DACs

Arcam rPac Headphone DAC/Amp and rBlink Bluetooth DAC

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction to the Arcam rPac headphone DAC/Amp and rblink Bluetooth DAC

Everywhere you look established specialist audio companies are getting into the headphone and lifestyle market. These products are smaller, more affordable, and easier to use than traditional hi-fi. They appeal to a new generation of music lovers looking for products that fit their more mobile and computer centric lifestyles. I'm the ideal case study. I spend hours throughout my day listening to music on headphones at my desk. Streaming RDIO, watching videos on YouTube, editing videos, etc. While the built in headphone output on my Mac book Air is good. I've been using external USB Dacs for some time to drive bigger less sensitive headphones. Arcam sent us two of their R series boxes to check out, the rPac USB headphone DAC/amp and the rBlink Bluetooth DAC.

ARCAM RPAC HEADPHONE DAC/AMP AND RBLINK BLUETOOTH DAC SPECIFICATIONS

rPAC USB Headphone DAC

  • Design: DAC
  • Sample Rates: 16 - 24 bit, 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.1 kHz, 96 kHz
  • DAC: Texas Instruments PCM5102
  • MFR:: 10 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.1dB
  • Inputs: USB - Asynchronous
  • Outputs: 1/8" Headphone, Stereo RCA
  • Dimensions: 1" H x 2.6" W x 4" D
  • Weight: 10 Ounces
  • MSRP: $249 USD

rBlink Bluetooth DAC

  • Design: DAC
  • Sample Rates: 16 - 24 bit, 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.1 kHz, 96 kHz
  • DAC: Texas Instruments PCM5102
  • MFR:: 10 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.1dB
  • Inputs: Bluetooth Wireless Connection
  • Outputs: Stereo RCA, SPDIF Digital
  • Dimensions: 1" H x 2.5" W x 4" D
  • Weight: 11 Ounces
  • MSRP: $249 USD
  • Arcam
  • SECRETS Tags: DAC, Arcam, rPack, rBlink, Headphone, Headphone Amplifier, Audio

 


Design and Setup of the Arcam rPac headphone DAC/Amp and rBlink Bluetooth DAC

The R series units use the same case which is nicely finished in a satin dark grey and exude a sense of subtlety, solidness and functionality. The rPac is weighty enough to resist being moved by a twisted USB cable or a headphone cable if accidentally yanked.

It's a true desktop product. Designed to stay put and not shuffle around. Qualities which also allow the rBlink to be easily used with a bigger system. The rBlink has enough mass to resist being moved around by thick audio cables. Something which can't be said for lighter mobile/headphone amps and dacs.

The rPac has a lone 1/8" headphone output mounted in the front. Up top are a status LED and volume controls. The volume controls are a bit odd; the computer volume control is still active with two methods of adjusting volume. A bit confusing and redundant. The volume control on the rPac is controlling the actual output of the headphone amplifier. The volume control on the computer is digitally attenuating the audio. It's an odd choice and one I don't fully understand.

The rBlink has an antennae, Bluetooth pairing button and power connector at one end.

At the opposite end are RCA outputs and a SPDIF output. There's a status LED as well. I dislike the fact that the power connection is at the opposite side of the unit from the RCA outputs. It would look much cleaner if all the wires where on the same side.

Other than that, the unit looks as good as the rPac and is easy to incorporate into an existing audio setup.

 


The Arcam rPac headphone DAC/Amp and rBlink Bluetooth DAC In Use

The Arcam rPac is a brilliantly fun listen. Before digging in for a long listening session and trying different headphones, it's obvious what a blast the rPac is. Bass is weighty, tight, well defined and infectious. There's a spritely character that makes music fun.

Through more critical listening the rPac reveals greater and greater abilities. Beyond the fantastic bass performance the mid range is detailed and very smooth. Treble is a bit recessed which helps to smooth harsher sounding sources such as YouTube videos. That said, the treble is not so rolled off as to take anything away from well recorded material, it just helps to pin the music with the lower registers. This is a sound profile I really appreciate for headphone listening. Especially in environments with a decent amount of ambient noise. I'll take a fun listen to something cold and analytical any day for desktop use.

I used the Denon AH-D2000 and AKG K-550 headphones and it must be noted that the combination of the rPac and the Denon AH-D2000 approaches magic. They're a fantastically entertaining and fun listen. Any kind of music with a good bass foundation (Hip-Hop, Dub Step, EDM, and Electro-Pop) will generate smiles and foot tapping at the very least. I spent countless hours enjoying this combination. With the AKG cans the sound was a bit more analytical and "accurate" but nowhere near as engaging. With either headphone the Arcam rPac had massive amounts of headroom and never felt unable to drive the cans properly.

I've been living with the NuFor uDAC and HRT Headstreamer for a few years now.

In terms of sound the rPac manages to combine the fun sound of the UDAC with the detail of the Headstreamer and ups the ante with significantly more power and control. Neither the NuForce nor the HRT can match the dynamic finesse and force of the Arcam. It's a fantastic product.

The Arcam rBlink is intended to give none Airplay users a way to stream music from their mobile device via Bluetooth. Thusly the sound of the rBlink is highly dependent on the quality of the source audio and hampered by the limitations of Bluetooth. With streaming services like RDIO or Last.fm it's hard to fault the sound of Bluetooth. Using lossless files it's clear that the DAC of the rBlink is hampered even by the use of AptX.

The analog outputs of the rBlink have the same sonic character as the rPac but with less resolution and definition. Which is a good solution if you don't have an outboard DAC already. If you do have an existing DAC you can use the digital out of the rPac though the fidelity limitations of Bluetooth limit the quality. You're best off just using the analog outputs of the rPac.

 


Conclusion about the Arcam rPac headphone DAC/Amp and rBlink Bluetooth DAC

Arcam sent over two products meant to solve two problems for the modern music lover. Of the two the rPac is the gem. I love this little thing. It is a fantastic product with a musical presentation well suited to desktop listening. I highly recommend it.

The rBlink is a good solution with good performance for those not invested in the iOS world. Personally if the rPac had a Bluetooth option or was offered with Bluetooth it would be a better solution than the rBlink. Which brings me to my wish list Arcam. Please make the rPac with variable output RCA connections and a mute on those outputs when headphones are plugged in. Make those changes and the rPac will be a nearly unbeatable product that can take on much more expensive USB DACs.