Arcam rHead - Discrete True-linear Class-A Analogue Headphone Amplifier

General Information

"The rHead was able to equal the performance of a Sennheiser HDVA-600 at almost triple the price, even surpassing it when it came to musicality and listening enjoyment."

"In summary, I simply don’t know how they do it. Another outstanding product from Arcam, and a real credit to the company’s existing product portfolio. At £399 in the UK and $599 in the US, it represents extraordinary value for money. Whether you’re a headphone aficionado or simply looking to add a headphone amplifier to your existing hi-fi system, the Arcam rHead should be at the top of your shortlist. Highly recommended." Audio Appraisal July 2016


Designed by Arcam’s founder and Class-G Amplifier Guru John Dawson, the new Arcam rHead is a discrete true-linear Class-A analogue headphone amplifier, built for the highest possible performance and to outperform competition at anywhere near the affordable price.

Prices - UK £399 inc tax - USA $600 plus tax - On sale now

This small, solid and beautifully built product will complement the audio system of any headphone lover. It delivers enough power to drive small speakers, let alone the least-efficient headphones, but is the epitome of ultra-low noise, ultra low-distortion refinement rather than a brute force brawler.

Key Features
- Class A design delivers absolutely no crossover distortion for the purest sound.
- Extensively optimised PCB layout for cleanest sound
- Multiple, ultra-low noise power supplies eliminate cross-interference
- Fully direct coupled signal path for cleanest bass
- Ultra-linear resistive-ladder analogue volume control, eliminates volume tracking errors
(taken from Arcam’s £4000+ flagship A49 amplifier)

- Phono and XLR inputs
- 3.5mm and 6.25mm headphone outputs
- Output impedance <0.5Ω

Latest reviews


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Punch and depth smooth mids intimacy
Cons: Sound stage width and detail not quite as large as some
Arcam included me in their review tour for the new rHead. Arcam are in their 40th year and make some lovely looking minimalist kit. With kind regards to Rob Follis who arranged the tour , let us have a closer look at the capabilities of this integrated amp.
This was a week loan. I have done my utmost to try as much kit and to listen as carefully as I could within the context of the deadline. These are my ears and my opinions. Yours may be different. The differences I describe are not striking, they are subtle. Comparisons between different headphones are far more likely to reveal big differences than amps specced to a similar standard and made with decent care and attention.
What I look for in an amplifier is the amp's ability to drive all my headphones and drive them with ease. I have 2 headphones in particular that take no prisoners.....
The vintage AKG K1000 Bass Heavy model.
Famously or infamously a devourer of power, these headphones demand an awful lot of power on tap and many owners have gone for speaker amps even up to 100 Watts per channel to get the best from these. Think of a super revealing set of headphones when you think about the AKGs,  they are not particularly bassy at all especially when the drivers are twisted away from the ears. You get an idea of how far away from the ears I listen to them from the photo above. The AKGs come with a balanced to speaker terminal adapter as standard. 
The rHead struggled to push the K1000s to the levels they need to express themselves , not surprising considering they are less efficient than the HE6.
My HiFiMan HE6s showing the open mod.
The HE6 demands lots of power too, again many owners have given up trying specialist headphone amps and gone for speaker amps and have bought HiFiMans attenuator box to attach them. The HE6s are supplied as a balanced headphone but at least these have a single ended adapter. They take lots of power to get them at their best but not so much as demanded by the AKGs. There is a treble spike noticeable with the HE6s and much time is spent with EQing and modding to get them sounding at their very best.
The rHead was able to power these to loud enough levels ,  I felt that the very best of HE6 was missing and needed the juice that only my Mini Beast can deliver.
2 more headphones I used extensively both of which are considerably easier to power properly.
The Soundmagic P55 Vento was a newly revised headphone that had been sent to me for demo.
It is an on the ear headphone that is efficient enough to not need external amping. It’s a closed cup design. From the limited time I have spent with the Soundmagics , they have an impactful bass and tend towards a slightly hot treble.
The rival headphone to the Vento was the Mr Speakers Alpha Dogs
 effectively a heavily customised Fostex T50 with 3D printed cups, a world first.  Not as efficient as the Ventos, the Dogs need an amp. The character of the Alpha Dogs is the amount of detail they can retrieve, especially in the mids. What I notice about them compared to the other headphones in my collection is the amount of hiss they can pick up.
The Sound
As earlier described I considered how I was to spend my time to best describe to you the attributes of the rHead and I came to the conclusion that the only way to do this was to set up my existing kit such as I have and switch between the various bits. Switching between the bits as regularly and quickly as my sanity allows normally gives me a flavour of the differences within a reasonable time frame. It's not quite blind testing but sometimes life is just too short.
As usual with being a headfier of a few years servitude I have amassed far more kit than I need. At least that gives some variability to my testing equipment and I have a rich source to tap into even with amplifiers, so much so that I didn't bother with my Topping T22 30 Watt per channel amp. The kit I used to compare the rHead is as follows :
Amongst the mass of wires , my Fidelity Audio HPA 200 SE 
The standard version retails at £625. I had mine upgraded to an SE edition a few years ago. Brent, the designer and upgrader and owner of Fidelity Audio said at the time mine was the first 200 he'd upgraded. The upgrade is no longer offered. I have not since found a model that was upgraded to this spec, it cost me £200 to upgrade it at the time. The amp is single ended only and takes RCA in and has an output so it'll work alongside a conventional hifi setup. What was previously offered for the HPA 200 , 500 mw into 32 ohms was upgraded to a 1 Watt spec. 
The next amp up is a power amp made by my good friend and fellow headfier @dill3000. It is a clone of the First Watt  F6 designed by Nelson Pass . The design was distributed to the DIY community and I'm very fortunate to have one. It is dubbed The Mini Beast
 And for good reason......
Seen here with the rHead and Mojo perched above, the power amp is huge and extremely powerful , wonderfully over the top for a headphone based system. The AKG K1000 and HE-6 have room to breathe here, in fact they have the size of a small country to breathe ! I class this as my end game , although @dill3000 makes better systems , you will need trolleys beyond this size.......
One word could be used to describe the sound. Pleasant. But we shall need many more words to justify this because we are headfiers
 So with the devil being in the details let me produce my pitchfork and prod you around for a line or 2. The low end on the rHead has a bit of extra warmth to it , there is a nice oomph or impact to the overall presentation which does not distract from the rest of the spectrum. There is no treble glare present , an enticing feature to note for HE6 owners and arguably HD800 owners may find some solace here too. The sound is smooth and has no sharp bits and the most noticeable quality for me was the slight extra bass presence. 
The rHead was up against some very strong opposition. When pitted against the Mini Beast the rHead was behind in the detail transparency and soundstage stakes. The bass was not as tight. Against the HPA 200 SE the sound was smoother and had more bass. The soundstage was not as large on the rHead. Against the Mojo things changed somewhat. The Mojo took on the bass attributes of the rHead but the bass was less flabby on the Mojo. If anything, the sound was slightly smoother on the Mojo. The soundstage again was better on the Mojo. Many owners will rave about the Mojo’s capabilities as a headphone out and it did not disappoint on this occasion even against a newly produced dedicated A class amplifier costing almost the same money. These findings sound like the rHead was way behind my other kit but this was not the case - had I only had the rHead as a reference I would have been extremely happy to listen with it. I would go along with the opinion of my learned friends who have already taken part in the tour; there is very little to dislike here.
Bass - punchy but not boomy
Mids - linear
Highs - slightly rolled off
Warm sound signature
Sound stage depth width and height - Average
Intimate feel to music
Somewhat cheap mains adapter with a non moulded plug that various plug ends are supplied in the rHead box which make the amp usable for any of the Continent's mains systems without needing separate mains adapters for shipping purposes.
There is an rca cable supplied, likewise cheap and cheerful. I would have like to have seen some more variety and quality in the cables supplied or at least a splitter for those of us going from a headphone out from our phones or Daps or Mojos.
The rHead itself looks great , feels solid and has plenty of connections.
I had plenty of product to pitch this against and although this was a little behind the likes of the Mojo for my tastes , if you like your music to have a bit of extra warmph and low end punch to it this may suit you down to the ground
Pros: Good power, excellent build quality, compact form factor, pairs well with IEMs all the way to full-size cans, nicely musical
Cons: Stage depth not as great as my other amps, some details and natural edges are smoothed over


Thanks Arcam of Cambridge for including me in the UK tour in exchange for my honest opinion.


The more I look at the audio industry, the more amazed I am at the number of enterprising and innovative folks getting into the market. Arcam isn’t one of those companies. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be innovative, but they’ve been around too long to be called a new firm. Over 40 years in operation out of Cambridge, England puts Arcam in pretty rarefied company.
Like most sensible people I started falling in love with music as a child. My first portable audio device was a Sony Walkman (the cassette kind) that I got when I was 10 years old (24 years ago).  I listened with the cheap Sony on ears that came with the Walkman until I bought a Koss CD boombox and started listening to UAF College Radio and 103.9 (alternative rock at the time) in Fairbanks, Alaska. I once listened to Louie, Louie for 3 days straight, and I’m not insane—did you know there is a Spanish gospel version of Louie, Louie?
Like political tastes and tastes in friends, my musical tastes evolved through association and then rebellion and experimentation. From the songs of my father (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, ZZ Top), to the songs of my peers (Dr. Dre, Green Day, Nirvana, Weezer), my tastes evolved, expanded and exploded into the polyglot love that is my current musical tapestry. Like a Hieronymous Bosch mural, my tastes can be weird and wonderful: dreamy Japanese garble pop, 8 bit chiptune landscapes percolated with meows, queer punk, Scandinavian black metal; or they can be more main-stream with minglings of Latin guitar, Miles Davis trumpet, and banks of strings and percussion in the Mariinsky Orchestra. Mostly my audio drink of choice is a rich stout pint of heady classic rock and indie/alternative from my musical infancy and identity formation (the 90s). Come as you are, indeed. Beyond the weird, the wonderful, the interesting and accepted, I’m a big fan of intelligent hip-hop artists like Macklemore, Metermaids, Kendrick Lamar, Sage Francis and Aesop Rock. I even dabble in some country from time to time, with First Aid Kit and the man in black making cameos in my canals.
My sonic preferences tend towards a balanced or neutral sound, though I’ll admit to liking a little boosted bass or treble from time to time. If I have to choose between warm and bright, I’ll choose bright almost every time. A few screechy high notes are preferable to me than a foggy unfocused bass guitar. As my tastes are eclectic, and a day of listening can involve frequent shifts in my sonic scenery, I don’t generally want headphones that try to paint my horizons in their own hues. I need headphones that get out of the way, or provide benign or beneficial modifications. I desire graceful lifts like an ice-dancing pairs’ carved arc, not heaving lifts like a man mountain deadlift.
My last hearing test with an audiologist was a long time ago and under strange circumstances. However, I have heard tones all the way down to 10hz and all the way up to 23Khz using headphones in my collection. Either my headphones tend to have a hole in frequency at 18kHz or my hearing does, because I never seem to hear it. I’m sensitive to peaky treble, and treble fatigue, even when I can’t hear what might be causing it. I do enjoy smooth extended treble. I like deep tight bass and impactful drums, and dislike upper mid-bass emphasis.  I like my vocals crisp, so stay away from Josh Tillman’s voice you nasty upper mid-bass hump.  I like air in the stage, not just cues to distance and height, but the feeling of air moving around and through instruments. Soundstage shouldn’t be just about hearing, I need to feel it. I listen at volume levels that others consider loud (78 to 82 dB), but I just set it to where the dynamics peak. I’m not here to shatter my eardrums. I like them just how they are.
I generally don’t believe in using EQ, not even for inexpensive headphones, especially in reviews. I won’t claim that I haven’t done it, but I generally try to avoid it.
I believe that burn-in can make a difference, but I also acknowledge that there isn’t any measurement that appears to give conclusive proof that burn-in exists. I trust my ears, fully acknowledging that my brain may fill in expected details, may colour my interpretation, or may be subject to its own settling period with a headphone. In my experience, burn-in effects are not as large as proponents of burn-in tend to advertise. I’ve also noted that using white/pink/brown noise, I almost never observe changes beyond 24 hours of burn in. When people tell you that you shouldn’t listen to your headphones until they have 200 hours on them, I think these people need to be ignored. No matter what, you should be listening to your headphones at different stages, right out of the box and at intervals. How can someone observe a difference without baseline observations and follow up observations to measure change trajectories? If you really want to be serious about controlling for effect, you need volume matching, source matching, and tip/pad matching.
I’m a firm believer that cables can make a difference, but I don’t think they always do. When I tried out Toxic Cables line, they were in a bunch of baggies at the Cambridge 2015 HeadFi meet without any labels tell me what I was listening to. The cheapest looking one was the one I liked the best. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to spend much to improve my sound. It turned out that the cheapest looking one was the Silver/Gold top of the line cable. I’ve heard the difference that USB cables can make, from upgrading from the crappy cable that came with my Geek Out 1000 to a Supra USB, and then again when upgrading to the LH Labs Lightspeed 2G with the iUSB3.0. When I picked up a cheap shielded power lead from Mains Cables R Us to replace my standard kettle lead on my integrated amplifier, I heard more crunchy and clearer treble. I switched the leads with my wife blinded and she heard the same difference. I didn’t tell her what I heard and let her describe it herself. But cables don’t always make a difference. When I switched from my standard HD650 cable to a custom balanced cable (Custom Cans UK, very affordable), the sound stayed exactly the same when hooked up via a top tier (custom made by my local wire wizard, @dill3000, out of  silver/gold Neotech wire) 4-pin XLR to 6.3mm converter. Balanced mode made a difference in clarity and blackness of background—this indicates that the amp was the deciding influence, not the cable. Your mileage may vary and you may not hear a difference, but I have.

Vital Statistics (specs from manufacturers and distributors)

The story of audio is told in specs and stat-sheets as well as marketing lingo, reviewer critiques and homages. Sometimes a manufacturer’s description is a superfluous ball of superlatives. If they’re doing a good job the information they provide won’t just be a flash-zip-bang advertisement to go with your morning cereal and internet browse—I do this every day before I go to work, alas the newspaper is dead in my generation. In this section of my reviews, I try to provide the manufacturers tale and leave the critique to my own review.
Beware, there be superlative icebergs and spec charts ahead.
Key Features
- Class A design delivers zero crossover distortion for the purest sound.
- Extensively optimised 2 layer fibreglass PCB for cleanest sound and lowest crosstalk
- Multiple low noise power supplies eliminate cross-interference between sections
- Fully direct coupled signal path from the volume control for cleanest bass
- Ultra-linear resistive-ladder analogue volume control, eliminates L/R volume tracking errors
  (taken from Arcam’s $6000+ flagship A49 amplifier)
- Precision metal film resistors in the signal path for lowest distortion
- Phono socket and balanced XLR inputs
- 3.5mm and 6.25mm headphone outputs
- Output impedance <0.5Ω eliminates frequency response errors
- Enough power to drive the least-efficient headphones
Other Bullet Points
- Very high build-quality with die cast metal case for mechanically stable structure
- World-class analogue circuitry
- Vibration damped non-slip rubber base
Class-A Amplification
The amplifiers operate in class-A for all normal headphones use (up to deafening levels) and seamlessly switch to class AB if called upon to drive really low impedances at higher levels (e.g. desktop loudspeakers). They are nevertheless short circuit proof and will shut down automatically in this case. Simply turn back the volume control to zero (“mute”) to reset.
Digitally-Controlled Analogue Volume Control
The expensive PGA2311A Texas Instruments part is the same as is used in our $6000+ high-end 49 series ampliers. It is a digitally controlled, very high-performance analogue stereo audio volume control, designed for professional and high-end consumer audio systems. The two fully independent audio channels eliminate crosstalk and deliver effectively perfect L/R tracking at all volume levels. We use the premium (lowest distortion) A-grade part.
Would a 3rd party linear power supply improve the sound? We don’t think an external supply will help much due to extensive internal filtering. Many will convince themselves an expensive linear supply sounds better, but the unit will measure much the same whatever is used, provided it is man enough (+12V regulated, at least 1 amp continuous) and user does not introduce an inadvertent ground loop. Do NOT exceed +14V.
Listening Notes
The rHead is ultra-low-distortion and ultra-low-noise. Timing is fast and precise, with well-controlled bass and although the output is very wide-band the extended treble is smooth and flat with no artificial exaggerations. Dynamic headroom is massive and all headphones we know of are handled with ease. Please compare with competitors at twice the price.
Some reviewers, used to quick blasts of distorted noisy signals, find Arcam sound lacking in 'excitement & bite’ when what they are listening to is distortion and often deliberately tweaked FR to enhance ‘detail’. Arcam’s musical natural sound is made for long-term non-fatiguing listening.
MUSICAL above all. A VERY important point - Arcam don't build equipment to impress on one quick listen. Arcam gear is designed to be musical and enjoyable over years and years of listening. Many competing products are very 'Hi-Fi' but don't play music in an enjoyable fashion. The Arcam sound gets more involving and musical the longer you listen.

Frequency response
10Hz - 20kHz +/- 0.1 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise
0.001% at 2V output, 32Ω load
Signal-to-noise ratio (A-weighted)
109dB at 2V output, 32Ω load
Maximum headphone output power
2.0W, 16Ω load - 1.1W, 32Ω load - 0.13W, 300Ω load
Headphone impedance recommendation
16Ω - 600Ω
Output impedance
Input levels
0-4V (RCA) 0-8V (XLR)
W194 x H44 x D135mm
ABOUT: Arcam of Cambridge - 40th Anniversary Year 2016
One of the pioneers of the Hi-Fi industry, Arcam have been building world-class products for over 40 years. Noted as one of the world’s most prestigious AV engineering companies and an authority on Digital Audio, Hi-Fi and Home Cinema, Arcam is headquartered in Cambridge UK.


[size=24.57px]Form & Function[/size]

The Arcam rHead comes in a briefcase size box, which was unexpected to me. For some reason I pictured the rHead being a big beefy amplifier. It isn’t, but it is a little beefy amplifier. The rHead can be held in hand, and has the heft of a brick at a riot. I’m not suggesting lobbing it through a Starbucks window, but anarchists with less wits than arm action could easily mistake it for a brick. The amp feels solid and made to last. I have no doubt that the rHead is not made to break, or designed for built-in obsolescence like most of the electronic gear of this our disposable age. I believe them when they say it will last for 20 years.
Made to Break Technology and Obsolescence in America by Giles Slade, a very interesting read
The rHead has a couple single-ended inputs front and left on the fascia, one for 3.5mm headphone jacks and one for 6.3mm jacks. The sockets have a nice solid snap to them when putting headphones in. On the rear of the unit we find one set of balanced XLR inputs and one set of RCA inputs. There are no outputs here, so we won’t be using this as a pre-amp, like some other headphone amplifiers. Also on the back we find a switch to select which input we are using, a power switch and the jack for the worldwide wall wart that comes included. The wall wart has interchangeable plugs and comes with UK, EU, USA, and Australia plugs—very useful. There is also a cheap set of RCA cables, which means you can hook this up just about instantly, so long as you’ve got your source ready to go.
The manufacturer blurb makes some points about construction materials, but I’m not buying that metal film resistors magically produce the lowest distortion. The lingo seems to just be telling me what they put in it and then throwing superlative spaghetti at my ears and hoping some of it will stick. I don’t much dig spaghetti in my ears.
The rHead box is so small that I was able to fit it in my backpack and take it to CanJam London—thanks @moedawg140 for keeping an eye on it. I hope some folks at your table had a listen. Arcam did miss a trick on their box design, though. Given the size of the box, and the portability of the amplifier, having a box with a handle would be incredibly sensible. Also, the box is sealed by a round sticker, instead of a central fold/insert flap. If a handle and fold insert flap for closing the box were included, the amp would be much easier to use portably. It would be much better than what I usually carry in a briefcase form factor—breathmints and scribbled interview prep notes.

The volume knob feels solid, but nothing to make a youtube channel about.


Audio quality

The Arcam rHead has a smooth musical presentation. It is fairly clear, with good, but not great detail. The amp is neutral, with no frequencies emphasized over others, which is how it should be. Good on ya, Arcam. Soundstage is good, but not tops among the competitors today. The sound signature is overall, a bit forward.
When listening with the HD600, there is plenty of power to drive it, but the HD600 likes even more to get the bass to come up a bit. I found myself with the volume at about 65%  to 75% on the volume knob at most times.
With regards to the claims made about the sound signature from Arcam’s UK distributor, I did compare the rHead against amplifiers at twice the price, and it wasn’t as good, but it did fairly well. I don’t buy the claim that people listening to other amps are used to more bite because of more distortion. When listening to the LH Labs X-Infinity and the Airist Audio Heron 5, it was the clarity that made them both place ahead of the rHead. It isn’t an insult to not beat the X-Infinity amp, as the DAC/Amp combo that is the X-Infinity supposedly retails for $3000—I paid nowhere near that. Similarly, the rHead competes with Airist Audio Heron 5. The claim that it gets more musical as you listen to it is simply not true. I believe that what Arcam was describing was brain burn-in. The amp isn’t changing, your perception of the amp is changing, you are getting used to the sound.
Before doing any comparisons, I did my best to volume match the different amplifiers using the HD600, a cheap SPL meter, and a pen to record the volume level necessary on my X-Infinity. Volume was matched at 78 dB. The signal chain always had my computer feeding my LH Labs X-Infinity ( via LH Labs Lightspeed 2G double-ended USB cable), which then fed the Airist Audio Heron 5, using singled ended outputs and a pair of Atlas Integra interconnects, and the Arcam rHead, which was fed with Van Damme XKE Quad XLR pro audio cables. I recognize that this is not an identical setup, but my observance has been that the sound from XLRs on the X-Infinity is slightly better than the sound from RCA, and having both amps hooked up simultaneously allowed rapid, but not instant switching, between all three headphone amplifiers thus minimising audio memory loss and maximising the speed of comparisons. The X-Infinity includes a pre-amplifier, and both headphone amps have their own volume controls, so whilst listening to the headphone amps I maxed the volume on the X-Infinity. The X-Infinity was set on high gain. Both the rHead and the Heron 5 were set once and left. When switching in between any amp and the X-Infinity, the X-Infinity volume had to be reset to the correct level. The HD600 was played single ended from both the rHead and Heron 5, but played balanced from the X-Infinity—I’ve never found the X-Infinity’s single ended headphone amplification to really satisfy me.
My playlist for comparisons today included the following:
  1. Michael Jackson – Billie Jean (24-96 Vinyl Rip)
  2. Roger Waters – Late Home Tonight, Part 1
  3. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
  4. Hoff Ensemble – Blagutten (DXD)
  5. 2Pac – God Bless the Dead
  6. Massive Attack – Teardrop
  7. Eagles – Hotel California (DCC Gold, Steve Hoffman master)
  8. Animals as Leaders – Kascade
  9. Bjork – Black Lake
On Michael Jackson – Billie Jean the rHead had a smooth treble presentation, good impact on drums and a more lively feel compared to the X-Infinity. Stage width was a smidge wider on the rHead, but with less depth and detail than the X-Infinity. On violins, the X-Infinity had a bit more natural timbre. After one track it was hard to tell the difference between the amps. Differences were subtle and may not be evident to all listeners.
Late Home Tonight, part 1 puts a bit more differentiation in play  between the rHead and X-Infinity. The rHead is smoother, but less detailed and with less depth in the stage. The X-Infinity has more subtle instrument placement than the rHead.
Marvin Gaye sounds wonderful on both amps, but the track has impressive depth on the X-Infinity and good depth on the rHead. I think the narrower depth enhances drum impact on the rHead, but at the cost of more accurate instrument placement.
When listening to the DXD track, Hoff Ensemble – Blagutten on the X-Infinity, the superiority of the X-Infinity is most clear. Brass and piano have more natural ambience and timbre with more emotional content. Decay is more natural on the X-Infinity. The smoothness of the rHead masks some of the expressiveness of the track, with subtle details falling out of the mix. The natural timbre of the piano heard on the X-Infinity is lost on the rHead. Notes don’t sound as full and real on the rHead. This loss of detail, instrument placement and depth in the stage is also apparent when listening to 2Pac – God Bless the Dead on the rHead. The layers of rappers meld together a bit on the rHead losing the subtle layering that I look for when listening to the track.
Adding the Heron 5 to the mix of comparators allows firmer comparison of the X-Infinity and the rHead. On Massive Attack – Teardrop the rHead gives a nice snappy drum presentation, good treble on the strings, a bit of forwardness on the mids, and good bass grip. The X-Infinity has the best imaging, but the least bass grip. The Airist Audio Heron 5 has excellent grip and texture, and a bigger soundstage than either the rHead and X-Infinity (especially on depth). The Airist Audio Heron 5 is like getting the best of all worlds, but with a very slightly smoother sound than the X-Infinity. When listening to Eagles – Hotel California (DCC Gold), I only have one more observation: the emotional content on the Heron 5 surpasses the rHead.
Further listening only confirmed the findings of the previous tracks. It is much like in qualitative research, often a few interviews with patients gives you most of what you will find, the rest of the patients serve as confirmation. The rHead is the smoothest, with the least detail and stage depth. It has good sub-bass rumble, but both the X-Infinity and the Heron 5 can get the sub rolling, too. The X-Infinity is the most detailed but doesn’t have the full texture, emotional notions, good vibrations or satisfaction of the Heron 5. The Heron 5 lets the DAC speak, clearly, intelligently, dripping with appeal.

I tried the Arcam rHead with other headphones ranging from 16 ohm IEMs to 32 ohm headphones and it did wonderfully with all comers. These play nice with whatever you throw at them.


The Arcam rHead is a powerful amp with a clear neutral sound. Compared to other amps I have on hand it is smoother, with less detail and less stage depth. It is, true to Arcam’s claims, an amp that is always musical, and built to last. The build quality of the amp is the most substantial of any amplifier I’ve played with among it’s competitors.
When I got the amp on loan, a HeadFi friend asked me if he should get one for his nephew who is heading off to college. I told him his nephew is a lucky so and so and that he’d be pretty chuffed to get this amp, no matter what part of the world he is headed to. This amp is perfect for a college student looking for an audiophile headphone amp to impress all their friends, take up next to no space, and last through a dozen crazy hectic moves from house to house like nothing happened. At £399 ($600) the amp is also a good value. This amplifier is absolutely built like a tank and should last your college student until they are sending their child off to whatever type of education kids will be sent off to in 25 years.
very nice review
sounds like nice amp, but a bit pricey compared to others available, but
does have good engineering and specs, so probably worth it..
good review!!
A really amazing amp and an equaly amazing review. Thanks!


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Ultra Linear, High End, No Colour, Transparent, Powerful, Superb Value
Cons: Nothing of note
Arcam rHead Headphone Amplifier

Firstly I would like to thank Rob Follis at Arcam for arranging this. It's always helpful to the community by doing such product tours and I am very much obliged to be a participant.


rHead feels like a tank, weighs a metric tonne (
) and measures a brick in flesh. The touring unit is in black and I personally like the colour. It's certainly a very well made product and you would feel the same when you hold it in your hand. The overall shape is more or less follows the new design trend that Arcam seems to have adopted, could be seen if you look at the new 'Solo' range closely, the same curves at the front and flat edging at the rear. It does feel premium to say the very least.


rHead has a minimalist design. Power switch is on the rear. There are two inputs, an RCA and an XLR at the rear. The front has two headphone outputs, one 3.5mm and one full size 1/4-inch. And then there's the volume control which also acts as a secondary switch to turn on or off.


rHead could be turned on and off by flicking the switch at the back. The volume control is the most standout feature that would draw everyone's attention. It's well made and beautiful to use. I liked the soft click when you turn it on and off. rHead is dead silent, I didn't get a chance to test it with my IEMs but I would be surprised to hear the hiss.

Testing Gear:

My chain is simple. It is as follows.

HTC 10 --> Chord Mojo --> rHead --> Hifiman HE-5LE

HTC 10 --> Chord Mojo --> Hifiman HE-5LE

Reviewer's Bias:

I like Arcam stuff. It's as simple as that. I still have their Muso speakers (Spectacular to say the very least). Used to have the very first rDAC which was decent even with a couple of anomalies in the bass region (Could be seen in the THD measurements) but didn't stand a chance with Mojo's arrival.


My musical taste is quite varied and it matured over the past 10 years in this hobby. I mostly listen to Classic Rock, Rock, Pop, Indie Rock, Jazz, Classical, Electronica/Techno, New-Age, Acoustic/Folk, Hip-Pop and last but not the least, Indian (Classical & Picked Film Based).


Before I get into the nitty gritty of things on how each particular track is rendered or portrayed I must say that the rHead is one heck of an amp. It sounds as good as it's built and pretty much like what says on the tin. It does sound ultra linear indeed. On the very first listen you could tell that it's very transparent. Wide stereo image with excellent portrayal of instrument separation across the entire spectrum. Detailing is pretty good too.

'Hotel California' by Eagles (Which most people are quite familiar with) sounded superb. The placement was pretty good. Bass is super clean with enough weight. Nicely rendered voice of excellent Don Henley. You can't really pinpoint and complain. It's very musical.

Neil Young's 'Live At Massey Place' sounded brilliant as well. It's well recorded and better mastered as compared to most of his studio albums. Although it's way before my time, it still sounds fresh to this date. I feel I am in the audience. I struggle to stop this one particular album in the middle though. And rHead's portrayal of it is as good as it gets.

Highendition Volume 9 (Life Stories) is an excellent compilation of some of the very best talents out there. I just love David Munyon's soulful voice, wonderfully gifted artist. And 'Baba Ghanoush' by Laliya is audaciously instrumental. rHead captured all of it the way source produced it (Mojo in my case).


Reviewing an amplifier is the most difficult task when it sounds this good. If it's bad you don't need to spend a lot of time assessing various genres. This is quality stuff and I could go on and on but in case of an amplifier it's primary goal is to disappear in the chain, provide enough grunt for the headphones when the music demands it and have very low noise floor and inaudibly distorted. If the amp maker is capable of ticking all those boxes then he would definitely end up with an ultra linear sounding amp which is remarkably rHead in this case and I have no qualms in recommending it to people who have a dedicated source.

Vs Chord Mojo:

To me Mojo was a revelation, so true that I was taken aback when I heard it for the first time comparing it back to back with my then current gear. It swept other DACs and amps in my chain without a drop of sweat and put them aside. It's a no match. I sold most of my stuff after acquiring Mojo. It's that good. The only piece of gear that's come to close solely based on amplification abilities is this rHead. We (Myself & my audiophile buddy) couldn't get to measure the rHead due to time constraints which now we feel that we should have. We are in the process of modifying my O2 by removing the first gain stage altogether and removing the resistors after the final Op-Amp gain stage to improve the distortion performance to make it more ultra linear. That should have been a good contest having all these around.

Subjective preference is still lying with Mojo for me and at the minute with Mojo in my stable I don't see buying an rHead although it would be a wonderful addition. When I decide to split my gear and have Mojo on the run all the time which requires me getting something like a Chord 2Qute at the very least as my source then I wouldn't hesitate in getting the rHead as a complimentary addition to my stable.
I see that you tried this with and without rHead in the chain (with mojo). Did just mojo and rHead + mojo sound different. ie. how transparent is rHead? Also, how would you rate rHead's transparency when compared to O2?
Hi, it is very transparent. O2 is no slouch either and now that we have the O2 modified with Op-amps removed from the output stage it sounds excellent. rHead is very good if you have the need for it depending on the rest of your gear.
If I want a 500 mW headphone amp (@ 50 ohms), a requirement which both of these would satisfy, would you recommend rHead over O2 considering the price point? Also, do you have a thread detailing your O2 modifications?


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