AudioControl Concert AVR-1 Home Theater AV Receiver Review 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Monday, 08 November 2010

I like movies but dislike the movie theater experience. I'll never understand the connection between attending the cinema and stuffing one's face with as much popcorn, candy and soda as possible in a 2-hour swipe. Inevitably, I'm surrounded by groups of folks more intent on demonstrating how loudly they can masticate than actually watching the film. Thus, I've acquired a reputation as something of a movie theater Scrooge and would rather do the whole movie thing at home. My critics counter, “But you can't get the same big-screen experience at home. And what about the special effects and the sound?” Granted, I can't drop a 30- or 40-foot screen into my living room without calling my insurance agent; however, you want movie theater special effects and sound? Really great sound? That's where AudioControl's Concert AVR-1 comes in to save the day. (At least mine.)

If AudioControl doesn't fall off the tongue like some of the better known brands, it's not because the company just emerged. AudioControl has been in business for 30 years, designing audio equipment for the automobile and home stereo markets, catering to what it calls, “enthusiasts who generally take a little more than average time to learn what equipment is available.” From its twin operation bases in Mount Lake Terrace and Spokane, Washington, AudioControl manufactures and distributes its products through specialty dealers.


The AVR-1 was designed to meet the demands of home theater installers, while its functionality and performance will find favor with “do-it-yourself”A/V enthusiasts. In short, the AVR-1 struts the line between consumer and professional and does it very well - for a price. At $5,500, it's for the serious hobbyist looking for serious home theater sound and video processing. At 5K+, one should expect plenty of bells and whistles, and the AVR-1 positively dangles with them. It's imminently flexible and customizable, thanks to an array of 120 different audio and video inputs and outputs. The receiver sports a 32-bit DSP processor capable of decoding all the current discrete digital surround formats for 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 channels.

AVR-1 front plate

It can also process two-channel signals for multi-channel outputs via Dolby Pro Logic II, Pro Logic Iix and DTS Neo. Want to use the AVR-1 as a bridge across rooms? Zone 2 audio/video outputs make it easy to listen to and view a source independently of the main system. The receiver can also feed an additional amp through its Zone 3 audio outputs, providing independent volume control while maintaining the Zone 2 video source. The AVR-1 is radio ready: compatible with Sirius satellite radio, comprising an AM/FM receiver and can also be networked to play Internet radio and audio formats via Ethernet or a USB storage device including MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis.

The AVR-1 is powered by a 120-watts per channel Class H amplifier. A Class H design makes it possible to build amps of higher power without needing to increase the chassis size or overall weight of the unit. The AVR-1 is still beastly, at 60 pounds, but its physical dimensions are no larger than other A/V receivers. Class H amps operate in a manner similar to Class G amplifiers. With Class G designs, the power supply voltage is boosted when higher output shifts are needed. Basically, the amp relies on two power supplies: one operates in lower output mode, accounting for the majority of sound signals; the higher supply kicks in when more power is needed to drive more demanding signals. Class H amps take the Class G design a step further by modulating the input signal in real time. The AVR-1 basically “responds” to the input signals as needed, generating only enough power as required. As a result, far less heat is generated as is the demand for power.

Set Up

A sense of humor is a good thing to have when setting up a home theater system, and I like how AudioControl keeps things light with its AVR-1 manual. For example: On page 16, under the “Connection Tips” section, the final bullet point suggests, “Don't stand in a bucket of water when working with electricity.” And under the “Warranty” disclaimers, AudioControl describes unwarranted abuse as including “sadistic things. This is the best product we know how to build, but if you strap it to the front bumper of your Range Rover, something will break.” Few electronics instruction manuals are worth reading for their entertainment value, but this 70-page guide does have its share of zingers. Beyond the comedy bits, users will find detailed, but not overwhelming, information to personalize the AVR-1 to their liking. Considering the receiver's numerous input and output options, there's little left to chance or leave out of the system.

The front panel features a well-lit and easy-to-read blue LCD along with a series of 10 buttons and a polished volume control dial. When powered on, the AVR-1's blue LEDs have a cool blue glow that contrasts nicely with its black face panel and silver volume ring. The overall look brings to mind the venerable McIntosh Laboratory line. That's a roundabout compliment – the AVR-1 is a great-looking component.

I really like the AVR-1's back panel layout. All the zones” and input/output types (digital, analog, multi-channel, etc.) are arranged in vertical columns that make connecting easy and intuitive. A row of six HDMI inputs/outputs populate the bottom of the panel. The 5-way speaker binding posts are segregated at the edge of the rear panel and arranged vertically, too. This is particularly handy if a wire accidentally comes loose or you just want to add another speaker, etc. Instead of having to pull the entire receiver out to access the back panel's center area – where many A/V receivers house speaker posts – you can simply slide one corner of the AVR-1 out at an angle and have complete access. It's a logical arrangement that I wish other manufacturers would employ. 

Like most A/V receivers, setup of the AVR-1 begins with an onscreen set-up menu facilitated by connecting a video output to display device. The menu panel is straightforward and intuitive to navigate. There are a lot of input options available, so plan on spending some time to thoroughly adjust and fine tune. It's worth it. As well, the receiver comes with a calibration microphone to “tune” your room and maximize the home theater experience. Again, the manual does a good job of walking users through this auto-setup and, finally, setting up and positioning speakers.

AudioControl included its own universal remote, which worked well but not flawlessly. At times, the volume control wouldn't respond so I was left to adjust manually using the front panel volume ring. The alternate approach is to shut the receiver down and then turn on again. The receiver can also be wired to a control system touchscreen and controlled from the RS-232 Serial Port. Three 12V triggers provide for overall management of sources, projectors, screens, etc.

In Action

I've had a lot of music DVDs cross my desk this fall and among my favorites is Electric Light Orchestra Live – The Early Years. This disc sports three concerts showcasing ELO in 1973, 1974 and 1976. It's a fascinating account of ELO as the band begins its ascent from small-stage act to theater headliner. If you don't think a band with two cellists can rock – or those cellists themselves – this DVD is worth your time. With leader Jeff Lynne's melodic compositions framing spirited covers of Jerry Lee Lewis' “Great Balls Of Fire,” a rock-and-roll take on Edvard Grieg's “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” and England-meets-Appalachia in “Orange Blossom Special,” the Orchestra puts its all on the line. The two-channel Dolby Digital Stereo sounds terrific, with loads of weight behind the strings and Bev Bevan's drums. Switching to 5.1 brought the band into my living room. Swirls of sound circled my ears: Guitar arpeggios, violin melodies, cello counterpoint and keyboard ornamentations combined to create a “you-are-there” sensation. And that's what you get continually with the AVR-1, rich, full-bodied sound that can fill a room without a hiccup.

Each time I watch the 1981 film Excalibur, I appreciate and respect John Boorman's movie making more and more. This retelling of the legend of King Arthur is a winner on all accounts: acting, cinematography, music. Still, it's hard not to get carried away by actor Nicol Williamson's unique role as Merlin the Magician. The cryptic sorcerer nearly steals the show, but Excalibur is also a visual landmark, full of mood and dark shadows that were created long before computers and software could turn such tricks. Couple it all to the brooding and dramatic music of soundtrack composer Trevor Jones  along with past masters Richard Wagner (The Ring Cycle) and Carl Orff (Carmina Burana) and the drama burns with even brighter flame. This is powerful stuff that demands the same from the sources. You don't want broadswords and battles, lances and Lancelot, and fire and brimstone at anything but full power. And the AVR-1 doesn't disappoint, creating an unforgettable theater experience – right at home (I knew it could be done.)

An obvious – but often overlooked – reality about home theater is most consumers will watch a specific movie once or twice and never again. There are some classics that merit revisiting, but the majority of multi-plays in media come from music. That's why the sound quality of a receiver is as  important as its video processing abilities. And the AVR-1 is among the top two receivers I've heard, the Pioneer Elite SC-27 being the other. Both are notable for their sonics, which go far beyond most A/V receivers into the realm of high-fi audio separates. The Pioneer has a slightly more muscled sound, while the AVR-1 has more sparkle and transparency, along with plenty of power and detail. Music “blooms” through the AVR-1, full and rich that should appeal to fans of both tube and transistor gear. I could be happy with it just for the sound alone. It has a real sense of substance and presence that make it among the best in class. Though DVD-Audio and SACD never found their larger anticipated audiences, I still cling to these high-res discs and spent hours listening through the AVR-1's multi-channel inputs. Much like the receiver's “Direct” two-channel analog setting, the Multi-channel inputs bypass all digital circuitry and connect the player to the amp with nothing in the way but a volume control. So, high-res lovers can listen in either two-channel stereo or multi-channel and have the best of both worlds, without unwanted digital processing interference.

I listen to Internet Radio primarily via a Logitech Squeezebox Duet. It's a great means to discover new music; however, the audio quality is often compromised by low streaming rates. The AVR-1 can't perform miracles but it can make listening to compressed audio bearable. A Glasgow-based Celtic station that I like sometimes dips down to 56 kbps, which is about as pleasant as listening to a dentist's drill. Even at this glacial rate,though,the AVR-1 delivered enough punch to keep me from turning the dial. When streaming audio jumped to 128 kbps, I was in happy land.

Final Thoughts

Consumers have hundreds of A/V receivers to choose from these days. Everyone wants the same thing: easy setup, reliable performance, good sound, compatibility with sources and current sound formats. The AVR-1 does it all, but it's in the sound department that it steps away from the competition. In the audiophile world, A/V receivers are often viewed with suspicion, not because they can't do nearly every trick in the book, but because they can do nearly every trick. The purest signal path is the grail, so incorporating exotic processing modes can only interfere with the signal chain and, ultimately, the final sound suffers. That AudioControl has produced a feature-laden unit to satisfy the tech-iest home theater buff while maintaining high-end sound is the AVR-1's greatest triumph. AudioControl backs it all up with a comprehensive 5-year parts and labor warranty.

System Setup

  • AudioControl Concert AVR-1 Home Theater Surround Sound Receiver
  • Samsung LN32C530 LCD TV
  • Oppo BDP-80 Blu-ray Disc Player
  • Yamaha DV-S5770 DVD-Audio/Video/SACD Player
  • Logitech Squeezebox Duet
  • Veloce 75 ohm digital cable
  • DCM KX10 loudspeakers
  • Athena Technologies AS-B1-1 bookshelf speakers (2 pair)
  • Boston Acoustics CSSUB10B Powered Subwoofer 
  • Better Cables Silver Serpent Reference HMDI cable
  • RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Interconnects 
  • RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables

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