Arcam is so proud of its upcoming A49 integrated amplifier, that the company demonstrated it at special events across southern Ontario at various audio / video retailers. The tour wrapped up at Bay Bloor Radio last Saturday. I had the pleasure of sitting down and hearing all about it with Andy Moore, Product Manager from Arcam UK, and Mario Cadoret, Arcam Brand Manager at Canadian distributor Erikson Consumer. Of course, I also had a chance to give the new integrated amp a good listen.
When Arcam set out to design the A49, it aimed to design not just the best sounding Arcam integrated amp but the best sounding integrated amplifier period - a tall order indeed. No budgetary constraints were placed on the design of the A49.
Andy Moore explained to me what makes the A49 special is its Class G amplification. Unlike Class A or Class AB amplifier designs which use a single pair of supply rails available to the output transistors, Arcam’s Class G uses two pairs of supply rails. One pair of these supply rails allows the A49 integrated amp to operate in pure Class A mode in up to 50 watts per channel. When more power is required, the second pair of supply rails provides more energy, allowing the A49 to output up to 200 watts per channel. The Class G design not only achieves a much higher efficiency than other amp designs, it also completely eliminates crossover distortion associated with Class AB designs. The Arcam A49 is rated at 200 watts RMS per channel x 2 channels, at 8 Ohms, and 400 watts RMS x 2 channels, at 4 Ohms.
When listening to music, the A49 operates in Class A mode nearly all the time, since most music that we listen to requires just a few watts of power. It’s only during dynamic peaks or when listening very loud that the additional power, above 50 watts per channel, is required. What this translates into is the highest level of musical performance.
Other design factors that distinguish the A49 from other integrated amps include the use of different sizes of capacitors for the low voltage supply rails, and the high voltage supply rails; the use of multiple output devices running in parallel; and the highest quality volume control which uses a resistor ladder.
Andy and Mario demonstrated the A49 integrated amp’s capabilities with two different floor standing speakers, the Sonus Faber Guarneri evolution and the Totem Element Metal. The music was provided by JRiver software from a PC, running through an Arcam D33 DAC ($3,599). They played a great selection of tracks for me, ranging from Prince to Elvis Presley to classical pieces.
I was immediately impressed with the A49′s sound quality after hearing the first song. This turned out to be a little bit of trick however - as the song played was a just a 320kbps MP3. The point here was to demonstrate the performance of the Arcam Mini Blink Bluetooth DAC ($179), which streamed the MP3 song from Andy’s iPhone. The quality of the sound was very impressive indeed. An Arcam airDAC ($849) was also ready for auditioning inside the room.
With CD-quality and high-resolution material, the A49 demonstrated its true might. Musical detail retrieval was superb. The soundstage had excellent definition, with lots of air between the instruments and vocals, and stretched far beyond the boundaries of the speakers. Instruments in the high frequencies played with crispness and perfectly natural decay. Bass notes on the other hand were powerful, tuneful and very well articulated. Vocals sounded strikingly real - for a moment with my eyes closed I felt like Elvis was in the room. When a dynamic classical piece reached the peak of a crescendo, the A49 instantaneously provided the necessary power.
What is the A49′s sonic signature you ask? None actually. It adds nothing to the sound, and it takes nothing away. It simply plays everything with the purity and realism of the original recording. What this means is that you’ll get to hear every nuance of the recording, from individual string plucks to a performer’s lips making contact with the microphone. Now that’s what I call palpable.
The Arcam A49 integrated amplifier is a brilliant performer. I enjoyed its sound so much, before leaving I asked Mario to send us one for review for an upcoming issue of CANADA HiFi. The A49 will be available this July for $6,250, and I can’t wait to give it an extended listen in my own space.
For more info, please check out www.arcam.co.uk