Arcam SA10 Integrated Amplifier Review
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Reason for purchase: I am seeking a reasonably priced audio setup to stream music from Spotify to a Chromecast Audio for casual listening. I have plenty of google home devices and I want something that sounds great, looks great and is easy to operate without breaking the bank.

My daily comparisons: These devices are only presented to provide context of my current daily comparisons. McIntosh MHA-150, Sonus Faber Venere 2.0, Audiolab 6000CDT, Ayre Codex, Wyred4Sound DAC-1LE w/ Fentoclock, Schiit Lyr 2, Audeze LCD-2, Audioquest Night Hawk Carbon, Audeze EL-8 and Audeze Sine.

Getting started: Instead of unwrapping the Focal Aria 906 bookshelf speakers that I ordered to pair with the Arcam SA10, I decided to remove my McIntosh MHA-150 from it’s cabinet and replace it with the Arcam SA10 to pair it with the Sonus Faber Venere 2.0 bookshelf speakers. This decision was based on the fact that I have been listening to the Focal Venere 2.0’s for 10 months and am very familiar with them. The listening setup now consist of the Arcam SA10 integrated amplifier, the Sonus Faber Venere 2.0 bookshelf speakers (connected via Analysis Plus Oval 12 cables) , and a Google Chromecast Audio (connected via Toslink).

First impression: As I make all the necessary cable connections and get settled for my first listen, I can’t help but notice the attention to detail and sturdiness that is the power button. I can’t come up with a better word at this point than sturdy. The press of the power button is not only felt but heard. I state this simply to accentuate the fact that the Arcam is a solid piece of modern electronic art (no pictures due it justice). It quickly becomes apparent that the design team believes in attention to detail. The fit and finish of this amplifier is exceptional and I am personally sold on it’s aesthetics (bonus) at this point. As the amplifier begins it’s maiden warm up, I begin to select track after track in run and gun approach to put it through its paces. These tracks are truly all over the place, including songs from Melody Gardot, Imagine Dragons, Johnny Cash, Lady Gaga, Eric Clapton/Steve Winwood, Lorde and the list goes on. A solid two hours is spent doing this, in which two things become very apparent. First things first, from the airiness of the recording to the immediate breadth of the soundstage there is potential here. This observation takes me back several years to when I had the opportunity to audition what I still consider the best setup I have heard in my life. This setup included a pair of YG Acoustics floor standers that spanned from floor to ceiling and some massive silver blocks called Boulder Amplifiers. The father/son owners of Audio Limits encouragingly told me at the time, it doesn’t cost anything to listen and you can listen anytime you want (referring to their setup). Taking it back to the Arcam SA10, the highs and midrange are both in place and sound great. But, something just isn’t quite right. This leads me to the second observation, which is the the low end. The low end presents itself, but it is rather recessed behind the rest of the music. Struggling to captivate this presentation, I find that the SA10 just seems to be lacking in the ability to pull the power together to bring the low end forward and on the same plan as the high end and midrange. Time is up and I wrap my fire fast session for the night. I stop the streaming music and allow the Arcam to go into standby mode after 30 minutes of inactivity. At this point I am questioning my decision and contemplating the continuance of my pursuit to go online and purchase the Arcam SA20 , Audiolab 6000A and the Cambridge Audio CXA61 to audition. I go to bed, no purchase made.

Second impression: The next morning with hope in the potential that I heard the night before and I pick-up where I left off. This time given my experience from the previous day, I seek to find music that spends its time challenging the low end. In a quick google search, I immediately come across a Spotify playlist titled, “Subwoofer Songs (Deep Bass)”, give it a quick look and say, “why not.” Yeah! by Usher (featuring Lil Jon & Ludacris) starts to play and I am served with a much different experience. The recessed low end is now present and on the same page as the high and mid range. Excited by this, I fire through other playlist offerings and determine this is no fluke. I then seek music that I am much more familiar with, the same experience holds true. Picking up with “Rich Woman” from Robert Plant & Alison Krauss it brings a smile to my face as this amplifier just sounds great. From the guitar picking to the clarity and richness of the vocals, the Arcam SA10 has fulfilled its potential. I let the whole album play through, it's just too good to interrupt. I then finished with Hunter from Bjork’s Homogenic album and oh my did it let loose. The sonic nature of this song just erupted with great dynamics and separation that my words will not give justice too. If you haven’ it run this song through your system… your are missing out. The Arcam SA10 was up for the challenge indeed. This deal is sealed, the SA10 is a keeper.

Final thoughts: The YG/Boulder combo still remains the best setup I have ever heard… at least in my mind. With that said, the Arcam SA10 brings so much to the show for the entry price of $848.68 (discounted/taxed/shipped). At this point, I am really enjoying how this amplifier presents all types of music at all volume levels. I came across a review on World Wide Stereo’s website of the Yamaha S501 by Stereo nut. Stereo nut wrote, “I had given this unit a bad review, just three stars. The Pure Direct was unlistenable, very harsh. But another whole day of intense and varied music, (rock, jazz, classical, classic rock and hip-hop) and the A-S501 has burned in beautifully. I've never had a unit go from so bad to sooo very good. So if you get one, don't be like me. Be patient.” I am glad I read this review last night, as in my case being patient is just what I needed. Breaking in or warming up the Arcam SA10 made all the difference. Moving forward, I plan to take heed of this wise notion that is patience and do my best to give equipment the benefit of time where possible. Considering there are some really good dealers that offer 60 day home auditions, this shouldn’t be an issue for many of us. I hope my experience helps with others wondering about the Arcam SA10. Good luck, enjoy the ride and have patience.
 
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