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Focal Arche headphone DAC and amplifier
It’s been no longer as much as 10 years since Focal entered the headphone market, but in that short time, the company has established itself as one amongst the preeminent makers of extremely-high-constancy cans. TechHive has reviewed four models up to now—the Sure, Elegia, Radiance, and Stellia—and all had been judged to be ultimate, though they are going to situation you relief pretty a moderately penny.
To round out its headphone-connected portfolio, Focal currently supplied the Arche DAC/headphone amp. Does it pick the identical rarefied heights of efficiency as the company’s cans? Is it a match for the fine Stellia (which I had available for this overview)? The answer is a resounding yes!
Whereas it is possible you’ll most possible pull the trigger sooner than the atomize of 2020, and likewise you already own a Focal Sure, Stellia, or Utopia headphone, Focal provides you a $1,000 voucher that it is possible you’ll most possible apply to your Arche spend. You’ll gain more critical aspects on that at the atomize of this overview.
The Arche is a stable brick measuring 7.8 x 2.5 x 11.4 inches (WxHxD) and weighing a hefty 10.25 kilos—the build quality is clearly of the supreme snarl. Within, the electronics are no longer any less impressive. The DAC (digital-to-analog converter) is an AK4490 from Asahi Kasei Microdevices that provides two channels of conversion for PCM as much as 768kHz at 32 bits and DSD as much as 11.2MHz (aka DSD256). The Arche’s inputs, nonetheless, have a miniature lower limits, which I’ll focus on rapidly.
One feature that’s missing is the flexibility to decode MQA (Grasp Quality Authenticated) files. MQA is a lossless encoding plan developed by Meridian that reduces the scale and bandwidth requirements of high-resolution audio files. MQA titles from a provider akin to Tidal have to be decoded sooner than being despatched to the Arche.
Real to its audiophile aspirations, the amplifier section is an completely dual-mono, pure Class A, completely balanced gain that provides as much as 1 watt/channel at 1 kHz for headphones with an enter impedance of no longer as much as 32 ohms. The amp can drive impedances from 16 to 600 ohms with a frequency response from 10Hz to 100kHz, THD no longer as much as 0.001%, and signal-to-noise ratio elevated than 116dB at 32 ohms. Those are some severely impressive specs!
Curiously, the Arche provides several presets that tailor the amp in various ways. As an instance, there are presets that match the impedance of the amp to the impedance of 5 Focal high-atomize headphones—Sure, Elear, Elegia, Stellia, and Utopia. In addition, there are two extra presets: Voltage and Hybrid. Because it is possible you’ll even demand, the Voltage setting puts the amp in voltage mode, whereas the Hybrid setting is a combination of voltage- and newest-mode amplification. Per the company, the Voltage setting is designed to sound tube-love, whereas Hybrid is speculated to gain more of a stable-remark sound.
On the relief panel are three digital-audio inputs—coax and optical Toslink S/PDIF and a USB-B port—along with a pair of unbalanced RCA analog-audio inputs. Also on the relief are a pair of balanced XLR outputs and a pair of unbalanced RCA outputs, which let you utilize the Arche as a standalone DAC in a 2-channel audio machine. Rounding out the relief panel is a USB-A connector that is outmoded to update the firmware, a energy on/off switch, and an AC energy-cord receptacle.
The coax and optical inputs are restricted to PCM digital-audio resolutions as much as 192kHz at 24 bits. I tried to search out out the utmost PCM resolution of the USB enter, but Focal did no longer answer to this request by the purpose this overview became due. DSD may perchance even also be accredited totally by the USB enter. In all circumstances, the digital-audio signal is converted to 384kHz/32-bit PCM internally.
The front panel has a center-mounted electroluminescent (EL) conceal with a gigantic multifunction knob to its fair correct and two headphone outputs to its left. In its default mode, the conceal reveals the volume setting and chosen enter, whereas the knob adjusts the volume. Whereas you adjust the volume, the conceal moreover reveals the retract setting (low or high) and the PCM sample price of the incoming signal. Press the knob twice to conceal the principle menu, flip the knob to steal the parameter you are searching to tweak, and press the knob to steal that parameter.
Truly, there are two pages of parameters. The principle page entails enter different, retract (low/high), phase (fashioned/reverse), and amplifier (which helps you to defend shut out an amplifier preset). The 2d menu page lets you back a watch on the brightness of the conceal, enable or disable sleep mode after a period of remark of being inactive, reset the unit to manufacturing unit condition, and conceal the firmware model and serial different of the unit.
The two headphone outputs comprise a fashioned 1/4-fling unbalanced output and a 4-pin balanced XLR output to utilize with the corresponding cable incorporated with Focal’s headphones. After I reviewed the Stellia, I believed the connection to every earcup became no longer balanced because the connector to the earcup has totally two conductors, which my contact confirmed. For the time being, it didn’t in actual fact topic, since I became utilizing the unbalanced cable anyway.
With the Arche, nonetheless, I would utilize the 4-pin balanced cable, so I mandatory to check that the headphone itself would now not have balanced inner wiring. This time, the company acknowledged the inner wiring is, if truth be told, balanced. Wait, what? I finally got the account straight after speaking with the Focal product manager.
With that 4-pin cable, two of the pins elevate the trail and detrimental signals for the left channel and the different two pins elevate the trail and detrimental signals for the nice channel. The two conductors on the connectors for every earcup elevate the trail and detrimental signals for that channel to opposite ends of the converse coil, which is the definition of a balanced configuration. By contrast, in an unbalanced connection, the converse coil is pushed totally by the trail signal; the detrimental ends of each converse coils are tied together and to a total ground.
One nice contact is the stable-aluminum headphone stand that contains the Arche. You insert it into one amongst the slots on the atomize of the unit, and likewise it is possible you’ll most possible hold your headphones on it in express that they don’t gain lost.
Connection, Settings, Cables
I started by connecting the Stellia headphone to the Arche utilizing the 4-pin XLR cable. Subsequent, I connected my iPhone XS to the Arche’s USB enter utilizing a Lightning-to-USB digicam adaptor and a USB-A-to-USB-B cable. After I turned on the Arche, the mobile phone reported that the tool requires too much energy and wouldn’t connect. Why would the Arche require any energy in any admire? It’s plugged into an AC wall socket.
After I requested Focal about this, they acknowledged this is a known scenario with some DAC/amps, though they are no longer certain why it happens. They imply utilizing the Apple Lightning-to-USB 3 digicam adaptor, which has a separate Lightning port that it is possible you’ll most possible connect with energy. This is somewhat kludgy, and I doubt that many participants will utilize the Arche with their iPhone anyway.
So, I connected the Arche to my iMac by technique of USB and done tracks from the Tidal Grasp library utilizing the Tidal app, which worked fine. For the duration of my preliminary listening, I tried different amp presets, but I heard practically about no contrast in any admire. The Sure preset may perchance even had been fair correct a tad brighter than the others, but the adaptation became so diminutive that it will most likely without concerns be dismissed. I think it will most likely gain an even bigger contrast with headphones which have a much elevated impedance.
I moreover tried the Voltage and Hybrid settings. The Voltage setting became moderately louder and richer, and the sound became a bit of more conceal. I ended up sticking with the Stellia preset for many of my listening, but I may perchance positively peek how the Voltage setting may perchance even be appealing.
In addition, I tried the high and low retract settings. As anticipated, they sounded the identical excluding for stage; I may perchance without concerns match the perceived stage at each settings with the volume knob. I became tickled to gaze that the Arche comes out of sleep mode with the volume situation to 20, it would now not topic what the stage became when it went to sleep, which is big to defend up faraway from substandard surprises.
My final comparability became between the balanced and unbalanced cables. Again, the adaptation became very minor. The balanced connection sounded moderately more open and conceal, but no longer by much. Aloof, I imply utilizing it with the Arche.
It’s December as I write this, so I started with Jacob Collier’s recent single, “The Christmas Song.” It is miles a rich, dense, a cappella association that’s traditional Collier with fair correct moderately of synth bells and a melodica solo. It reveals a huge pitch and dynamic fluctuate, and the Arche rendered all the pieces beautifully. The lead vocal became entirely pure, and the backing vocals had been perfectly balanced in a transparent, open presentation.
I’m a mountainous fan of Donald Fagen, co-founder of Steely Dan, so I cued up the title notice from his 2006 solo album Morph the Cat. It starts with a low bass line, which sounded deep and rich from the Arche. The vocals, horns, guitar, electric piano, and drums had been in an analogous fashion stunning—effectively-balanced with unbelievable imaging.
For some rather out-there jazz, I listened to “Autumn Pleiades” from Dimensional Stardust by Care for Mazurek and Exploding Neatly-known person Orchestra. This fragment is in the musical originate of a canon done by a gigantic jazz orchestra, slowly building by including devices and melodic diversifications over a repeating bass line and harmonic development. All devices had been clearly delineated, yet they formed a cohesive complete in a neat, open sound stage.
Solo piano is continually a peril for any audio machine, so I listened to “Over the Rainbow” from Dave Brubeck’s album Lullabies. The sound of the piano became rich, effectively-balanced, and open with no set up of congestion.
Belief to be one of my popular discoveries this year is “Lonely By myself” from the album Threads by Sheryl Crow. On a selection of the tracks, she’s joined by infamous singers—in this case, Willie Nelson. It’s an amazing mix, deep and immersive, practically as if it’s in surround. The vocals by Crow and Nelson had been entirely pure and fair correct up front, whereas the remainder of the devices, including deep bass, guitar, brush drums, organ, and harmonica, had been clearly delineated within a wonderfully cohesive complete. This is the correct plan to mix a country music!
And now for one thing totally different: “Scuba Scuba” from Underwater Sunlight by Tangerine Dream. This rhythmic ambient notice is practically entirely electronic with a huge frequency fluctuate and hundreds stereo results. The Arche rendered all of it beautifully: neat, trail, and open.
For some classical music, I listened to the principle circulation of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Mandolins in G Most most important as done by Avi Avital, Alon Sariel, and the Venice Baroque Orchestra on Artwork of the Mandolin. As I had plan to demand, the sound became neat and open; I may perchance hear every mandolin clearly along with every section of the orchestra. Even the neat-low notes from the theorbo came through beautifully.
Within the atomize, I cued up “The Sizable Gate of Kiev” from Mussorgsky’s Photos at an Exhibition as orchestrated by Ravel and done by the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Simon Rattle. This fragment has huge dynamic fluctuate from neat-restful passages to a crashing finale, and I may perchance hear every section and solo instrument clearly. I became surprised, nonetheless, that the total sound became moderately restrained—no longer veiled or congested, fair correct no longer as conceal as I had heard on other tracks.
I wondered if it became the recording, so I done any other mountainous orchestral popular, “Pines of the Appian Method” from Respighi’s Pines of Rome as done by Filharmonica della Scala under Riccardo Chailly. Critically better! The total sound became more conceal and unrestrained, and the practically subterranean bass drum came through beautifully.
The Arche is a great companion for any of Focal’s high-atomize headphones as effectively as fair correct about any headphones you care to utilize with it. Its sound quality is impeccable: neat, trail, open, and utterly neutral. Every notice I done sounded totally pure with no congestion, huge dynamic fluctuate, and straight forward reproduction correct during the total audible frequency spectrum.
The feature situation is equally impressive. It provides impedance-matching presets for Focal’s headphones along with other settings to optimize the output for a mountainous different of cans and a fluctuate of inputs and outputs. It will even act as a standalone, completely balanced DAC for speaker-basically basically based 2-channel audio programs. The totally thing missing is MQA decoding.
Because it is possible you’ll even demand, all that ability and efficiency doesn’t strategy low-rate: The Arche’s list rate is a whopping $2,490. Nonetheless whenever you’re alive to with investing in a single amongst Focal’s high-atomize headphones and a connected headphone amp, the company is offering some enormous bundle deals on Amazon during the atomize of the year. It is possible you’ll gain the Arche and Sure for $3000 (a savings of $980 off the separate prices), the Arche and Stellia for $4,000 (a savings of $1,480), or the Arche and Utopia for $5,000 (a savings of $1,480).
And whenever you already own a form of headphones, Focal is offering a $1,000 voucher toward the spend of an Arche during the atomize of 2020; click on right here for critical aspects.
Whereas you’re a headphone fanatic with very deep pockets, the Focal Arche is a vital funding for your listening pleasure. And whenever you moreover have a high-atomize 2-channel audio rig, the Arche can support double accountability as a good DAC with an completely balanced output. That’s two parts for the value of one, which makes it a smooth funding in my ebook.
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Focal Arche headphone DAC and amplifier
The Arche is a ideally suited companion to any of Focal’s high-atomize headphones, with unbelievable sound, distinctive build quality, and extensive feature situation—but a cost set up to match.
- Fantastic sound: open, trail, neutral
- Dual-mono, pure Class A, completely balanced amplification
- High-notch build quality
- Can support as a standalone DAC with balanced and unbalanced outputs
- Doesn’t decode MQA
- Very expensive