The mid-priced amplifier market is littered with interesting, innovative designs that offer a departure from the traditional stereo amplifier. Amps such as NAD’s D3020 offer features found in a traditional stereo amplifier, along with modern conveniences such as streaming in a tiny, compact and thoroughly modern design. That’s not the case, however, with Arcam’s A19 – a full-size stereo amplifier continuing the tradition of the all-analogue stereo amp.
A full-width, yet slimline amplifier, the A19 boasts a traditional 50W per channel (into 8 Ohms) class AB amplifier. A wide-bandwidth design to cope with today’s high resolution audio sources, this amplifier features a Zobel network placed at the speaker outputs, to aid in rejecting radio frequencies that are often picked up by speaker cables and hence injected into the amplifier stage. These frequencies, which are detrimental to the reproduction of music are become ever more prominent in the modern home, thanks to the increasing number of devices making use of technologies such as bluetooth and wifi.
The amplifier circuit is fed by an ultra-low distortion preamplifier featuring a solid-state logic switching array input stage and an impedance matching circuit. The volume control is the Texas Instruments PGA2311 solid-state resistor ladder control, independently powered via its own PSU.
For fans of the cans, there’s a high quality discrete headphone stage – which, with an output impedance of just 1 Ohm and a recommend load range between 16 and 4K ohms will drive even low-efficiency headphones.
The power supply comprises a large Toroidal transformer, to cope with difficult loudspeaker loads and a second independent internal power supply to power Arcam’s R-series components. A hard power switch cuts all power to the unit when it’s powered off, cutting standby power consumption to 0.
Finally, thanks to the resurgence of vinyl, the A19 features a high quality phono stage, using WIMA capacitors in the filter stages. Cartridge loading and capacitance are fixed at the standard 47K Ohm, 100PF – and sensitivity is 5MV, making it suitable for the majority of moving magnet cartridges on the market.
The A19s high quality packaging is a great first impression. Packed in a simple sturdy box, between foam blocks and wrapped in a cloth-like foam material, the A19 is supplied with an accessory bag containing some documentation, a remote, an R-series power cable and an IEC power cable. It’s clear that significant thought has gone into this packaging – right down to the way the cloth is wrapped around the amplifier and neatly taped. The hole arrangement gives a distinct impression of quality.
Out of the box, it’s clear that while the A19 isn’t particularly heavy, it’s a solid, well-made product. The wrap-around top casing is secured at the sides and rear by Torx screws, with a large grille cut into the top panel being the main source of ventilation. The casing is well-damped, too – yielding only a thump and a slight rattle when tapped.
The front facia is fashioned from a thick slab of aluminium. A single aluminium knob serves to control volume, balance, and allows you to navigate the setup menus. The knob is nicely weighted, offers up just the right amount of resistance, and feels great to turn – a gentle clicking sound being emitted from the rotary encoder as it goes round. It’s beautifully responsive, too – the volume gently gliding along with the operation of the control.
To the left of the control knob are 3 controls, including a display dimmer, balance adjustment, and mute. To the right, a substantial power button is joined by a 3.5MM input jack, and a second 3.5MM jack for headphone output. It’s unusual, and slightly disappointing to see no 6.25MM alternative for headphone connection – as most higher end headphones are fitted with a 6.25MM plug and require an adapter to fit the A19.
Individual source selection controls sit below the large display, offering direct access to the arcam’s 8 inputs including the front panel input.
Spin the amp around, and you’re greeted by a 2-pin IEC connector for power, and the 3.5MM jack socket used to supply power to 2 of Arcam’s R-series ofcomponents via the supplied cable. A row of analogue inputs follows, including the moving magnet phono input. This input can be set to line level if you so desire using the amp’s onboard setup menu – so if you wish to use an external phono stage, or don’t own a turntable, the input is not wasted. There’s a phono ground screw, which is somewhat fiddly and awkward if your turntable’s ground spade is a little on the small side.
A line level record output, and a variable preamp output for connection to an external power amplifier are provided, as well as the A19s own speaker terminals. The speaker terminals are plastic and feel a little insubstantial in comparison to the rest of the amp. However, they’re solid enough, and accept bare wire or banana plugs without needing to remove those fiddly end caps found in many amplifiers. The remainder of the connections are solid, with no flexing even when inserting tight plugs.
The remote supplied with the A19 is tiny – similar in size, in fact, to the aforementioned NAD D3020. It’s similarly sparse in terms of features too, offering only those controls necessary to control the amplifier.
However, despite its tiny size, it’s solid and a joy to use. The buttons have a great tactile feel, and the battery cover isn’t as flimsy as that found on many controllers. The A19 uses the standard RC5 remote control protocol, meaning its basic functions such as volumes can be controlled by those remotes supplied with many products. Throughout this review, I frequently operated the A19 with the Marantz remote supplied with the CD-6004 which was in use as a CD transport.
Switching on the A19 results in a series of gentle relay clicks – after which, the amp is ready to play. And, right off the bat, I was pleased to see the A19 passed the noise floor test with flying colours, with very little residual noise being emitted from the speakers. The A19s power supply do emit a slight audible buzzing in operation, but it’s inaudible when the music’s playing and doesn’t distract from the music.
If I were asked to choose one word to describe the A19 – it would be captivating. No matter what you ask the A19 to play, whether it’s fast-paced metal or soft, sultry blues, the A19 grabs your attention from the very first note and keeps you firmly seated throughout the performance. As promised, distortion levels are in low – inaudible in fact – the A19 displaying no less composure or grip on the music even when pushed to the max.
Queen’s ‘Now I’m Here’ shows the A19s ability to rock out – this 70s rock track portrayed with a beautiful sound stage, soft bass drum intact. And ‘Good Old Fashioned Lover BOy’ from A Day At The Races shows the A19’s ability to deliver the subtle nuances of a piano, and the control needed to keep that bass line flowing.
Acoustic instruments are another of the A19’s strengths. ‘Better Together’ from Jack Johnson’s In Between Dreams, Jake Bugg’s ‘Someone Told Me’, and ‘The Morning Light’ from Rikyk James’ debut ‘New Beginnings’ sounding simply stunning.
Headphone performance is great, as you would expect. It’s rhythmic, tightly controlled, entirely 3-dimensional and just as captivating as the A19 itself. And, as expected, it’s able to cope wit wide range of phones at a wide range of prices – from Sennheiser’s HD202s, to Apple’s EarPods, to Grado SR325Is.
And, lastly, to the phono stage. It’s quiet and clean, with a touch of warmth that only a good turntable can offer. It’s perfect for those with a moderately priced turntable, such as Rega’s RP3 – and it’s good enough to support costly cartridge upgrades.
Take one look at the A19, and its simple design and apparent lack of modern digital features may cause you to quickly dismiss it. But the A19 is an amp worthy of serious consideration – because while its appearance may be understated, inside it’s filled with only those components necessary to get the best from your music. And, that’s exactly what it does.
Whether it’s CD, high resolution audio, vinyl, or even the classic cassette, the A19 will allow you to re-discover your music collection. It’s an amplifier that’s worthy of a place centre-stage in your system. It’s an amplifier that remains true to the message of the music – and for that, it comes highly recommended.