Since the experimental emergence of multi-channel surround sound in 1952’s This is Cinerama (ironically a documentary made to showcase a new widescreen projection format), the technology has arguably enriched movie watching more than anything else – including popcorn.
Superman no longer has to sound like he’s flying in tiny circles around the front of a room, and soundfields can be so enveloping you instinctively duck for cover when bullets fly over your head.
Alas, a 2.1-channel home cinema set-up (simply a stereo presentation with the addition of a subwoofer) today may seem antiquated in the face of 5.1, 7.1 channel and Dolby Atmos configurations.
But we are far from resigning the format to the Museum of Idle Technology, for it’s still worthwhile to those without the space or even desire for surround sound.
If that sounds like you, and the idea of a combined hi-fi and home cinema set-up – with speakers either side of a telly, say – seems particularly attractive, let us introduce you to the Arcam Solo Movie 2.1: an amplified all-in-one system that features Blu-ray and CD playback, myriad connections and hi-res audio network streaming.
It’s no surprise there aren’t many of the Arcam’s kind around.
But we reckon that somewhat plays into its hands. If its name isn’t enough of a giveaway, the Solo Movie 2.1 caters more for AV duties than its counterpart in the Solo range, the Solo Music.
It shares its 160W amplification, HDMI inputs and hi-res audio playback, but adds to the disc drive’s support of CD/SACD with Blu-ray and DVD, and is able to decode popular Dolby True HD and DTS Master HD film formats too.
It only asks a seemingly reasonable £200 more for the extra functionality. (Arcam’s recent price slash means that the Movie 2.1 is down from £1800 and the Solo Music, £1500 when we reviewed it in the summer, is now £1300.)
The well-equipped Solo Movie 2.1 makes the original 2008 iteration seem only partly furnished, not only by adding Blu-ray support, but by also including more connections than the standard household could probably make use of at one time.
Joining one HDMI output are four HDMI inputs, single coaxial and optical inputs that support up to 24-bit/192kHz and 24-bit/96kHz respectively, and USB (also compatible with 192kHz files), phono and 3.5mm connections.
An ethernet socket caters for wired network streaming, although a supplied antenna puts wireless connectivity on the menu too. Either way, the Arcam will stream FLAC, WAV and AIFF files up to 24-bit/192KHz, AACs up to 24-bit/96KHz and the usual WMA and MP3 formats.
There’s another antenna for aptX Bluetooth, and a FM/DAB/DAB+ tuner too. How you flick between the inputs – through the on-unit controls, remote or mobile app – is up to you. All are pleasingly intuitive and responsive, just note that the latter is sadly only available for Apple devices.
It doesn’t play up to the 4K furor, mind you; 4K Blu-ray discs aren’t welcome, and as the HDMI inputs are version 1.4 (and not 2.0, which can carry a 4K signal) there’s no option to add an Ultra HD Blu-ray playback into the system either.
More after the break
It’s a good job that the Solo Movie 2.1 is such an impressive performer with Full HD material, then.
Spielberg’s The BFG looks appealingly bright and clean, the live-action sequences crisp and detailed enough to appreciate the film’s excellent production.
The picture doesn’t jump when the giant goes over hills, there’s texture to patchwork quilts and mountainous landscapes, and with bat-like talents the Arcam proves perceptive in night scenes and when we enter the giant’s dark lair.
Clarity and sharpness levels are easily on par with those of a decent standalone player – not just with Blu-ray playback but during the upscaling of DVDs too.
MORE: The BFG review
Not forgetting the Arcam’s sonic responsibilities, we turn our attention to the film’s John Williams’ score and our positive impression is instantly confirmed.
The orchestra’s string section climaxes with apparent ease, with power or authority in copious supply.
That’s partly down to the Solo Movie 2.1 being blessed with Class G amplification, which essentially switches between multiple power supplies to deliver a lot of output (needed for a big, powerful sound) without wasting electricity as heat, or causing distortion.
Like the giant, it’s big and friendly, not throwing its weight around bullishly but rather conducting itself with poise and precision.
There’s muscle behind falling metal bins, creaking beds and axes being forcefully driven down onto tables, but it’s pleasingly subtle with it.
Physically, the Arcam’s presentation is entirely front-heavy and thus no stand-in for a surround-sound experience, it has the size and expanse to spread the orchestration to the corners of a room and make it sound like the giant’s stomps are landing right in front of you.
They are full of solidity and punch, traits that extend up the frequency range.
MORE: Best home cinema deals
You wouldn’t need particularly expressive kit to instantly recognise the giant’s West Country burr, but the shrewd Arcam ensures it is as well projected as it ought to be.
Further up the spectrum, chiming town bells have more jingle than a Frank Sinatra Christmas album.
Despite its name advocating a preference of one (movie) over the other (music), the system, like a fair parent, really isn’t discriminatory, so can be trusted as much with a collection of CDs as Blu-rays.
We choose Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik album and the Solo Movie 2.1’s even balance and naturally compelling combination of power, size and insight comes to the fore in the eponymous track.
There’s thrust to the opening drumbeat, impetus behind John Frusciante’s electric riffs, and clarity to Anthony Keidis’ penetrating vocals.
The application of Arcam’s ‘bringing music and movies to life’ maxim may be intended across the brand’s expansive portfolio of AV and hi-fi kit, but it also singularly pertains to the Solo Movie 2.1.
Of course that talent doesn’t change the fact that this is a particular product for a particular crowd – in the Arcam’s case, someone who isn’t interested in surround sound or 4K, and perhaps has access to smart apps elsewhere.
Those who want the former can always consider Arcam's Solo Movie 5.1, which – you guessed it – can cater for surround speakers. Or if AV duties are already covered, why not save a few bucks and go for the Award-winning Solo Music?
But those that do meet the criterion and are looking for a 2.1 channel set-up should strongly consider putting this almost-does-it-all box at the heart of it.
See all our Arcam reviews