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Arcam rLink - Performance, Value & Verdict

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly
Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR
Arcam rLink

Summary

Our Score

9/10

Review Price £149.00

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.

Arcam rLink 3

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.

Arcam rLink 4

Value

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.

Verdict

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.

Scores In Detail

Build Quality
9/10
Design
9/10
Features
7/10
Performance
9/10
Value
8/10

Our Score

9/10
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Williamn

July 2, 2012, 5:03 pm

The second paragraph was absolute gobble-de-gouk. It might as well have been in Spanish! What the £$%! does this thing do?!

Gordon394

July 2, 2012, 10:49 pm

Dear Williamn, it is actually very clearly stated - especially for the audiophile audience for which it is intended.

Let me explain with an example. Rather than connect your Xbox, TV, etc directly to your HiFi system you connect it to the rLink and the rLink connects to your HiFi/speaker system.

Audio coming from the source (Xbox, TV, etc) is therefore decoded and cleaned up by the rLink before it reaches the speakers.

As a result we found audio was markedly improved and significant enough for many to save a larger investment on a new HiFi/speaker system.

nanite2000

July 3, 2012, 2:53 am

@Gordon394: Nope - still not getting it. Why would a DIGITAL signal need to be 'cleaned up'? What's to clean? It's digital! Also, how is this product any better than a £40 DAC from Maplin?

Gordon394

July 3, 2012, 4:13 pm

Well you *do* get it, you just don't get why you'd need one.

About DACs:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D...

In short: DACs are as variable in quality as speakers. A digital track may be 'clean' in the sense that it is digital, but the audio itself - the bitrate, the information missing from a compressed track - is far from perfect and a DAC works to improve this, much like upscaling fills in missing information with standard definition video. Some are good, others not and all have their own particular sound signature: deeper bass, a focus on midrange, etc.

peter207

July 3, 2012, 5:56 pm

Bought one last week and used it to upgrade my old Cyrus CD6. Really good improvement in sound, more open, smoother and more detail, quite a bargain for the end result. Plan to try on my Logitech Squeezebox next.

PS nanite2000, Craplin is cheap as chips audio, Arcam is a serious audiophile product

Chris

July 4, 2012, 12:12 am

Wait, what? You connected this thing to a (pretty well regarded) £700 CD player and it improved the output? I'm not sure if that's an endorsement of the DAC or a strike against the Cyrus, but it's pretty impressive nonetheless.

The Squeezebox should have a Wolfson or Burr-Brown 24-bit DAC, so I'd be interested to hear if you discover any improvement.

nanite2000

July 4, 2012, 3:11 am

The problem with "Audiophile" products is that sometimes the claims of improvement are imagined, rather than actual. It doesn't help that many of these claims are not supported by any actual evidence. As is the case here. Arcam say their rLink product improves digital audio quality - where's the evidence? How did they test it? What standards were they measuring against? Where are the test results? Where are the comparison charts showing the improved signal compared to a budget DAC?

When TrustedReviews reviews graphics cards, CPUs and systems, you use benchmarks. What are the benchmarks here?

I'm not suggesting all audio products are equal, but this product and review is light on details, and doesn't demonstrate how it is better than a budget model.

Gordon394

July 4, 2012, 2:23 pm

@nanite2000 - I'm afraid the trouble with ALL audio products is quality is based on taste rather than benchmarks. Not even all the TR team can agree which is there favourite speaker system, dock, pair of earphones, etc. I even have a friend who prefers the sound of 128Kbps MP3s over lossless audio.

As such all we can do is explain why we like a particular audio product and what we find the results to be - much like a film critic. We could post signal graphs, but that tells you nothing about whether the sound signature it is aspiring to will be to your liking.

Jeremy Smart

May 11, 2013, 11:31 pm

The first one I bought kept powering down every hour or so, so I took it back to the shop. The replacement is very crackly, and also occasionally powers down (and the only way to restart it is to unplug the thing). Complete waste of time as far as I'm concerend, won't buy an Arcam product again.

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