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Arcam irDAC - The Latest Little Black Box (Part 1)

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11/18/2013 9:58:18 AM

Arcam’s latest little black box ups the feature count Ed Selley finds out if the sound quality still delivers the goods

After a lengthy hiatus from the DAC market, Arcam rolled its sleeves up and returned to the category in 2010 with the rDAC. Since then, the company has extended its range of ‘r’ products including the truly excellent rBlink Bluetooth receiver and simple rPac DAC. At the other end of the product scale, the company has also launched the flagship D33 DAC that is designed to go toe-to-toe with the increasing numbers of high-end offerings at a (relatively) sane price.

Description: Arcam’s latest little black box

Arcam’s latest little black box

With the rDAC now over three years old and the DAC market moving at a fast pace thanks to demand and technical progress, Arcam has put its little silver box out to pasture and replaced it with a slightly bigger black one. The irDAC might look like a corn fed rDAC with a new paint job, but internally the new model is almost completely different and in many ways has more in common with the D33 at five times the price. If Arcam has succeeded at the age-old challenge of putting a quart in a pint pot, this could be a very impressive product indeed.

The biggest single change in the irDAC is the switch from a Wolfson DAC to a Burr Brown PCM1796 chip, which has more in common with the rest of the Arcam range. This is partnered with fairly elaborate power supply arrangements. Although the irDAC uses a wall wart power supply, internally it utilizes eight separately regulated power supplies that have been developed making use of the experience gained from the low noise supplies in the D33. The irDAC also uses the jitter reduction circuitry developed for its bigger brother.

The good news is that as well as boasting all this technology, the irDAC also offers more connectivity than its predecessor – and much of the competition as well. The Arcam has two optical and two coaxial inputs as well as a USB-B input all of which gain 24/192 kHz capability. It also features an additional USB A socket that can be connected to an Apple device (including Lightning connector units) and take a digital signal straight off them. These are partnered with an RCA analogue output and a single coaxial digital output. Like the rest of the Arcam digital range, the irDAC is exclusively line level and anyone looking for a DAC/preamp will have to go elsewhere. That being said, in terms of inputs, it is now one of the best specked out there. Pretty much the only feature that could have been wished for would have been the fantastic Bluetooth module from the rBlink, but this would undoubtedly have pushed the price up.

Description: Bass is clean, detailed and has the same tonal realism as the upper registers

Bass is clean, detailed and has the same tonal realism as the upper registers

The other new arrival and the reason why the Arcam is called the irDAC in the first place is the remote control that it is supplied with. This allows for input selection and offers control over some playback software on computers – it certainly works with iTunes, Foo bar and Spotify. The remote appears to be lifted wholesale from the D33 – the ‘AES’ and ‘Filter’ buttons don’t do anything in relation to the irDAC – and it is no beauty, but given that most of the competition aren’t supplied with one at all, it is a welcome addition – especially as the volume buttons appear pleasingly promiscuous and can also control a Naima Supernait and Cambridge Audio 851A integrated amplifiers.

The general fit and finish of the Arcam is good, too. The irDAC is part of the rapidly expanding rSeries range of components, which means it shares the one-piece body with removable underside and back panel. The little black unit feels impressively substantial and neat touches from the original rDAC like the input lights that glow red when selected and green when signal locked, are retained.

There wasn’t anything significantly wrong with the original rDAC, but as well as the useful extra features the irDAC manages to take matters a good few steps forward. The Arcam has a two-setting USB input, the first is driverless and works to 96kHz, while the second uses a driver and allows for 192kHz playback. With the driver installed (which came off the D33 webpage suggesting that the bigger DAC has loaned another piece of technology to the irDAC), the Arcam gets an awful lot right.

Description: The Arcam has a two-setting USB input, the first is driverless and works to 96kHz, while the second uses a driver and allows for 192kHz playback.

The Arcam has a two-setting USB input, the first is driverless and works to 96kHz, while the second uses a driver and allows for 192kHz playback.

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