In terms of connectivity, it's all here. The AVR500 features five HDMI inputs, along with two HDMI outputs. Some might say that's overkill, but I actually think five is the sweet spot for HDMI inputs. The AVR500 also features three component video inputs, two S-video and two composite. Full video upconversion is also offered, giving you the option of running only one HDMI cable to your video source, even if you're running legacy source components.
The AVR500 offers eight analog audio inputs, including a 7.1 multi-channel input, typically used for SACD and DVD-Audio playback. The digital audio inputs are also plentiful and include four optical, three coaxial and one 3.5mm optical input on the front of the unit. One of my major gripes with some of the new gear hitting the streets these days, especially on some of the higher end stuff, is the lack of connectivity. Case in point, I recently reviewed a high-end processor with only two HDMI inputs - not good. That's certainly not the case here as you'd be hard pressed to end up needing more. Other notable features include multi-zone capability, stereo direct mode, RS-232 control, Dolby Volume and a learning remote. Of course all of the new audio codecs, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio are also supported.
In terms of size, AVR500 cannot be construed as diminutive, but it's manageable at just over 17 inches wide by seven inches high by a little over 16 inches deep, which means it will fit well in most gear racks. It weighs in at a stout 48.5 pounds and has a substantial, tank-like feel to it. One thing that never seems to matter to an audiophile is weight; if it takes added poundage to ensure solid performance, then it's all good.
Packaging was more than adequate, with high density foam keeping everything in place. Perusing the manual was a pleasure, as the AVR500 features one of the clearest and most detail oriented manuals I've read in awhile. It's great for the uninitiated, as well as those experienced users who want to take advantage of every feature. From what I understand, creating manuals isn't cheap, so it's nice to see Arcam go the extra mile in this regard. On the other hand, the remote is a disappointment. While it does feel sturdy and has a decent layout, the backlighting is almost non-existent as it's simply too dim to read most of the keys. The battery cover is also a bit wonky. Aesthetically speaking, the unit itself is gorgeous. My review sample came with a silver finish and Arcam also makes them available in black. It has a true high-end design, a clean faceplate with only one row of buttons tucked neatly underneath the display.
I connected the AVR500 to my Bowers & Wilkins 600 series speakers and Definitive Technology SuperCube II subwoofer using Wireworld's Oasis 6 speaker cables for the center, front right/left speakers and their Luna 16/4 for the surrounds. I was particularly impressed with the binding posts on the AVR500, which are well constructed and easily accommodated my rather heavy speaker wire. Using a combination of HDMI and analog audio interconnects, I connected the AVR500 to my home theater system which includes an Oppo DV-980H DVD-Audio/SACD player, a Sony PS3, a Music Hall MMF 2.2 turntable, an Apple TV and a DirecTV HD DVR. For those taking count, that still left me with one available HDMI input on the Arcam.
After firing up the Arcam and getting into the menu, I noticed that it was clean, well laid out and easy to navigate, which is a welcome relief as many manufacturers struggle with their GUI (Graphical User Interface). I plugged in the included calibration microphone and launched the auto setup. It was a straightforward process and accurately determined the size and distance of each of my speakers. Typically, after using auto setup on a receiver or processor, I end up tweaking the center channel and surround speaker levels, but I was happy with the Arcam's settings. There's also a Room EQ feature, which compensates for any sonic problems in your listening room. This can be toggled on and off for each input and as Arcam wisely states in their manual, you're better off tweaking the room than using this feature. For those who'd rather go the manual route with a sound level meter and a tape measure, the AVR500 manual provides thorough instructions on how to do it.
Before getting into the performance of the AVR500, I wanted to touch on a couple of other noteworthy features. First off, systems with multiple subwoofers are becoming more and more prevalent. On the AVR500, Arcam has included two subwoofer outputs, which is a welcome addition and still not available on a lot of high end gear. The other feature I wanted to mention, and will discuss in more detail later in the review, is stereo direct. This feature bypasses all processing to provide the highest possible sound quality from a two channel source. While this feature is prevalent even on low end receivers, the improvement in sound quality is rarely noticeable. On the Arcam, however, engaging stereo direct significantly improved the sound quality. At this price point, it makes sense that Arcam offers this feature as I suspect most people will use it, or at least try it. Lastly, the AVR500 offers Dolby Volume, which when engaged will deliver consistent volume during commercial breaks when watching television, or when switching from source to source. While you wouldn't necessarily want this engaged while spinning your favorite LP, it's nice to avoid the volume spikes on those Sham Wow commercials.
It's always good to start a review with two-channel music, so I cued up some vinyl with Morrissey's Greatest Hits (Decca). This is a well recorded LP and it was a real treat on the Arcam; both in terms of warmth and neutrality. "Everyday Is Like Sunday," from Morrissey's first solo album Viva Hate (Sire) sounded rich and warm, just as you want analog music to sound. Morrissey's voice was both haunting and soothing (if that's possible), and the Arcam turned out one of the most solid reproductions of that track I've yet heard. While listening to this album, I decided to do a bit of A/B testing with the stereo direct functionality. The music was decidedly more alive and forward in my listening room with stereo direct engaged, so it remained on for all further two-channel listening I did. While I preferred the overall sound with stereo direct engaged, I did notice that the soundstage seemed to shrink ever so slightly. This isn't a negative per se, it was simply a bit peculiar and worth noting.