REVIEW: ARCAM SA10 / SA20 AMPS WITH CDS50 STREAMING CD PLAYER & REVEL CONCERTA2 M16 SPEAKERS
With the revamped Arcam integrated line-up making headlines we at StereoNET wanted to experience what the first pair of SA amplifiers are capable of - so, that’s what we have done.
Furthermore, we have kept the system all in-house Harman by adding Arcam’s SACD-playing CDS50 disc-spinner. Not only that, we have everything sent out to a pair of Revel Concerta2 M16 standmount loudspeakers.
SA10 and SA20
£699 / £999 Respectively
Streaming CD/SACD Player
Arcam SA10 and SA20 Amplifiers
The Arcam SA10 and SA20 HDA (High Definition Audio) integrated amplifiers, along with the CDS50, are instantly recognisable as Arcam devices. However, the separates have all received a degree of fettling and come wrapped in a softer outer, albeit retaining their Brit-fi edge.
The Arcam SA10 sports five analogue inputs, four of which are RCA terminals with one set switchable for the use of the SA10’s built-in moving magnet phono stage.
Also at the rear are three digital input terminals – one optical and two SPDIF – leading to the amp’s 32bit Sabre ESS9016K2M DAC.
The SA20’s G-Class amplification is simarly hooked-up to four line-level RCA inputs and a moving magnet phono stage. Also present is a trio of digital inputs; two coaxial and one optical. Decoding is taken care of by an ESS Sabre 9038K2M DAC. Interestingly, you are also able to select from seven different filter settings to fine tune the performance of the unit.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the SA20 is equipped with rather chunkier speaker output terminals too.
Oddly, neither of these thoroughly modern amplifiers can accept Bluetooth-streamed tunes.
However, both do boast a front-mounted 3.5mm headphone socket, and a 3.5mm aux-in for when you need to hook something up quick-smart. Additionally, there is an Ethernet connection for IP control of the amps in a multiroom environment. Although it is a pity that you can’t use the port for networked streaming. Perhaps a function to be added via an update at a later date?
The bundled remote can also control the CDS50 CD player and streamer. The remote’s buttons light up and, given slightly darker silver over slightly lighter silver text on the amps’ selection buttons, I found myself keeping that glow-in-the-dark handset close.
On the subject of the CDS50, the rear of this particular unit packs a USB port, digital optical and coaxial outputs as well as phono and balanced XLR outputs. So, you can rest assured that whatever amplification you plan to add the CDS50 to, you have plenty of choice as to the best way of doing so.
Thanks to those connectivity options, the CDS50’s 32-bit/192kHz ESS DAC can also be as used as a standalone DAC/outboard converter for other sources.
The CDS50 can not only play CD and Super Audio CD but is also able to stream digital audio stored on network hard drives, laptops or desktop computers via UPnP and CIFS standards. That opens up WAV, FLAC, AIFF, AAC, OGG, WMA and MP3 to be played on the Arcam player. We found that the CDS50 quickly sniffed out our Plex server without issue.
If we had to picky, and we do feel that is kind of our job here, the CD loading tray isn't the most substantial that we've come across. We realise that it's there to support the weight of a CD and not a Sport's Direct mug of Yorkshire Tea but, still.
All of those components would remain pretty boxes if they weren’t hooked up to some speakers. Thankfully, our Harman care package included a pair of Revel Concerta2 M16 loudspeakers.
Revel Concerta2 M16
We’re surprised that Revel doesn’t get more love than it appears to here in the UK. Whenever we have experienced the brand’s products at shows, they have always performed well and looked good.
The standmount speakers we received are medium-sized and pack a 25mm dome tweeter and a ported 16cm mid/bass driver. Both drivers utilise aluminium diaphragms.
The curved high-gloss cabinet is well-braced to give a relatively inert working environment for the drive units.
On the face of the rather attractive cabinets, the tweeter boasts a dished waveguide that controls its directivity. Furthermore, the acoustic lens – the grille-type thing in front of the tweeter’s dome – also helps too.
The mid/bass aluminium cone is a relatively conventional affair albeit coated on both sides with a ceramic composite to add both stiffness and damping. That said, Revel does have some technical clout, and both drivers sport highly developed motor systems to minimise a range of distortions.
The rear firing port is curved to deliver a high output without adding noise of its own.
With all that said, the £999 standmount speakers are easy to live with. Firstly, positioning is a cinch. As with all rear-ported speakers, pulling them at least 30cm away from the back wall allows them to do their job.
Additionally, thanks to the tweeter’s dispersion, taking the Revel Concerta2 M16 out of the corner of the room pays off and allows them to show what an impressively wide and open sound stage they can produce. The upshot of this is that toeing in appears more to do with personal taste than necessity here.
SA10, CDS50, Revel Concerta2 M16 Review
Sensibly, we started with the SA10 and CDS50 hooked up to the Revel Concerta2 M16 speakers via a set of Jorma Design speaker cables. We also called in the service of the VPI Prime turntable to test the phono section.
We were pleasantly surprised by the sense of scale and richness presented by the 50W per channel, £699 amplifier and £999 speakers as we had recently been listening to a combination considerably more spendy beforehand.
The Class A/B amplifier’s delightfully warm midrange gives keys and strings a sumptuousness while adding a pleasing naturalness to vocals that many in this price band sacrifice in favour of forced clarity.
That said, the S10 isn’t lacking in clarity, either. Thanks to the higher frequencies being similarly handled, both the high-mids and highs provide plenty of insight and detail.
The lower registers are rich but appear to suffer a little in the deepest depths by slightly fuzzy edges. However, things do perk up a tad via the digital ins to our ears.
The CDS50 did very well and put on a brave show. However, we were keen to hear how it performed through the SA20 as, after having the disc spinner already plugged into one of our other amplifiers, we knew that it had more to give.
Dynamics and timing are where we feel the need to shout “your entry-level is showing!” Throwing anything complex at the SA10 could either leave you somewhat satisfied or quite confused with no middle ground in our experience. We felt that this was most apparent via the phono stage. Where we expected grand, mountainous dynamics we found hills. OK, that might be unfair. Let's say, slightly less impressive mountains.
Digital tunes again seem to be better handled, which we can only put down to the skilled DAC. We left the filter set in Linear Phase Fast Roll Off (LinP Fast) which is the SA10’s default setting - No phase shifts and with minimal high-frequency aliasing compared with slow roll off.
SA20, CDS50, Revel Concerta2 M16 Review
Unsurprisingly, the Arcam SA20 is the next tier up in the HRA range of integrated amplifiers.
The SA20 is the most affordable offering to come sporting Arcam’s Class G amplifier topology, delivering just under 20 of its 90Watts in Class A @ 8Ohms.
Instantly, the timing, agility and enthusiasm are improved through the SA20 when compared with its sibling, especially when using the DAC.
Again, the Arcam amplifier supplied the Revels with plenty of warmth and tonal realism. However, the SA20 added a bit more musicality into the mix.
Through the Revels, there was plenty of low-end muscle with the SA20 providing more clarity down here than the SA10 and so performs with plenty of focused punch. We did give the Marten Duke 2 a little try with the amp, and here the bottom end did seem a little bit too generous for our taste but might suit some listeners. However, the Concertas proved to be a Goldilocks sweet spot to our ears when paired with the SA20.
The SA20 always seemed to be egging us on like a nippy little hatchback; it was sometimes difficult not to be tempted to push the amp continuously just for fun.
The ESS DAC doesn’t upset the overall presentation save for a little bit of tightening up in the lows and low mids and perhaps a more defined leading edge in the upper registers. Applying the filters didn’t alter things that much for us. The SA20’s default is Apodizing – A compromise between phase, frequency response and ringing. Its main advantage is that it removes most of the ringing that has been introduced upstream in the recording process at recording and mastering. Oddly, we found that in most cases, we preferred the Linear phase, Slow Roll Off mode as it seemed to cut down on the processed-ness that some of the other settings possessed.
Testing out my set-top box through the SA20’s optical port proved that the DAC’s keen forward edge works well with helping dialogue cut through raucous film scores.
As soon as we pressed play on the Classic Yoyo album we dropped into the CDS50 we were delighted with the combination’s natural and well-detailed presentation. The cello’s lower register is smooth and warm while piano keys, in particular, are articulate.
Changing things up with Raidohead’s Hail To The Theif and, even at the most confusing points, the teamwork of the CDS50, SA20 and Revel Concerta2 M16 proved to deliver an engaging performance.
What we found staggering was the fact that the SA20 is equipped with the very same phono stage as the SA10 but, because of that Class G power stage, LPs through the SA20s sounded so much better to us.
With the VPI Prime plugged in there was very little background noise. The phono produced plenty of impact along with a grown-up sense of control and refinement even when spinning some classic 80s Thrash Metal. Putting Portishead’s Live in NYC album on and there was an impressive amount of realism along with a feeling that you weren’t merely a passenger on this ride; you got a sense of involvement with the artist. The expansive soundstage of the Revel Concerta2 M16 was wholly on show here too. However, the slightly warm treatment of the Arcam SA20 did give some tunes, such as Killing Joke’s War Dance and Nine Inch Nail’s Head Like a Hole an unwanted friendliness.
We did give the headphone amp a quick try with our Oppo PM-1 and, while not useless, we could see most avid can-users adding an external head-amp reasonably swiftly. It’s not a bad amp; it just doesn’t live up to the expectations of what the rest of the SA20 capabilities promise.
Revel Concerta2 M16 Additional Review
As we also could put our hands on some other integrateds at the time of this review, we decided to plug the Revel standmounts into them too to see what happened.
Our main reason for this is that these shiny black speakers seemed to have even more to give than they had shown us. With the SA10 they performed reasonably well, but they seemed to revel (sorry) in the extra grunt provided by the SA20.
So, trying them out with our Musical Fidelity M6si and the YBA IA3A loaner we were rewarded with even more enthusiasm. The M6si can be a bit on the edgy side, but the Concerta2 M16 seemed to keep this aspect of the amp under control. Even with the potent dynamics provided by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the crescendos came through dynamically without harshness.
The Revel speakers are capable of large-scale dynamics that never cease to surprise.
With the YBA integrated and Leftfield’s Leftism, you could be fooled into thinking that the bass response was being produced by a pair of floorstanders, not only in depth and control but musicality and speed.
Firstly we should thank the lovely folk at Harman for sending over all of this kit. While we are no strangers to Arcam equipment, it was a Revel-ation to spend some time with the Concerta2 M16 loudspeakers. Hopefully, it won’t be the last time we see some Revel speakers here at SNUK HQ.
The Arcam SA10 is a solid performer. Furthermore, at £699, it will fend off many similarly priced integrated amplifiers, especially when you consider its range of inputs and the well-spec’d DAC.
However, should you have an extra £300 then the SA20 improves things and will have you rediscovering hidden nuances in old favourites. Additionally, the SA20 is a great partner for extended listening sessions as its presentation leans more to the warm side; it never gets fatiguing or harsh. We also enjoyed its enthusiasm as well as its grip on dynamics and timing
The CDS50 was a bit of a surprise to us. Even though it retains that Arcam warmth, it is still able to produce dynamics and detail by the shed-load. Add to that its streaming chops and SACD playing ability, this is a real jewel in the crown for the HDA range.
Finally, the Revel M16s. The Concerta2 M16 look stunning and would happily sit in a line-up including speakers twice, or even three times their price point. Additionally, their ability should not be overlooked either. Partnered with either the SA10 and SA20 the Revel standmounts are competent speakers that show great dynamism with an impressive and well-sorted soundstage. However, pair them with an even more capable amplifier, and then these speakers will have you grinning like a Cheshire Cat - we are expecting good things from the Arcam SA30, for instance. Ok, granted, there may be more refined performers out there, but we can practically guarantee you that they won’t be as entertaining. We should all pay more attention to Revel as a brand. That’s our takeaway from this.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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