ARCAM rPAC Review
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This is Arcam's new rPAC which is their "Personal Audio Converter". It is an all in one headphone amp and DAC with fixed DAC line out options and no need for external power supply. I wish to thank Mr. Follis at A and R Cambridge for leasing me this unit for review.
This is got to be one of THE most solid devices I have laid hands on. It is compact and is almost fully encased in a metal body. The top and sides are full metal with a slight rubber/plastic coating on top. The bottom is rubber with a metal plate(thin) in the rubber itself.
There is no other word I can say then this is solid. It is average on scuffing, nothing too special but not super easy either. And weighs a lot more than you would think when you first saw it and connected the build with plastic. You and I were wrong. However because it is so encased in metal and heavy for a device of this size, I would say that this is NOT shock resistant in any way shape or form and should be handled with caution despite good stands and holdings as you can see.
Also on the build is DIY-ability and or self diagnosing or fixing. Arcam lets you EASILY take this apart. Seriously, if you have a screwdriver then that is it. All you need is to remove the screws that are visible(no hidden ones) and a small slide and bam. You are fine. As this was a lent sample I of course excercised caution. I wasn't going to go full iFixit on a sample like this but I was curious and so checked for hidden screws beneath the tabbed model paper on the bottom and others and took them apart meticulously.
The rPAC comes with a USB type A to type B cable for your computer or device, an RCA interconnect cable, cloth baggie, thank you card and startup manual
There is nothing out and amazing or anything wrong with the accessories to affect any type of judgement (such as poor quality paper or matierals etc) and so that's about it for this section. Good RCA cable and USB cable.
This is what I would call the biggest deciding factor of the rPAC. The sound section below will tell you why but by itself for a $250 device, even with a feature such as asynchronous USB, it isn't going to be worth $250 to many people for what it produces. However combined with all it's uses, depending on who you are. It just may be. The rPAC's main selling point to me is it's combined function and to those that need it. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack out front, that will output audio at the same time with your DAC lined out speakers. This was actually quite nice in my opinion. No switch for DAC fixed line out. It just happens really. Plain and simple. Both outputs continuously output a signal and so you can use both, no need for an extra switch and no. Pulling out your RCA interconnect cable won't give your heapdhone amp a boost in power. Next the rPAC has steps and simple two button volume controls on tops. The steps in my opinion are many and are very low/small changes each step so it may be annoying for those that want to turn it up really fast. You can hold it down and each step that goes, the LED green with blink once, once it reaches max at either end, it stops blinking. You press both + and - at the same time to mute your music and you press either + or - to resume it. Unmuting does not work with pressing both buttons again as the double press seems to just be mapped to a mute function.
The rPAC overal is for someone that has headphones, speakers and likes to take it places, wants a strong build, name they have heard of and like, no hassle of external plugged power and just plug and go simplicity. By itself for each of these at such a price range, the rPAC is a bit hard to swallow but for it's combined usage, I can see many audiophiles or not that want such functions to readily grab this device.
This unit proudly displays and packs asynchronous USB technology. Asynchronous USB is a standard that says or tries to fix any problems that may occur between device and computer by sending feedback to the computer on if it has received something and everything. This two way connection is said to improve audio quality by being more timed and set and can lead to less errors and also better playback. With my testing, A-USB was smoother and took longer to play or scroll through a song with. On units with A-USB, scrolling/scrubbing through a song was near instantaneous with a small delay and then playing. This delay was more apparent on the rPAC by about half a second and the playing and stopping of a song with Foobar using WASAPI was also more delayed which I guess I'll attribute to the A-USB. Overall this technology is becomming more mainstream with a few popular sub $200 products like the HRT Music streamer II already carrying it along with iBasso's and others. And I honestly can tell you that although the jitter was less pronounced when I scrubbed through a song or paused and played, I could not say I could even "hear" A-USB difference really.
My reference setup will be:
ComputeràS/PDIFàAudio-gd NFB 12.1 Dual Wolfson WM8741 Fixed DAC outàCustom O2 with Burr Brown OPA2228.
For testing DAC to DAC comparisons it was:
Audio gd NFB 12.1 WM 8740 2.2vRMS Fixed line out--> Custom O2
Arcam rPAC TI/BB PCM5102 2.15vRM Fixed line out--> Custom O2
The difference in fixed line out was accounted for.
Sennheiser HD 215
Ultimate Ears TF10
Ultrasone HFI 580
The sound of the Arcam rPAC as a whole is quite mellow. It doesn’t stand out overly, but nor is it just like flat soda and lifeless. The DAC and amp together gives a soft and not as pronounced but more mixed in low frequency bass hits. It is noticeable however that the rPAC as a whole however does have nice staging that is not visible on many other units which quite surpised me. As a whole the staging although it did have a more pulled back and surround kind of effect was still burdened by it’s amplifier section. A few other things were that on times when the song would get into a very emotional or violent moment be a quickening and sudden drop of bass and quickening of tempo or massive highs, the rPAC would in a sense quiver delivering an ill sound that can only be described as unmatched. Where the highs wouldn’t exactly go to where I want and the bass would have a slight muddy upslur instead of a steady and smooth transition. The lower frequency range of the rPAC unit is also not as drastic or as welcoming as I would have liked. The bass was a bit muddy and didn’t exactly punch with not a whole lot of detail to it. Adequate depth of the bass was there though.
The rPAC’s sound has good staging but in the end is still burdened by it’s lack of actual depth to the actual contents of the song. The highs weren’t harsh which were good but they were a bit overly sharp in the sense that the high frequency piercings would linger a bit after or had trouble “dropping” and keeping with the rest of the song at times and smoothing out. The highs would also constantly run into the vocals and mids mixing up the upper and center mids and muddying them up or distorting them.
Basically as a whole unit, the rPAC does have a few sonic ills to be noted but can also be forgived, as I will get to later on. The majority of the rPAC’s ills actually stage from the amplifier section of the unit and how it is and on purpose or by design underpowered and also not of much high end. This was confirmed by using DAC out of the rPAC into the reference amp of this price range, the Objective 2 of which mine is a custom one made for high performance desk use with a Burr Brown op amp, RCA in, quarter inch out and various gains and JRC NJM4556. I used the DAC out of the Arcam rPAC into the O2 and also used the DAC out of the Audio Gd NFB 12.1 into the O2 to compare a popular desktop unit the Audio gd to the rPAC. Both and all units were at around the same price range.
The results came back were as I expected with most of the ills of the device stemming directly from it’s amplifier stage. The staging that I noticed and liked in the rPAC was still there and even better and more pronounced and clear and detailed and the qualms for the most part were less pronounced was gone. The vocals were warmer and more forward and more detailed. The highs were smoothed out but yet again another problem came and it was that the highs were noticeably more fatiguing now. They were smoothed out by a good amount while still maintaining that sharpness but it did have some fatigue in them when listening now.
Overall headphone out:
Sharp but is sonically problematic. The highs are nice and sharp but it gets very jumpy around in that range where it wouldn’t smooth out and go as the song wanted to and would constantly muddy up the vocals and mids. They weren’t harsh but nor were they detailed. I guess you can say it was a bit everywhere in it’s own confined space. They were still highly useable though as they were still sharp and could still pierce through songs.
Mids and vocals:
Prominent with adequate depth and separation. Staging of the separation is also a nice feature and add on. Not as natural as I would like them to be however as they were a bit thin compared to other units. I would call this section to be a quite normal really. The guitars and vocals and other instruments had a nice and warm sound that wasn’t too warm or metallic. Nothing wrong with them, but nothing exciting with them either. They don’t have an affinity for male or female vocals, of European/American or Asian accents.
The lows of this song have a good amount of depth and kick. Able to kick with the song without overpowering or being too little. However like any amp. It’s only easy to tell apart if that amp has problems with it’s design or implementation which this one didn’t have so really it’s nothing special past many out there. However what was easy to spot out was the punch of the lows of the unit. Which wasn’t very punchy. A bit muddy actually, more comparable to something for subs than a headphone. They didn’t have the detail or actual “oomph” to go along with many songs as with comparable units.
The rPAC’s headphone out is underpowered by design but does have enough juice for most headphones, although most of the ones that it does have juice is, is below the devices own price range. Driveability is not 100% proportional to price but it is something that does have a relationship with and most won’t have headphones past the price of their amp and DAC at this price point.
The rPAC is underpowered or doesn’t have enough for many reference class headphones at this price because it uses USB for power. Consumer USB ports generally give out 500mA’s of power so the rPAC has to be designed to be in those limits for both the amp, DAC and other lighting and
components on it.
The sonic qualities of the rPac are ok for the price. Nothing special besides it’s staging that isn’t very enticing with this section. Some sonic problems however do put a damper on thigns such as a mellow sub detailed low frequency response and extension and a high frequency range that can muddy and lose control easily. Of course these are still better than a $20 device, one should be note all these sayings on the device are price related as I wouldn’t and can’t test and compare the rPAC to a thousand dollar popular device as I could probably call everything out then as can the rPAC to other devices at another price point.
Overall DAC out:
Take 75% of the qualms of the previous section and remove it and add some others and that’s about it. The highs have signifigantly improved, the highs of course are still in their confined area but this time don’t muddy up the mids (for the most part) and is for the most part smoother than before. It is still sharp and piercing with a nice new revitalizing of detail but also a new revitalized fatigue came with it as well. IT’s a lot nicer but also a bit more fatiguing to the ears.
Mids and Vocals:
They were largely unchanged but now instead of normal with problems are just normal. They are more pronounced and detailed with a bit more depth. The upper mids that had problems before due to mingling with the uncertain highs are for the most part rectified with this output.
Seperation and spatial have and are the biggest things anyone will notice. The separation was improved as other sectors before were being muddied up making it hard to even tell what was separate at some parts. The spatial aspect is also improved and is something you would want for your speakers or even games.
They are more detailed with a lot more body and punch than before but still falling short of the Dual WM8741 Wolfson Flagships found in the Audio gd. Again the lows in my opinion still hold more for those with subs as they although aren’t punchy, do have more buddy and the “oomph” that you would want with a sub.
DAC fixed line out on the rPAC is signifigantly better than the headphone out. It truly shows off the spatial object placements that the rPAC has. This is not a hear it and it is there aspect as much as it is one that you hear after being tuned to it and comparing. IT is subtle but there and a good add on. I will more or less say that the DAC out encompasses exactly what Arcam wanted, DAC lineing out to speakers with sub units. If the headphone out was like the DAC out with the O2 then this would be a very good device for many.
The Arcam rPAC is a very interesting unit, it packs Asynchronous USB, headphone out, no external power source, RCA fixed line out, stepped buttons, and good build in all the same unit which is farily compact at such a price. I would not recommend this device as a desktop unit alone for headphone audiophile's as there are many other that do it's job a multitude of times better but for one that can use all it's functions, this may be a good unit for you. It continuously outputs a singal to both RCA line out and headphone out allowing for ease of use and plug and play without affecting sound. It is small with a good build and only requires the USB cable it comes with for power. This unit is somewhat of a home entertainement unit you can bring around everywhere for your or your friends speaker setups. Just plug into your computer and then into your speaker or recievers and boom. Good sound with a good build, wherever you go. A few other devices from FiiO like the E7 and E17 can line out their WM8740's for the same purpose and are even cheaper but I was not able to test them at this time for their DAC out sound.
All in all, I would only recommend this device to those that have read this review and know what they are getting and can put this device to good use. I can imagine someone picking this up and taking it to a next location and simply plugging it in. With it's Asynchronous USB features that some tout is better than optical or coaxil S/PDIF with even less jitter. The value of this device for those that can use it is high, but for those that just want an headphone amp and DAC as this headphone forum usually is more inclined towards, it won't score as high there.
Audio/Sonic Quality headphone out: 6.5/10
Audio/Sonic Quality DAC out: 8.5/10
These scores are based on price.
$250 MSRP; $210 Street
Again, thank you to Mr. Follis for this lent sample.