The Arcam AVR31 is the latest range-topping AV receiver from the high-end brand, although it’s less of a new model, and more of an upgrade to the previous AVR30. The only real difference between the two is the addition of future-proof HDMI 2.1 ports, although owners of the older version needn’t panic because Arcam offers an optional upgrade.
Otherwise it’s business-as-usual, with seven powerful channels of built-in Class G amplification, and processing for up to 15.1 channels with immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D and IMAX Enhanced. For music fans, there are audiophile DACs, support for high-res audio and MQA, plus Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect and Roon.
The Arcam AVR31 is a rare beast – a receiver that performs well with both music and movies. The clean, responsive and powerful Class G amplification ensures two-channel audio sounds superb, and if multi-channel music floats your boat, this beast delivers an exceptional sonic experience. The same is true when it comes to a movies with 5.1 or 7.1 multi-channel sound mixes.
The 4K disc of Tenet sports an awesome 5.1 soundtrack that delivers the film’s mind-blowing time travel antics with incredible power. The climactic temporal-pincer battle is a masterclass in multi-channel sound mixing that uses all the speakers to engulf you in the forwards-backwards action of gunfire, explosions and helicopters. It’s a visceral, if chaotic, sonic experience.
The Class G amps handle the dynamic range with ease, turning on a dime and delivering the film’s big action set pieces with an overwhelming sense of presence. If you have a large room or demanding speakers, this is the AV receiver for you, even when driving all the channels simultaneously. It’s also a neutral performer, with the emphasis on a detailed delivery.
When it comes to immersive Dolby Atmos soundtracks the AVR31 is able to orchestrate all the channels with precision and skill. A massive dust storm in Dune uses every channel to engulf you in the howling wind, but despite sounds coming from every direction, dialogue remains clear, and you can pick out fine details like the scratching sounds of sand, rocks and other debris.
This consummate performer is equally as capable with DTS:X soundtracks, and the format is used to its full potential in Jurassic World. There’s excellent application of the overhead channels to give the dinosaurs added height, as well as the low-end to give them more weight. The detailed delivery of the higher frequencies also ensures there are plenty of ear-piercing screams.
The AVR31 seamlessly steers sounds from channel-to-channel and places audio objects in three-dimensional space with incredible precision, generating a realistic sonic bubble. Dirac plays its part by calibrating the entire system, which results in an overall tonal balance. It’s also able to handle the lower frequencies, eliminating the effects of the room and integrating the subwoofer(s).
There aren’t many discs with an IMAX Enhanced DTS:X soundtrack, but if you own any the AVR31 can give you the full experience. These mixes really push the low-end, so that well-integrated bass really comes to the fore in an action-packed flick like Bad Boys for Life The result is a sonic experience that’s as bombastic as you’d expect from the latest entry in this franchise.
The Arcam AVR31 sports the same re-designed chassis introduced on the previous model, with two-tone styling using a dark grey facia combined with silver buttons and volume dial. The front is dominated by a full-colour LCD screen that provides control feedback and information, allows you to access the menus from the front panel, and offers album artwork when streaming music.
There are three huge antenna at the rear for built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, with support for Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2. This means you can also run Dirac Live or update the firmware wirelessly, although there is an Ethernet port for those that prefer a wired connection. There’s a host of legacy connections, including an FM/DAB tuner, which something of a rarity these days.
The big upgrade on the AVR31 is the inclusion of HDMI 2.1 ports, with seven HDMI inputs and three outputs, one of which supports eARC. Since these are 48Gbps connections you get full compatibility with 8K and 4K video, plus every flavour of HDR (HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision, and HDR10+). Next-gen gamers will also be delighted with the support for 4K/120, VRR and ALLM.
The AVR31 uses audiophile quality DACs, and combines them with seven channels of Class G amplification. If you’re wondering why the receiver only has seven channels built-in when it can decode up to 15.1, Arcam believes it’s better to offer fewer channels of high quality power, rather than compromising performance by cramming in too much amplification.
Class G is designed to reduce amplifier power consumption but boost output without sacrificing audio quality. It uses a conventional output stage fed by two power supplies that are introduced according to signal demand. Arcam believes its approach is smoother, thus avoiding the ‘glitching’ or distortion typically associated with this type of amplification.
Connection is simple using GoogleCast or AirPlay, and streaming music is painless. There’s no on-screen menu, just info related to volume and sources, but you have a choice of the LCD display or a web-based interface. The remote control is backlit, but still includes the annoying quirk where you have to remember to press the ‘Amp’ button after selecting an input.
The overall setup is straightforward, but if you’re planning on using more than seven channels you’ll need to add extra amplification. Annoyingly you still can't reassign the internal amplification, although you do have greater flexibility with the outputs for channels 13 to 16. These can be assigned for front width, extra height or additional subwoofer channels.
The AVR31 includes a calibrated microphone and supports the latest version of Dirac Live, allowing you to measure the speakers in your system and then correct for the room’s acoustic characterisitcs. You can customise the target correction filters, group speakers together to create system-wide crossovers, and create up to three profiles for different content or room conditions.
The AVR31 proved trouble-free in terms of both setup and operation, and there didn’t appear to be any serious bugs in the software. Arcam’s latest generation of receivers were certainly prone to the odd glitch when first launched, so it would appear the brand has addressed these over time. The only other complaint, given all the formats the AVR31 supports, is the lack of DTS:X Pro.
The Arcam AVR31 is an exceptional AV receiver that gives the competition a serious run for its money. It may only have seven channels of amplification built-in, but Class G’s power really delivers the goods, and you easily add the extra amps necessary to run a full 15.1-channel layout. Dirac Live room correction eliminates the egregious aspects of any environment, and the sonic delivery of movie soundtracks is spellbinding. The addition of HDMI 2.1 is welcome, especially for gamers, and aside from the lack of DTS:X Pro support, this awesome AV receiver is hard to fault.
Tenet (4K Blu-ray) This brain-melting temporal action epic might be a touch on the cerebral side, but the awesome multi-channel sound mix combines scale and slam with prodigious amounts of bass. In these days of immersive audio, it’s a reminder of how good a 5.1 mix can sound.
Dune (4K Blu-ray) This Oscar-winning adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic boasts gorgeous 4K visuals and stunning HDR, while the Dolby Atmos soundtrack sends ornithopters buzzing overhead and employs seismic levels of bass to give the giant sandworms appropriate scale.
Bad Boys for Life (4K Blu-ray) This third entry in the franchise boasts a DTS:X soundtrack with IMAX enhancements, and includes plenty of action that takes advantage of the overhead channels. The climactic hotel lobby shootout is an enjoyably multi-layered ballistic experience.
The Arcam AVR31’s seven channels of Class G grunt combined with peerless processing results in a superior performance; add eight more channels and you’ve got an insanely immersive 15.1-channel system. The HDMI 2.1 connections are sure to please next-gen gamers, audiophile DACs will delight music lovers, and film-fans will be spellbound by the classy object-based sonics.