Bluetooth technology has matured considerably since its conception in 1994. Many electronic devices, including smartphones, laptops, and TVs include Bluetooth technology, as it provides a universal means to transfer information over a short distance. Bluetooth does have limitations – particularly where audio is concerned. Older revisions of Bluetooth had little or no support for audio – and high quality audio was out of the question.
However, Bluetooth technology is making its way into the hi-fi market – thanks to technological advancements such as the AptX codec, allowing high quality audio to be transmitted between supported Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Many manufacturers are implementing Bluetooth streaming capabilities into their products – including Integrated amps such as the NAD D3020, streamers such as the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6, and DACs such as this, the Arcam MiniBlink Bluetooth-only DAC.
Few companies believe in this technology enough to release a Bluetooth-only DAC – but by focusing on a single technology, Arcam have been able to optimise the DAC for Bluetooth streaming, getting the best from the technology.
Contained within its tiny, pebble-shaped casing, the MiniBlink features a Burr Brown PCM 5102 24-bit DAC – the same chip found in many higher end hi-fi separates, including Arcam’s own rDock-uni. The Bluetooth section supports aptX for the highest possible sound quality – and the best electronic components are used throughout to guarantee high quality sound.
Power is provided via a micro USB socket – and the included multi-voltage USB power supply. The MiniBlink comes with adapters for the UK, US, EU and Australia – so no matter where you are in the world, you’ll be able to use it without an adapter.
There’s no digital output, which would’ve been a useful addition. A single 3.5” output jack completes the units connectivity options – both RCA to 3.5”, and 3.5-3.5” cables are provided meaning it can be connected to any system with an AUX input, from small dock systems to full hi-fi setups.
The MiniBlink is supplied in a strong, rectangular box. A plastic window on the lid allows you to view the DAC itself – the glue that holds this window in place had come unstuck on my review sample, causing a gap between it and the surrounding edges.
Lifting the magnetic front flap and opening the lid reveals a solid foam block, with the MiniBlink situated in a neat, round slot in the middle, directly underneath the aforementioned window. The power supply and its various adapters are situated both to the left and right of the MiniBlink, in designated slots.
In a cutout underneath the foam block, you’ll find the micro USB cable, and the RCA and 3.5MM cables. The packaging is very neat; even if these cables are somewhat difficult to get situated when packing everything in its box. The box is great for those who wish to travel with their MiniBlink – it keeps everything in 1 place, and won’t become damaged with repeated use.
Out of the box
The first thing you’ll undoubtedly notice is the size – the MiniBlink is truly tiny. It’s a perfect travel companion – but is equally perfect on a hi-fi rack, where it won’t get in the way.
Its shape is unusual, too – rather like a perfectly formed pebble – a welcome departure from the solid, square-edged profile of the typical DAC. The unit features a single button neatly recessed in the top, used to initiate pairing with your device.
The power supply is equally small – the tiny, cube-shaped power supply itself snaps neatly into one of the provided plug adapters, forming a small power brick that is easy to accommodate in the mess of cables behind the typical hi-fi rack.
The MiniBlink’s plastic casing is sturdy, if a little light – in fact – though the weight of the cables, once connected will keep the unit in place. Gently shaking the review sample yielded a slight rattling sound from inside – though I didn’t notice any deformities in the casing, and the unit appears to work. It’s probably a speck of dust that made its way inside during manufacturing.
At first, the 3.5” jack was a little hard to press into its socket; this seems to have loosened up as the unit has been used – so just be careful with it at first.
The provided audio cables are a little flimsy – but the connectors are decent, and they do a great job as starter or travel cables. The micro USB cable is fine; its plastic-cased plugs matching the MiniBlink, and indeed many cables from other modern mobile devices.
Setup is simple; after assembling the power supply and connecting everything up, simply hold the recessed button on the MiniBlink down for a few seconds and the unit is ready to be paired. Pairing takes a few seconds – after which you’ll be ready to start streaming. Pairing with an iPhone was faultless. I didn’t experience a single dropout during testing, and indeed during the countless hours spent streaming background music through the device.
Bluetooth, along with many forms of digital audio technology, is widely criticized for sounding… well, digital. Advancements in digital technology have drastically improved the sound of digital audio – with some devices even able to replicate the smooth, warm sound of an analogue recording, as opposed to the stereotypical grainy, harsh digital sound.
Bluetooth is by no means bit-perfect – and has a reputation for being one of the most digital-sounding connection formats. This is not the case, however, with the MiniBlink.
Out of the box, the MiniBlink presents a luscious, warm presentation. It’s almost tube-like – its talents being particularly prevalent when streaming female vocals or blues guitar. Given time to break in, the MiniBlink just gets better – the sound stage smoothing out, and finer details become more evident as the hours pass.
Play a track such as Roving Gambler from Billy Joe and Norah’s ‘Foreverly’ album, and there’s decent placement between the instruments. The sound stage isn’t as wide as other players – but the smooth vocals and excellent levels of detail more than make up for it.
Acoustic tracks, such as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ or Jake Bugg’s ‘Someone Told Me’ demonstrate The MiniBlink’s apparent preference for laid-back, acoustic tracks. Stevie Nicks’ voice is as emotional and expressive as you could hope for – while the gentle buzzing/hissing from the preamps in Someone Told Me is audible, adding a sense of analogue warmth to the track.
Fleetwood’s ‘Black Magic Woman’ offers up a better sound stage – the MiniBlink bring the guitars and all their vintage amplification to life with stunning realism.
The MiniBlink is a solid, great-sounding Bluetooth streamer. It’s an addictive sound that I simply can’t get enough of. With the MiniBlink in my system, I’ve spent countless hours streaming background music, enjoying fantastic sound quality. But, perhaps more importantly, it can deliver the goods for when it comes to serious listening, too.
Of course, it’s not going to take over from my CD player, turntable, or even my streamer – for critical listening, Bluetooth just won’t cut it.
However; for the average listener wanting to get music from their phone into their hi-fi, this little pebble-shaped marvel from Arcam will do the job admirably. It’s perfect for a second system where a fully-fledged streamer is perhaps not required – and it’s the perfect travel companion, too.
It would be nice to see a digital output; but, that said, I’m just struggling to find things to criticise. For £89, you can’t go wrong.
How does the DAC in this compare to the DAC in say the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6? and is this type of “DAC/ streaming lite” device a good sounding alternative to a full separate streaming device anyway?
I’m aware that your limiting your streaming capability options down from USB drive/ NAS/ airplay/ internet radio etc to just Bluetooth albeit APT-X but in some senses I like the simplicity/useability of pairing my Spotify app on android to this device. There’s no ‘middle’ app such as Sonos or Stream magic between your Spotify (or other) music subscription and your amp ….
There’s no comparison. The DAC in a device such as the Stream Magic will easily better the Arcam – as you would expect given that the SM6 is ten times the price. The SM6 is also a dual-DAC unit, utilising a separate DAC for each channel, not to mention it has a properly regulated, low-noise power supply whereas a device like the MiniBlink is powered via a generic switch-mode USB power supply.
That said, depending on the other components in your system the MiniBLink may well be a perfectly suitable option. It’s simple, very affordable, and sounds great.
I understand the desire for an optical output, but wouldn’t that just bypass the DAC, arguably the best part of this kit?
Indeed it would. For most users, it would be unnecessary – so I see why Arcam chose not to include it. However, it would be a nice feature if your system contained a better DAC and you wanted to make use of it. Many devices allow the 3.5MM jack to be used as a digital output with a small adapter – Arcam could’ve done the same here.