The latest in the compact ‘r’ series of components, Paul Rigby reviews Arcam’ new phono amplifier, the rPhono
A truly specialist piece of hi-fi equipment, the phono amp’s job is to amplify the tiny signal produced by a turntable’s cartridge. It’s so specialist that a basic amplifier can’t handle it. Because the amplification job is so large in terms of the differences between the start and end points, any small amount of noise that is introduced early into the process will be magnified to horrible proportions by the time the cartridge signal is large enough to be heard. A careful phono map design is, therefore, required. Hence, one of the most important parts of any analogue chain is that phono amplifier.
The Arcam rPhono arrives in the now familiar brick-sized, compact chassis. The front area of the fascia offers a power light while, at the rear, are inputs for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges plus a range of DIP switches that control impedance (MC-only), input capacitance (MM-only) and gain settings (30dB-82dB). A rumble filter can remove ultra low frequency noise, useful for warped records.
You can change the DIP switches with a fingernail or the end of a pen but these options are wholly lacking in élan. Which is why Arcam has supplied a brilliant little DIP switch flicker tool that is stored at the bottom of the rear of the chassis when not in use.
I began the sound tests playing a selection of music from the 80s post punk outfit, Bizarre Unit, combining vocals, sparse early synths with organic instruments, via the German record label, Vinyl on Demand.
Considering the price point, I began the sound test in moving magnet mode. The Arcam impressed in its sheer physical presence during this track. The bass was pronounced, adding a mass and weight within the lower frequencies that provided a solidity in both the percussion but also the bass guitar which was a quiet yet important facet within this track. I loved the growl of the bass guitar reverb which added a sense of lower frequency threat to the presentation. The percussion itself held a rich and meaty flavour that ploughed the sonic depths.
Despite the impressive lower frequencies, for the price, I didn’t feel that the bass swamped the soundstage or bloomed all over the upper midrange. For example, the rolling rhythm guitar did gain weight but only in terms of authority while the metallic nature of the strummed instrument retained detail and a sense of tonal balance.
Some listeners might point to a small reduction in air and space around the upper mids and a slight lack of dynamic extension, noticeable especially during vocal performances. These issues are relatively minor, especially for the price and, in return, you do experience a smooth and rather lush presentation that is eminently listenable and easy on the ear. More so because the unit offers low noise, hence, more music information is available to the ear.
I then turned to moving coil and the jazz vocal of Gogi Grant and the track By Myself, from the 1960 LP, Granted It’s Gogi on Living Stereo.
In terms of approach and tone, the Arcam’s MC stage retained the smooth nature of the presentation with an easy and flowing delivery. Grant’s vocals may have not reached for the dynamic heights but, instead, she added a rich, confident and authoritative presentation that soared.
As for the orchestra, the brass and sax sections offered a relatively sweet persona yet retained a enough detail to inform the ear. The upright bass was strong, characterful and effective in terms of its impact while the percussion drove the track easily. Treble might have neglected to reach the very height of its possible extension but the cymbals retained an informative stance, you never felt short-changed in terms of the information on offer.
The Arcam rPhono offers an attractive sound quality that will give any budget or midrange vinyl-based system an easy going, carefree, smooth and unforced presentation. Well built, offering plenty of options and feature variations, the rPhono is the Dean Martin of phono amplifiers…but the rPhono never falls over.
ARCAM rPHONO PHONO AMPLIFIER
Email: [email protected]
Good: bass impact, smooth midrange, build, musicality, broad soundstage
Bad: dynamic extension
Ortofon 2M Red MM cartridge
Benz Glider MC cartridge
Trichord Dino phono amplifier
Rega Brio-R integrated amplifier
Spendor S3/5R2 speakers
Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components
All vinyl was cleaned using an Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner
Geoffrey31st May 2017 at 6:22 pm
Hifi has never been more in reach for a lot of people.
Gavin Simpson2nd July 2017 at 5:46 pm
Just a note to say your review of the Arcam rphono was very helpful. I had also read the Which HiFi review so had this Arcam box in my sights. I have a Project Carbon record deck with a Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge and a Naim Nait XS-2 with B&W CM8 speakers. After reading your review, I placed my order and have spent today setting up and listening to a wide range of albums and styles. I am so chuffed with this little black box and feel even on day one that it offers a depth of sound, a quality sound at this price point.
Paul Rigby2nd July 2017 at 6:58 pm
Thanks for your note, Gavin, and thank you for your kind words. Glad I could be of help.
Mark Yexley19th July 2017 at 8:30 am
Hi Paul – How would the Arcam compare to a Dino Trichord Mk3?
Paul Rigby19th July 2017 at 12:41 pm
Both are excellent and both should – if possible – be demoed. The Trichord, though, has a structured upgrade path that allows you to keep the personality of the sound that you (hopefully) like and admire while upgrading the quality as funds permit. See the full review for the extra bits you can swop in and add. https://theaudiophileman.com/trichord-researchdino-mk-3-phono-stage-upgrades-stay-path/
Mark25th July 2017 at 12:09 pm
thank you very much Paul
R Art10th November 2017 at 8:22 pm
I currently have the Dino on Home demo at the moment, I enjoy it but find quite forward – bright. Does the Arcam differ from this characteristic?
Paul Rigby10th November 2017 at 8:38 pm
There may be other reasons for that because I wouldn’t describe the Dino as bright. It is possible that the Dino is merely highlighting some other issue elsewhere. Can you talk about the rest of your system? The Arcam is similarly good, yes. What is your budget?
R Art10th November 2017 at 9:06 pm
The rest of my system is Rega RP8-Ania cartridge, Naim Supernait 2 amp, ProAc Tablette 10 Speakers. My budget is approx £800 – £1000 max. Used to own a Rega Aria beforehand.
Paul Rigby11th November 2017 at 12:12 pm
You system looks good to me so the bright sound is not coming from that – what were you using prior to the Dino? Also, how long have you been using the Dino on demo? Has it been run in? Finally, what are your ancillaries? That is: shelving, cables, supports, etc.
R ART11th November 2017 at 9:32 pm
Thanks for the tip! I’ve since swapped my cables and interconnects.
Atlas hyper 1.5 and qed interconnects to Chord interconnects and speaker cables, this seems to have removed the edginess I was hearing before and added a bit more body and weight.
Paul Rigby12th November 2017 at 11:14 am
Good news – glad it all worked out. 🙂
Richard Soloway21st May 2019 at 9:33 am
I enjoy your reviews and find them very helpful in deciding what hifi to audition if I get the chance to upgrade.
I have recently started playing vinyl again (in the spare bedroom) and have wondered about buying a separate phono amp, such as the Arcam. The resurrected system I am using is my old Exposure SuperXV amp (which has a reasonable phono stage), with Ruark Swordsman speakers and my very old Connoisseur TT, SME 3009 arm and Shure cartridge. Would the Arcam rPhono improve the quality of the sound or would I also need a new TT? PS My wife doesn’t want the ‘clutter’ of vinyl in the main living areas ever again so this will always be a second system.
Paul Rigby21st May 2019 at 11:33 am
I would say that the turntable is off the pace and can be bettered so an upgrade would be apt if you think that your future vinyl listening will be a regular thing from now on. For occasional, every blue moon listening, though, the turntable is fine. Depends on your listening direction, as it where. An external phono amp is also a good upgrade for you. Sound quality will improve if you decide to go for that first and the Arcam is a fine design. Give me a shot if/when you want to upgrade the turntable but let me know how much you want to spend too,
Richard Soloway21st May 2019 at 5:00 pm
Thank you Paul, I didn’t really expect such a prompt answer but it is much appreciated.
I am not going to make any major purchases until we move; if we buy a large place with daughter and family we are hoping to have a dedicated music/reading room as well as a study, on the other hand if my wife and I buy a bungalow for just the two of us we will obviously not have so much room. Basically it depends on the space available and what other people want as well as my wishes.
One problem I am finding is that I left a good record collection in Australia when I returned to the UK, started to build another and then allowed the children to take what they wanted when they left home for good. This means I have far more of a cd collection than vinyl and I will either have to reclaim some albums or buy again (or both). However I do notice that vinyl has something that is lost in in the digital domain, despite my normal set-up costing at least three times the vinyl one. From your advice I think I will delay purchasing until we know what we are doing and what the listening room is like, although the Roksan radius looks tempting and I have always lusted after a friend’s Linn Sondek LP12.
Paul Rigby21st May 2019 at 5:13 pm
Good idea Richard. Don’t rush it, think carefully, do lots of research and don’t forget that I’m here too 🙂 If you need help in the future, just give me a shout.
Richard21st May 2019 at 5:30 pm
Thank you – I will do that. Now a valve set-up would be nice to go with a new TT 🙂
Jonathan29th May 2019 at 2:21 pm
I have a Cyrus One, which I really like. However, curious to know if I’d hear a difference with a quality external phono stage like this, over the internal one in the amp. I’m using good budget gear, so a project Debut turntable and B&W 685 s2 speakers.
Paul Rigby29th May 2019 at 2:32 pm
Hi Jonathan – yes, I think you will hear a difference. Internal models are never as good in component terms, they are limited in space and build budget to whatever acreage is left over after the rest of the amp has been built and they are subject to electronic noise contamination from other amp bits and bobs.
Jonathan29th May 2019 at 2:56 pm
Thanks for the quick response, Paul. Good to know.
Mark5th August 2021 at 4:59 am
Wow I’m just stunned by the difference in prices between the UK and Aus. The Arcam is $1000 locally whilst the Vertere is $2000.