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Amplifier woes - "Arcam asylum"

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  • Amplifier woes - "Arcam asylum"

    For more than a decade my workhorse has been a NAD surround receiver. I think it's rated for 70 or so WPC (NAD claims that it has headroom up to 110 Watts or something) and it doesn't balk at tough loads. It has a lot of other good things going for it too. I like that it has a few coax and optical inputs that you can bus to whatever source you want. I like that you can "name" the sources. It has a nice, clean timeless look. Really it's been a great fit all these years, and there's nothing to complain about.

    Sadly, the VFD display seems to be starting to go on the NAD. It's flickering quite a bit on one side. I've thought about how one might fix that... I don't think I'd be able to source a replacement VFD... maybe it's a cap going bad? Is it worth it to try to fix? Or should I see it as a sign to start looking for a new amp?

    I decided to take a gamble on a Facebook Marketplace ad for an Arcam surround receiver from a guy nearby. His ad claimed it as in Very Good condition. Unfortunately when I met him it was 5 degrees outside, so I didn't really have a chance to look it over well. When I got it home the first thing I noticed was that the remote was covered in what used to be that "grippy" rubber coating, but it had disintegrated into super-sticky gunk. I rubbed it with some isopropyl for a while and the coating eventually came off. So that fixed the remote. Onto the amp. Although it's a light-grey color, I started to notice that the front face was really grimy, especially around the volume knob. Again, some isopropyl to the rescue and it looks literally good as new.

    When I first turned on the amp I noticed that the volume knob didn't do anything. The volume control on the remote worked, though. A bit of googling and I found out that this is caused by rotary encoders getting too oxidized inside. Your options are to replace them, or open them up and clean the contacts. I took a crack at opening it up and cleaned it, and sure enough the knob worked perfectly after that.

    Now for the really bad part. When I hooked speakers up to it, I could hear a very noticeable 60 Hz hum. The hum was not affected by whether or not any sources were plugged into it. I also noticed that the volume of the hum was constant, and didn't change even as I adjusted the overall volume output. More disconcerting was that, occasionally the amp seemed to "pop" which my speakers did not like at all.

    My rudimentary understanding of amp repair said to look for a bulging capacitor. I opened up the amp, and sure enough a big bulging 25v 6800 uF cap was looking right at me on the "main board." OK! Replace a cap; I can do that! Then I realized the trouble cap was through-mounted, soldered to the bottom of the board. And that board is under like 6 "daughter boards" each with connectors and bodge wires going every which way. Each daughterboard had several various RCA jacks attached to the back panel with lots of individual screws (I counted 29). So if I'm looking at this right, I need to unscrew 29 screws, disconnect 6 daughterboards PLUS various connectors, and hopefully not bother any bodge wires. Then finally I can hopefully get that main board out to replace a single cap on it? THEN I have to put it all back together and hope I got it right?

    Is this what BMW maintenance feels like?

    Seriously, though, my mind was immediately going back to how I greatly prefer certain brands for their ease of repairability. Like have you ever worked on a Dell Latitude laptop? It's a breeze--especially compared to trying to work on an Inspiron or XPS or whatever they'd sell you at a big box store. In that same vein, I have stuck with basically just Hondas and Toyotas for the last dozen years, never venturing into the fearsome world of German engineering (shoutout to Javad ).

    Maybe I should just go back to using pro sound amplification like I used to many, many years ago. The watts are cheap, the electronics are designed to be easy and quick to repair, and they're meant to take a beating. About the only downside are the fans... which, OK yeah, fans are a no-go.

    Maybe I can still use home-audio electronics, but I should stick with the Japanese brands? (Arcam is British. I should have been thinking "Lucas Electronics" when I was opening my wallet to this guy on FB marketplace)

    I'm now opening this thread up to all brand biases! Please, tell me your favorite audio electronics brands, and why. Likewise, feel free to bash brands. I want to hear your $.02.
    Last edited by Paul Carmody; 01-26-2022, 12:41 AM.
    Isn't it about time we started answering rhetorical questions?

    Paul Carmody's DIY Audio Projects
    Twitter: @undefinition1

  • #2
    Quad 306 - Remove two screws and you have access to the circuit board. Also, all the circuit board components are numbered to match the circuit diagram, so very easy to service.

    Not only that, but it sounds great and works very well with only a passive preamp.


    • #3
      If you still aren’t opposed to pro amps, the crown XLS fans are near silent. I’ve never heard the fan on my1500XLS turn on across the room. I’ve stuck my ear next it and can hear them sometimes, verifying that they do in fact turn on after severely flogging my STW350. The Behringer amps, on the other hand… NOT silent… at all.


      • #4
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        I am a Yamaha fan. Very dependable in my experience. Several AVRs never broke, just became obsolete. I have an M-80 in my basement. I'd sell it but I'd have to carry it upstairs.


        • #5
          A parsimonious friend bought Hypex class-D amps and switching power supplies. Sort of DIY in that you need to install everything in an enclosure. So far (after many years) they work flawlessly.


          • #6
            No complaints from my equipment used:
            Sony basic 5.1 AVR, post AC3 digital audio but pre-HDMI days - still kicking and about 15+ years old, sold to a buddy who still runs it
            Yamaha Aventage AVR bought refurbished ~4 years of life, has an HDMI board problem and is driving my main listening system and not my main home theatre, great amp
            Yamaha basic AVR that replaced the Aventage, newer so it supports 4k - No issues in a few years now

            Note: the amplifiers in the basic and Aventage models are rated the same, though the Aventage has visibly more amplifier output devices and a larger heat sink. There's definitely a step up in build quality between the basic and Aventage lines.

            Pro stuff:
            Crown pro amp driving my studio monitors - not a single issue over near 20 years of service, keep it in another room due to fan (though it's not really that loud)
            QSC Powerlite in my bass rig - Bad level pots on the front now, need to pull apart and clean
            Electronics engineer, woofer enthusiast, and musician.
            Wogg Music
            Published projects: PPA100 Bass Guitar Amp, ISO El-Cheapo Sub, Indy 8 2.1 powered sub, MicroSat, SuperNova Minimus


            • #7
              I have an adcom 535 that I bought used several years ago off of Craigslist. It’s been solid and dependable and the sound is quite good. They seem to have a great reputation for reliability.


              • #8
                Hi Paul. You've done me a great favor years ago and I'd like to pay back. I own a mint, powerful, fully operational 7-channel Yamaha HRT5890 (15kg/33lbs of fine electronics, 120W/channel, THX certified) with mint manual and remote that I have no use for and want to get rid of since I'm a 2.0, sometimes 2.1 stereo guy who will never change. I'd be delighted to offer it to you for free and also ship it to your home address with zero cost cost to you. Is your email address still the same for the last 10-12 years? I may still have it with me and will send you a message so that I can get your home address in Chicago. I'm in Canada.

                It's the very first time I'm posting here and I don't know how to provide you with my email address without making it public.



                • #9
                  You can click on his name and see if he accepts Private Messages.


                  • #10
                    Always ask to audition said product, if the seller says no then that is a red flag warning. If for what ever reason auditioning gear is not possible then ask if there is a return policy if said product does not work.

                    There are a lot of AV receivers on C.L. for fairly cheap especially like the common name brands like Yamaha and Sony entry level receivers as cheap as 50 bucks or less, you just have to be lucky because the good deals go really fast. Yamahas seem fairly reliable.

                    Like any other gear they all dont sound the same so you have to pick gear based on your own personal preference. Yamaha and Sony do not sound alike. Yamaha sound is described as natural sound but can sound dull and a bit thin depending on grade of receiver, while sony is a tad bit brighter.

                    Other common brands are Pioneer , Denon,Onkyo and Marantz.

                    Personally I prefer Harmon Kardon receivers as I like the way they sound as they are more on the punchy/dynamic and brighter side.