“You can do 'most anything, now you're a 21st century man” the Electric Light Orchestra once sang. Carry a thousand books in your coat pocket? Crack on. Hang a turntable on the wall? Go for it.
Hop aboard the streaming bandwagon without having to part with your CD player/amplifier combo – yes, that too.
New hi-fi isn’t always ‘out with the old and in with the new’; sometimes it’s just about adding to a system. Meet Arcam’s rPlay: the latest addition to the brand’s rSeries. It's a compact, wireless-router-resembling streamer that can turn even the most traditional system into a plug-and-play-almost-anything network streaming set-up.
That’s thanks to the DTS PlayFi streaming platform, built into the rPlay, as well as a few products from Pioneer, Onkyo, Rotel and McIntosh. It unlocks the ability to stream music wirelessly from smartphones, tablets or laptops to speakers throughout the home, and from a range of music sources.
With PlayFi’s impressive music streaming inventory comprising the likes of Amazon Music, Tidal, Spotify, Qobuz, Napster and Deezer, as well as expanding to internet radio, Apple Airplay and compatibility with NAS drives on the same network, you’re pretty much covered. If you have an undivided loyalty to Bluetooth, we're afraid it's left off the rPlay’s resume.
Download the dedicated DTS PlayFi app (there’s no physical remote) and you’ll be able to simultaneously stream services on up to eight rPlay devices connected to the same network. Did someone say multi-room?
That asks some multitasking of the app, and while flaky software joins internet drop-outs and video buffering in our list of pet hates, the DTS PlayFi is consistently stable, as well as intuitive to use.
It isn’t phased by or dashing through our NAS drive’s lengthy library and in our week with it, we weren’t subject to dropouts or meltdowns.
There are momentary lapses when changing songs within streaming services compared with using the apps directly, but we’re talking blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spells of time. We’re genuinely pleased; when a product is as much about the software as the hardware, it’s crucial it works.
The rPlay supports PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz, but while the DTS PlayFi app has a ‘Critical Listening’ mode that allows native streaming up to 192kHz without downsampling the feature isn't supported on this product.
Ease of use
Naturally, the most convenient internet hook-up is via wi-fi (the rPlay is compatible with 802.11 b/g/n), although going through the direct ethernet route will undoubtedly provide more stable results.
In typical Arcam fashion, careful consideration has been taken with the internal architecture of the box itself to reduce noise and distortion; the four-layer circuit board reduces interference between components, and the use of multiple low-noise power supplies aims to deliver the cleanest signal to the output stage.
Connecting an rPlay to an amplifier or external DAC can happen either by its line-level outputs (one fixed, and one variable which uses the same volume control as the company’s A49 flagship amplifier), or its single coaxial output.
Whichever route you choose, the rPlay reveals a competitively solid, tonally even and articulate presentation.
Well-versed in Arcam’s signature sound, we expect it to have ample size and scale usually too, however here it’s quite confined and lacking in space compared to the Pioneer N-50A’s.
That’s not the end of the world though, especially as that’s perhaps the rPlay’s only sonic shortcoming. Stream Hot Chip’s Ready For The Floor from our Naim NAS drive and the rPlay proves as much of a fan of the electro-pop quintet as we are.
The sanguine synth-driven melodies are entertainingly dynamic and energetic, and the driving drumbeats solid and forceful. We dare you to keep still during the Arcam’s rendition of the album’s catchy rhythm-infused tunes.
We don’t expect streamers of this calibre to be about tip-top timing – you’ll need something like the Cambridge CXN (£800) for that – but the Arcam’s seemingly natural fusion of the two is credit to its cohesiveness.
Streaming via Tidal, Qobuz Amazon Music, the impressive quality and stability of the streams will encourage you to keep your subscription going.
Whether wading through the melodic rock ambience of The American Dollar or firing up for Pearl Jam’s grunge-turned-classic-rock jamming, the rPlay renders each track wholesale. It devours the textures of the former, and keeps Vedder’s vocal clear above the intense guitar lines in the latter. The detail on offer is excellent at this price.
Arcam has long been providing useful and affordable add-ons for easily expanding your system’s functionality – remember the Bluetooth-gifting miniBlink? – and the rPlay is the latest (and perhaps greatest) aid yet.
It presents a compact, easy to use and solid-performing opportunity to anyone who wants to reach past the physical format confines of their traditional system without spending a fortune.
See all our Arcam reviews