Introduction with irDAC
The last couple of years the Arcam irDAC was practically unbeatable in regards of its price/quality ratio. With the current evolution of digital music reproduction – with the PC or a decent media streamer in combination with a DAC as the most used components by the average modern audiophile – the DAC competition grew larger. But when I wanted to upgrade my Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, the Arcam irDAC was a logical and price conscious choice: almost all trade press praised this little box of wonders, and the irDAC received a number of acclaimed awards, like the product of the year (What HIFI – 2013), best DAC in a price class of 300 up to 500 pounds (What HIFI – 2014), “Best Buy” Award (Home Cinema Choice) & “Top Pick” (Sound & Vision). So it was obvious: time for an upgrade!
When I purchased the Arcam irDAC I had the following components:
- Rega Apollo cd player
- MacBook Pro with Amarra as music software (later replaced by a dedicated audio PC with JRiver Media Center)
- Pioneer BDP-LX52 for reproduction of DVD & BluRay
- Parasound PHP 850 preamplifier / Redson RC-1080 TVC (transformer volume control also known as a passive preamplifier)
- Velleman K4000 valve power amplifier
- Floating Classic II loudspeakers
The irDAC had more connection possibilities and supported a higher bitrate (up to 24 bit / 192 Khz when using the USB input, while the V-DAC ii only supported a sample rate up to 24 bit / 96 Khz). Despite this convulsion of “audiophilia nervosa” I was not disappointed with the purchase. Far from it. It was clear that a better DAC really could make a difference.
Arcam irDAC specifications
- Texas Instruments/Burr-Brown PCM 1796 DAC chipset
- Sample rate up to 24 bit / 192 Khz
- direct-coupled signal path
- 8 seperately regulated power supplies
- jitter reduction as applied in de Arcam D33 DAC, the Arcam flagship DAC
- infrared sensor for remote control (hence the name”ir” – or “infrared”)
Arcam irDAC Connectivity
One of the reasons why I opted for an irDAC was the large amount of connection possibilities. 2x SPDIF (coax) and 2x Toslink (optical) were only rarely offered, especially in a DAC of such budget friendly price. Even today most DAC’s are only equipped with 1x SPDIF and 1x Toslink connection, also in much more expensive DACs. Nevertheless, such extensive connectivity is much needed when you want to connect different digital sources. I am thinking of people that have digital television and want to hook up their set top box but furthermore need decent digital-to-analog conversion for let’s say their cd-player, bluray player, media streamer or game console.
At the time when the irDAC entered my home, I didn’t have a A/V receiver (yet) and my BlyRay player was hooked up via HDMI to my television which in his turn sent the digital signal to the DAC (via the only Toslink input available on my Musical Fidelity V-DAC II). That was far from ideal. A second Toslink proved to be a welcome addition in my setup because now I could send the digital signal of my bBluRay player directly to my DAC, and could use the HDMI connection only for video output. Later, when I purchased a decent A/V receiver (the Marantz flagship AV8003) my possibilities were expanded and I could play Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio natively via HDMI bitstream. But that is reading material for another article.
These are all connections of the Arcam irDAC:
- asynchronous USB 2.0 (choice of class I & class II)
- 2x SPDIF (coax)
- 2x Toslink (optical)
- 1x iPod
- 1 pair RCA outputs
- 12 volt DC (1.5A) adapter
Upgrade for Arcam irDAC: Russ Andrews Powerpak II
When I purchased the irDAC I was fine tuning my installation, and – among other things – experimenting with adding better powerto my system (power filtering, power cables, my first audio grade fuses,…). My DAC and my MacBook Pro were the only components that were not addressed yet. An internet search and the advice of a friend led me to the purchase of a Russ Andrews Powerpak II. This is a separate power adapter that is built to higher specifications than the standard power supply that comes with the irDAC. For example, the internal wiring of the Powerpak II as well as the minijack plug is made by Kimber Kable and are an improvement over the standard adapter.
But above all, this adapter has a power inlet so you can hook up the Arcam with a separate power cable. First I used a Supra LoRad power cable, afterwards a very decent power cable custom made especially for the Arcam by love cable. At that time I already was a big fan of the brand and love cables steadily started to inhabit my entire setup. So the choice was logical. This power supply combination provided a lower noise floor, which gave the sonic presentation more tranquility and control.
Where the V-DAC II could sound thin and boring, it became more “fat” with the Arcam, with more musicality and authority. Every instrument got a richer texture. Further, bass definition improved, with more “slam” and a first impression of “impact”. The stereo image was more open, focused, with more air between the instruments. There was more macro and micro detail present and the reproduction became more natural. Of course these were the differences I heard in comparison with the V-DAC II. When I tested DAC’s in a much higher segment, and implemented them in my setup, a lot of things were improved in a much more profound way. But for this relatively small amount of money, the irDAC was a decent component that performed well above its price point.