ARCAM FMJ-AVR450 Network Home Theater Receiver Review

Built Like A Tank and Sounds Grand - But There Are Some Quirks

ARCAM FMJ-AVR450 Home Theater Receiver - Photo - Front View
Photo of the ARCAM FMJ-AVR450 home theater receiver as seen from the front. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

When in comes to home theater receivers, the brands that immediately come to mind for U.S. consumers are often times Denon, Harman Kardon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Sony - However, they are definitely not your own choices.

One home theater receiver brand name on the higher-end of audio spectrum that has a good reputation both in its native UK, and here in the U.S., amongst home theater enthusiasts is ARCAM, which currently offers three interesting home theater receivers, the FMJ-AVR380, 450, and 750.

In this review, I evaluate the FMJ-AVR450, which occupies the mid-priced ($2,999.00) spot in ARCAM's line-up.

First up, here are the main features of the Arcam FMJ-AVR450:

1. 7.1 channel home theater receiver (7 channels plus 1 subwoofer out) delivering 110 Watts into 7 channels at .02% THD (measured at 20Hz to 20kHz with 2 channels driven).

2. Audio Decoding: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Plus, TrueHD, DTS Digital Surround 5.1, DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, and DTS-HD Master Audio, PCM.

3. Additional Audio Processing: 5 Channel Stereo, Dolby Prologic II, IIx, Dolby Volume (with variable level setting), DTS Neo:6.

4. Compatible Audio Formats Delivered via Network/USB: FLAC, WAV, MP3, MPEG-AAC, and WMA. However, it must be pointed out that Hi-Res 24hz/96bit FLAC and ALAC files will not play via USB.

5. Audio Inputs (Digital - Excluding HDMI): 3 Digital Optical (2 Rear/1 Front - front digital optical connection option requires 3.5mm digital optical adapter/connector), 4 Digital Coaxial.

6. Audio Inputs (Analog) - 6 RCA-type (rear), 1 3.5mm Aux analog audio input (front).

7. Audio Outputs (Excluding HDMI): 1 Subwoofer Pre-out, 1 set of Zone 2 Analog Stereo Pre-outs, and 7.1 channel preamp outputs.

8. Speaker connection options for Surround Back, Bi-amp and Zone 2.

9. Video Inputs: 7 HDMI (3D and 4K pass through capable), 3 Component, 4 Composite video.

10. Video Outputs: 2 HDMI (3D, 4K, Audio Return Channel capable with compatible TVs), and 1 Composite Video output for Zone 2 use.

11. Analog to HDMI video conversion,as well as 1080p and 4K upscaling.

12. ARCAM Auto Speaker Setup system (microphone provided).

13. FM and DAB Tuners with a total 50 Presets (Note: DAB is not available in the U.S.).

14. Network/Internet Connectivity via Ethernet Connection

15. Internet Radio access via vTuner and ARCAM Internet Radio Tuning Service.

16. DLNA V1.5 and UPnP compatible for wired access to digital media files stored on PCs, Media Servers, and other compatible network-connected devices.

17. Rear mounted USB port provided for access to content stored on compatible USB flash drives, iPods, and iPhones.

18. An infrared universal remote control is provided - built-in code database for third-party brand components included.

19. Suggested Price: $2,999.00 (only available through authorized ARCAM dealers and installers).

Receiver Setup

The Arcam FMJ-AVR450 provides manual or automatic speaker setup/room correction options.

In order to use ARCAM's Auto Speaker Setup system, first make sure all your speakers and subwoofer are connected to the receiver. If your subwoofer has a crossover adjustment, set it to it highest point.

Next, place the provided microphone at your primary listening position (can be screwed onto a camera tripod), and plug it into the designated front panel input. Now select the Automatic Speaker Setup option from the receiver's Setup Menu options and start the process.

Once started, the system confirms that the speakers are connected to the receiver. The speaker size is determined, (large, small), the distance of each speaker from the listening position is measured, and finally the equalization and speaker levels are adjusted in relation to both the listening position and room characteristics. The entire process only takes a few minutes.

However, it is important to note that automatic calibration results may not always be precisely accurate or to your taste. In these cases, you are able to go back in manually and make changes to any of the settings. You can also change your desired setup configuration using the onscreen menu system,

Audio Performance

The FMJ-AVR450 easily accommodates both a 5.1 or 7.1 channel speaker (or 5.1/7.1) configuration, and provides excellent listening results.

Also, you have two 5.1 channel speaker setup options. One option, if you have front left/right main speakers that allow Bi-amping or Bi-Wiring, you can reassign the surround back channels so that more power can be delivered to the those speakers. Another option is to reassign the surround back channels to power a set of speakers assigned for Zone 2 operation.

For movies, the AVR450 provides provides several Dolby and DTS audio decoding and processing options that can deliver the needed surround sound experience within a traditional horizontal 5.1 or 7.1 channel speaker layout.

For movies, the main thing that impressed me was that the receiver has power to spare. I found the surround field was clear and precise, with no signs of fatigue on scenes with lots loud or complex sound layering. For example, one my favorite tests is the first ship-to-ship battle scene in Master and Commander. In comparison with my trusty Onkyo TX-SR705 receiver that has served me for several year (running the same midrange speaker systems), I found that the ARCAM provided more dynamic punch, more distinct detail, and a more immersive soundfield.

One of my favorite recent films is the epic Kaiju vs Giant Robot mash, Pacific Rim. The film blew me away in the movie theater, and although my Onkyo TX-SR705 provides a good listening experience for that film at home, the AVR450 definitely comes closer to recreating what I remember experiencing at my local cinema. From the driving rain storms, the crunching metal, bruising flesh, were dynamically and distinctly reproduced, and even more importantly, the dialog was not lost.

Switching over to music, I found the FMJ-AVR450 sounded excellent with CD, SACD (especially Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and DVD-Audio discs, with very good midrange presence and both stereo and multi-channel balance with natural sounding channel separation.

However, since the AVR450 does not provide a set 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio inputs multi-channel SACD and DVD-Audio is only accessible from a DVD or Blu-ray Disc player that can output those formats via HDMI, such as the HDMI-equipped OPPO players I used in this review.

In other words, you cannot access multi-channel SACD or DVD-Audio older pre-HDMI DVD players with that capability - unless you settle for the 2-channel analog audio output option. Considering the capabilities of the AVR45-'s amps, I would have liked having the option of a straight multi-channel analog audio input in order to compare HDMI-vs-Multi-channel analog.

Another audio connection option that is not provided is a phono connection for a standard turntable. If you wish to play vinyl records, you need to connect an additional phono preamp between the turntable and receiver, or purchase a turntable that has a built-in phono preamp stage.

Zone 2

The FMJ-AVR450 provides Zone 2 operation. This allows the receiver to send a separately controllable audio feed to another room or location using provided Zone 2 analog audio line outputs. There are two ways to access this feature.

One way is to use the Zone 2 Preamp output option. Using this option you will also need an additional external amplifier and a set of speakers for your second zone. If this type of setup you can run Zone 2 and still have either a 5.1 or 7.1 channel surround sound setup operating in your main room.

The second option is, is to re-designate the Surround Back (SBL/R) connections to Zone 2. In this setup, you connect your Zone 2 speakers directly to the AVR450's built-in amplifiers. However, you can't operate a full 7.1 channel system that includes surround back, or a 5.1 channel system with Bi-amping in your main zone and a two-channel 2nd Zone at the same time.

It is also important that only analog audio sources connected to the the FMJ-AVR450 can be accessed in Zone 2. In other words, if you want to send audio from a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player to Zone 2, you need to check to see if you are player has a set of two-channel stereo analog outputs (many newer players only provide provide HDMI and either Digital Optical/Coaxial audio output options).

NOTE: There are two HDMI outputs, so technically you could send one of those outputs to a Zone 2 setup - However, since the outputs are parallel, you would be limited to viewing and hearing the same HDMI video/audio in Zone 2 that would be available in the Main Zone.

Video Performance

The FMJ-AVR450 features both HDMI and analog video inputs, but continues the continuing trend of eliminating S-video inputs and outputs. Also, all analog video input sources (composite/component) are output to the Main Zone via HDMI only. Although there is a composite video output, that is reserved for Zone 2 use (unless you want to connect it to your main TV or video projector in addition to HDMI).

The FMJ-AVR450 provides both video pass-through of 2D, 3D, and 4K video signals, as well as providing both 1080p and 4K upscaling (only 1080p upscaling was tested for this review), which is becoming more common on mid-to-high end home theater receivers. I found that the FMJ-AVR450 provides good video processing and scaling, which was further verified its passing of most of the video performance tests I conducted using a standardized test disc originally issued by Silicon Optics.

As far as connection compatibility goes, I did not encounter any HDMI-to-HDMI or HDMI-to-DVI (using HDMI/DVI converter cable) connection handshake issues.

For a more complete look at FMJ-AVR450's video performance, check out my companion piece featuring Video Performance Test Results for AVR450.

Internet Radio

The FMJ-AVR450 Arcam provides vTuner internet radio which you can access by pressing the "NET" button on the remote control. Quality on vTuner stations varies, depending on the station, overall, I preferred the quality of the vTuner over that of locally received over-the-air FM radio stations.

However, one of main disappointment in terms of internet streaming, is that vTuner is only internet radio service that is offered to users of the AVR450. It would have been nice to offer some additional services, such as Panadora, Spotify, or Rhapsody - especially for a receiver in this price range.

DLNA

The FMJ-AVR450 is also DLNA compatible, which allows for access to digital media files stored on PCs, Media Servers, and other compatible network-connected devices. My PC easily recognized the FMJ-AVR450 as a new network-connected device. Using the Arcam 's remote and onscreen menu, I found it easy to access music from my PC's hard drive (Note: The AVR450 cannot access photo or video files through the DLNA network feature.

USB

The FMJ-AVR450 also provides a rear mounted USB port for accessing music files stored on USB flash drives, physically connected iPod, or other compatible USB devices. As listed previously, compatible file formats include: MP3, AAC, WAV, and FLAC. However it is also important to point out that the FMJ-AVR450 will not play DRM-encoded files.

However, one thing that I did think was odd about the USB feature on the AVR450 is that the USB port is mounted on the rear panel, and there is not second USB port mounted on the front panel.

The reason I am pointing this out is that if you install the AVR450 in "custom-style" installation in a cabinet or enclosed rack, access to the rear USB port is very awkward, especially are connecting a temporary device such as USB flash drive for listening to music, or for loading a firmware update.

If it was my decision, I would have insisted that both front and rear mounted USB ports be included - but if only one was being considered, then it would have been more practical to place the USB port on the front of the receiver, rather than on the rear.

What I Liked

1. Excellent audio performance.

2. Flexible speaker and zone configuration options.

3. 3D, 4K, and Audio Return Channel compatible.

4. Very good video performance.

5. Two HDMI outputs (parallel).

6. Lots of the HDMI inputs.

7. USB port provided.

8. Custom control connection options provided.

9. Both powered and preamp Zone 2 options available.

10. Clean front panel design.

What I Didn't Like

1. No analog multi-channel 5.1/7.1 channel inputs - No S-video connections.

2. No dedicated phono/turntable input.

3. Only analog audio sources can be sent to Zone 2.

4. No built-in WiFi.

5. Remote has small buttons - However, the remote is backlit, to make it easier to use in a darkened room.

6. vTuner is only internet radio service provided.

7. No front mounted USB or HDMI ports (USB and HDMI inputs only available on rear panel).

8. None of the HDMI inputs is MHL-enabled.

9. Although 3 component video inputs are included, there is no component video output option provided (component video output signals are automatically converted and/or upscaled for output via HDMI).

Final Take:

Having used the FMJ-AVR450 for several weeks, and with two mid-range speaker systems, It definitely met my expectations. Power output was steady, the sound field was both immersive and directive when needed, and over long periods of listening time, there was no indication of fatigue or amplifier overheating.

The FMJ-AVR450 also performs very well on the video side of the equation, providing pass-through, analog-to-HDMI conversion, and both 1080p and 4K upscaling options, if desired. Although 4K upscaling wasn't tested, the FMJ-AVR450 did perform well with most of the video tests that I conducted.

However, I do want to point out that the AVR450 does not provide some connection options that I would have expected on a home theater receiver in this price range, such as multi-channel analog audio inputs, a dedicated phono input, S-Video connections, or a component video output option.

On the other hand, the FMJ-AVR450 provides seven HDMI inputs and two outputs, as well as network and internet connectivity (although there is no Wifi built-in).

On the ease-of-use side of the equation, FMJ-AVR450 features on onscreen menu system that I found to be fairly easy to understand after a short learning curve. I think ARCAM did a good job of distilling all the possible setup and use options into a logical onscreen menu system. On the other hand, I thought that the provided remote control, although backlit, was a little tricky to use (slow response time and small buttons).

There is no getting away from the fact that the Arcam FMJ-AVR450 carries a hefty $3,000 price tag - making it a little over-priced when you consider that some of its competitors incorporate more features such as both front and rear mounted USB and HDMI inputs built-in Wifi, Bluetooth, and even Airplay, and at least one MHL-enabled HDMI input at a similar (or less) price point.

However, the AVR450, despite some of its shortcomings and quirks, is built like a tank, with a heavy-duty transformer and power supply that provides the foundation for great core audio performance for home theater and music listening applications, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the video performance is also very good.

My suggestion, seek out an authorized ARCAM dealer and give the FMJ-AVR450 a good listen yourself, it is definitely worth the time and effort.

Now that you have read this review, also be sure to check out more about the Arcam FMJ-AVR450 in my Photo Profile.

NOTE: Features Not Tested In This Review - 3D Pass-Through, 4K Upscaling, RS232, Trigger, and wired IR control functions.

Suggested Price: $2,999.00 - Official Product Page and Dealer Locator

Also available: ARCAM FMJ-AVR380 - $1,999.00 - ARCAM FMJ-AVR750 - $6,000.00.

Additional Components Used In This Review

Blu-ray Disc Players: OPPO Digital BDP-103 and BDP-103D.

DVD Player: OPPO DV-980H.

Onkyo TX-SR705 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receiver.

Loudspeaker/Subwoofer System 1 (7.1 channels): 2 Klipsch F-2's, 2 Klipsch B-3s, Klipsch C-2 Center , 2 Polk R300s, Klipsch Synergy Sub10.

Loudspeaker/Subwoofer System 2 (5.1 channels): EMP Tek Impression Series Home Theater Speaker System.

TV: Samsung UN55H6350 (one review loan)

Blu-ray Discs: Battleship, Ben Hur, Brave, Cowboys and Aliens, The Hunger Games, Jaws, Jurassic Park Trilogy, Megamind, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Oz The Great and Powerful (2D), Pacific Rim, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Dark Knight Rises.

Standard DVDs: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Outlander, U571, and V For Vendetta.

CDs: Al Stewart - Sparks of Ancient Light, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Sade - Soldier of Love.

DVD-Audio discs included: Queen - Night At The Opera/The Game, Eagles - Hotel California, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood - Uninvisible, Sheila Nicholls - Wake.

SACD discs used included: Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon, Steely Dan - Gaucho, The Who - Tommy.

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