The starting signal was actually given on October 3. But since on that date, Germany was busy celebrating its unification, Arcam invited us to a presentation of their completely rebooted Radia series here in Munich a good month later.
The event was particularly exciting for me, as my personal audiophile journey began a good 20 years ago with an Arcam A65 Plus amplifier. Still independent at the time, the British brand has been part of the Harman Group for several years now – the new line-up was accordingly presented in the JBL store within walking distance of Munich’s Mariensäule.
The Arcam team, consisting of James Todd, Paul Neville, Scott Campbell and George Robertson, gave me and the other journalists a comprehensive introduction to the new model range. The focus was on the completely new design language, which appears much more modern than the previous Arcam devices, but nevertheless retains old virtues such as the high-quality surfaces in anodized aluminium and the pleasantly restrained and clear lines. On the other hand, the black color scheme with yellow accents is particularly striking, conspicuously framing the rotary controls while subtly popping up in other places such as the ventilation slots or the damping feet.
One of the reasons for the relaunch, including the introduction of the new Radia name, was, among other things, the fact that the previous model series abbreviation FMJ – Full Metal Jacket – didn’t go down very well in some Asian countries for inexplicable reasons. Regardless of target region, Arcam has developed the new series with the intention of introducing Generation Z to the subject of hi-fi, with a clear focus on meeting the new generation at eye level: operating the components should be second nature to the young clientele as soon as they touch any of the devices. Not only can the ST5 streamer be controlled via smartphone; if it is connected to one of the Arcam amplifiers, the volume control can also be looped through so that the user can control the system completely via his touchscreen device – just as they are used to.
If you want to keep things simple, you can of course also use the amplifiers as a one-box solution thanks to the integrated DAC and Bluetooth AptX and stream directly from your cell phone. The Bluetooth antennas have been integrated virtually invisibly in a kind of “rear spoiler” – after all, care has been taken to ensure that the new models cut just as good a figure on the sideboard as they do in the hi-fi rack.
Speaking of racks: For all the modern approachability, we’re still talking classic component hi-fi: The new series also includes a newly designed remote control for all those who prefer good old physical buttons. And those who prefer to control the volume and source on the device itself can do so via beautifully damped full metal knobs. In the age of ultra-compact Class D cubes, Arcam remains true to its technological heritage and relies on classic Class AB circuits (Class G in the top model A25) with linear power supplies being used throughout.
To keep power consumption low, especially in standby mode, each model has two of those: a main toroidal transformer for the main circuit and a smaller one for idle mode and control functions.
As Arcam is traditionally first and foremost an amplifier specialist, the amps make up the lion’s share of the new portfolio: With the A5, A15 and A25, the series comprises three amplifiers that deliver 50, 80 and 100 watts respectively into eight ohms, plus the ST5 streamer and the CD5 CD player.
To round off the presentation, two listening sessions awaited us at the end. The first was demoed the little A5 on a pair of JBL L82 Classic. Given that we listened to four pieces that I’m not familiar with in an equally unfamiliar listening environment, it’s too early to pass my final judgement on the sound quality, but as my first impression goes, it seemed pleasantly familiar and immediately likeable: I instantly recognized that lively, vibrant and musical character that sucked my into the enjoyment of music some two decades ago.
In the next, larger listening room, the more grown-up combination of Arcam A25 and JBL L100 Classic gave me more of the same and, to finish things off, a taste of the undistorted SPL ceiling the system was capable of with an electronic four-on-the-floor beat that excited the floor into a nervous tremor.
And to save the the best news for last: At a time when prices for hi-fi equipment seem to be skyrocketing left and right, the pricing of the new Radia series is pleasingly democratic: the entry-level A5 amplifier is already available for 850 euros – I only paid around 200 euros less for the equivalent model in my day – and that was 20 years ago! Isn’t it nice to see that here and there, prices are still developing at a below-inflationary rate?