Arcam FMJ A19 Integrated Amplifier and CDS27 SACD Player/Network Streaming Player
I remember the first time that we held a party at our house and I put my reference system on full display for some of me and my girlfriend’s friends and family. I was all set to proudly show people what high-end audio was all about. I had Talon Audio Peregrine X loudspeakers, Electrocompaniet Nemo mono amps as well as an EC preamp and CD player. Everything was all polished and connected with big, thick cables from Virtual Dynamics. Sure, everybody was enjoying the music and thought that my system looked awesome. But then came the comparison questions. “How does this system compare to the new Bose system?” “I just paid $20 for speaker wires at target. How much do these cost? And are they really that much better?” And finally, “My neighbor has a system that allows you to listen to your music in every room in the house. Does your system do that?”
A wave of terror gripped me and suddenly I found myself avoiding the subject of my system. I didn’t want to have to admit that my system costed well over $50K (a paltry sum these days, I know) while my car (a used Jeep Grand Cherokee) only costed $5k. I also didn’t want to have to explain why I had to have one gigantic amp to power each speaker. And finally, I didn’t want to hear my girlfriend rattle off all the things we could’ve been doing with the money I’d spent on my hi-fi system? So instead, I moved the party to another part of the house where we had setup some card tables and began to play Bid Whist. Another thing that was set up in this room was a smaller audio system that consisted of an Arcam FMJ A22 amp, CD23 CD player, and Tyler Acoustics Linbrook Monitors. I had borrowed the Arcam gear to use in a review with the Tyler speakers. After a long night of card playing, eating, and listening to music, our guest began leaving when one of them said, “This system isn’t as beautiful as the one in your big room, but it sounds great and makes me wonder why anyone would want anything more?” My response to her was, “Please remind me never to invite you to a high-end audio show.”
I’m telling this story, not to slight my old reference system or to make a point about how less expensive systems can outdo more expensive ones. In reality I could have dazzled our guests with the merits of my main system and demonstrated the systems raw power and pure music reproduction capabilities. The point behind that story was actually to pay tribute to one of the most reliable product lines in all of high-end audio, Arcam.
When our esteemed publisher Clement Perry asked if I’d be interested in reviewing a couple of pieces of Arcam equipment, I couldn’t accept fast enough. Aside from the story above, I’ve had a long history with Arcam equipment. What I mean by that is that I have been to many high-end audio stores over the years that carried Arcam as their “mid-fi” line. While Naim or ARC or Krell would occupy the prime space in the store’s main listening room, the Arcam products would be in the smaller room along with the PSB and Paradigm bookshelf speakers. Something tells me that many of you reading this have had this same experience. Well for this review the Arcam products aren’t in a small room, they’re in my 26’ x 20’ main listening room and they aren’t hooked up to a pair of small monitors, instead they’ll be hooked up to a pair of full-range, three-way loudspeakers. The equipment under review here is the Arcam FMJ A19 integrated amplifier and CDS27 SACD player and network streaming player.
The A19 and CDS27 are both part of Arcam’s Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) product line. The name comes from the fact that the units are made of steel and aluminum. The look and feel of these Arcam products is understated but well put together. The black chassis are certainly not flashy or drenched in knobs and lights. “Elegant” and “functional” are words that come to mind.
FMJ A19 Integrated Amp
The A19 is a 50 watt per channel integrated amp that features a full suite of audio inputs, including a MM “PHONO” input, and even a “PREAMP” output. Ergonomically, the A19’s faceplate is laid out in a way that makes operation easy. At the center is an easily readable LED display for all of the unit’s myriad functions, not to mention volume level and operating status. To the left of it is a large grey volume control knob and to the left of it are three push buttons for “MUTE,” “DISPLAY,” and “BALANCE.” Under the display are the function buttons: “PHONO,” “AUX,” “CD,” “TUNER,” “SAT,” “BD,” “PVR,” “AV.” On the right side of the faceplate are a 3.5mm analog AUX input, 3.5mm “PHONES” output, and finally the “POWER” button.
The rear of the chassis is equally simplistic in its layout. On the left is the “POWER INLET,” which of course allows the user to use their favorite after-market power cord if they so choose. Next to it is a switch that also allows the user to select the supply voltage. Just to the right of it is a power socket for use with Arcam accessories like their rLink and rBLink devices. In the middle of the rear chassis are RCA connections for all of the units inputs and outputs. Next to them is a phono ground connection and finally there is a sturdy set of five-way speaker posts.
The A19 comes equipped with the CR108 infra-red remote control, which provides easy-to-use operation of the units primary functions.
FMJ CDS27 SACD Player and Music Streamer
The front faceplate of the CDS27 is just as elegantly understated as that of the A19. The disc drawer sits on the left, the LED display is to the right of it, and just like the A19, is very easy to read. On the right and below the LED display are the usual CD player function buttons and finally the “POWER” button.
The back of the unit has the power cord connection on the left, and just like the A19, you can use after-market cords. With the proliferation of specialty digital component cords available, this is a valuable feature. In the center you will find a wireless network connection as well as an Ethernet network connection. In this same area are coaxial and optical digital outputs. There is also a USB connection which allows you to play files stored on USB memory drives. Completing the rear connections are a set of balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) audio outputs, an RS232 connection, a 12V trigger input and finally a remote control input for use in systems where the IR remote cannot be used. The CDS27 comes with a CDR902 infra-red remote which can also be used to control the functions of the A19 amplifier.
The CDS27 features the TI/Burr Brown PCM1794 DAC chip (up to 24-bit, 192KHz). When combined with a linear phase Bessel output filter and precision re-clocking system, the CDS27 seeks to achieve exceptional audio quality. The unit’s power supply is also specially designed to maximize performance, as do the discreet sub-regulated power supplies on the drive mechanism and audio and DAC boards. UPnP and CIFS compatibility also makes integration into computer network based systems a breeze. Arcam has developed their own iOS app for streaming music called MusicLife. It is a free app that is available now on the iTunes Store. MusicLife is designed to be easier to use, faster and more stable than other similar apps. It’s Bluetooth compatible and supports playing media from most any Bluetooth device.
The initial review system featured the CDS27 playing SACDs through the A19, which was being used to drive a pair of Sonic Hemisphere Fidelity One, three-way loudspeakers. (Note: These speakers were only available for about a year in 2013 at a cost of about $6K. The company briefly changed its name to Black Moon Audio before closing its doors. If you find a pair available online, you can snatch ‘em up cheap.) The Fidelity Ones are 91dB efficient so the 50 watts from the A19 would be more than enough. The system was connected with the excellent and affordable Soundstring Gen II Platinum Series cables. The first disc I played was Los Lobos’ This Time [Mobile Fidelity UDSACD2024]. This title track is a bluesy little tune that I love and the way this system renders it is fabulous. Like most British audio gear, this Arcam combo loves acoustical music and vocals. Even when I pushed the volume up to a slightly unacceptable level this system did not lose its composure, not through the midrange and treble anyway. The bass? Well, like me at a Brazilian steakhouse, it fattened up a bit. My partying friends dug the extra bass. My audiophile, music loving friends… not so much. So I backed down off of the volume a bit and put on Patricia Barber’s Smash [Mobile Fidelity UDSACD2136]. Track two, “The Wind Song,” is classic Barber. Her voice just oozes out of the speakers. The scale and dynamics are very good, as is the imaging of the instruments. It’s not overwhelming in its presentation, but I don’t think it aspires to be. That’s what I like about these products. They are what they intend to be: musically satisfying, and highly dependable. But I haven’t even gotten to what pleased me the most about my time with the Arcam gear: the phono section of the A19.
As luck would have it, I was setting up a Rega Elys cartridge on a friend’s Rega RP1 turntable ($650). This gave me an opportunity to listen to an analog rig that would be adequately priced for this system. When I started to listen to LPs through the A19, I thought maybe I’d breeze through two or three albums and then check out the unit’s music streamer. But from the moment that the stylus of my Grado hit the grooves of Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue” [Columbia], I was stopped dead in my tracks and for the next six hours did nothing but listen to vinyl. The CDS27 is definitely a fine disc player, but I didn’t really get a chance to get into the unit’s streaming capabilities once I started listening to albums. The dead quiet background shocked me for such an inexpensive setup. It made me take notice of the music right away. Especially when the second track on this iconic LP, “Freddie Freeloader” began to play. Wynton Kelly’s piano playing on this track is brilliant but when Davis’ horn pops through I couldn’t help but exclaim, “I love vinyl!” And bear I mind that this is a throw-in phono section on an integrated! Another album that I couldn’t get enough of was Esperanza Spaulding’s Radio Music Society [Heads Up]. Every Song on this album is special but one of my favorites is track three, “Crowned & Kissed.” Spaulding is a composer who pays attention to detail and the details of this music are rendered so well that you just can’t stop listening. I’m not sure I can pay it a higher compliment.
When I did finally get around to using the streamer, I was surprised at just how absolutely quiet the background was. I was literally startled when the intro from the Brothers Johnson’s classic R&B hit, “Strawberry Letter 23,” from their album Right On Time [A&M] came rushing out of my speakers. The music was a bit sharp and maybe even overly resolved (if that’s possible), but still very open and musically satisfying.
The truly exciting thing about these Arcam products is that they truly do bring high-end qualities to all music lovers. The FMJ product line, while not featuring art gallery quality aesthetics, do possess a look and feel that assures the buyer that they are getting top-notch design and construction far beyond their more than reasonable price tag. But on top of that, this system also caters to all music lover tastes. The new generation of computer audiophiles will love the CDS27’s music streaming and ability to support numerous file formats including WAV and FLAC. Silver disc fans will love the flexibility of being able to play red book CD, SACD, CD-R and CD-RW. And finally, vinyl lovers on a budget should rejoice! A simple analog rig with an inexpensive moving magnet cartridge should be all you’ll need for hours of analog bliss.
If you know of a music lover with a limited budget, or hell, even one with a massive budget but who also happens to be level-headed and practical, you’d be doing them no great harm to direct their attention to these Arcam products. I guarantee they will get immense joy from their music and will probably ask, “Why would anyone want more?” Highly Recommended.
Description: Solid-state, two-channel integrated amplifier.
Inputs: six pairs single-ended, moving-magnet phono, front-panel iPod.
Outputs: record, preamp, headphone jack.
Maximum power output: 50Wpc into 8 ohms (17dBW), 90Wpc into 4 ohms (16.5dBW).
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz, ±0.2dB.
Signal/noise: 105dB at 50W, ref. 1V.
Line-level input sensitivity: 1V.
Phono input sensitivity: 5mV at 1kHz.
Preamp output sensitivity: 630mV.
Headphone output: 4V into 600 ohms.
Line-level input impedance: 10k ohms.
Phono input impedance: 47k ohms.
Preamp output impedance: 230 ohms.
Headphone output impedance: 1 ohm.
Maximum power consumption: 350W.
Dimensions: 17″ (432mm) W by 3.34″ (85mm) H by 10.82″ (275mm) D.
Weight: 18.73 lbs (8.5kg).
Analogue Audio Output
Digital to Analogue conversion: 24-bit 192kHz Delta-Sigma DAC
Signal to noise ratio: 110dB CCIR
Harmonic distortion: (1kHz) 0.002%
Frequency response: (±0.5dB) 10Hz–20kHz
Output level: (0dB) 2.2Vrms
Output impedance: 47O Ohms
Minimum recommended load: 5k Ohms
Digital interfaces: USB USB 2.0 High Speed (480 Mbit/s)
Network: 10 BASE-T / 100 BASE-TX / Wi-Fi
Physical Dimensions: W433 x D278 x H87mm
Weight: 6.2kg nett/8.5kg packed
Power consumption: 20W maximum
Digital output connections: 75O co-axial, optical TOSLINK
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