The setup menu was relatively straightforward, and speakers were calibrated using my Radio Shack sound meter. A word on the manual is necessary: it is easy to read and does not overly tax your technical knowledge. This is only the second processor manual that I have read that didn't immediately put me to sleep.
The Arcam has assignable digital inputs, as well as assignable names to different sources. It has all the necessary surround modes -- DD EX, DTS-ES, Neo:6, Pro Logic II, and a 7.l Matrix mode. The crossover frequency can be set from 40 to 150Hz for bass management.
The Arcam follows my personal design idiom for a processor -- get the basic analog sound right first, then mate it with a good digital front end. The AV8 sounds clean, open, and distinctly English (a very good thing). This means that it is not only transparent, but it has the ability to be smooth, clear and resolve very minute details. These are the details that make listening a joy and movie watching even more realistic. Since most digital front ends today are very good at handling Dolby Digital and DTS, the real difference between processor sound comes down to the analog stage. When this is implemented well, everything sounds good.
When playing analog sources, the Arcam functions very well -- almost as well as my reference Krell HTS 7.1, a processor nearly double the price. Although not quite as resolving in high end detail as the Krell (a good thing in some people's book), it still is open, detailed and dynamic. The midrange is smooth and neutral, while bass extension is excellent.
More of the same came from hooking up my Marantz DV-8400 for the 7.1 inputs for SACD and DVD-Audio playback. The analog stage once again provided clear, detailed, transparent sound, allowing the high resolution goodness of these formats to shine through.
Movies, as I mentioned before, sound very, very good indeed. The digital front end is excellent, as good as I have heard, but the analog stage is what really makes the sound come alive. It provides a clarity that allows you to almost reach out and touch the characters as the movie seems to be taking place right in your theater room. It is this integrated, open, detailed sound that makes for good movie processing.
I really didn't have any glitches with this processor, a testament to the thorough engineering at Arcam.
The AV8 has excellent sound, very good ergonomic design, clean good looks, and a decent remote. All of these attributes definitely make this processor a good choice. The only real downside is the lack of balanced outputs (and inputs) and this is what prevents me from giving this processor a slightly higher score which would net it a "Top Choice" award. In this market, I have grown accustomed to expecting these at this price point, and as long as you don't mind their absence, then the Arcam is definitely a serious contender for your dollar.
Arcam FMJ AV8 Surround Sound Processor
THX Ultra 2 Certified
24-bit/192kHz D/A Converts
Video Inputs: (5) sets of S-Video, composite,
and 2-channel audio; (3) sets of component,
S-Video, composite, and 2-channel audio
Digital Audio Inputs: (4) digital coaxial,
(2) TosLink optical
RS-232, 12V triggers
Dolby Pro Logic II, DD, DD EX, DTS 5.1, DTS-ES, 7.1 Matrix Music Mode, DTS Neo:6
Signal/Noise Ratio: >100 dB analog; >98 dB digital
Dimensions: 19" x 6 1/2" x 14"