Am­pli­fier of the Year $1000-$2000

Am­pli­fier of the Year $1000-$2000

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The lat­est HDA range from the UK’s Ar­cam is the first since the com­pany was ac­quired by Har­man (which is it­self owned by Sam­sung). Yet the new range — two in­te­grated am­pli­fiers and a CD player — con­firm that Ar­cam isn’t about to change its ethos un­der new own­er­ship; they con­form to clas­sic Ar­cam val­ues, though of course up­dated for the de­mands of 21st-cen­tury users. Our win­ner is the higher of the two am­pli­fiers, which is distin­guished not so much by ad­di­tional fa­cil­i­ties or abil­i­ties, but by its genre of am­pli­fi­ca­tion. Whereas the $1695 SA10 uses tra­di­tional Class-AB cir­cuits, this SA20 has Ar­cam’s widely-praised ver­sion of Class-G, de­vel­oped by a team in­clud­ing the great John Daw­son. In brief this hy­brid am­pli­fi­ca­tion utilises two power sup­plies, the lower one de­liv­er­ing pure Class-A am­pli­fi­ca­tion up to a cer­tain point, with a sec­ond higher sup­ply added only when “ex­treme” power is re­quired, which Class-A can only do at low ef­fi­ciency (and so with high lev­els of heat gen­er­ated).

Ar­cam’s suc­cess has been in im­ple­ment­ing that crossover point suc­cess­fully, so that the qual­ity of sound be­trays no shift from one to the other; in­deed it proved ex­cep­tional for the price in its clar­ity, trans­parency to source and abil­ity to de­liver not only high lev­els of power but tran­sient im­pact and slam. It’s the first time Class-G has been in­cluded in an Ar­cam amp at this level.

Fa­cil­i­ties are strong, with five ana­logue in­puts in­clud­ing an ex­cel­lent phono stage, plus three dig­i­tal in­puts — two coax­ial, one op­ti­cal, so note there is no USB-B or slot (the rear USB slot is for up­grades only), also no net­work­ing other than for con­trol pur­poses), nor any Blue­tooth stream­ing here. All ana­logue in­puts are line-level RCA, per­haps sur­pris­ing giv­ing the match­ing CD player of­fers bal­anced XLR out­puts.

This is more a clas­sic am­pli­fier in in­put terms, then, not a danc­ing stream­ing new-age do-it-all de­sign, and that plays fur­ther to its pu­rity, its won­der­ful qual­ity of sound. We en­joyed the Class-AB SA10 model as well, but the Class-G of the $1995 SA20 does take per­for­mance to the next level. More info:­vanceau­

JUDGES’ COM­MENT “Ar­cam brings its suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of Class-G am­pli­fi­ca­tion to its clas­sic style of in­te­grated amp with im­pres­sive re­sults — you can en­joy the qual­ity of Class-A for most lis­ten­ing, but with a big bucket of ad­di­tional power in re­serve when us­ing the amp in anger.”

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