Arcam rDAC Vs CA CDP and B&W Vs MT Kestrels

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by petefeet, Feb 21, 2014.

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  1. petefeet

    petefeet
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    I've had alot of benefit from research on avf, hifiwigwam, stereophile, whf, etc - so thought I'd post this in case it interests anyone.

    For years I've been happily running:
    Arcam Alpha 5+ CDP
    Arcam Alpha 6 amp
    Roku m1001 (phono)
    Musical Technology Kestrel floor standing speakers
    Cost me £260 in total years and years ago

    Been toying with surround options, did some listening sessions and ended up deciding to upgrade my hifi while I think on it. In the course of doing this wanted to validate my choices and assess my old speakers.

    First thing to say is that Alpha 6 to DiVA biamped setup is a huge improvement in detail, soundstage, and power, but then you knew that.

    Test kit

    Roku m1001 (playing uncompressed FLACs over UTP cable)
    Arcam rDAC (from Roku via digital optical) Vs borrowed Cambridge Audio 640c v1 CDP
    Arcam DiVA P75+ & A65+ biamped
    Musical Technology Kestrel floor standing speakers
    Vs borrowed B&W DM610 S3

    Listening notes

    Rasmus "Music is Love"
    Unkle "Back and Forth" and "Eye for an Eye"
    Led Zeppelin "I Can't Quit You Baby"

    Roku m1001 - Optical Digital - Arcam rDAC - Phono - Arcam P75+ & A65+ - Musical Technology Ravens:
    Bass slightly less pronounced than either CA setup, no less detailed, just quieter and less front and centre.
    CA azur 640C - Coax Digital - Arcam rDAC - Phono - Arcam P75+ & A65+ - Musical Technology Ravens:
    Nothing much to differentiate over the above. Felt an improvement in timing, perhaps a hint wider soundstage and better separation - but these were all so slight that they could have been imagined. Perhaps imagined as it's hard to believe that the CA and rDAC DACs could sound so identical - expected to hear the Arcam sound, but didn't.
    CA azur 640C - Phono - Arcam P75+ & A65+ - Musical Technology Ravens:
    Pretty much identical to both the above rDAC setups. Probably closer to the other CA setup than the Roku - rDAC. Similar almost imperceptible improvements over the Roku - rDAC setup.
    Roku m1001 - Phono - Arcam P75+ & A65+ - Musical Technology Ravens:
    Muddy, confused, quiet (even when volume increased - volume just enhanced muddiness), almost some feedback attributes... no comparison.

    Edit: It seems that the 640c uses the Wolfson 8740 DAC chip, while the rDAC uses the 8741 (being newer). The 640c v2 also uses the 8740, as does the Arcam DiVA CD73.

    Summary:
    Roku phono is rubbish
    CA Digital or Phono pretty much identical. Better bass than Roku Digital and *perhaps* a more precise sound, *perhaps*.
    For me, perhaps worth getting an integrated streamer and DAC (Marantz NA7004, Pioneer n50, Yamaha cd-n500 or Denon DNP-720AE - in that order) and sell the rDAC.
    Will also be looking at picking up a m1000 or m2000 to replace the m1001.
    I may be limited in the differences I can hear by my 'warm' Arcam amps and resonant floor standers. Comparing with different speakers might be an idea.

    So...

    Borrowed some speakers for comparison.

    Comparing B&W DM601 S3 with Kestrels

    Well, first impressions...
    B&Ws have more powerful bass, but it's a but muddy.
    Generally more in your face and brighter in the treble.
    Mids come through with elements that don't on the Kestrels.

    Kestrels have lots of resonance by comparison, but it's not 'echoy', it's pleasant and detailed.
    The bass is less powerful, but more refined.
    Treble isn't quite as bright, and mids are not as clear - but this complements the rest of the speaker attributes well.

    Overall, the Kestrels sound further back by comparison, and everything's less discrete but there were still elements that only came through on the Kestrel's, mainly in the bass.

    The bass on the B&Ws could have had alot to do with them sitting on the floor standers, rather than direct on their own metal.

    I think I'd want a sub with the B&Ws, then they'd be better. Without this, the Kestrels are not a disappointment and have since better attributes. However, need to try with stands, and similar modern floor standers may well be the very thing.

    Further impressions...

    Mudie's All Stars "Loran's Dance"
    Lots of bass on this one, I mean lots. But piano and brass too.
    On the Kestrels the bass is powerful and resonant, but on the B&Ws it's less powerful and less detailed.
    The Kestrels have more punch and liveliness on the piano and brass.
    Kind of different to the feeling with the previous report... Hmm... What do the B&Ws really excel at? I'm thinking perhaps something light with reduced bass...

    Attila Fias Quartet "Summertime"
    Piano with some backing percussion and double bass...
    B&Ws: Detailed, airy, clean, very pleasant. Double bass clear, Cymbal sweeps strong
    Kestrels: Less airy, but more pleasant, even with there being slightly less clarity, but more character.
    Can feel the strings of the Double bass, more nuanced, cymbal sweeps more in the background.
    Interesting

    Beastie Boys... "Intergalactic"
    Kestrels: Bit muffled. Nice detail on the electronics.
    B&Ws: still a bit muffled, guess that's the production. More in your face though. Electronics in the mid more detailed. Hmmm... More exciting, more detail in some places

    Tribe Called Quest "Pressure"
    Sounds much better on the Kestrels

    Chemical Brothers "Hey Boy Hey Girl"
    No contest, B&Ws win hands down
    This seems to be what these were designed for

    G. Love & Special Sauce "Baby's Got Sauce"
    A track with very little bass
    All the same differences, airy discrete B&Ws vs warm Kestrels, but not much to pick between them
     

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