Hi-Fi+ Web Exclusive – Arcam rBlink, rLink, rPAC review

Equipment+
Categories:
Digital-to-analog converters
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Products:
Arcam rBlink,
Arcam rLink,
Arcam rPAC
Hi-Fi+ Web Exclusive – Arcam rBlink, rLink, rPAC review

In issue 102 of Hi-Fi+, we will be reviewing the Arcam FMJ A19 integrated amplifier. But when the A19 arrived, it came with a second, smaller box full or Arcam goodies – the rBlink, the rLink and the rPAC.

They were supplied because Arcam prefers its DACs outside of the amplifier and the A19 comes with a power connector to drive up to two such devices (usefully, just two of the three have an external power supply). The three devices comprise aptX-Bluetooth wireless DAC (rBlink), optical/coaxial S/PDIF DAC (rLink) and a USB-only digital converter/headphone amp (rPAC). Each one has the same form factor; a small, matt-black brick with rounded off edges. In less politically-correct times, you would say each one is about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Only heavier and with lower tar.

These are a collection of single-use devices (the near-exception being the rPAC, which has two buttons on the top plate to control headphone volume, as well as the line-level analogue output). Each has a single LED indicator that changes colour according to status. They all use the same 24-bit Texas Instruments PCM1502 DAC chip, too.

The rBlink is a great way of getting music from your phone to your audio system (which is another way of saying it’s like introducing new people to good audio). You need to press in the pairing button next to the Bluetooth aerial, but it’s a quick and painless process that practically every 13 year old in the universe would be able to perform in about 10 seconds flat. The rBlink gives you a choice of coaxial S/PDIF and analogue line level phono outputs (so – in theory – you could record music stored on a Bluetooth device). Unfortunately, being an iPhone user with no easy means of aptX support, I had to fall back on sending signals through my Mac to hear this at its best, but the overall sound was extremely good; detailed, dynamic, and on the warm, satiny side of neutral with a full-thickness lower midrange (almost like Arcam’s house sound of 20 years ago in its Arcam Alpha range) and not a hint of grain or digital hash. I could get dropouts if I took it to the limits of its range, but having both devices paired in the same room, it was stable and easy to use.

The reason why this is a three-for-one review is the conclusions drawn about the rBlink’s sound apply to all three devices. The rPAC has an almost identical detailed yet warm presentation, even though it gets its digits through the medium of an Asynchronous USB connector, and the rLink does the same thing for Toslink and coaxial digital. The rPAC does stick out from the other two very slightly though, for fairly obvious reasons. It is powered from USB instead of through an external PSU, it has a headphone socket and it’s never going to hit any resolution higher than 24/96 (the rLink notionally achieves 24/192). USB-power does limit the power output for the headphone socket (stated: 138mW), but unless you are using ‘difficult’ headphones with punishingly low output and high impedance, this should be fine.

Musically, the similarity of sonic signature means what applies to one applies universally. I found the rProducts great for small-to-medium orchestral and jazz works (in particular piano – they bring out the left hand of Bill Evans on Everybody Digs… very well indeed), but can sound a touch ‘rushed’ and ‘flustered’ with faster-paced material (such as ‘Get Lucky’ from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album). For a trio of little boxes, they throw out a big sound, with a good soundstage and a keen sense of dynamic range. Overall, the weakest link is the rLink (pun intended), but even that’s more down to it having a sea of rivals instead of having an obvious limitation to the presentation and performance. The obvious rivals being Arcam’s own up-market models and Cambridge Audio DACMagic series. In truth, the rProducts are a more like one of these products with half the functionality for a lower price, than having a major step up and down in sound quality.

I also tried the rPAC specifically against the HRT Streamer II+, a more expensive – but notionally similar – benchmark. Here, the HRT went more for tonal honesty rather than the warmth and smoothness of the Arcam, but I can see many people reaching for either to match their systems. I was expecting a trouncing by the HRT and what I got was closer to a tied game.

There’s a significant price gap between products designed to fill a need and those that deliver high performance. This trio of Arcam products are the ideal bridge, because they are keenly priced, but with a performance more in line with products at the £250-£300 mark. Of the three, I maintain the rBlink stands out, if only because it does something the rivals don’t and it has the potential to bring more people into the audio fold. But all three are well worth checking out.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Arcam rSeries common details

Hardware: DAC TI PCM5102

Bit depth: 16-bit, 24-bit

Frequency response: 10Hz-20kHz, ±0.1dB

Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise: 0.002%

Signal-to-noise ratio (A –Weighted): 106dB (24-bit)

Line output level: 2.15Vrms

Arcam rLink

Supported sample rates: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 192kHz

Connections: Toslink, Coaxial S/PDIF inputs, phono stereo outputs

Power requirements: 0.7W max

Dimensions (WxDxH, mm): 75 x 100 x 26

Weight: 350g

Price: £150

Arcam rPAC

Supported sample rates: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz

Connections: Asynchronous USB input, headphone jack, phono stereo outputs

Headphone output power: 138mW

Headphone signal-to-noise ratio: 98dB

Power requirements: 2.5W max

Dimensions (WxDxH, mm): 100 x 62 x 25

Weight 300g

Price: £150

Arcam rBlink

Supported CODECs: SBC, AAC, aptX®

Power requirements: 0.7W max

Dimensions (WxDxH, mm): 75 x 100 x 26

Weight: 350g

Price: £160

Manufactured by Arcam

www.arcam.co.uk

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