Receivers

Anthem Room Correction (ARC) for the Anthem D1 and D2 SSP

ARTICLE INDEX

 

Usage

Before we talk about the “how it sounds”, a few notes on the package.

One way in which I was really disappointed is the mic stand.  Anthem saw fit to include a real quality piece:  solid telescoping shaft and a cast iron base with their logo.  There's just one problem:  It's too tall!  When set to its shortest stature, and placed in one of your seats, the mic will be at least six inches higher than where most people's head would be.  I ended up having to extend it as far as it would go, set it on the floor in front of the seat, and tilt it back until the mic ended up where it should be. And yes, that makes a difference.  I did a set of measurements with the mic at the "wrong" height, and another with it at the "correct" height, and the graphs were notably different.

While anyone who owns a D2 almost certainly has a PC (or two or three), unless one of them happens to be a Media Center sitting next to the D2, playing with ARC is a real hassle, at least for me it was (lugging the PC down to the theater multiple times).  Just something to be aware of.

Anthem has on their hands the makings of a very sweet piece of software in ARC, and I hope they don't leave it as is.  Even though it's not billed as such, you have a very powerful, accurate sound measuring tool on your hands.  In the future, it would be nice for example if we could take measurements of individual speakers (as opposed to going through the whole ARC setup process), so that small changes in a speaker's placement could be hashed out.

In Practice

I've listened to some other room correction systems, and at best, the improvements have been subtle.

ARC on the other hand, I am prepared to admit, made a profound difference in my setup, and in ways I did not expect or even dreamed needed help.  Simply stated, with the exception of doing actual acoustical treatments, engaging ARC is like nothing else I have experienced in terms of altering, for the better, a system's sound.

To put this last statement into perspective, I am of the opinion that changes in audio hardware manifest differences in sound which are best described as ranging from subtly perceivable (such as different speakers) to being so slight as to question whether there even is a difference at all (cables anyone?)  So when I say something makes a profound difference, I'm not mincing words.

The bass now met expectations in that by principally correcting the nasty 52 Hz room mode I knew I had, the low end is now much tighter and more precise tonally.  That's not so amazing, as I've been able to do pretty close to that myself with a few bands of parametric EQ.  It is the midrange, the vocal range in particular, which floored me.

I have what I know for a fact to be excellent, responsible speakers both in the frequency and transient response domains.  My room, while not perfect, has at least a modicum of acoustical treatments, leaving me with (relatively) decent overall sound.

Flipping ARC On/Off is a humbling experience.

I don't quite know how to describe the improvements to the system's sound without myself coming off as disingenuous.  I'm the first one to point a finger at marketing departments for making incredulous claims.  Yet here the only way I can in typed word describe to you the difference is to say it is the difference between muffled and clear sound.  Seriously.  No joke.  I'm not embellishing.  If you don't believe me, find someone with a D2 equipped with ARC and listen for yourself.

Let me say that again.   ARC "On":  clear, articulate sound.  ARC "Off": someone draped a blanket over the speakers.  How can this be?  I didn't think my system sounded that bad before the D2 with ARC arrived for review, and now I know that it did by comparison.

The explanation is actually simple:  ARC (and other such systems) are unique in that by definition they let us do very proper A/B'ing, something which brings into very sharp focus the actual manifestation of a change.  Our auditory/acoustic memories are short, very short, and anyone who claims they have “expert” ears and are more skilled than others at this stuff may be delusional.

That goes back to Floyd Toole/NRC research.   It appears that 99% of audiophiles will never be able to A/B anything properly for simple lack of the requisite tools.  The time it takes to, say, replace a speaker is usually too long.  In order to properly A/B two loudspeakers they must be run through a very special switch which compensates for different efficiencies and impedance in order for a flip to be both fast enough as well as “fair” (I've had one such an opportunity, and I will say that ARC is at least as significant as changing speakers, and in fact I think more so).  A/B'ing ARC on the other hand requires nothing more than the D2 remote in your hand, so the experience is somewhat stacked in its favor.  The bottom line though is that if you want the best sound, you'll want something like ARC, period.

By definition, what exactly ARC does is going to be different for every single system it is implemented in, yet my reactions and observations I'm told have a curious common thread with virtually all feedback that Anthem has received to date, in particular with regards to the tonality of the bass and the surprise clarity in the vocal range.  In other words, all rooms share some commonality which ARC is addressing, even though the actual acoustical signatures may be radically different.  It seems that all that research at NRC really has born fruit because Anthem is not just compensating for the room.  ARC is actually doing one better than that by hitting their unique "good sound" target.

Conclusions

ARC is a very scary product.  If you are one of those who insists on having the best sound, and you experience ARC, especially if you can do so with your existing system, one of two things will happen:  Either you will buy a D2 with ARC, or you will stop listening to your existing system knowing just how much better it would be with ARC.

Think I'm waxing peotic?  Think again.  I dare you!