Arcam SA30 Network streaming system

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Arcam SA30

Dirac’s Live 3 software is thorough, and it doesn’t take all that long to supply the software with the measurements it needs to optimise the Arcam to the room it lives in and the speakers it’s buddying up to. Having designed a bespoke response curve, it’s out with the vinyl and on with an LP.

Anna Meredith’s Fibs [Moshi Moshi] is a singular recording – the composer’s concept of ‘orchestral bangers’ is realised by a band comprising drums and percussion, cello, tuba, guitar, clarinet and ‘electronics’. In the Arcam’s hands it’s a burly, large-scale listen with smoothly described dynamic peaks and troughs. When the going gets tender there’s more than enough deftness and nuance to the SA30’s presentation to describe just how delicately the instruments are being brushed or strummed, and when the band has a charge at one of Meredith’s giddily ascending, straight-edged progressions there’s more than enough power on tap for the recording to become genuinely oppressive. Low frequency impact and regulation is one of her basic building blocks, and the SA30 organises the bottom end confidently. Thanks Dirac!

It’s a big, open soundstage the Arcam establishes, and no matter if it’s Anna Meredith’s eccentric five-piece or The Band’s rather more conventional line-up on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down [Capitol] as a 24bit/192kHz digital file delivered via Roon, the SA30 is muscularly disciplined in its presentation. Separation and focus both impress, and the ease with which individual elements of a recording can be followed is far from typical in products of this type and price. The Arcam makes some pertinent observations about the string gauge of the acoustic guitar, the tension of the skin of the snare drum, the almost supernatural sympathy of the vocal harmonies… As far as clarity, fine detail retrieval and the fundamental timbre of instruments are concerned, the SA30 is a thrillingly direct and communicative device.

Streaming an MQA file of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter [Island] via the Roon app, a 16bit/44.1kHz file of Bobby Hughes Experience’s Fusa Riot [Ultimate Dilemma] via AirPlay 2, a CD of Pharoah Sanders’ Thembi [Impulse!] or even a relatively poverty-stricken 320kbps Spotify-derived file of Marika Hackman’s Bath is Black [Transgressive] using Chromecast doesn’t really affect the Arcam’s basic virtues. It dishes the midrange details with particular relish, it sounds big and well organised, and its tonal balance errs pleasantly on the side of the natural and organic. It’s dynamic, but never at the expense of insight; it’s expansive, but never sounds disjointed.

About the only area of playback where the Arcam doesn’t seem almost effortlessly in charge is rhythm management. The Bobby Hughes Experience album reveals hints of the SA30’s rather strait-laced approach to a recording’s flow, and the more the music edges towards the dancefloor the more the Arcam seems to be creeping out of its comfort zone. Oh, it’s not a wallflower in the manner of, say, NAD’s M10 Master Series streamer, but neither is it the most adept rug-cutter you ever heard. There’s something in the SA30’s overall attitude that’s about control and organisation, and the looseness that the most rhythm-dependant music thrives on (Fela Ransome Kuti and Africa 70’s Expensive Shit [Sounds Workshop], for instance) is in relatively short supply here.

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