music or Ultra HD video. The Arcam SR250 is stereo evolved… into the home theater.