Given the success of the Arcam rPAC and drDock you would think using the same core component should have a similar success and happily, like a strong new album from your favourite band, the Arcam rLink does deliver. Like any DAC the rLink is just one factor in a wider system so the payoff is best when combined with a high quality audio source and decent speakers, but the improvement even on mediocre setups is undeniable.
Having now sampled the Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC in three different scenarios we have become accustomed to its sound signature and it is a real crowd-pleaser, bringing greater clarity, depth and deeper, more resonant bass. Of course should the rLink be connected to a hi-fi with its own customisable settings this can be altered so it is equally important that the rLink does a fine job of cleaning up the audio source.
A particularly cool setup we discovered was to connect the rLink to an Apple Airport Express at which point it is intercepting and converting audio sent wirelessly from your iPod/iPhone/iPad/iTunes to the speaker system. In this arrangement you will need your own 3.5mm to digital optical cable (AirPort Express optical output shares the 3.5mm jack), but all other situations Arcam bundles coaxial and optical cables.
Complaints? While we continue to be impressed with the audio performance of Arcam's new range we can't help but notice the potential to integrate rLink and rPAC functionality into a single device. It may cost more, but at £150 apiece there would surely be a saving to be made. That said we suspect audiophiles won't plan to move a single device around their home, but rather have it plugged in full time and for a sector happy to pay thousands for their perfect setups reinvigorating them for £150 will be a snip.
With the rLink Arcam continues the good work of the rPAC and drDock by combining the same premium build materials with the excellent Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC and this time breathing new life into ageing speaker systems and hi-fis. We can't help but think there is potential to combine the rPAC and rLink's functionality into a single product, but it is hard to complain about a single purpose device that does its job so well. At £150 the rLink is also a sound investment given it may stop you upgrading your HiFi system altogether.