The concept of ‘high-end audio’ isn’t always fixated on high performance at a high price. Sometimes that ‘high’ part stands for high performance at any price. And one of the brands regularly praised for delivering high-performance without high prices is Arcam, and the FMJ A19 integrated amplifier promises much without costing much. Always a good start.
The 50W amplifier is bedecked in Arcam’s standard FMJ casework, unchanged and unchanging. ‘FMJ’ here stands for Full Metal Jacket, and has long been used to suppress resonance and vibration at the circuit-boards; this used to feature pretentious-sounding names like ‘Mask of Silence’, but fortunately these seem to have been dropped, even though the technologies remain.
It is surprisingly comprehensive, with six line inputs (including a front-mounted minijack) and a MM phono stage that can be defeated, a dimmable front panel display and a good headphone socket. The rear panel also has a power supply outlet to drive an external DAC. Arcam frowns upon the idea of a built in DAC stage, apparently. However, given the array of rSeries products Arcam also manufactures, this gives the amp additional flexibility for the end user without too many extra power sockets being used up.
Put simply, this means the A19 can be used with its top rDAC digital converter, for S/PDIF, USB or KLEER wi-fi connection (Arcam also sells the rWave KLEER USB dongle and the rWand original iPhone/iPod/iPad connector for handshaking to a computer or i-device), while Bluetooth users can opt for the rBlink, USB only users can run with the rPAC converter and those with optical or coaxial connections can opt for the rLink. Up to two of these devices can be powered directly from the A19, should the need arise.
The amplifier design itself is built around monolithic output stages, but unlike a typical ‘chip’ amplifier, the A19 features a powerful 320kVA power transformer. While this will not bestow on the amplifier the ability to drive ‘difficult’ loudspeaker loads, but should be a good match with the sort of loudspeakers normally partnered with a £650 design, and it has been used in several public demonstrations driving the popular KEF LS50, which seems in many respects to be an ideal match. It also comes with a basic but surprisingly comprehensive remote control handset.
Arcam doesn’t enter a busy market, because it’s been a part of that fast-moving stream of comparatively inexpensive amplifiers for some time. The brand has been going toe-to-toe with the likes of Rotel, NAD, Cambridge Audio and – perhaps more recently – Rega for decades. And a company doesn’t manage to do that without making products that sound good. Nevertheless, if we are being perfectly honest, recent lower-cost Arcam amplifiers have been less than stellar in the sound quality stakes; nothing ‘wrong’ with the performance per se, but a less than inspired sound in a market as volatile as this one did end up with Arcam scoring some ‘own goals’ in recent years.
However, from the outset, we’re happy to report the FMJ A19 represents a true return to form for the brand. Just how much of a return to form… well you’ll have to wait for our Issue 102 to find out, but there's a reason why the Arcam is proving so popular a partner with the LS50, because it more than matches its tonal strengths. This is an amplifier that sings a sweet song.