I MANAGED TO get along to an Arcam product demo in Auckland yesterday. One of the highlights was a prototype of the r-Blink, which is Arcam’s new Bluetooth receiver. Big deal, I hear you say – those things are everywhere and they all sound the same thanks to the limitations of Bluetooth technology. Well, maybe it is a big deal in this case, because according to Andy Moore, one of Arcam’s senior engineers, they’ve found a way to add 30dB of dynamic range to the Bluetooth signal as it arrives at the r-Blink. The signal is then passed through a dedicated reclocking stage to cut the jitter and then to the same DAC that’s in the rest of the rSeries products (drDock Apple Dock reviewed here and rPac USB Headphone amp/DAC reviewed here).
As expected, pairing with my iPhone was effortless and the r-Blink sounded sweet running into an Arcam AVR600 HT receiver ($8499) and a pair of Acoustic Energy Radiance 3 floorstanders ($3299), despite getting low bitrate files and with the system set up in an office environment (for retailer training). The r-Blink’s design and implementation makes a great deal of sense to me because, while music streamed via Bluetooth often sounds pretty clear, its dynamic range usually sounds compressed, which robs the music of its emotion and intensity (and we all know how much I value those qualities). [Nah, we all thought you were in it just for the sex, rubs and rock’n’roll – Cynical Ed]. When one of the audience played some music from his Nokia, I thought that the system or the r-Blink had thrown a wobbly, but it turns out that he had the phone’s bass control set to max – once he set the EQ to flat, the sound changed dramatically and sounded far better than it had any right to, which is why I’ll get hold of a review r-Blink as soon as they arrive in the country.
Andy was in town fresh from the Sydney Hi-fi Show (where’s the Auckland hi-fi show, I wonder?) and he’s that rare breed of engineer who can be put in front of punters and prefers to talk about music and giant Russian hi-fi nuts instead of Farads and aptX audio coding protocols. I particularly liked his down-to-earth demo style, where he started a product demo with a USB key plugged into Arcam’s Solo Mini powering the little (and they really are little) Solo Muso speakers. Andy played Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s ‘Tin Pan Alley’, which sounded quite impressive considering that the speakers only have 3.5-inch drivers in a tiny cabinet. A great many punters would have been quite content with what they were hearing given that they might not have the references that hi-fi enthusiasts have. Then he pointed out that what we were hearing was as bad as it gets – the file was a 128Kbps rip – from this point, it’s all upwards. Playing higher quality files or even actual CDs, moving to the bigger and more powerful Solo Neo, or from the Solo Musos to the comparatively huge Acoustic Energy Aelite 3 floorstanders.
The key to selling more hi-fi gear to more people is getting them in front of it and showing them how good it can be at even the entry level. Funnily enough, this echoes a conversation I had this morning with a couple of blokes from a local distributor. Once people have a reference point, then everything from aftermarket earphones to actual separates based stereo systems starts to make perfect sense. While there’s a place for basic speaker docks, garish midi systems and the 20 cent earphones that come with smartphones, they’ll never really make music sound they way it can and should.
I reckon it’s way past time for a few more proactive demos like the Arcam one, just to a bigger audience. Maybe that Auckland hi-fi show needs to happen, even if it’s on a small scale, perhaps as part of Big Boys Toys? Food for thought industry people… ASHLEY KRAMER