Arcam A19 Amplifier
The A19 is the smallest amplifier in the Arcam FMJ range. This design comes with five analogue inputs and a MM phono stage. Interestingly, for those of you with six input sources and no turntable, the phono stage can be bypassed and turned into an additional line input. The remote is small and not the most substantial device, but is well laid out.
On the rear panel, the Arcam is fitted with a power socket that will allow you to connect a member of the 'r' family to the A19 without the need for an extra socket. This means that although it has no digital or Bluetooth connections, you can use an rBlink or an rPac (which offer these features) to add this functionality and still stay within the test budget. Unlike the digital inputs fitted to the other amps, doing so will cost you one of the existing analogue line inputs.
Around the front, it is business as usual for an FMJ product with the reasonably well-finished black casework livened up a little with a silver volume knob and the green on black display that shows the input and volume level currently selected. The Arcam doesn't feel as substantial as some of the designs here, but it would be churlish to call it flimsy. The display looks a little old fashioned compared to the Creek's OLED, but it is easy to read at a distance and can be switched off for those that find it's green glow too intrusive.
From the outset, the Arcam shows some characteristics that are in keeping with the brand, but also some that aren't shared with its predecessors and are largely positive. Although it is the least powerful amp, it shows no signs of strain at the level selected for the test and with Muse's Madness, manages to sound rich and vibrant with a very impressive sense of scale and weight to vocals and instruments. This is even more apparent with the Neil Cowley Trio, where the A19 shows a real ability with the piano, conveying the size and weight of the instrument very effectively. The smoothness is unmistakably Arcam, but the top-end sparkle it has and the very open and airy performance that results is a welcome evolution.
It is slightly less happy in terms of bass, however. With both the Muse piece and the heavyweight Pleine Lune from Scratch Massive's Communion, the A19 doesn't find quite the same detail. The bass it produces is substantial, but slightly monotonal, stealing a little excitement and engagement from the performance. This slight lack of life is shown most clearly with Aloe Blacc's I Need a Dollar where the Arcam excels with Blacc's vocals, but doesn't have quite the same head nodding get up and go that some of the other amps can generate. There is a sense that its presentation is slightly gentle and in being forgiving across most material, it is on occasions slightly soft.
This should not detract too much from an amplifier that is well thought out, impressively flexible - in terms of setup given the bolt-on options - and is capable of a very rich and engrossing musical performance that should win it many friends. The slight lack of low-end control and the somewhat matter of fact presentation with more aggressive material does mean that there are better all rounders in the test, though.