New Arcam HDA Range Review
Does it Cut the Mustard?
Many audio fans will be concerned with the news that Arcam was recently acquired by Harman International, and even more concerned that Harman International was acquired by Samsung. So when Arcam announced their new stereo HDA range, we immediately ordered them and powered them up to make sure they didn't burst into flames.
With a three-strong range including the CDS50 - CD/SACD/network streamer, and then two amplifiers - the SA10 and SA20, these are quite a departure in styling from the classic Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) boxes which have looked almost identical since I started selling Arcam 15 years ago!
Let me put something out there. Arcam for years have been ‘middle of the road’ electronics. Not bad, not fantastic, but a good steady, solid product. They don't get the consistent five star reviews, but they have a solid following of loyal customers. The way they present sound is ‘safe’. They are unlikely to offend or inspire in a short demo, and their looks also fall into that category. But when you look a bit deeper you actually find a fantastically neutral, low distortion sound, which you can listen to for hours with any fatigue. It’s a bit like buying a VW Golf… it’s not going to blow your mind like a Lamborghini Gallardo, but you're not going to arrive tired with a sore back at the end of a 4 hour run. This is one of the reasons why their home cinema amplifiers have been so successful, as listening to a movie at high volumes for hours lends itself to low distortion and clean non-fatiguing sound.
What they do offer, though, is a reliable and musical sound which is incredibly accurate and isn’t trying to wow the listener in an artificial way.
The burning question with the new products is; has Arcam lost its DNA? The sound which Arcam owners love and continue to seek out? The answer here, I’m glad to say, is no. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly the amplifier design is still from John Dawson, Arcam’s original co-founder who made the classic A60 amplifier amongst others. This isn’t a Samsung OR a Harman product, it’s fully Arcam. There are several parts of the audio design carried over from the previous range, from the heatsink - which is similar but has improved heat dissipation - to the power supply - which is still a proper toroidal transformer. This is important, because if companies want to reduce the price of their amplifier (or make more profit) one of the first things they do is put in a cheap transformer, as it doesn’t really change the specification card! Good toroidal transformers have inherently low magnetic leakage and in my experience make a significant difference to sound quality.
Both the SA10 and SA20 include your expected analogue inputs, but also now digital inputs. This gives added flexibility and Arcam, being the company which produced the first ever separate domestic digital to analogue converter, know a thing or two about how to isolate it from introducing any noise into the surrounding circuitry.
Check our video review below.
If you have any questions, would like more information, or would like to arrange a demonstration for any of these products, please get in touch.
For availability of SA10 click HERE
For availability of SA20 click HERE
For availability of CDS50 click HERE