Arcam DiVA A65
Arcam has a reputation that extends far
beyond its home in the United Kingdom. After all, the company has designed components and
systems for audio enthusiasts around the world for over 20 years. The recently introduced
DiVA series (Digitally integrated Video and Audio) taps into two of the most
prominent trends in present-day audio gear: budget-mindedness and a nod towards
home-theater compatibility. Arcams $599 A65 occupies the middle ground somewhere
between the thousand-button constellation of mass-market A/V receivers and the near-stark
minimalism of megabuck dedicated amplifiers.
Prima Donna on a budget?
With the DiVA line of amplifiers Arcam aims to preserve the
audiophile qualities of well-engineered amplification with the convenience of
multiple-input sources. At heart, the A65 is a 40Wpc (8 ohm) integrated amplifier that
employs sophisticated technology to guarantee simplicity of operation.
The "Digitally integrated" part of DiVA refers to
Arcam's use of microprocessor-controlled operating systems. The volume control, tone
controls, and switching capabilities of the A65 are actually software-driven -- and are
quite complex in their implementation. However, none of this makes the A65 difficult to
use. Twirl the volume knob or punch the buttons, and the integrated amplifier will act
just like any other -- it's only fancy on the inside.
The A65 has construction quality and performance that are
generally found only in expensive specialty-audio products. It features extremely
high-quality component parts, such as its heavy-duty circuit boards and a sophisticated
power supply (the true heart of any amplifier). The Arcam has an integral phono stage
onboard in case you still listen to LPs
The A65 is attractive. It is available with either a silver
or black face, with silver aluminum casework. The front of the amplifier has the tone
controls, along with the push buttons for source, tape monitor, balance, tone-control
bypass, second speaker set, and power button, plus a .25" headphone jack. Small green
LEDs indicate power status and source selection. However, it is difficult to read the
position of the large rotary volume knob, especially from a distance or in a darkened
The A65s rear panel boasts a full complement of RCA
input jacks including DVD, VCR, tape loop, CD, aux, tuner, phono, and a preamplifier
output, which allows you to feed the preamplifier's output into a separate dedicated
amplifier, or to connect powered subwoofers. The ability to add an amplifier (for more
power or to biamp loudspeakers) later on is key to Arcams upgrade path, should you
need it. Two sets of speakers are supported via binding posts with large plastic lugs.
Although the lugs are quite long, their semi-star shape can be somewhat tricky to torque
for a truly firm lockdown. These are a decided upgrade from those you find on many
similarly priced units.
The A65 supports remote control for most of its functions,
including source control, and its included remote is designed to manage a tuner and CD
source as well. The CD section of the remote, for instance, successfully operates both
Arcam's CD72 and the Marantz CC65SE. That said, the Arcam remote is unusually long and,
other than the volume pad, its buttons are all identically shaped, which makes it
difficult to use, especially in dimly lit rooms.
Earwax need not apply
Tori Amos, it could be said, loves the sound of her own
voice -- and thank goodness for that. If she could implant the microphone into her vocal
cords, she probably would. And if she did, you wouldnt miss much on account of the
A65, which thrives on clean female vocals.
On both "Pretty Good Year" and "Bells for
Her" from Under the Pink [Atlantic 82567-2], Amos ranges from whispers to deep
inflections. On these simple, pure passages the A65 threw as solid a center image through
my ProAc Response 2S speakers as any amplifier Ive heard. This was quite impressive.
Amos "God" presents more of a challenge, as
it is both a congested track and one with far wider dynamics. The A65 doesnt balk at
the challenge. It clearly prefers the lighter edge of the dynamic range, however, tilting
"God" more towards heaven than, well, the darker place.
Much the same can be said about pairing the A65 with Fiona
Apples Tidal [Sony 67439]. While Apples smokey and throaty vocals
lumber, Amos' voice flits, jabs, and dives. The A65 keeps pace the entire time, once again
demonstrating a tendency to put the performer on a pedestal front and center. To say the
A65 is very good with female vocals and accurate soundstaging would be an understatement.
The soundstage on both Tidal and Under the Pink
is often firmly centered on the vocals, with accompaniment to the left or right. One
senses the width of the A65s soundstage more keenly than its depth, just as it is
clearly more forward than it is rear.
Arcam equips the A65 with a "direct" button that
bypasses the tone controls. By using a shorter signal path, the direct mode is said to
optimize clean output, which is why hi-fi enthusiasts traditionally opt for components
without tone controls. The rock band Oasis Definitely Maybe [Epic 66431]
poses an interesting challenge. The dirty recording quality of Definitely Maybe was
rendered so cleanly by the A65 that the albums crotch-grabbing effect was
undiminished. Whether this is a testament to the bands musicianship or Arcams
gear is the listeners choice. Whatever the case, you can expect a clean presentation
from the A65 -- unless you're asking it to play pure raunch, in which case, that's exactly
what it will deliver.
New Orders clean synth sound from, say, their The
Best of New Order [PolyGram 422 8285802] was well preserved on both this collection
and the A65. Although quite dance-friendly, New Orders essence of the 80s is
not a subwoofer-hungry style and thus suits the A65 just fine.
The deep end of the audio spectrum isnt only for bass
freaks and hip-hop music. Low bass lends weight and presence to compositions that
otherwise might sound clean but aloft. Sometimes aloft is good. But Scott Walker did not
have lightness of being on the mind when he dreamed up Tilt [Drag City DC134CD].
Walkers grotesquely compelling refraction of what seems like demented show tunes is
plump, and it has a low end that clearly serves to both shadow and haunt the listener.
Here the A65 cant help but seem a little lightheaded, shying away from the depths
Walker insists that we go.
Fiona Apple also employs deep rhythmic propulsion in her
hits from Tidal, and although these beats are also tamed by the A65, her vocals are
so much at the center that you may be too distracted to notice.
The A65s 40Wpc are in part responsible for its polite
edge, especially when driving a more demanding load such as my ProAcs, which admittedly
are a heavy load for such a modestly powered integrated amp. Higher-sensitivity speakers
-- the sort normally paired with integrated amplifiers -- will undoubtedly let the A65
flex a little more muscle and will probably give the sound more weight. When the amplifier
is stressed -- as it was with the Response 2S -- sibilance and edginess arise, though even
then only very slightly. Paired with the appropriate speaker, and in an appropriately
sized room for its power rating, the amplifier will definitely sing for its supper.
Arcams A65 wants to make nice music, and indeed it
can. "Nice" in this case means at moderate volumes in modestly sized rooms. But
paired with the right loudspeakers and used within its limits, it produces accurate,
natural, detailed sound that is true to its source. Despite Arcams use of the DiVA
marketing term, the A65s nods to video are basic: standard audio inputs labeled for
DVD and VCR.
With its video dabbling, tone controls, and bypass switch
for the latter, on its face the A65 does seem like an amplifier somewhat in search of an
identity. At its heart, however, it clearly possesses strengths -- imaging, especially
towards the front and middle of the soundstage, clean details, and lilting vocals. This
degree of un-gimmicky, natural sound is unusual for any integrated amplifier, much
less one priced so reasonably. Even a few years ago, you would have had to purchase
expensive separates to enjoy this degree of tonal purity.
Consider the A65 for one of two reasonable applications.
For the two-channel audiophile, the A65 offers flexibility and accuracy -- not to mention
high-quality parts and performance that offer more than a taste of what the luxurious
specialty brands offer.
As for the audiophile with modest video requirements, the
Arcam A65 can bridge the gap, helping to keep his or her setup simple. Ambitious
videophiles should remember that the A65 does not support switching video inputs or
multichannel surround sound -- but ambitious videophiles would be better served by an A/V
For those of us who just want the best of both worlds --
the Arcam A65 offers us a chance to have it all.
Price of equipment reviewedArcam
DiVA A65 Integrated Amplifier - $599 USD