Home / Computing / Peripheral / Arcam rBlink

Arcam rBlink review

Gordon Kelly

By

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR

1 of 5

Arcam rBlink
  • Arcam rBlink
  • Arcam rBlink
  • Arcam rBlink
  • Arcam rBlink
  • Arcam rBlink

Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Breakthrough in high-quality Bluetooth streaming
  • Smart, rugged, minimalist design
  • Setup takes minutes

Cons

  • Fairly expensive
  • Could include some wired functionality

Key Features

  • Integrated TI Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC
  • Bluetooth with aptX & AAC streaming
  • Optical & Coaxial outputs
  • Automatic distortion and jitter control
  • Manufacturer: Arcam
  • Review Price: £159.99

Introduction

Cornflakes and ketchup, Ferrari fire sales, open-source Apple software and high quality Bluetooth audio… some things just aren't meant to go together, or at least so we thought. Claiming it can disprove the last of these universal truths is British high-end audio manufacturer, Arcam, which seriously believes its latest piece of kit can convince audiophiles that Bluetooth is able to deliver sound quality worthy of their ears.

Arcam rBlink - Design

The product given this herculean task is the ‘rBlink’, which follows the rPAC and rLink as the third in Arcam’s series of consumer-friendly DACs (digital to analog converters), all of which are designed to bolster the quality of our home audio. As such, the design similarities are clear: the rBlink is constructed from the same heavy cast brushed aluminium as its stablemates, has the same thick rubber base to keep it from moving and combines the same feeling of durability with stylish minimalism. In terms of size the rBlink is in the same ball park as its siblings, measuring just 75 x 100 x 26mm and weighing 350g for a tumbler-like reassurance.

Arcam rBlink 1

Arcam rBlink - Features

That said, looks aren’t where our interest lies and it is actually the name of the rBlink which subtly gives away its controversial purpose. The ‘B’ stands for Bluetooth and whereas the rLink is a DAC for connecting any source to your speakers via SPDIF or coaxial cables, the rBlink enables the source to connect via Bluetooth. SPDIF and coaxial remain for tethering the rBlink to your speakers, but suddenly the audio from smartphones, tablets and Bluetooth-equipped PCs can be sent to them wirelessly.

The arrangement is Apple-like in its focus: coaxial and SPDIF connectors on one side of the rBlink, while a power input, a pairing button and an antenna reside on the other. Setup is a doddle too; simply connect the rBlink to your speakers, plug in the AC power adaptor (or power it using Arcam’s FMJ A19 stereo amp), press the pair button, pair your source device and hit play. Happily it works just this well in practice.

Arcam rBlink 4

Which brings us back to the elephant in the room: Bluetooth. Arcam tackles this affront to audiophile sensibilities via two steps. The first step gives the Bluetooth spec itself a boost by incorporating support for AAC streaming and CSR’s impressive aptX codec. Bluetooth as it stands only supports 128Kbit music using its standard SBC (Subband Coding) codec, however AAC streaming enables AAC music files up to 256Kbit to be streamed to the rBlink. Furthermore aptX supports streaming of any music file up to 380Kbit (typically the highest standard before lossless files) when the source is also aptX compatible. The snag here is that Apple’s iOS devices aren’t aptX compatible, but increasingly large numbers of Android devices (including Samsung and HTC smartphones) and MacBooks are.

As for step two, it comes down to the DAC inside the rBlink. Arcam has opted for tried and trusted technology, with the rBlink using the same TI Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC that produces stellar results in the rPAC and rLink. Consequently you’ll find an array of high grade specs including support for sample rates up to 192kHz with 24-bit depth, frequency response of 10Hz-20kHz, a signal-to-noise ratio (A –Weighted) of 106dB (24-bit) and line output level of 2.15Vrms. More crucially, the PCM5102 has a Total Harmonic Distortion Noise of just 0.002%, meaning it should put the kibosh on the distortion usually associated with Bluetooth audio and combat jitter.

Best Deals From PriceGrabber

cg8472

March 26, 2013, 8:58 am

Though certainly being a nice piece of kit, the price is just ridiculous. A Nokia MD-310 can be had for Eur 50,- and offers the same features sans the digital outputs. And even though the Nokia does not come with a famous DAC, connected to a fairly decent Cambridge Audio Stereo setup (740C + 650A) with a pair of Eur 2500,- floor-standers there is close to no discernible difference playing a track from your APT-X enabled Bluetooth device and the Nokia compared to playing the CD in the CA 740C with its dual Wolfson DAC innards. As a side note, the Nokia (available in white, too) looks and feels much better in real life than pictures on the web suggest. Hope that helps.

Gordon Kelly

March 26, 2013, 12:00 pm

Hi cg8472, I get your point but it is not comparing like for like. The quality of the components is crucial otherwise you would ask why you can pay £7,000 for a new car or £500,000. I do recognise the rBlink price will make casual users think twice, but it remains an exceptional product.

Hamish Campbell

March 26, 2013, 12:48 pm

Not quite right, we are assuming that the quality components make a discernable difference. Until anyone does a double blind test with a good cross section of people then we can't say for sure.

Time to up the trustedreviews test budget. There might even be some good fodder for a PHD thesis in there somewhere.

peter207

March 26, 2013, 3:15 pm

For what the rBlink delivers the price is reasonable. Like all Arcam, this is serious quality kit built to last. My rPAC is a pleasure to use on a daily basis and outperforms my friends more expensive Audioquest Dragonfly, he's pissed off that he didn't listen before he bought (-: Excuse the ramble, but the point is that quality costs money and £160 is not a lot, I heard th rBlink at Bristol and was blown away although I'll probably be waiting for the airDAC to arrive as I am Apple based.

Bugblatter

March 26, 2013, 3:17 pm

I bought an MD-310 for £27.50 a little while ago, and to me it sounds great. I have mid-range speakers and amp and probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference if I bought an rBlink.

It seems like a great product, but one for audiophiles only.

cg8472

March 26, 2013, 7:31 pm

I'm not arguing the rBlink is a mediocre piece of kit. I am just questioning it's value if Nokia, not exactly a cheap brand itself, can deliver comparable user experience for much less.
I disagree with the car analogon though - the difference between a 7000,- and a 35000,- car (to stick to the price ratio Nokia - Arcam) you see, smell, feel, and hear immediately and in daily use. That's why you pay 5 times as much (and a brand premium, perhaps). Regardless the quality of the Arcam components which I don't think Trusted Reviews checked, this is not the case here - apart from the brand premium, for the ones who care.
Did I mention the Nokia does come without a silly looking antenna? ;) Just kidding guys, I'm actually not emotionally involved and I don't hate Arcam or such. I'm sure it sounds fabulous. Cheers.

MattMe

March 28, 2013, 3:12 pm

It's a shame it doesn't support wifi streaming. Personally I use a NAS to store all my music now, and currently stream to an airport express. I would expect for the audiophiles this is a more common setup that streaming from Bluetooth, or at least will be in the near future.

Gordon Kelly

March 30, 2013, 5:02 pm

AirPlay can never been the common setup as it requires you to have Apple products and many won't. The genius of the rBlink is it makes Bluetooth - especially AptX Bluetooth every bit as good as lossless over AirPlay.

MattMe

March 31, 2013, 11:50 am

Well ttha's not actually true, is it? My Synology NAS supports streaming to airplay devices, so if this supported airplay then I would not need an apple product to use airplay. Bit of a false statement considering who this is aimed at. I'd bet a high percentage of this market own Apple products. I'm not really fussed what standard is used, DLNA would be fine. My point was more that streaming from a phone isn't that practical other than in a party environment perhaps. Even then I'd want NFC support ideally.

If I'm sat at home listening to music I want to stream from my storage (whatever that may be) and not have my phone battery drained, or have to settle to the limited amount of albums I can fit on mobile devices. Also consider that most of the audience for this product will have high end handsets which generally do not support memory expansion.

This seems to be aimed at a very unique and small market. Bluetooth just seems a really limited medium to stream.

Gordon Kelly

April 2, 2013, 1:09 am

Not true? It seems you misunderstand the point. Apple licences peripherals to use AirPlay, it doesn't licence rival products so there will be no AirPlay support on any rival phones or tablets and only iTunes supports AirPlay on a PC (and there's no support for iTunes on Linux). If you want to stream Spotify from a PC using AirPlay you need software hacks like AirFoil. AirPlay support also carries a significant premium on any device and has a delayed response to playback controls.

Bluetooth is the most common form of streaming because it is supported by every phone and tablet on the market and most PCs... these are the source of streamed content for 99% of the population. The problem is improving the quality of the Bluetooth stream and this is exactly what the rBlink does.

MattMe

April 4, 2013, 11:11 am

Sorry for the back and forth, Grodon, but your original comment said it's not possible. I simply stated that it is in fact possible, not that it would be a cheap solution. I also followed up by saying that I'm not really fussed what streaming standard would be used; only that wifi seems a much more useful choice for streaming that Bluetooth. They could even have an app for streaming to it via your mobile device, making it suitable for all.

I'm not denying what is most popular, although I'm sure where you come up with you 99% figure. I only have a handful of friends who stream music, but not one of them uses Bluetooth for it. They either have propriety devices, such as Sonos, controlled from their phones, or use stored music streamed over their wifi connections suing whatever devices suited their needs. Bluetooth is certainly a bonus when it comes to casual, or unfamiliar devices, however it is still quite limited.

My original comment still stands, and as people's digital music libraries expand, they are going to want to have more choice than what's on their phones or tablets (devices at hand), and not be constrained by physical locality to the DAC.

Obviously there's the market for Bluetooth a DAC. A company would not invest in something like this without doing research first, and I've not tried to deny that. Sorry if I confused you along the way. I'm glad this provides a genuine improvement to the Bluetooth streaming sector, however I still wish it had built-in wifi support, and can't see how that would bring anything but improvement to this expensive, yet still fairly limited little box.

Gordon Kelly

April 11, 2013, 9:50 am

WiFi is an interesting option, but many devices when streaming over WiFi cannot also be connected to a router and many devices offering streaming over WiFi cannot channel an Internet connect to your paired device. So yes it delivers lossless quality, but I'm not sure I want to drop my connection to the Internet for it until this is widely solved.

A lossless Bluetooth codec would make everything much simpler.

(The 99% figure refers to people who stream music. That 99% of them do so using a tablet, PC or phone... what else are you think we're going to stream from?)

LeoShoSilva

April 19, 2013, 4:25 pm

I've just bought the Bayan audio streamport universal for 50 quid ..just listening to it thru my ipal at work and does seem similar to my Samsung Note 2 plugged in( which sounds AMAZING )streaming spotify maxed up..I listened to the r-blink in a store and compared to phone plugged in ..it sounded a bit more bassy and warmer which I didnt like ..not sure about the burr brown dacs ..think I prefer the notes wolfson dac instead..I 'll test my Bayan on my Linn aktiv Klout setup tonight..

Ed Davies

April 21, 2013, 10:41 am

Thanks for this information, this is what really gives consumers the power these days. Arcam do make great great products but the hifi business is full of rip offs and as long as its a decent quality thats the main thing. There is a massive difference between some good and bad sounding products but once you iron that out there can be a huge mark up difference between the good product sometimes that just is uncalled for. It probably cost Arcam next to nothing to manufacture this, however they do have the name, prestige and many years of developing and quality HiFi manufacture experience to make it what it is but when there are products out there equally as good lets not go mad with the price please.

If they were the same price or the Arcam was just a bit more id still go for the arcam though.

Gordon Kelly

April 22, 2013, 2:00 pm

Fair enough, but a store is no place for true audio testing. The speakers will be a big factor in what you heard. You need the same speakers in the same environment and to switch between the rBlink and the Bayan. This isn't to say one is better than the other, simply that fair comparisons like for like conditions.

comments powered by Disqus