Arcam AV9 Processor

If the idea of something 'British Designed' conjures up phrases like quintessential, eclectic and exceptional, subsequently Arcam's AV9 will not disappoint.

From love and the matt silver finish -it or hate-it green dot-matrix display, the physical design is Arcam through and through. The build quality is faultless, underpinning the brand's 5-year guarantee, and the case is built with Acousteel - a laminated sandwich of steel-sheet and rubber that damps vibrations that could affect fine acoustic components.

Regrettably there is just one HDMI output, seemingly due to complexity the cost and politics of preserving the HDCP signal across multiple outputs. As do the analogue component video connections the HDMIs have the bandwidth for complete 1080p High Definition signal switching.

Curiously there are not any iLink input signals nor the ability to upconvert video signals. This is clearly an AV chip using a far bigger A than V.

Obviously, this means that the AV purist should implement some kind of neck brace to see movies so their ears do not move out of the exact 'hot spot'!

The technology that Arcam eschews - when virtually every other producer is clutching it to their considerable AV bosom - is Room EQ and automobile set up. No mic, no automatic system balancing no and routine electronic equalisation - otherwise or parametric. Together with the AV9 you get only pure sound... a doctrine that comes right from Arcam's hi-fi heart.

Setup is straightforward using the rather vapid and working on-screen display, accessible through the remote control or the front panel. The OSD is interlaced if you're hooked as much as a progressive screen, causing a substitution pause. This is good during setup but a pain should you be tweaking settings while playing a film.

Powering the combo up, the first thing you notice is the noise floor that is extraordinarily low. There's an inky silence pre-film which sets the scene nicely and encourages a somewhat gung ho initial volume setting... something you instantly notice as the AV9/P7 combo pins one to the couch with a spleen-crushing SPL on the THX intro clip.

This pairing just ripples with power and passion and contains more than enough heat to add a cosseting smoothness that Arcam is richly celebrated for.

Hooked around a big loudspeaker sets, the largest Measurement bundle in my own case, the sheer impact and scale of the Arcam pairing of Tannoy is a visceral shock wave that goes gracefully loud and effortlessly without becoming shouty or competitive.

Switching the AV9's output signal to highly neutral Sony electricity amps, and then more energetic Parasound versions, reveals that much of the solid character of the pairing that is first is down to the P7. In reality, the AV9 is possibly close to having no sonic nature whatsoever. It's sublimely impersonal across its dynamic range that is heroic and has a clarity that ekes out detail having a tenacity that prized few incorporated AV amplifiers can manage.

Effects from the backsides in particular appear to emerge from out of nowhere, without any forerunner hiss or perception that there are speakers behind you. This is a eerie effect with tense thrillers including Panic Room, as every creak of a floorboard includes breath-holding grasp. Shock rear effects out of a quiet soundtrack will make you whirl round to assess there isn't an ax-wielding psychopath hiding behind your cheeseplant every time. Superb.

For clarity and absolute dynamic range, the closest rival of Arcam is perhaps Sony's main TA-DA9000ES AV-amplifier. Both have an impeccably clean and polished sound, but where the Arcam nudges forward is that it manages to avoid Sony's starkness than can show fatiguing.

When it comes to some heady day of back-to-back movies the Arcam will keep you on the edge of your seat from daybreak to dusk. It's genre, material and format agnostic, allowing an individual to bias the overall sound by using their selection of electricity amp and just performing an occupation that is impartial that is excellent.

The marketplace isn't just awash with central processing units at around this price, so direct comparison is rather tricky. As a combo the AV9/P7 is powerful and realized but integrated versions, including Denon AVC-A1XV, offer better value when it comes to both attributes and participating (if not as neutral) home cinema audio.

But the AV9 is a central processing unit with tremendous potential. Partner it using power amplification offering most of the courage of the P7 but with extra sparkle (say, Parasound's A21/A51 at GBP5,200) it is something quite special indeed.

The lack of Room-EQ may dissuade some purchasers but the subjective advantages of such systems are a variable feast and that alone possibly warrants its omission here. Arcam's philosophy of getting the basics to digital jiggery pokery will suit many and, in terms of being well and exact, tonally neutral connected, the AV9 takes a great deal of defeating for pictures and music. Completely recommended.

Arcam AV9 Processor photo