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Is the Arcam A65 Plus the best pound-for-pound amp?


plasticpenguin
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I know for sure I'll get slaughtered for even bringing up the subject. Please bear with me and I'll explain why I think it is.

They'll be those who'll say why bother with a Leema if the A65 is good? They are right for bringing up a very justifiable question. As we all know, when it comes to hi-fi, it isn't quite that cut and dried. others will also say yes, but the A75 and the A85 is better, and again with justification. However....

Features:

If you need a amp that will cater the digital brigade the A65 Plus won't be for you, unless, of course, you can budget for a Dac or streamer of some description. As an all-analogue amp it caters for nearly all tastes. It has more inputs, including a wonderful phono stage, and outs for a power amp than you can shake a stick at. It's a fairly lightweight compared to the Sugdens and other audio bruisers, that have a power supply internals the size of a skip. Also has speaker terminals to enable bi-wiring, that's great for the power box hoarders. (Monoblocers make note)

Why do I think it's so good?:

I spent two years looking for a feasible upgrade, but one that would justify the cost. I really struggled. Consequently I pestered (and peed off) many high street dealers in the process. In that period I either home demoed or shop demoed all the popular brands at the time: Various incarnations of Naim Nait 5i, Roksan Kandy LIII, Rotels, including my favourite from the south coast company, the RA-03; Cyrus, Audio Analogue, Musical Fidelity, NAD 352 and 370... and literally the list went on. The only amp that was worth the extra price was the Creek Evo2. The only snag was the phono module took it way over my budget. Back to square one...

Yet I kept thinking 'why do I need to change?' Like all Arcams of that vintage, they are fairly flexible when it comes to speakers and source matching. Of course the A65 Plus with 40 watts of power and retailed at £390 isn't going to be perfect. Even though it matches well with Monitor Audio RS6s, because of the ohms dip in the speakers, the little A65 could struggle... perfectly understandable. Have heard it with PMC original GB1 at the dealers, home demoed the DB1i and quite frankly the performance from this cheapo amp was amazing.

I did, years ago, thanks to a rep from Exposure, demoed it with a CD 2010S, with the RS6 speakers, and it was fairly puzzling how such a cheap amp can perform so well with more expensive speakers and sources.

The only amps from the DIVA range I haven't heard is the A75 and A90. I have read many owners reviews and nearly all say the A65 + is better value. Big soundstage, detailed, beautifully balanced. One of the major set backs of the DIVA range is the bass could be tighter. Clever matching of speakers can eliminate most of the little irritations.

What are difference between the £390 A65 and the Pulse? In the grand scheme of things, not a huge gulf between it and any of he £1000-£2000 integrated amps. As I've mentioned before, when you factor in the wonderful phono stage, it's still one of my favourite sub £1000 integrated amplifiers. The Pulse has better control over hard to drive speakers such as Spendors, Dynaudio, Totems... because of the extra grunt the dynamics are audibly better. In terms of transparency and openness it belies it's price tag.

This is not unusual. The Marantz M-CR603 punched well above its price tag, where other have used far more expensive speaker than the amps retail price would suggest.

As I've found out over the decades improvements are generally tiny -- it's only when you add much better speakers and sources does the gap widen with more expensive amps .

Edited by plasticpenguin
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Maybe we get used to a certain sound. Maybe if you had stuck with one of the others for longer you would have grown to love them too.

I recently demoed some new speakers at home for a week, at first I hated them  (because the presentation was different rather than better or worse) but by the end of the week I had grown to like them and then missed them when they had gone.  

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3 hours ago, plasticpenguin said:

The only amps from the DIVA range I haven't heard is the A75

This was my first "serious" amp and after 17 years of solid service was the reason I bought the A39. Hard to go wrong with lots of Arcam amps over the years.

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Haha @plasticpenguin! You have a bee in your bonnet about the A65+, you've brought it up many times before! And I don't blame you: as you know I had one for 18 years. It's an excellent, old school (i.e. no digital inputs or LED screen) amp. Nicely provisioned and has a lovely balance: more sparkle than some later and hefter Arcams, but still providing that warm-side-of-neutral sound. 

Like you I really struggled finding something I liked better: I couldn't find anything under £1k that could justify the move, and I honestly found more recent Arcams flatter sounding. Funnily enough, the amp that persuaded me to make the leap was the Creek Evolution 100A: it also has a very balanced presentation, but its substantial headroom (110 watts), high damping factor and ultra low distortion somehow tops it: the Creek is similar enough, but provides a concert hall instead of the Arcam's barroom, if you get my meaning.

I still rate the A65 Plus highly, and recommend it to anyone wanting to get into hifi on a budget: in fact, I sold it to a mate in October to start him off. Compared to the old all-in-one system he had, he's over the moon with it.

And you're correct: it has a phenomenal phono stage, as good as any standalone number under the £500 mark.

It's interesting when a good manufacturer like Arcam hits a sweet spot like that but moves on to bigger, but not necessarily always better, things.

Edited by Nifkin
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12 hours ago, Nifkin said:

Haha @plasticpenguin! You have a bee in your bonnet about the A65+, you've brought it up many times before! And I don't blame you: as you know I had one for 18 years. It's an excellent, old school (i.e. no digital inputs or LED screen) amp. Nicely provisioned and has a lovely balance: more sparkle than some later and hefter Arcams, but still providing that warm-side-of-neutral sound. 

Like you I really struggled finding something I liked better: I couldn't find anything under £1k that could justify the move, and I honestly found more recent Arcams flatter sounding. Funnily enough, the amp that persuaded me to make the leap was the Creek Evolution 100A: it also has a very balanced presentation, but its substantial headroom (110 watts), high damping factor and ultra low distortion somehow tops it: the Creek is similar enough, but provides a concert hall instead of the Arcam's barroom, if you get my meaning.

I still rate the A65 Plus highly, and recommend it to anyone wanting to get into hifi on a budget: in fact, I sold it to a mate in October to start him off. Compared to the old all-in-one system he had, he's over the moon with it.

And you're correct: it has a phenomenal phono stage, as good as any standalone number under the £500 mark.

It's interesting when a good manufacturer like Arcam hits a sweet spot like that but moves on to bigger, but not necessarily always better, things.

I sold mine just prior to buying the Leema, so perhaps that 11-year gap has given me rose-tinted glasses. But remember hearing nearly all the DIVA range, incl the A85 and on balance the A65 Plus had that "something" about it's presentation. The only downside was a lack of wattage which restricted how loud you played it. Mind you, it kept the neighbours happy. LOL. 

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Like.you said, for a budget amp it was hard to better unless throwing big money around. The Creek is undoubtedly a more capable amp, and showed up the Arcam's shortcomings, but it wasn't quite night/day difference: for a system in a smaller room with the right speakers it would be difficult to argue against the A65 Plus (make sure it's the Plus version though!)

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Posted (edited)

@Nifkin Yup, has to be the Plus version.

It's interesting that I found the Creek, EVO2 on this occasion, to be worthwhile upgrade. That's why I like the Pulse so much, it has that A65+ sweetness to its presentation, with better control, grip and dynamics. The Pulse is the A65+ on moosive amounts of steroids.

I also tried a P80 with the A65+ but I found it yielded little in terms of improvement. Other than the Creek, which didn't have a phono stage, I started looking at more expensive amps, such as Roksan Caspian M1, Naim XS, Rega... but as before the cost wouldn't justify the improvement, until I heard the Pulse at full price at SSAV Bromley and it blew me away - came away thinking if I purchased it at £1200 Mrs. P would seriously cut me short. Only by luck, a few months later, I found a brand new clearance model at SSAV Brighton. I immediately got on the phone and ordered it. He asked what colour I prefer, and I said I don't care just get one to me pronto.

I still believe if I didn't own the A65+ I wouldn't have the Pulse.

Edited by plasticpenguin
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1 hour ago, plasticpenguin said:

I sold mine just prior to buying the Leema, so perhaps that 11-year gap has given me rose-tinted glasses. But remember hearing nearly all the DIVA range, incl the A85 and on balance the A65 Plus had that "something" about it's presentation. The only downside was a lack of wattage which restricted how loud you played it. Mind you, it kept the neighbours happy.

I remember my audition for this quite well.  I had my CDM1 brought down to the dealer, I was in Manila at the time, and we had a smorgasbord of amps.  The 65, 75 and 85.  Not unlike the three bears and the porridge, the 75 was just right. The 65 a little cold, the 85 a little warm and the 75 went home. (that was little piggies -- sorry to mix nursery rhymes).  The other amp was a Musical Fidelity that was $400 more than the A75 and I passed.  I was being cheap....In retrospect, silly.  The MF sounded  better than the A75 and to this day my advice to all is to spend a little bit more and get a bit better.

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Not had experience of the A65, although I'd echo your sentiments that Arcam are generally very good value. 

The A19 was my first proper amp after a Marantz 6004 and felt like a decent step up. Brilliant build quality and lush sound staging and control for the price. 

Currently using a SA30 and think it's great value, particularly with the built in streaming etc. To my ear it's a nicer listen than equivalently priced Naim or Rega amps, but has a wallop of extra power and functionality too.

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20 hours ago, ChemMan said:

I remember my audition for this quite well.  I had my CDM1 brought down to the dealer, I was in Manila at the time, and we had a smorgasbord of amps.  The 65, 75 and 85.  Not unlike the three bears and the porridge, the 75 was just right. The 65 a little cold, the 85 a little warm and the 75 went home. (that was little piggies -- sorry to mix nursery rhymes).  The other amp was a Musical Fidelity that was $400 more than the A75 and I passed.  I was being cheap....In retrospect, silly.  The MF sounded  better than the A75 and to this day my advice to all is to spend a little bit more and get a bit better.

No way is the A65 cold. Perhaps the speakers weren't right for the little 40 watter.

I've demoed the Arcam alongside NAD 352, which, although ballsy presentation, lacked openness and transparency -- the presentation was too closed in for my taste. The other amp was the Rotel RA-02. This was better than the NAD and sounded more powerful than its 40 watts suggest but didn't tick all the boxes. The A65+ had lovely transparency for the price, detailed but still retained that Arcam firmness in the midrange. It was the least powerful but the most satisfying. Having owned it with RS6s, demoed with PMC GB1 and DB1i... it certainly punced well above it should for a £390 integrated.

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Been using an a85 as a power amp for a few months with horns,  seems to gel well , certainly amazing vfm . Yes there are better amps but cost a fair bit to better it . 

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I have an A70 driving my MA Silver 100s in my living room.

I have read divided opinions of this amp online, and I do sometimes feel it struggles a bit at higher levels - not surprising since it "only" has 50W I guess.

I wonder if I will notice much, if any improvement, by either upgrading it to something like an A85 or by adding a matching power amp?

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I recently upgraded from an A19 to a Creek Evolution 50. As Nif says, not night and day, but just that bit more alive, with a margin of extra clarity. I remember when the 65 came out and thought it sounded a bit cosy and dull. Never heard the plus though

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1 minute ago, mr neds said:

I recently upgraded from an A19 to a Creek Evolution 50. As Nif says, not night and day, but just that bit more alive, with a margin of extra clarity. I remember when the 65 came out and thought it sounded a bit cosy and dull. Never heard the plus though

I did have a demo with the Arcam A19, very disappointing, I thought the Creek 50A was far better.

Not heard the A65+ yet, prices seem pretty high.

Still looking for a Arcam 7 or 8 but with lockdown it has gone on the backburner.

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