Arcam rPAC review

Gordon Kelly

By

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR

1 of 5

Arcam rPAC
  • Arcam rPAC
  • Arcam rPAC
  • Arcam rPAC
  • Arcam rPAC
  • rDAC specs (Who's needs text when you have images. Might as well make the site a PDF)

Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Exceptional computer audio enhancement
  • Outputs to both heaphones & AV systems
  • Independent, powerful 138mW headphone amplification
  • Asynchronous USB removes virtually all jitter
  • RF Supression eliminates background noise

Cons

  • Cannot be used on the move

Key Features

  • TI Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC chipset
  • 138mW headphone amplifcation
  • RF Suppression
  • Asynchronous USB
  • 3.5mm & phono output
  • Independent volume control
  • Manufacturer: Arcam
  • Review Price: £150.00

The Arcam rPAC is a USB, bus powered DAC (digital to analogue converter) and headphone amplifier that forms part of Arcam's new 'R Series' line of streaming music products - which also includes the excellent drDock. The rPAC has a very simple purpose: make listening to music from your computer better. How it achieves this is rather complex, but you wouldn't guess that from the setup or design.

Out of the box the rPAC is perhaps the most basic looking device you will see this year. It is a 100 x 62 x 25mm rectangle with USB power and RCA sockets on one side and a 3.5mm jack on the other. On the top are plus and minus volume buttons and a discrete LED which is red when plugged in, switches to green when processing audio and flickers to acknowledge volume adjustment.

Construction and Setup

Despite this minimalism Arcam has continued the good work it started on the drDock as the rPAC is exceptionally well made. The exterior is heavy cast aluminium with a tasteful matt black finish and a damped rubber base. Much like a heavy bottomed glass, the weighty construction (it tips the scales at 300g) feels good in hand and, as the rPAC will most likely live on a desk, makes it mechanically stable and means it isn't easily knocked over or out of place. We suggested the drDock paid homage to the design and finish of the Apple TV and this is even more apparent here.

You won't need the instruction manual to get setup. The rPAC takes its audio source digitally via USB along with its power so there are no additional messy cables and no wall socket is required. The internal DAC then performs its magic and the audio can be output through either the 3.5mm jack to earphones or via a standard RCA lead (bundled) to an AV system. There are no drivers to install, but both PC and Mac users will need to change the settings in Control Panel (Windows) or System Preferences (Mac) which tells the computer to route audio to the rPAC instead of through the internal sound card.

All this is very nice, but as a one trick pony the rPAC lives or dies by its DAC so let's take a look at the internals…

Bugblatter

April 27, 2012, 1:45 am

I've pondered on buying a dedicated DAC. including the DacMagic.

I see the benefit over taking analogue output from a soundcard, primarily the reduction in noise.

However I send audio over HDMI to my Onkyo SR608, which means it's digital right up until the amp's DAC.

The benefit in this case is far less clear to me; if you have a decent amp is an external DAC likely to give a noticeable improvement (assuming decent speakers/headphones)?

Chris Beach

April 27, 2012, 12:37 pm

@Bugblatter, it wouldn't seem to make sense tbh. The Onkyo is going to have a fairly decent DAC in it already. If you want a better DAC surely replacing the Onkyo makes more sense as the DAC would be used for anything the Onkyo processes...this only benefits (and can only benefit) the PC sound.

Ed

April 27, 2012, 5:00 pm

What cjb110 said. There's little point in you buying a DAC for this setup, unless you use some high-end headphones with your PC.

Bugblatter

April 28, 2012, 12:54 am

Cheers guys; guess I'll just have to find something else to sate my gadget lust :o)

Peter

April 29, 2012, 11:51 pm

Is it noticeably better than the Native Instruments Audio 2 DJ which is available from £67 online 100mW power though.

ToRJS99

April 30, 2012, 5:01 pm

I bought the D7 sidewinder from ibasso after giving up waiting for E17 in February. I like it and on paper the D7 has a better a spec 24/192 over usb and it has an analogue volume control which solves the hunting for mouse issues. Any chance of a head to head three way with these?

eddieB

June 16, 2012, 11:51 am

I am not one of the "99%" (of audiophiles who would consider £150.00- that's 250 bucks to me- "budget"), and I popped for the rPAC over the cheaper Audioengine D1, for example, because I am fond of British audio design (I own Rega everything, strained through Dynaudio X12s). Hearing music through a MacBook Pro/iTunes/Grado SR80 headphones, did absolutely nothing for me. I was expecting the rPAC to perform a miracle. The sound was certainly more detailed and expansive, but the Arcam device did not serve to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The dealer suggested Pure Music software, I tried their demo and was sold- until some of the songs on my iTunes list that I had added from CD were grayed out and I was directed to iTunes to purchase. (Please, computer-philes, do not comment and offer suggestions. Thank you.) Next day, I played a CD through the rPAC and was pleased, and will purchase the device. Why? I think expectations played a large part here. There now was a head bobbing, feet tapping, smile factor here- not just an EQ expander trick. No, the $250.00 rPAC did not turn my Mac/headphones into a threat to my hi-end rig- that's simply unrealistic. However, I now see the device as a necessary link to acceptable computer audio- coupled with some type of playback software superior to iTunes- and, hopefully, free. Any-which-way I play it, the rPAC is expansive and detailed, though orchestral strings sound a bit steely, and I could use a bit more color (spend some time out in the sun, Cambridge guys). While I have your ear... Home-audition rules. Thank you, Pro Musica Audio, in Chicago, for being so cool about lending stuff. May our bricks-and-mortar audio and record stores thrive.

comments powered by Disqus