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Arcam Solo Mini - Arcam Solo Mini
Then there's the rDock capability. The rDock hooks up to the rear of the Solo Mini with not only a pair of phone cables for the audio signal, but also a serial cable which allows the Mini to send control signals to your iPod and receive them. This means that, unlike many other iPod systems that rely on you reading directly from the tiny iPod screen when you're sat on the sofa a couple of metres away, you can instead read track names and browse music on the Mini's screen, which is far more legible.
And it all works rather well. I'd perhaps like to have seen the ability to display more than one track on the blue LCD screen at once, but it's so quick and responsive that you soon forget about that limitation. Hold up or down on the Mini's remote control and long track, album and artist lists whiz by in a blur of blue lettering. The rest of the system is just as easy to use.
The rDock has other clever features built in too. It's solid and heavily built, hewn from a single block of metal, which means you can connect the stiffest, most awkward of cables without worrying about it moving from where you want it to be. Its docking connector is beautifully engineered - drop an iPod onto it and it won't wobble at all. And, though you can charge while listening, the rDock allows you to switch into battery mode while listening, thus isolating the output from potential interference from the cheap-looking brick-type power adapter supplied in the box.
I must say I was seriously impressed by the integration of so many components into so small a package, and with the elegance and thought with which it had all been put together. But I was also a little worried. The usual mantra for audiophiles is to keep things simple. When you start cramming sensitive, high-end audio electronics, cheek-by-jowl into a tiny box, sound quality will surely be the first thing to suffer - even with DACs from Arcam's award-winning CD73 CD player inside. Not here.
This is a quite extraordinary-sounding music system. The first thing I did was to feed a few of my current favourite CDs into the smooth, slot-loading CD player at the front. I was expecting quality, but as I turned up the volume, a big grin began to spread across my face. There's something about top quality audio gear - you just know when you're listening to something special. And the Mini is certainly that. Ulf Wakenius' atmospheric jazz guitar just leapt out from the speakers with a life all of its own - something I really hadn't been expecting and the Mini stayed in full control all the way up the volume scale.
Brad Mehldau's wonderful live jazz rendition of classic metal number Black Hole Sun rang out with clarity, purity and bags of atmosphere. Every instrument was rendered with almost clinical precision - the piano, double bass, hi-hats and drums were all easy to pick out and yet everything was joined together in such a convincing projection of the music that if you closed your eyes you could quite easily imagine you were listening to equipment much more expensive.
And despite all the components inside the box, there's not a hint of interference or hiss. The result is silence where there should be silence and big dynamic sound when drama is required.