Arcam’s rPhono is the latest addition to the companies ‘Black Box’ range, which also includes the rDAC, irDAC-II, rHead and rPlay. Though tiny in stature, the Black Box units pack high-tech designs, extensive lists of features and high quality components into stylish cast aluminium cases. Having reviewed and been impressed by the irDAC-II and rHead, I was keen to see what the new additions to the range had to offer.
The rPhono is a phono stage equipped to handle both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. It features adjustable loading and gain, a switchable subsonic filter and circuitry optimised for low noise and distortion. Noise is further reduced through the use of multiple low noise individually regulated power supplies and a multi-layer PCB (printed circuit board) with an optimised ground plane reducing interference between components and delivers a clean signal to the output stage.
Externally the rPhono shares the familiar Black Box casework, the substantial aluminium shell contributing to its surprising weight. Only a power LED adorns the front, with the power switch located on the rear. The packaging is vastly similar too, as are the accessories, including the 12V DC power supply which is provided with adapters for the EU, UK, US and Australia. You also receive an RCA interconnect cable, an adjustment tool and a pack of documentation.
On the back a power input and the aforementioned switch are provided, as are inputs for MM, MC and an output on RCA jacks. There’s also a handy slot for storing the adjustment tool.
The rPhono is (almost) fully adjustable. MM input loading is fixed at 47KΩ though the input capacitance is adjustable to 120, 220, 340 or 440pF. I would’ve liked a sub 100PF option of perhaps 20 or 47PF, as I was unable to bring the capacitance within the 200PF maximum range specified by audio-technica for an AT150SA moving magnet cartridge. It’s important to remember that the capacitance of the tonearm wire and external cable must be taken into account, and using the 120PF setting with a low capacitance cable gave me around 232PF. Not a deal breaker, but a lower option would’ve been nice to avoid any treble lift issues.
MC capacitance is fixed at 1nF, with adjustable load resistance from 50-550Ω, using trim pots as opposed to discrete steps. This means that the impedance can be precisely adjusted for each channel using either the markings on the rear or by connecting a multimeter across the MC input for each channel for extremely precise adjustment. Over all gain settings of 30, 40, 50 or 52dB are offered, with an additional 30dB for moving coils. Finally the subsonic filter can be disabled if desired, and there are switches to select your cartridge type.
Setup was as effortless as I’d expected. The rPhono will match will with most moving magnet and moving coil cartridges on the market. Switches set, the rPhono was connected to a Technics 1210 and a modified Cambridge 851A amplifier running a pair of Tannoy XT8F floorstanding speakers and an rHead headphone amplifier. My reference Tannoys and Marantz PM-11S3 later took over speaker and amplification duties. Audio-Technica and Ortofon cartridges were used. MM capacitance was et to 120pF, with MC load resistance set to 100Ω and the gain set at 40dB. The rPhono uses little power and the absence of a front power switch encourages leaving the device on permanently. It was switched on for a month before any critical listening.
The first thing I noticed when spinning some records during the run-in period was the lack of background noise. My Technics is a quiet turntable – far quieter than the surface noise of any vinyl pressing, and the rPhono produced little audible noise of its own. More than once I’d lower the needle and sit down only to wonder if I’d started the turntable, only for the music to play as I was standing. Idle noise is negligible, audible only if the volume was set high with no signal. A good start.
And the positives continue. I played the Eagle’s 2014 Desperado reissue – a reasonable master though certainly not without areas where the levels are pushed to the limit. The sound was relaxed and musical in typical Arcam fashion, though it was an entertaining listen and could become lively when required. The rPhono seems fairly neutral across the audio band, with an open, airy presentation that lends itself well to portraying large spaces – concert halls or large live rooms, for example. Instrument separation is good with instrumental layers easy to follow and the rPhono copes easily with large dynamics. Its character remains largely consistent when switching to a moving coil, with the presentation perhaps a little smoother though this is mostly down to the cartridge itself.
Arcam’s rPhono is another worthy addition to the rSeries range. It’s a high quality option for those serious about vinyl playback and it’s capable of supporting equipment many times its modest price. Arcam have been known to produce some fine phono stages during their 40 year history and the rPhono continues that tradition. Highly recommended.