Ar­cam IRDAC-II £495

FOR Ex­pan­sive sound­stage; solid bass; vast file sup­port AGAINST Lacks get-up-and-go; beaten for rhythmic pre­ci­sion

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Dacs -

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.

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