We take a closer look at the Arcam irDAC II digital to analogue converter and headphone amplifier. With the current revival of high quality headphone listening, it was with interest we learned that Arcam's replacement for their much admired irDAC would sport the headphone output stage from their £4000 FMJ A49 stereo amplifier.
Handily, the digital out socket has been replaced with variable output analogue RCA phonos. This enables the unit to be used with a power amp or a pair of active loudspeakers which are often the choice of the desk bound audiophile. We also lose the USB-a port but keep the asynchronous USB-b port and Bluetooth functionality. It's also worth noting that the Arcam irDAC-II is capable of DSD128 replay.
Arcam were the first company to launch an outboard DAC way back in 1987 (with the revolutionary Black Box) and they re-entered the DAC market with the rDAC a few years ago. The brief for this unit was to produce an enhanced design that would raise performance and improve ease of use by a significant margin over the existing rDAC. Arcam tell me that their engineers have worked hard to isolate the digital and analogue stages and develop ultra low noise power supplies to reduce digital jitter to vanishingly low levels.
All of the inputs can be controlled through an IR remote control that will also give you transport control of a PC or Mac USB source.
So how does it sound?
Well, very good indeed. We partnered it with KEF's revered LS50 stand mount speakers, Arcam's own very capable A39 integrated amplifier and rPlay music source. It was an immediate improvement over the DAC in the rPlay – itself no slouch. Spacial information was much more apparent, instruments were solid and punchy with a much fuller, fruitier soundstage. It didn't seem to favour any particular musical style, be it the finely etched Laura Marling “Soothing”, Fink's intimate live recording of “Trouble's What You're In” or the pounding beats of Gentleman's Dub Club.
It's on demonstration in our music salon as we speak. Why not pop over and give it a try? We'll make you a brew while you settle in and immerse yourself in the music.