There’s a wave of change washing over audiophilia lately, as audiophiles sidestep the impulse toward extreme separation (dual mono preamps, monoblocs, DACs for each channel driven by some central outboard clock, etc) and instead are embracing integration once again. Though hardly a rush into the arms of those Borg-like “receivers” that blankly corrupt shelf after shelf in any Big Box Retailer from sea to shining sea, this embrace of the integrated amp may be emblematic of some overarching need for simplifying life generally … and audio, in particular.
Integrated amps offer varying levels of features – and, of course, the more features they offer the closer they come to landing in that dreaded “receiver” category – so there’s always an interesting balance of feature-richness vs. audiophile sparseness that manufacturers try to strike as they walk the tightrope stretched between the audiophile market and the general consumer electronics world. AM/FM tuners are verboten, of course, but that hasn’t stopped some from offering internal DACs compatible with USB outputs on computers (Hello, internet radio …) – thus narrowly skidding the boundary of receiverhood on a technicality. Not that there’s anything wrong with that …
But some just go for the sheer, austere elegance of a narrowly-purposed box built for high-performance rather than feature-richness. It all costs money, and manufacturers compete in the arena around price point – manufacturers must make choices between parts quality, robustness, performance and function-features such as internal DACs and the extra digital inputs they require. In Arcam’s case, it seems they have chosen to go a little retro and include a nice little phono stage instead of an inboard DAC – a welcome shift of gears for this old vinyl hound, and maybe a risk on their part. But that aside, there’s little to be said for a “feature set” on the A19. At it’s $1k price point, that means Arcam very likely stuck to the conservative approach and made it as high performance as possible. Good parts, strict build, no nonsense.
Hans Wetzel exposes the A19 for all its guts and glory in his review for Soundstage’s (newly-renamed) “ACCESS” webzine, where you can read why the A19 deserved his “Reviewer’s Choice” award.