ARCAM rPLAY music streamer
+ Clarity, full-bodied sound and minimalist design.
– Signal drop in wireless mode and cluttered app; no DSD.
IF one talked about streaming music about 10 years ago, it would either end up as a laughing matter or heated debate. Today, however, every other digital hi-fi component is equipped with technology to cater for streaming needs. From standalone DACs to portables to media players, many products are now able to meet the requirement. The demand is also extended towards AV products. Of course, like each type of hi-fi kit, streamers also come in various ranges.
The rPlay is the latest offering from Arcam under its rSeries family. I purchased one of the company’s earlier rSeries product in 2010, a standalone DAC called rDAC and it was sitting in my system for a few years before I got into high-resolution audio. The rPlay comes in the traditional mini-size (194 x 44 x 124 mm) enclosure with minimal buttons and LED indicators on the front and top panel. Weighing just slightly over 1kg, this unit must be one of the smallest streamers I have ever seen.
Don’t be fooled by its size though. The rPlay is capable of not only streaming various digital files (WAV, MP3, AAC, FLAC etc) from your PC or NAS on your home network of up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution, but also incorporates major online streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music, Napster and also Internet Radio. Besides that, it also offers tApple-based fans the Airplay function to stream directly from an iPad/iPod/iPhone.
On the circuitry side, the rPlay uses a Texas Instruments PCM5102 DAC, hence it is actually a plug-and-play device. You can connect it directly to your amp, and once set up, you can stream music directly without the need of a separate DAC. However, Arcam is generous enough to offer an SPDIF output if you fancy exploring higher-grade DACs. The unit also offers variable and fixed outputs so you have a choice of using either its internal digital volume control with a power amp, or connecting it to your integrated amp.
Although it is a plug-and-play unit, you will still need to set up communication with your home network. Once you have plugged in the power supply and RCA interconnect, download the DTS Play-Fi app from either the Google Play or Apple App store. It is recommended that the network cable to be used at this stage as you may have to download a firmware update, which can take about 10 minutes. I experienced some issues setting up when the unit was on wireless mode.
The app will then guide you, step by step, to link the rPlay to your network. Once you have done this, you will be able to see any PC or NAS made available on the app. For myself, it was a Western Digital NAS and Sony HAP-Z1ES HDD.
The network interface for the rPlay seems to be more stable when it is on wired mode. I experienced signal drop-outs on certain occasions, especially when playing higher resolution files. This, even with my wireless router just two feet away and in clear line of sight.
On Here We Go Again (WAV 24/192), the rPlay’s ability to present the soulful vocals of Norah Jones and Ray Charles was the highlight of the review. Jones’ vocals sounded seductive while Charles’ voice sounded very deep with the typical slightly husky moments. It was one of the sessions that allowed me to close my eyes and imagine that this duet was being perform live in my living room. With the right level of clarity, the sound of the soft wire brush and rim shot on the snare created quite a soothing atmosphere and when the keyboard kicked in, the energy level of the track was raised nicely by the rPlay. On another streamer I owned about five years ago, this track can sound quite flat with no emotions felt from the duo. The rPlay delivers quite a remarkable level of detail from good recordings like this one.
The piano introduction on Strange Meadow Lark (WAV 24/96) by the Dave Brubeck Quartet was very warm and the rPlay just built the tempo of the track nicely. By the time the saxophone and percussion came in, the rPlay gave an even a more convincing performance, whereby the mids and highs of this track are quite transparent and provide a substantive soundstage.
With the track For No Apparent Reason by Anouar Brahem (WAV 24/192), there was no doubt that the rPlay can belt out the deep bass that this track could offer. The clarity of the guitar plucking can easily mesmerise the listener with no sign of fatigue that one might experience on prolonged playback of digital files. The background vocals (or humming) further confirmed the level of soundstaging the rPlay can provide. It sounded huge compared to the size of the unit.
And how about heavier music like Enter Sandman by Metallica (FLAC 24/192)? The rPlay belted out this track with quite a bang. Again, detail and clarity seem to be its forte. It brings out the various frequencies of highs, mids and lows with a good level of transparency. Quite neutral, I would say. The rPlay, however, does not bring out the same impact when MP3 files are played. It sounds flatter and compressed.
The MP3 version of this track did not deliver the same energised adrenalin-pumping experience. On Spotify, in general, the sound is pretty decent but it will not be sufficient to fulfil the audio quality standard that one would expect from high-resolution audio.
The DTS Play Fi app will also link the Spotify app on your phone or tablet to its own interface.
THE LAST WORD
Music streaming has become a norm now regardless of how other formats are maintaining their share of the industry. The rPlay is quite a bargain with most online streaming service savailable on this unit.
With good quality digital files, the rPlay delivers quite an honest presentation of music into your system. One drawback, however, is the inability to play DSD files. If there is a way to allow future upgrades to DSD, this unit would be even more attractive.
The app seems to be a bit cluttered and unorganised but worked flawlessly, including extracting the metadata and artwork of the files and displaying them on the interface.
If you want a simple and basic introduction to streaming digital files, the Arcam rPlay could be the answer for you. It’s a frills-free device that delivers good quality audio reproduction from your digital audio library, especially if you have high quality recordings.
Sources: Western Digital NAS, Sony HAP-Z1ES, Blackberry KeyONE on Android / Amp: Musical Fidelity M6i integrated / Speakers; ProAc Response D18
Malaysian price: RM2,590
Malaysian distributor: A & L Audio Station (+603-2282 9884) / WhatsApp + 6014 8222 333)