Review – Arcam rPAC – High quality audio for your PC you didn’t know you needed – EFTM

Review – Arcam rPAC – High quality audio for your PC you didn’t know you needed

Inside every computer is a little chip called a DAC – Digital to Analog converter – it takes the audio from whatever you’re doing on your PC which is...
Arcam rPAC DAC USB

Inside every computer is a little chip called a DAC – Digital to Analog converter – it takes the audio from whatever you’re doing on your PC which is all 1’s and 0’s and converts them back into Analog signals ready for your simple headphones to receive via that little 3.5mm jack in your PC.  I’ve been listening to a new sound from the same computer but through an external DAC – the Arcam rPAC.

Arcam rPAC DAC USB

Arcam rPAC DAC USB

You’ve got the best headphones, plugged into your computer, and you’re playing audio, or video or even games and think the sound is impressive.  I’ve got news for you – it should and could sound better.

The DAC in every digital technology that outputs audio is the thing which determines just how good things are going to sound – even before you consider the speaker or headphones involved.

Even in the highest quality PC or Mac you’re not getting a super high quality DAC – these are components put onto the motherboard of a computer in the factory and when it comes to which DAC the manufacturer puts on-board you’ll likely find it’s not the most expensive one out there, after all – we want our computers to be affordable, so adding $100 because it has better audio probably won’t cut it.

Arcam rPAC DAC USB

Arcam rPAC DAC USB

So what happens if you have a little black box which has a high-grade DAC inside it and takes a digital audio signal from your PC via USB and does all the hard work for you – giving you a 3.5mm jack ready to output a different sound.

That difference is stark.  I’m no audiophile – in fact my ears aren’t all that great at all.  However when I’ve got a good set of Bose or Sennheiser headphones plugged in I do enjoy being immersed in the music.  So what is the difference.

Arcam rPAC DAC USB

Arcam rPAC DAC USB

I plugged my headphones into my Mac, then back into the Arcam rPAC, then back to the Mac and so on.  I listened to studio recordings and live recordings of concerts – I felt a deeper and fuller sound – not different like you get when you use a set of headphones which claim to boost base or something like that, just a more true and genuine sound.

The clapping in the crowd, the whistles in between those claps, the steady touch of piano keys or the subtle beat of the drums and symbols in the background all seemed to push through more – but not in an overbearing way.  The music was the same, the feeling was the same – but my immediate reaction was a fuller sound – more precise.

Inside this weighty little box is that quality DAC as well as some advanced circuitry which is all fully shielded to eliminate the obvious digital interference that is prevalent around our computers

Arcam rPAC DAC USB

Arcam rPAC DAC USB

We’re talking here about High-resolution audio.  What’s interesting is how often the resolution of screens is discussed, as is the frame-rate of gaming and other high-end applications – we simply wouldn’t settle for a laggy and jittery video experience, so why do we accept a lesser audio output?

Perhaps it’s that we don’t know what we’re missing?  I for one am worried I’ll be questioning the sound of the audio coming from my phone as I sit at work, or my PC without the rPAC.  It is that noticeable.

The fact is, most people can’t appreciate good audio – the test is to try it out and hear it for yourself.

The Arcam rPAC will improve the sound of anything coming from a computer – from low-rate MP3s, AAC files, CD rips and the latest Hi-res downloads. All formats will sound better – and I think even the laziest of ears will notice it.

You won’t find an Arcam rPAC in a mass retail chain, you’ll need to look around at a higher-end audio retailer.  Off the shelf this thing should be around $299, you may find it cheaper if you push hard.

And while you’re getting back up off the floor, consider this – that $299 is a long-term investment.  This is something that works with your current PC as well as your next one, and the one after that.

If you love music, video or gaming on your PC – it’s time to realise that you can and should get a better audio experience.

 

Arcam r-PAC USB DAC / Headphone Amp
Date Published: 04/03/2014
The little black box you didn't realise you needed - creating top-notch audio for your gaming, music or entertainment needs when listening on your PC or Mac
5 / 5 stars

Categories
Tech

Trevor produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He has a weekly radio show on 2UE, as well as appearances across the country and regularly provides Technology Commentary to Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
10 Comments on this post.
  • Graham Connolly (@Gray_Connolly)
    7 April 2014 at 8:32 pm
    Leave a Reply

    Still on the floor over price, how can it be justified I ask??

    • Trevor Long
      7 April 2014 at 8:34 pm
      Leave a Reply

      I guess you gotta hear it to believe it! But also, as I point out in my review – this thing will outlast your PC, so “depreciate” it over 5 years and its a bargain…. no??

  • con.io
    7 April 2014 at 8:42 pm
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    I think this was the theory of HP and other laptop makers doing integrated “Beats Audio” ? putting better DAC’s in notebooks etc .

    • Trevor Long
      8 April 2014 at 9:32 am
      Leave a Reply

      Perhaps, but in reality the Beats concept was around the speaker profile and EQ enhancement, not the DAC itself – so this would be a huge step improvement on that

  • Paul
    7 April 2014 at 10:31 pm
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    I have a mid quality range set of headphones mainly for gaming using a good quality sound card as well. Do u think this will be an improvement over what I already have?

    • Trevor Long
      8 April 2014 at 9:32 am
      Leave a Reply

      Yep, unless your soundcard specifically talks about its DAC then You’ll get an improvement – it’s really up to your ears as to what you notice

  • Will
    9 April 2014 at 9:55 pm
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    I’m a total convert to using a DAC and think it’s a great investment – I’ve been using an Audioquest Dragonfly for the past year or so and love the difference it makes (I use Spotify on a laptop plugged into my Denon DM38 stereo for most of my music). I’ve been trying the Acram this evening to compare against the Dragonfly, and have to say that I can hear a distinct difference BUT only at higher volumes and only for certain types of music. Not sure that the extra quality is worth the extra price and size – but they all sound awesome!

  • Ed Budz
    10 April 2014 at 10:47 am
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    I’ve had the rPac for over a year. While I mainly use it with headphones, plugged into my main stereo system (rPac has RCA jacks as well as headphone input) it competes favorably against my $1600 CD player. I suggest everyone do free trials on the various music player software available for PC and Mac, such as Audirvana, Decibel, etc. Some are free, some costing over $100. I settled on Fidelia (for Mac only, $19.99), which integrates with iTunes library and can play hi-rez files. I tried them all, Fidelia was the most musical, and the latest version puts it over the top of any player regardless of price, including the admittedly sexier and great sounding JRiver for PC or Mac ($50).

  • f3nn3ll
    16 July 2014 at 8:14 pm
    Leave a Reply

    Check out the FiiO E07K, similar but available for $99, much more realistic for most consumers

  • Ed Budz
    17 July 2014 at 1:10 am
    Leave a Reply

    By realistic, do you mean price-wise or sound-wise?

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