Focal Arche - Class A Headphone Amplifier and DAC

General Information

Arche is a unique electronic solution developed by Micromega (who brought its expertise in the world of high-end electronics) for Focal. Thanks to the digital analog converter and the amplification modes it integrates, Arche strongly increases the performance of high-fidelity headphones and can also drive a home hi-fi system.

With Arche, Focal provides an ultra-high-standard ecosystem in the headphones and associated electronics world. Building on 40 years of expertise in High-Fidelity, the brand innovates ever more in technologies but also with its products by making no compromise on performance, uses and aesthetics. Arche comes with a solid aluminium headphones mount inspired by the brand’s logo: accessing and storing the headphones is therefore quick and easy, as well as looking incredible and saving on space!

Features

Arche is a unique audiophile solution. It combines a digital-analog converter with two pure class A amplification modes (voltage, hybrid), designed especially for headphones. Arche also offers presets for every set of Focal headphones to make sure you get the absolute best from this ultimate combination. Its dual mono ultra-high performance construction makes it possible to separate management of the left and right channels, from the powering stage. The two balanced digital-analog converters can process formats in PCM format, 384kHz, as well as DSD 256. The analog signal is then routed towards 2 pure class A amplification channels for an uncompromising solution. The original audio signal is thereby totally respected, so as to reproduce the tiniest details of the recording.

The cherry on the cake, Focal has also built in solutions dedicated to each of its headphones - Utopia, Stellia, Clear, Elear & Elegia - via presets. Owners of Focal headphones can therefore be sure they are enjoying a combination of electronics and acoustics that is carefully thought out and specially developed from the very outset

Key points
• Digital-analog converter compatible with high-resolution formats (384kHz - DSD 256).
• 2 integrated amplifiers (voltage and hybrid): choose the amplifier type best suited to your headphones.
• Presets for every set of Focal headphones: get the best from Focal’s combination of electronics and acoustics.
• Dual mono audiophile construction from input of the digital signal to output of the self-powered signal.
• Can also be used as a digital-analog converter for high-fidelity home systems.


Specifications



Design

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The destination to an audiophile's journey
Pros: Sound
Design and Build
Features
Cons: Fingerprint Magnet
The Spiked Feet
TLDR Verdict:
Sound
: 5/5
Design: 4.9/5
Features: 5/5
Value: 5/5 but only if you get it with the Black Friday 1000 USD/EUR/GBP discount. If Retail Price then 4.5/5

As a Focal user I am no stranger to their products. I know what to expect in terms of build and sound quality. While my expectations were high, I did try to temper them in order to be as objective as possible when writing this review.

My journey starts with a 4 day wait for the package to arrive. There were some delays with the shipping due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the story unfolds, I was lucky enough to get the package on Friday the 4th of December 2020. The driver dropped a box that seemed quite large. I did check some pictures online while I was waiting but did not expect this size.

In tone with their brand image, Focal designed a simple yet elegant box. There are no fancy drawings or anything. You get two items: the name of the product and the brand. As you open the box and see the protective cushions inside, you realize why they made the box so big. The Arche is quite hefty in size and weight for a headphone amp. On the left side, in a protective plastic cover, they tucked the amplifier while on the right side you see their signature headphone stand, as well as the accessory box. To my surprise, they do not include the USB cable to connect this to your laptop/PC/Mac. This was not issue as I had a cable laying around, but they did give me a non-EU plug.





Package Contents:
1 x Focal Arche
1 x Headphone Stand + 3 x tiny screws + 1 x Allen Key + Focal Plastic bit
2 x Power Cables (EU and US)

Build Quality:

The Arche is not a small headphone amp. It has been designed in a rather unique way with quite a large footprint. While the height of the product does not have such a big impact and you could potentially tuck it under a screen, the choice to position this will change depending if you mount the headphone stand or not. This is a very nice-looking product and the moment you add the stand it really catches your eye. We will assume this to be the de facto look, thus make sure you have adequate real estate on your desk. Everything feels premium but my one gripe is the fingerprint magnet feature I see every time I interact with it. Not a big thing as they are easily removed but I can see my yeti hands quite regularly.

Functionality

The frontside has a multi-function knob, a white display and not blue as seen in the Focal promo pictures, a 1/4" single-ended output and a 4 pin XLR balanced output. The rear side of the Arche gets a bit more attention and sends a serious business message. You have a choice of three digital inputs, including a USB port, and balanced / unbalanced outputs for those who have a specific preference and would like to use the converter with an external amplifier. At the end of the day this is a DAC – AMP combo so choices do exist.



Features

As introduced above, the Arche prioritizes versatility in terms of connectivity and purpose. To complete the package, Focal & Micromega did not stop here and took one step further. The user can tweak a range of settings to tune the sound. For example, using the multi-function knob we can access the different modes to select from. Should you be a Focal high-end headphone owner, you have dedicated modes for each. Select the relevant product and you will have synergy with your headphone. For non-Focal products, we can pick from a Voltage and Hybrid mode. Finally, you have an option to configure the gain of the Arche: high or low.

Sound

The first impression matters and Focal delivers on features and design. Truth be told, for me this is just a small part as to why I believe I do not need to look elsewhere moving forward. What makes the Arche great is the sound quality and it delivers.

Headphones
  • Denon AHD-2000 Mark Lawton Pads – stock cable
  • Denon AHD – 9200 stock pads – FORZA NOIR HPC MK2 Balanced 2.5mm & Forza Adapter




Contenders
  • Focal Arche
  • NAD C388
  • Topping A50/D50s/P50






Source
  • NAD C568
  • Qobuz Studio via Razer Blade Advanced 2019
My NAD C388 hybrid DAC is connected to a pair of Focal Aria 948 speakers. From the onset, the bar for the Arche was quite high in terms of audio quality as my NAD sounds great. If you got this far, you may have noticed that I own a pair of Denon headphones and not Focal. The Denon headphones shine on the NAD so I had my fingers crossed the Arche would get close to it. To put it simply, the Focal Arche does an excellent job at producing a clear sound which is abundant in detail. While certain DAC-Amps tend to force their sound signature on your headphones creating this shift away from the characteristics of your product, the Arche does things differently. There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the Arche and your headphones leading to a very engaging tone where frequency separation is tailored to what your product can deliver.

Every song I played on the Arche made me want more. My first session with the product was around 7 hours and I never felt any fatigue. The next day I used it for another 5 hours and I simply could not get enough. If I were to summarize the sound, I would say that you experience a rare musical clarity sprinkled with fast pace, hard hitting dynamics, and beautiful sound visualization.

My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to try all the preset modes offered. The difference between Voltage and Hybrid mode is subtle yet, if you close your eyes, detectable. The Utopia preset on the 9200 changes the sound and pushes away the oomph you find in Voltage & Hybrid modes. While I understand the approach behind this preset, without a pair of Utopia headphones, I cannot properly classify this natural take I detect.

Listening to artists such as Deep Purple, Sting, Norah Jones, Jon Hopkins, The Chainsmokers, Pink Floyd and Dire Straits pointed out another thing: the Arche retains a high S/N ratio - and a low N/S ratio without any effort. There was no issue with any song and my audio sessions did not suffer from any background noise while listening.

The Focal Arche is an exceptional product and will give you a pleasant pause in your audiophile quest for perfection. For me, the Arche put my voyage on hold as I believe I reached my destination. I also love the fact that I can use the Arche as a pure DAC or amplifier. I can combine this with other products and still enjoy the appealing signature.

It would not be fair to the reader to end on such a high note without pointing out one flaw which puzzles me. It is not related to the sound but to the spiked feet of the unit. If you do not pay attention, you will scratch any surface you place the Arche on. Granted, you get some rubber/silicon covers but these do not stick. They require you to raise the Arche on each side and have the feet dig in them. Not the best solution in my view so I decided to place something between the Arche and the table.

Thanks for giving me some of your time and I will wrap the review here with a cool tidbit between myself and Focal on Twitter. Stay safe and happy listening.

Last edited:
lycos
lycos
Do you mind to share where did you get it for $1000 during BF?
Wishmaker
Wishmaker
@John Buchanan Thanks for the feedback. I made the change as you are right. The phraseology you suggested is more spot on.
@lycos I got it from here : https://www.son-video.com/article/haute-fidelite-amplificateurs-amplis-casque/focal/arche
For black Friday the price was 600 EUR cheaper than what it is now.
@szore Thanks for the feedback. I lacked the relevant equipment to measure and compare the results to the spec sheet. The review was written with the average person in mind who gets this, puts their favourite headphones and turns it on.
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Reactions: lycos
lycos
lycos
Wow, that's a steal! Thanks for your review!

Comments

I purchased an Arche about a year ago. My Arche would crash when playing DSD 256 files. Focal came out with a firmware in July 2020. This new firmware basically removed support for many supported formats except up to PCM 192 and DSD 64. I lost DXD, DSD 128 and DSD 256 support. What’s worse is Focal support does not respond to inquires. This is very frustrating. I see they finally pulled the broken firmware from their site, but there is no solution to fix the problem and no communication since August 2020.
 
Hi there,

I am sorry to see you have these issues.
My review did not cover such an extensive use of formats.
The choice of songs varied from Hi-Res 24 Bit 44.1 to Hi-Res 24 Bit 192.
Norah Jones has some pretty amazing recordings on Qobuz. Her Come with Me Album is on 192.
I updated my unit following the steps from here :
Focal Arche DAC Amplifier Update - Moon Audio (moon-audio.com)
I assume you did the same.
 
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