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Arcam rPAC - Criticisms, Pricing & Verdict

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR
Arcam rPAC

Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

Criticisms

While we were hugely impressed with the rPAC's overall audio performance we did find a couple of areas worth dwelling upon. The first is the lack of a mute button as we found ourselves having to reach for the pause button on whichever player we were using whenever we were asked a question by a colleague or thought we heard the doorbell or the phone ring at home. Correction: mute is available by simultaneously pressing both volume buttons, though it does require very precise timing.

The second element is the limited nature of the functionality. The rPAC may be superb at its single task, but in doing so it is inherently and stubbornly inflexible. Take for example the Fiio E17 which not only performs the role of the rPAC, but also has a built in 1500mAh battery delivering up to eight hours of use on the move. On top of this it has SPDIF output and a digital display with (admittedly limited) adjustable equaliser all for less money.

Pricing

So the big question is whether the rPAC is worth the expense. Despite the arguments laid out above we would say a qualified, yes. While the rPAC does take a further step up the audio quality ladder, it's going to be overkill for many users. Unless your computer is hooked up to a Hi-Fi costing thousands, or your headphones are of the £500-plus calibre, the upgrade to something like the E17 should be sufficient.

That said, while the price of the rPAC may look high it is worth noting it hits a new price low for a device incorporating asynchronous USB, a feature usually reserved for DACs at more than twice the price and streamers in excess of £1,000. Do you need it? Well, again it depends on the level of your existing audio equipment, but we'd certainly be tempted. Value is very much in the eye of the beholder, but from this perspective the rPAC is a bargain.

Verdict

The rPAC's laser-like focus won't be for everyone, even some looking for a DAC, but it ignores the jack of all trades approach to become a true master of one. Like all Arcam's new R Series products the rPAC marries this performance with exceptional build quality and brings asynchronous USB to a new price low. You'll have to be seriously into your audio to make the most of the rPAC but if your ears and equipment match up, it delivers in spades.

Overall Score

9

Scores In Detail

  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound Quality 10
  • Usability 10
  • Value 9

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.

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