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Arcam rPAC - USB DAC + Headphone Amplifier

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Here's some news:

 

 

The rPAC is a USB, bus powered DAC and headphone amplifier designed to dramatically improve the audio performance of PC and MAC computers. It is designed and produced by Arcam, one of the world’s most prestigious audio engineering companies with over thirty years of experience building high-end HiFi equipment.

- Personal Audio Component
- High performance USB DAC & headphone amp
- First in the new extended 'r' series

Improves sound from Mac and Massively improves sound from PC
Connect to any computer by USB 

Play through any headphones including expensive home models or feed and play through any hi-fi system 

Using a digital to analogue converter (DAC) normally found in very high end HiFi components and Arcam’s world-class audio circuitry, the rPAC takes audio files stored on a MAC or PC and delivers converts them into beautiful music with stunning clarity and precision. Its USB power system means no “wall wart” PSU is needed and the choice of line level output or headphones socket allows you to share the musical enjoyment with friends or keep it all to yourself!

The rPAC will sit discreetly beside any desktop or laptop computer and is constructed using durable, precision cast aluminium case. Designed for music lovers everywhere it is ideal for the home, office or on the road.

• Works with PC or Mac computers
• Dramatically improves audio performance
• No driver required (Win7, XP, Mac OSX)
• Headphones or Line level output
• USB bus powered - no PSU required
• High-end audio circuitry and components
• Stylish cast aluminium case

With an expected retail price of £150, the rPAC will be available early 2012.

post #2 of 22
Thread Starter 
Does anyone know anything about Arcam and the sort of gear they produce in this place?
post #3 of 22

Arcam make very high quality audio gear that is well regarded in the field of home Hi-Fi.  Thats why I don't understand why they have put their name to this!  It really doesn't fit in with their brand at all.  I can maybe, just maybe, imagine it might appeal to someone with a laptop and a pair of low impedance iem's but for everything else I imagine it will be pretty much useless.  "Bus powered" tells you as much as you need to know regarding seriously driving anything else.

post #4 of 22

I have an Arcam Alpha 6 CD player. Getting a bit old now, but I can confirm that, generally-speaking, Arcam make some very tasty high-midrange HiFi seperates. They're a manufacturer you can bank on to deliver good gear.

 

Don't know about this USB item though - as amf123 says, it does appear to be something of a departure from Arcam's normal territory. I hope they're not trying to make a fast buck on a questionable product. That'd be a great shame for a company with such an excellent pedigree.

post #5 of 22

It certainly seems Arcam is trying to appeal to lower-end buyers.

'Bus-powered' isn't that bad. The Audinst HUD-MX1 is bus powered and it drives headphones fairly well. That being said, seeing as the MX1 is more versatile and already sounds good, I don't see the value in the rPAC. 

post #6 of 22
Thread Starter 

I'll be posting some impressions in the next two days.

post #7 of 22

Some older Arcam CD players like the Alpha 9 used the fabled dCS ring DAC, as available in the ûber-expensive dCS DACs (their entry-level model, the Debussy, lists at $11K). They are a very serious company, and usually focus on quality electronics as opposed to many high-end manufacturers where you mostly pay for fancy chassis metalwork. The Solo, Neo and rDAC introduced the brand to a much lower-priced market segment. None of Arcam's current products use the ring DAC, however, just run of the mill Burr-Brown, Wolfson and equivalent merchant silicon DAC chips.

post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 

 

Impressions from the Sound & Vision Show Bristol:

Nice and neat little device with the ability to drive most of the efficient, low impedance headphones and IEMs. Very nice feature where the volume fades in if you change the track or do something else or even when you plug in the headphones and in addition the volume settles at 50% in a progressive manner and you could reduce it by controlling the physical buttons at the top straight away. It has got a set of phono line out as well. It is equipped with a 24/96 asynchronous chip quite similar to the rDAC. Zero background noise which is always a welcome and nice balanced response across the entire spectrum. Bass is more defined and refined compared to the normal headphone out. I feel the sound isn't coloured even though my audition was in a noisy environment. I've only used my A100s and thought it sounded really good. Priced at £150 I am not sure how good it is compared to other ones from Nuforce etc. And please do take my comments with a grain of salt as the environment was quite noisy with their D33 Super DAC doing all the singing and dancing with Audio Vector and Arcam's own Muso speakers.

 

PS: The fade-in sound feature is something I liked a lot especially if you change the track and do a random switching between different player software as well.

post #9 of 22

Managed to get a loaner production version. Will be posting impressions of it in a bit.

 

Pretty good so far!

post #10 of 22

Subscribed.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by 9VARZ View Post

Managed to get a loaner production version. Will be posting impressions of it in a bit.

 

Pretty good so far!



 

post #11 of 22

As promised, here are the impressions of the rPAC after 3 days of usage. I hope it's concise enough to cover all the bases but not too long to bore you guys to death.

 

Please, do enjoy reading and feedback any queries you might have!

 

**Special Acknowledgments to Martin Hodson of Audio-T (Bristol) for the loaner product!**

 

Headphones: Sennheiser HD600 (stock config.), Phonak Audeo PFE112 (with Comply tips and grey/silver filters)

Sundries: Chord SilverPlus USB cable

Playback Software/Audio engine(s): Samplitude 11 (MME), iTunes 10 (MME), XMPlay 3.6 (WASAPI), JRMC 16 (WASAPI), Opera browser (Youtube/BBC iPlayer/Grooveshark/SoundCloud) (MME)

Capabilities not tested: Line out, fade-in/fade-out feature mentioned by vkvedam

 

Packaging & Construction: Excellent quality for what I consider as an entry-level device! Maybe it's just me, but, although the unit itself is made in China, it does not seem to come across as something that is cheaply made (unlike its other brethren). The matte finish of the chassis is slightly prone to smudging by really greasy/dirty fingers, so a little caveat there. It also comes immaculately packed in a biggish pancake/pizza box (for a product that is no bigger than most men's wallets), complete with most accessories (even a pair of RCA cables and a travel bag!) that entry users will ever need to set up the device. (Score: 4/5)

 

Ease of Use: Quite literally plug-and-play. No special drivers are needed for "vanilla" audio DAC use. Because I had missed the Arcam demo at the Bristol S&V Show, I can't seem to find the fade-in/fade-out feature (or software to support this feature) as mentioned by our TS. Apart from that, being a USB bus-powered device, using it is pretty much a no-brainer there. There are only 2 buttons to control the device volume (pressing both at the same time mutes the sound). I presume that it will also control external powered/active monitors (or power amps through its rear panel line-out feature). Since I don't have any monitors on hand to try this out at the time of review, I can't comment on this feature yet. Also, the indicator LED will show green for a locked device, red for no input (with power) and orange for mute. The LED brightness is pretty unintrusive for most mobile/desktop/mixing desk applications too. The included manual is rather rudimentary, doesn't really say much and experienced peripheral device users can quite literally junk it without needing it. (Score: 5/5)

 

Word of caution: For some reason, the device defaults to a rather ear-hurting high volume (possibly midway) the first time you plug in. So IEM/CIEM users, please take note of this if you treasure your hearing.

 

Sound: Excellent sound for a £150 device!! The first thing that hits you is its pretty impressive airy and three dimensional soundstage and its uncanny ability in layer/instrument separation and representation of instrument textures (which is **almost** but not really Furutech GT40-like). I'm also not too sure about most users here, but I believe seasoned ears should be able to pick out (more or less) the Chinese/"Made in China" and TI-made DAC chip "flavour" in the sound here. While there are sufficient levels of extension and (reasonably) tight, tuneful "meat" in the bass, impact and slam is understandably not that great for a device that doesn't swing more than 2V in the output (according to the manual/TI). Midrange is detailed, polite and clean, but ever so slightly erring on the warm side of being clinically neutral. Treble has a quite a bit of audible early roll off here (typical with most devices in this price range?). It also gets a bit gritty and grainy when fresh out of the box or starting up from cold.

 

It also possesses quite a dynamic nature to the sound and is able to ever so slightly "lift" otherwise dynamically-compressed music that is endemic in today's mainstream sources. This was also its key (combined with the expansive soundstage) where it really shines in highly lossy/compressed film (AC3/AAC encoded) soundtrack to make streaming online films and music that much more enjoyable. It still lacks a touch in leading edge attack, though (although that is just my personal preference).

 

There is definitely no worry about it being unable to drive most consumer-level IEMs, CIEMs and even high-impedance cans here. There is very little sign of distortion at ear-bleeding/clubbing/live-event levels and even the 300-ohm HD600s can be driven with reasonable authority. You will also lose a touch of bass extension by going loud, but gain a wee little bit more of "80 Hz punch" in the process. Treble still rolls off rather early at high volumes while the mid-range does not gain any more focus by going loud.

 

It is generally rather versatile across most genres too: acoustic, live, Asian pop, mainstream pop, orchestral/cinematic, classical, instrumental/percussion, vocal/acapella/operatic, rock, electronica/techno/house/trance/dance. So no worries there. As it is consistent with the Arcam house sound (slight bass bias), some potential integration issues may arise when one is using the line-out with speakers/amps. (Score: 9/10)

 

Notes: The sound will open up in about 2 or so days of near continuous usage. Most notable areas of improvements here are the further opening up of the already airy soundstage, more bass depth (and tautness) and less edge off the trebles. Midrange has also upped the ante on the detail game and adopted a more pacey, dynamic disposition. Note that the aforementioned upper treble roll off is still rather evident, though.

 

Comparisons/Value for Money: A possible no-contest here. At £150, the only possible competitor here would be stuff from Audinst and the FiiO E17 or E7/E9 combo. And although I've not heard the former two products, it definitely wipes the E7/E9 combo here. Even going higher up the ladder, (from memory) this little device will very possibly also annihilate the rather capable Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus for users who are not into its plethora of input options and are solely into the devices' sound capabilities. And rather interestingly, we have here a little mini competition from something more than twice its recommended street value in the shape of the aforementioned GT40.

 

Although I personally would prefer the sound off of the GT40 (largely in areas of refinement of its presentation, analogue volume control, leading edge attack, midrange expressiveness/musicality and treble sweetness over the Arcam - something I attribute to personal tastes), I personally think that the rPAC is really something retailers can push out in volumes to entry level consumers, "I want to jump ship from PC soundcard" users and people who are seeking a capable second DAC for their auxiliary/mobile setup. Of course, that means Arcam will probably need to up the ante if they really want to see this through. (Score: 5/5) 

 

Verdict: As a a first DAC for your laptop/PC/Mac, however, I honestly cannot recommend virgin audiophiles a better recommendation for the money. With improvements over in the sundries and software department (USB bus power "cleaners", SotM, new players and the like), seasoned audiophiles looking for a capable "fire and forget" budget DAC for an auxiliary or a second/mobile setup will also not be disappointed. For the curious rest of us, why not pop in to your local dealer to have a listen out of pure interest? biggrin.gif

 

I really cannot emphasise this enough: What we are looking here is possibly the next big thing in audio devices developed for mainstream PC (and Mac -  yes, guys! You're not forgotten!) applications. Is there ANY thing here one can ask more from the rPAC? Well, maybe (I personally would appreciate a 6.3mm headphone output instead of a bog-standard 3.5mm one). However, what we have on hand here is an already rather nifty device more than capable of taking on the bigger boys that are already long established in the field. In that respect, this is definitely a product worth watching. 

 

 

Final score: 4.6/5 (Impressive! Highly Recommended!)


Edited by 9VARZ - 3/27/12 at 1:29pm
post #12 of 22
Thread Starter 

Nice impressions 9VARZ! The volume buttons would only work with the headphone out and they are bypassed when used in line out function.

post #13 of 22

Hi, I'm very new in this and as for my first system I got an rPAC and I use it with iMac 21" and Grado SR225i. I got BitPerfect and Pure Music and also got Amarra on trial. 

Just wanted to share my experience with these 3 systems. First I listened with Pure Music and it sounded a little bright for me. With BitPerfect it sounded softer and warmer. Finally I listened Amarra and it sounded more detailed than BitPerfect. To my tastes, BitPerfect is very good with this setup. 

 

PS: I am not an audiophile I just love listening music and considering to upgrade my system as my ears are trained. These are just my opinions as I don't believe in "True Sound", if it sounds good to me then I don't care :) just wanted to share my thoughts.


Edited by badirr - 4/28/12 at 7:40am
post #14 of 22

Hello, gentlemen, I wonder if the Arcam rPac would have enough juice to drive the AKG K702 properly? I wonder what impedance does it handle, up to how many ohms ?

post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by vkvedam View Post

Does anyone know anything about Arcam and the sort of gear they produce in this place?

 



They are good British company. The name is short for A&R Cambridge. They go back to about the mid 70's and were known mainly for their integrated amplifiers and their CD players. In the late 90's they came out with what was then considered a state of the art digital conversion method called "the ring". I had that cd player and it was great. Since then they've expanded into home theater and other areas. They are still based and designed in England, and at one time all their stuff was built there too, but I think most of the gear is made in Asia now. They have some similarites with the Rega brand, both are good UK hi-fi companies founded in the 70's that originally had a strong focus on high performance, reasonably priced gear. Both make some really pricey upscale stuff nowadays. Now you have me curious about this little Arcam box.

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