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Arcam rHead headphone amplifier review

Arcam rHead headphone amplifier

£399
8.7

Build quality

9.0/10

Design

8.5/10

Ease of use

9.0/10

Sound quality

8.5/10

Value

8.5/10

Pros

  • Sound quality
  • Build quality
  • Uncomplicated
  • Dual headphone ports
  • Compact size

Cons

  • Might be plain-looking to some

arcam rhead reviewArcam will be an audio brand most are familiar with. I have been given the opportunity to live with the rHead headphone amplifier for a few weeks.

I have owned a variety of Arcam products in my time. The most recent being the irDAC that has sat in my system for the last three years.

Arcam have been around since 1976 when they were known as A&R Cambridge (ARCam).

Today I shall be looking at the headphone amp from their rSeries of components.

The rHead is designed to work with just about any headphone, from high-performance over ear models to tiny, highly efficient balanced armature earbuds.

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Arcam rHead design

Arcam’s rHead looks and feels as solid as a very solid thing.

Built like a tank and shaped like a very sexy brick.

These are all supposed to be compliments by the way.

The rHead’s cast aluminium case is compact at 194 x 44 x 135mm (WxHxD). However, it does tip the scales at 0.71kg. The little chunkster.

arcam rhead amp frontOn the front panel is a large chrome knob that switches the amp on and off, as well as acting as the volume dial. At the other end of the fascia are a 3.5 and 6.35mm input for your cans. No need to go scrabbling for adapters here.

arcam rhead rear portsAround the rear you will find both RCA and balanced XLR inputs. You switch between these using a… err.. switch.

On the bottom of the unit is a vibration damped non-slip rubber base.

Arcam really appear to be masters of simplicity.

Arcam rHead performance

Outside might be uncluttered and straightforward but that’s because all the clever stuff is happening inside.

Amplifier

Here you’ll find fully discrete class A amplification. Maximum output is 2 full Watts per channel at 16 ohms, and 1.1 Watts into a 32 ohm load. A 300 ohm loads sees 0.13W.

Output impedance is less than 0.5 Ohms for maximum compatibility with various headphones and in-ear monitors.

Are you with me so far?

Volume

The volume control is silky smooth and there’s good reason for this. Arcam has lifted it from their A49 integrated, which is pricey.

arcam rhead front angle headphone portsThis is an “ultra-linear analogue resistive ladder” volume control. To the listener this all means that you can expect perfect channel matching even at low levels, along with very low distortion and crosstalk.

Volume goes up and down in precise 1db steps and during my time with the rHead I have had no noise from the control at all.

Sound quality

Unplugging in my Oppo PM-1 headphones from my little V90 HPA and inserting them in to the Arcam rHEad I was hoping to be wowed.

I wasn’t.

Stay with me folks.

It’s not that I wasn’t impressed, I just wasn’t thrown back in to my seat with excitement. Nor should I have been.

You see, the rHead is able to deliver such a natural, dare I say, neutral performance that you almost don’t notice it.

It performs with such a relaxed air of confidence that you just take it for granted. You know that workmate that has to shout about every little task they complete? Well, this is the other one that just gets things done, and does them well. No shouting, no seeking praise. Just quiet awesomeness.

Power and control

When I said “quiet awesomeness” don’t think that this amp hasn’t got it where it counts. It drives my PM-1, PM-3 and the Noble Savana plenty loud enough.

As we all know, power is nothing without out control.

arcam rhead rear angleThe soundstage and imaging from the Arcam really left my little Musical Fidelity behind. The sense of depth and scale is amazing.

I love the fact that the rHead doesn’t seem to be fatiguing at all. The more I listened to it, the more I wanted to listen to it.

Musicality

Bass comes through defined, weighty and potent. The rHead doesn’t artificially warm the low end, which is how I like it.

At the other end of the range treble and the upper mids are clear and nuanced.

Finally, the mid range has plenty of rich detail. What makes all of this more meaningful is that the backdrop to your music is a velvety, rich black.

There is no unwanted, unnecessary background noise. This is something that I have only ever really experienced when listening through expensive, really expensive, headphones and amps.

arcam rhead reviewHere I was enjoying that same experience through an headphone amp that I could actually afford!

No matter the source; vinyl, CD, tape or NAS, the detail and expression I was getting from the rHead just urged me to play more music.

I really haven’t been this enamoured by a headphone amp since I tested the Prism Callia DAC/Pre/Headphone amp. That was £1800 worth of loveliness though.

Arcam rHead review conclusion

The Arcam rHead headphone amp is marvelous for the money.

It’s a clean, articulate and neutral. The rHead comes in to do a job and it does it without fuss, over-complicating things or messing with your audio.

Furthermore, the Arcam rHead should be the benchmark other brands should be using at this price point.

Arcam rHead price and availability

You can treat yourself to the rHead now for £399 from most good Hi-Fi stores.

Amazon currently has it for £319 with free delivery if you have Prime.

Arcam rHead headphone amplifier review

by Jay Garrett time to read: 4 min
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