Picked up the new Arcam rPac DAC/headphone amp this morning, so I thought I'd post up a little review.
The equipment being used:
Apple Mac Mini (2011 model
Roksan Kandy K2 Integrated Amplifier
Kef Q500 speakers
B&W P5 headphones (would use my Grado RS2i's, but I forgot to order a large to small jack adapter)
Very tidy, solid piece of kit, even at 300g. Rubberised underside to help with preventing slipping on your desktop, or on the tables of a moving train. Nice little touch. The connections and buttons feel solid, and the buttons do have a nice action to them, being heavy without being stiff. The unit comes with a nice travel bag, obviously highlighting Arcam's intended use for the product.
The rPac comes with a 'get you started' USB cable and RCA interconnects, which are what are being used for this review. In terms of I/O, you have a USB 'B' input, RCA outputs and a 3.5mm headphone socket at the front. Nice and simple.
After listening to a few tracks using a simple J2P lead from my Mac Mini to the Roksan, I introduced the rPac. The tracks used:
Before I Had You- Dave McPherson- the Hardship Diaries
Aenima- Tool- Aenima*
Slip to the Void- Alter Bridge- ABIII*
Tonight, Tonight- Smashing Pumpkins- Millen Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Hurt- Nine Inch Nails- The Downward Spiral*
Africa- Andy McKee- Dreamcatcher
King of Pain (live)- Alanis Morissete- MTV Unplugged*
Paper Airplane- Alison Krauss & Union Station- Paper Airplane
These are a mix of Spotify and ripped from CD in Apple Lossless (*).
So first off as a DAC within a hifi system (Mac->rPac->Roksan Kandy K2->Kef Q500). The first thing that hit me, with all the tracks, was how much more space there was in the recordings! Especially in something as layered as Tonight, Tonight and King of Pain- I could picture Alanis' performance, being able to hear when she moves from the microphone, etc. Bass became more focussed (boomy bass has been a slight issue with my particular room, so this was a welcome adjustment), and vocals lost a little sharpness, but gained a lot more detail- even on Spotify tracks, I was getting Alison Krauss' breath coming through the lyrics. Another standout of the rPac's ability to process the signal was with Andy McKee's excellent version of Toto's Africa- when using the body of his acoustic guitar as a percussive instrument, the internal reverb came through beautifully- much better than I can manage on my own acoustic!
Turning up the tempo and the distorted guitars, Alter Bridge's riffs came through clear- palm mutes were distinct, rather than bleeding into each other, and Myles Kennedy's vocals were also a lot clearer than they were when using a standard J2P cable. The nicest thing though, as a bassist, was that Brian Marshall's lines were poking their head out of the mix! Never realised how good a bassist he actually can be.
All in all, the rPac performed very well within a hifi system, considering it's price point. It was easy to set up with a Mac. In a future DAC upgrade, I'd probably like a bit more treble and bass, but the quality of what is there is fantastic (again, at the price point).
Plugging in my B&W P5 headphones (which will probably be my headset of choice for when I travel) produced even better results. Anyone thinking that a USB powered headphone amp won't be able to do much will be quite mistaken- but understandably so. The P5s, which I normally use with an iPod Touch or Galaxy S2, have never sounded so exciting, but without being too grating on the eardrums. These headphones do generally lack on bass and can can be offensively bright when driven loud, but were handled very well with the rPac's amplifier. Again, basslines were uncovered from the mix, and the detail was there but without being OTT up towards the top end of the volume scale.
My final thoughts:
At £150, this looks and sounds to be it's going to have been a great buy. How it handles on the train tracks is yet to be tested, but I'd be surprised if it isn't up to task- being USB powered, portability should be a doddle. I'd say that for those looking at an rDac for computer usage, but don't have the funds for it, this may well be worth looking at- yes, you lose connectivity choices, but by using barebones, Arcam have been able to put a lot of effort into what is there.
Thumbs up from me so far!