Arcam FMJ SR250 stereo A/V receiver

Stereophile seldom reviews A/V receivers. We made an exception for Arcam's FMJ SR250 ($3600) because it's that unusual two-channel device: one that includes room-correction software, in this case Dirac Live. Many of us who listen in multichannel are comfortable with room correction, but a week doesn't pass without my hearing or reading someone say that they bypass room correction when listening to music in stereo. Spock-like, I find that illogical and, from experience, pointless.

If one accepts that, just like careful speaker positioning and acoustic treatments, room equalization exists to correct for the corruption of sound imposed by room reflections and modes, then using it for a stereo pair of speakers is no different from using it for the same speakers in the same positions when they are only the front L/R pair of a multichannel array. The interactions among speakers, room, and listener are exactly the same.

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Objections can be raised. Some say that inserting DSP into the signal path compromises the sound, but in fact, no physical devices need be added—the resident DSP, already necessary for converting and decoding digital signals, simply uses a different algorithm to pass the signal(s) along. If you play vinyl, yes, DSP does mean more hardware in the signal path; you have to decide for yourself, hopefully without bias, whether or not the improvements in sound performance outweigh any degradation by the conversions and DSP.

Although the FMJ SR250 has but two main channels and two switchable subwoofer outputs, that it is an audio-visual receiver is apparent from the fact that it has the same user manual as Arcam's multichannel AVRs. However, like many modern stereo integrated amps, it has analog inputs and outputs and a power-amp stage, and supports digital inputs and streaming sources (though it lacks WiFi). It also has FM and DAB tuners, and HDMI inputs and outputs—the music lover can also use it for watching TV and movies.

A brief run in New York City
I unpacked the FMJ SR250 in my Manhattan apartment and hooked it up to my front left and right speakers, Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3s, which aren't too difficult to drive but have a reputation for loving power and for being very revealing. Source signals were stereo analog and S/PDIF from my main preamp and server, respectively. The SR250 handled all with aplomb, which didn't surprise me—not only had I naïvely assumed from its model number that its specified power output was 250Wpc, but the Arcam is big and heavy enough to sustain the illusion, measuring 17.1" wide by 6.7" high by 16.7" deep and weighing 33.3 lbs.

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I've been auditioning with the B&Ws a series of power amps, with power-output specs ranging from 200 to 500Wpc and prices from $1200 to $12,000. The SR250 fit right in with that company. When I at last read the fine print, I learned that the SR250 is specified to output 90Wpc in class-G. For those new to class-G, Arcam's website provides a good explanation. John Atkinson summed it up well in his favorable review of Arcam's FMJ P49 power amplifier in the November 2015 issue:

"The output stages are operated in class-G, meaning that there are actually two pairs of positive and negative voltage rails feeding the output transistors. These transistors are usually powered from ±35V rails, but when the input signal voltage would lead to clipping—at around 50W into 8 ohms— MOSFET 'lifters' switch to ±65V rails, allowing the signal to be amplified by the same devices up to the specified 200W without clipping. (These lifters are said to be capable of turning on and off with as much as 60A peak current in less than a microsecond.) Class-G allows the power supply to be more economically designed, as the higher voltage rails have only to be able to supply current for a fraction of the signal's duty cycle, the lower voltage rails supplying the bulk of the continuous current demanded by the loudspeakers.

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"A superficial reading of Arcam's literature suggests that the output devices are biased into class-A. But with an 8 ohm load, that would mean a standing current of 1.75A for each channel and a very hot-running amplifier, even if the heatsinks were much larger. Closer reading reveals that the output circuit "includes a proprietary error-correction circuit that modulates the modest standing currents in the output stage and ensures a near-constant output impedance for peak currents of up to about ±4 amps, corresponding to well over 50W into 8 ohms. The P49 thus behaves exactly like a classical class-A amplifier up to this power level in terms of performance but without the heat penalty."

The SR250's performance in my Manhattan system was proof that its two analog class-G power amps were quite powerful. From the diaphanous to the monumental, the SR250 did well with all types of music, though I didn't hear quite as much soundstage detail as I do with the bigger, more expensive amps. I wasn't cruel—I didn't try to push the Arcam beyond what I asked of the others—but the overall sound was equally smooth and unfatiguing. This was very encouraging; I was unlikely to lean on it so heavily in Connecticut, where I have Monitor Audio Silver 8 speakers in a smaller room.

COMPANY INFO
Arcam
US distributor: The Sound Organisation
159 Leslie Street
Dallas, TX 75207
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
hnickm's picture

"Stereophile seldom reviews A/V receivers."
Is that because they aren't esoteric enough or not expensive enough for the audiophile cache?

JoeinNC's picture

I imagine that's much of it, yeah. Also, maybe they're too convenient, there are more than a handful of boutique dealers/sources for them, and they mean less opportunity for outboard DACs, uber-expensive interconnects. Oh, and you don't get to explain them to your friends and guests.

Anon2's picture

We should see how A/V receivers stack up. Why aren't more A/V receivers being reviewed from time to time? Does one have to cost more than one (two or three in cheaper communities) times of total monthly expenses of many people for it to be tested here?

I know there are time and budget constraints. I know you can't test everything. But then, what's the impediment? Many readers of this publication own A/V receivers; perhaps that's all they will ever own. Might it not be "revelatory" (an audiophile reserved word for components costing tens of thousands) to see how an A/V receiver stacks up, especially against integrateds.

I have a Marantz SR4023. It has an EI transformer, folded fins of stainless steel for heatsinks, a sheet metal exterior, non-Hemi V8 capacitors. But you know what? There's nothing wrong with the way it sounds; there's much less wrong with how it effortlessly drives my speakers from two brands. Indeed, per manufacturer's specifications, it's 4ohm rated at 100watts (continuous) per channel. I've seen lighter weight integrateds getting testing in this publication. I doubt that a venerable manufacturer like Marantz would trump-up these numbers.

I'm not an expert on measurements, but I've gotten a grounding in the basics from those in this publication (thank you, JA). If you scrounge around on the internet, there are measurements for A/V receivers out there; they are less comprehensive than those here, but they are out there nonetheless.

Yes, I'd agree with what the last writer posited. What's there to hide with putting an A/V receiver, even an older one, on the test bench? After all, we had an article this month about rehabbing a speaker that was around before many of us were born.

Are the "better" component makers worried that people might find out that, with proper speaker placement, good digital sources, good recordings, a receiver (with comparably budget-minded speakers) might make people question the thousands of dollars (that we don't have) to buy something "better" for multiples of what an A/V or stereo receiver might cost?

I accuse none of subterfuge, but we should ask the question.

Patrick Butler's picture

A hint as to why "Stereophile seldom reviews A/V receivers"- it's in the name of the publication.

John Atkinson's picture
Patrick Butler wrote:
A hint as to why "Stereophile seldom reviews A/V receivers"- it's in the name of the publication.

We have a sister publication that reviews A/V receivers - and all kinds of home theater products - Sound & Vision magazine.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Johan Bottema's picture

I use a NAD receiver and 4 KEF speakers XQ20 ans XQ10 and a subwoofer. The UniQ drivers are the best in terms of imaging and using the NAD settings for 4 point stereo with careful tuning of distance/delay, attenuation and adjustment of subwoofer XO frequency results in true High End sound. I find it ridiculous to have only 2 speakers because it is missing a trick. Sounds is coming from all sides people!

HammerSandwich's picture
Quote:

The downward slope of the trace in fig.4 indicates that actual distortion lies below the noise floor; the broken curve in fig.5 suggests that it reveals the effect of the class-G voltage-rail switching. I don't know why this wasn't apparent in the 8 ohm graph.

There's less distortion at 8 ohms, so it's obscured by noise, right?

Also, figures 6 & 7 are flipped.

John Atkinson's picture
HammerSandwich wrote:
figures 6 & 7 are flipped.

Fixed.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Shangri-La's picture

In a new product review, can you include where it's ranked on Stereophile recommended component list (Class A/B/etc) if it makes it to the list? The reason the recommended list is so great is that consumers can compare different products in widely different price ranges. An individual product review is great and all but without knowing how it compares to its peers the review is less helpful than it otherwise could have been.

The recommended component list is updated every 6 months. If you can include where the reviewed product is on the list, it would help consumers a lot making informed audition/purchase, without waiting for 6 months.

Kal Rubinson's picture

It generally is not possible to include the rating in a review because the voting only takes place twice a year in preparation for. Recommended Components issues.

findcount's picture

USD3600 for this receiver ??!!.......just look at the internals......LOL

Arcam should rename itself as......ArCON.....or......ArSCAM....LOL

johnnythunder's picture

The comments sections on the major audio magazine sites are just loaded with the worst kind of cynics, snarks and opinionated types. Your comment could have been constructive and may have deserved a response from the reviewer. But in this case, a surface judgement with insults based on a photograph is a little beneath the response level.

findcount's picture

yes.....on hindsight, you're right........i should just ask people to stay as far away from this product as possible.........

Glotz's picture

YOU should stay away as far as possible, as I presume you have no one to 'ask' to stay away from a product such as this.

Write your own publication if you don't like the prices or coverage or blah blah blah..

You haven't even heard, seen or touched the product... I am sure every one will ignore you anyways, as what substantive opinion about this product do you have??

NONE.

justinfaulkner's picture

At least to me, this sounds like a very similar product to the Classe Sigma 2200i integrated amplifier you guys reviewed 2 months ago. It would be interesting to compare the two products (and similar ones) by feature and sound.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/class%C3%A9-sigma-2200i-integrated-a...

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