05 June, 2018

Arcam rDAC

Brief Review: Arcam rDAC (Wireless Input with rWave Dongle)

This is the originl rDAC with Wireless Input through the rWave dongle. For the past years I have used it quite a bit, but always here and there and I never got to formally write about it.

The USB Input is 24/192 capable, though Wireless is limited to 16-bit. As I only use iTunes (AIFF files) from my Macbook wirelessly, it is just fine by me - convenience and quality are more important. I must also say I love the looks of this original rDAC, a classy industrial design.

Arcam has long been associated with dCS, and so the rDAC employs dCS technology in both asynchronous USB and Wireless Inputs, and of course employs Wolfson DAC chip (the well regarded and expensive 8471). It received in general very favorable reviews, from the likes of cnetToneHiFiNews and TechRadar.

I thank Thomas for repairing my defunct Arcam rDAC. This morning I had a little time on my hand and did an re-evaluation.

COAXIAL INPUT vs 47 Labs Shigaraki 4715 DAC First I listened to the Kondo system. Using the 47 Labs Shigaraki 4716 transport and the same Belden 1694 Digital cable and Gotham GAC-2111 interconnects I was able to directly compare the Arcam rDAC with the 4715 DAC. Although the Arcam rDAC did a very solid job, in this system it did not sparkle quite as much as the non-oversampling 47 Labs (adjusted for level), which was airier, more pacy and had a more truthful rendition of hall sound (imho common attribute of classic TDA 16-bit DAC chips). The rDAC though partly redeemed itself by its unflappable listenability.

COAXIAL INPUT vs Sony DVP-PR50P Heard in the simple Naim Nait I/47 Labs 4737 system, the sound of the Sony's Analogue Out (using DIN Gotham DGS-1) and Digital Out/rDAC (using Kimber D-60 and DIN Gotham GAC-2) are virtually indistinguishable (the Sony being also a very listenable machine) as the minor differences, mostly in bass presentation, could well be due to the somewhat different cables used.

USB INPUT I had never used it until just now, when I hooked up my Macbook with my trustedUnitek USB cable (here). Sound was surprisingly decent, just a little behind CD playback via Coaxial (above). On my current favorite Bach album, the leading edges were softened a little and harmonics were rounded out just a little, but again, the difference is small (and there are cable differences involved, not to mention the iTunes software itself). All in all, it puts out eminently listenable music, something that cannot be said about a lot of hi-end CAS I have heard, An excellent USB implementation.

WIRELESS INPUT The rWave dongle works a treat and pairing is fast. From the same Macbook, the sound is very good, not that different from USB. The rDAC was one of the earlier Wireless devices, and its performance is laudable.

  • The strengths of the Arcam rDAC are its balanced presentation and unflappable nature. Commendably, all inputs are well implemented. It plays any music with composure, refinement and with a degree of subtlety rare in its price class. However, those looking for overt excitement may want to re-consider.
Postscript: How good is the Recording, the Hall, or the Performance? A Reflection
During evaluation, I listened to this (first) recording commemorating the striking new Elbsphilharmonie Hall in Hamburg, reputed to be of excellent acoustics. While the performances of the Brahms symphonies are very good what caught my eyes were how the music reviewers (who usually are not audiophiles) tried to say something about the venue.

It depends a lot on miking. Here, the perspective is mid-hall, and the orchestra sounds luxurious amid plenty of ambience. Without much highlighting, the details are there, but integrated and not prominent. In my systems I could hear them but perhaps it'll not be so in lesser systems. I say it is a warm sounding hall with good acoustics.

Hall sound is notoriously hard to record and I say DAC chips vary considerably in how they portray it. No matter how good the 24/192 capable Wolfson chip is, it does seem in this area the 16-bit TDA 1543 (not to mention the 1541) is better.

In the end, aside from really bad venues like the Barbican or Royal Albert, a good recording can be made, and one is not certain how one can separate the recording, the hall, or the performance. Sort of like feeling the elephant. And that is exactly what recordings are - an approximation of the life event.


  1. Hi doctor John: I have the rDac and I am looking to move to the 47 Labs Dac so thank you very much for the comparison. I'm currently using via optical and my impression is that it's not really something to write home about. Personally I find differences between dacs difficult to pick that's why I expect the 47 Labs to be a step up, thanks again Peter

    1. Yeah, I can understand. The rDAC is rather understated and may not suit a system that needs more excitement.

      Investigate the Sparkler S306 DAC. It is cheaper than 47 Labs and probably better (I have never A/B'ed)