|march | april 2001||Follow-Up|
The Arcam DiVA A75 -
Description: stereo power amplifier
US Distributor Info:
HAVING the opportunity to audition the Arcam DiVA A75 integrated amplifier fulfilled a wish I'd had for some time: To hear and evaluate an integrated that uses British technology. An amazing number of manufacturers have adopted British innovations, including Rotel. The consensus seems to be that British amps are revealing without sacrificing warmth.
Arcam is based in Cambridge, England and is committed to combining the sonic qualities of British high end with the reliability of Japanese gear. They pride themselves on the fact that their products are produced in their Cambridge factory, rather than being subcontracted to an overseas firm.
The Arcam DiVA A75, rated at 75 watts into 8 ohms, is one of three integrateds offered in the DiVA line, which is priced at a mid-point between Arcam's Alpha and FMJ lines. The 40-watt A65 lists at $799.99 and the 85-watt A85 lists at $1499.99. Check Audiophile Systems's web-site for dealers in the US, of which there are a surprisingly high number.
According to Arcam, the A75 features all new electronic circuitry. Lower distortion and noise ensure that it will perform well with such sources as DVD audio and SACD. Additional internal design improvements (see http://www.aslgroup.com/arcam/DiVATech.htm#A65 for a more technical description) were made with the goal of producing a pure musical signal without degradation.
The A75 includes an AV processor switch (you actually press and hold the Tape Monitor switch for five seconds and it fixes the gain) which allows its use with an external processor that plugs into an AV/DVD input. It also has pre-amp output sockets for bi-amping with another power amplifier (in anticipation of the multi-channel possibilities of DVD or SACD). Otherwise, it's a fairly straightforward two channel integrated.
The overall build quality of the amp is very good. Itís solid and relatively light, so itís easy to maneuver while you set it up. The gold plated RCA inputs are snugly mounted with enough space between them to allow for large interconnects. The phono stage is moving magnet, so youíll have to push small button at the back of the amp if youíre using a outboard phono stage for a moving coil cartridge (or, for that matter, if youíre using an outboard phono stage at all). A small hole through the ground post for the phono stage would have made it a little easier to connect the phono ground wire, but thatís a relatively minor inconvenience.
The A75 uses BFA (British Federation of Audio) speaker terminals and allows for two sets of speakers. I donít know if BFA connectors are available here, but as I sized up the terminals visually, I felt they should be. Without going into too much detail, BFA connectors would appear to make a rock solid connection inside the terminal knobs. At any rate, the speaker posts have large enough holes for heavy gauge cable, and the knobs fit snugly for a solid connection. The main speakers terminals are unswitched, the second set are switched and can be used for a second pair of speakers or for bi-amping the main pair.
Listening - Stage One
I initially set the Arcam up in my living room, which is my main listening room. Itís a pretty large room, 13Ē X 28Ē, and the ceilings are about 7 ĹĒ high (itís an old farmhouse, and the ceilings in those houses were typically low for energy efficiency). I sit in a spot thatís about 22 feet into the room, probably about 19 or 20 feet from the speakers. Power, of course, is a strange and unpredictable thing, but I suspected that the 50-watt A75 would be a little on the light side to fill such a big room. Still, the room configuration allows for a deep soundstage, and I wanted to hear the Arcam in that setting for a few days.
I used the direct mode of the amp, bypassing the pre-amp stage. Compared with the tone controls at flat response, the direct mode was a little more detailed and vocals sounded more precisely imaged.
As I suspected, the A75 was a little underpowered for my room. I could tell immediately, however, that I was dealing with a quality component. As I tested each of the stages to make sure I connected everything correctly, the amount of resolution in the phono stage jumped out at me. Let me pause here to shoot a heartfelt salute in Arcamís direction for including a phono stage. I realize that outboard phono stages are the rage, but I believe 1) many people interested in high fidelity, whether casually or from an audiophile point of view, have turntables, and 2) they want a pre-amp or integrated that has a phono stage onboard. I was pleasantly surprised that the A75 had a phono stage and that it was of such high quality.
The first LP I played was a late 60s/early 70s ABC/Riverside pressing of The Bill Evans Trio at Shelly's Manne Hole, Hollywood, California. I could hear the resonance of the piano, of the strings inside the instrument, throughout the album and drummer Larry Bunker's brush hits against the snare had a pleasing, sharp ring. The high-hat and cymbal accents were well defined, and Bunker's very subtle kicks on the high hat came out in more detail than I've heard on amps with a lesser phono stage.
The voice and percussion on Paul Simon's CD You're the One were precisely detailed and clear, with no hint of grain or harshness. The CD contains a fair amount of percussion, but I didn't catch any drum tones smearing into each other. In fact, there are a couple of bongo drum rolls in the title track and they really rang out tightly into the room. Wooden percussion instruments had a beautiful tonal ring to them, not a mere thwack or tap.
I realized pretty quickly that by auditioning the amp in a large room I was not giving it the chance to show me its best. The soundstage was a little wide and instruments in a jazz trio recording, for example, seemed slightly remote from each other. Kick drums and bass had presence, but no attack and the mid-range sounded hallow. I should note that I ran the amp at half volume for a while and the unit ran cool and didn't appear to be straining--it still sounded clear and musical.
Listening - Stage Two
My basement listening room is 13Ē by 18Ē with the stereo against one of the long walls and the listening spot opposite, about 10Ē feet from the speakers. I moved the A75 there and found that the qualities Iíd observed in the larger room were brought into greater focus. I listed to the Paul Simon disc again and heard not just the sound of his voice, but the texture. Percussion and bass were more detailed; obviously the smaller, more typically sized room is what the amp is designed for (of course, I immediately wondered how Arcamís DiVA A85 would sound in my living room).
I listened to the Bill Evans LP again and heard a more focused soundstage. The details were still there, but the relation of the instruments to each other was more natural, while retaining the openness that is this amp's most appealing quality. More important, the bass tightened up and I could hear the attack more clearly.
I played a recent vinyl pressing of John Coltrane's The Last Trane, side two of which opens with a Red Garland playing solo piano briefly before Paul Chambers joins him on bass and drummer Art Taylor taps lightly on the ride cymbal. There's a bit of reverb on the piano, which I'd noticed before, but the A75 revealed it even more. The cymbal taps rang out clearly and the cymbal was placed nicely little up and forward, about where you'd expect to see it live. Coltrane begins to solo about halfway through the track and, again, thereís a hint of reverb that the A75 brought into sharper relief.
The Arcam A75 is a very open, spacious sounding amp. Acoustic instruments particularly are detailed and textural. On a recording like Music for a Glass Bead Game by violinist Arturo Delmoni and cellist Nathaniel Rosen, you can hear the bows distinctly as they move across the strings. The disc was recorded in the recital hall at Purchase College and the A75 conveyed a palpable feeling of the music's occurring in a room that was designed for listening to music (it's one digital recording that proves that the fine art of microphone placement is not lost and that digital doesn't have to sound sterile). I found myself visualizing a church here in Central PA that presents chamber music concerts.
I expected the amp to perform better on chamber music, including small group jazz, or on symphonic recordings than it would on multi-tracked pop recordings. I was pleasantly surprised, then, as I listened to ďWild Mountain HoneyĒ from Music @ Work by the Tragically Hip: The two acoustic guitars that open the track were clearly separated and the guitar strings rang out in detail. As the song builds, the amp wasnít overpowered by the layers of musical information coming through it and, to be honest, I caught some subtleties I hadnít heard before. Of course, the A75 will tell you emphatically some things you already know, e.g., that Sticky Fingers is a pretty muddy record.
This amp is about speed and resolution. It never lags behind during dynamic passages in symphonic pieces and it handles cymbal crashes and other transient details without effort. I listened to an Angel Records LP of John Adams's Grand Pianola Music, which has a number of crescendi that are punctuated by sharply hit bass drums. There's a lot going on in those sections--two pianos, voice, piccolo, cymbal crashes--and the bass drums come up fast and hard (I jumped the first time). The A75 produced the instrumental flourishes easily, with each element in those busy sections coming through clearly. I never felt that the amp was struggling to keep up with the sudden bass drum shots.
The A75 is not a terribly warm amp, but I don't think it's meant to be. If I had to point out any fault, it might be that bottom end details move a bit into the background when the soundstage gets crowded. Even on the Bill Evans album I described above, when Evans and Bunker start to wail and things start moving--more notes, more cymbal accents and brush hits--the attack of the bass fades a little. During bass solos, however, there is a breathtaking amount of detail and instrument resonance.
I would venture a guess that with the right speakers, this amp would sing. An integrated with such a high level of resolution at a thousand dollars is pretty hard to beat. As I noted above, the DiVA line offers amps that meet the requirements of several room sizes at a price that wonít break the bank.
Music Hall MMF 2.1
Original Monster Cable (12 gauge), both