Arcam IRDAC-II £495
FOR Expansive soundstage; solid bass; vast file support AGAINST Lacks get-up-and-go; beaten for rhythmic precision
No celebrating its 40th birthday by trading the family Volvo for a two-seater Porsche. Instead Arcam has averted a midlife crisis by refining its successful DAC line. The IRDAC picked up Awards for two years before the Chord Mojo arrived in 2015. So Arcam has struck back with a successor to the IRDAC: the IRDAC-II.
Although the IRDAC-II is from the same gene-pool as its predecessors, changes include new internal circuitry, a headphone amplifier stage and the adoption of an ES9016 Sabre DAC. The headphone-output stage has been taken from Arcam’s flagship A49 amplifier, and aptx Bluetooth (by way of antennae) replaces the USB type-a input found on the IRDAC. Last, but not least, there’s now DSD128 support through the asynchronous USB input, as well as PCM support up to 24-bit/384khz.
There are also two coaxial inputs capable of handling files up to 192khz, and two optical sockets limited to 96khz. As for outputs, there are fixed and variable analogue sockets so you can choose whether to hand over volume controls to another component in your system. The IRDAC-II is well equipped around the back, leaving its front to bear the 3.5mm headphone output.
The IRDAC-II is the size of a chunky book and similar in shape too. It’s solid in your hand and, while more practical than plush when it comes to aesthetics, is well finished. Buttons adorn the top, making it a tactile, hands-on unit. Two input buttons mean you don’t have to skip through all six inputs. There are another two for volume, although we’d prefer a dial or knob for more intuitive control.
Along the front, a light for each input turns from red to green when a signal is detected. When Bluetooth is selected, press the two optical input buttons at the same time to initiate pairing.
Dragging its heels
Maintaining the traditional sonic signature of Arcam’s amplifiers, the IRDAC-II has plenty of muscle. In Ray Lamontagne’s Part One – Hey, No Pressure (24-bit/96khz), guitar riffs have just the right amount of edge, with detail in every corner of the Arcam’s expansive soundstage. It’s a weighty presentation, but there’s also the space, clarity and precision to ensure his strained vocals and drum strokes are just as articulate.
As we move to Michael Jackson’s Working Day and Night (24-bit/96khz),
the Arcam isn’t quite as rhythmically snappy or musically fluid as the Chord Mojo, having a slightly looser hold over the nippy track’s 129-beatsper-minute tempo.
We can’t help but feel that the Arcam drags its heels a little, lacking the verve and sense of convincing enthusiasm to get us toe-tapping along quite as avidly as we’d like.
Roll up the red carpet. It’s safe to say that the Arcam IRDAC-II won’t be quite as well decorated as its ancestors, lacking as it does a little expression and losing out to the Mojo in absolute transparency.
Yet it’s still a recommendable, and welcome, third iteration to one of the most successful DACS we’ve seen, and anyone wanting to boost the sonic performance of their digital library from laptop or hi-fi should consider it for a serious audition.