Focal Arche - DAC/Amp - Official Thread

The Arche is Focal’s first source and amplifier offering for the world of audiophile heapdhone listening. It is closely matched to Focal’s line of high-end headphones, and in fact has pre-set configuration options for each of them, intended to get the best match.

In addition to the very obvious, included, and removable, headphone stand (inspired by the Focal logo), it is a simple, elongated, black metal affair.

Unlike many “all in one” or DAC/amp solutions, Arche has both digital and pure analog inputs. You can feed the DAC (an AKM4490 based unit), via USB or SP/DIF via Coax or TOSLINK, but it also has a true analog RCA input that directly feeds the analog amplification stages. If you have an additional source, such as a turntable, or just want to use a different DAC with it, this is a very welcome feature.

The amplifier works in two, selectable, modes, a voltage-drive mode (which is what most amps are) and a “hybrid” mode. Gain is also adjustable. The pre-sets for different headphones adjust these settings to get the optimal performance for each one. Output power is a more than respectable 2W per channel into 32 Ω (or about 215mw into 300 Ω) and is delivered from a pure-class A topology.

Headphone output is via both 4-pin XLR and 1/4" (6.35mm) TRS connections on the front panel. A simple, very clear, screen shows input selected, sample rate (if using the DAC), and volume settings, and is also used for configuration with the main volume dial (which can be pushed to make selections).

And there are both single-ended and balanced analog outputs if you want to drive other amplifiers or active speakers from the unit as well.

This is the place to discuss the Arche … which is available at $2,499 …

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We had the Arche present at a local mini-meet, courtesy of @Andrew and @taronlissimore, recently, so I got to spend some time listening to it … a few thoughts on that follow:

First Thoughts

When this was first announced, I was rather disappointed to learn this wasn’t a joint venture with NAIM (instead of Micromega). That’s not meant to be uncharitable to Micromega, but as a Brit the former is always going to carry way more gravitas than the latter.

Features are minimal, but interesting. Selectable gain levels, selectable phase, analog and digital inputs, and balanced and single pre-outs and headphone outputs. The pure-class A amplifier stage (and you can tell it really is class-A just from the warmth emanating from the box) can operate in traditional voltage-drive or in a “hybrid” mode, and perhaps most interestingly has pre-sets for the entire line of Focal headphones.

The unit is a bit bigger than I expected, and lighter than you’d think when you pick it up. I’m undecided about the (removable) built-in headphone stand. On one hand it’s actually quite useful … on the other it is a bit odd to look at. Though the curve of it PERFECTLY fits Focal’s own line of headphones, as one might expect.

Sound

Well, the first word that comes to mind is “rich”. Rich enough it makes the another new unit I had around (the Matrix Element:X) sound a bit lean. There’s some underlying AKM “Velvet Sound” going on here, which will be apparent to anyone that is familiar with it, but the richness exhibited here is more than just some extra presence in the lowest registers.

It’s a VERY pleasant and engaging sound, and that remains true whether using a Focal headphone (I tried the Clear, Stellia and Utopia, both on their pre-sets and with the unit just in “Voltage” mode … and while they’re audibly different if you pay attention, I didn’t have a clear preference for either the specific settings or the general with any particular can) or other headphones.

I had been pretty much primed to dislike this thing, or at least seriously question its price-point, since it was announced. And the truth is, I don’t. At all. On either count. I really enjoyed listening to it and it’s performance and value proposition is much better than I had expected.

At a high-level I’d say this is comparable to the DAC section of an RME ADI-2 DAC fs combined with a truly proper headphone amplifier that’s been voiced for some extra tonal weight and density AND that has the ability to be driven from something other than the built-in DAC.

It does a great job of extracting and relaying details, timbre is natural above the lower-bass registers (where things like double-bass take on a bit more “mass” than they perhaps should), and the “richness” doesn’t detract from it’s speed or impact at ALL (this thing hits pretty hard).

Playing with the just the analog in/out chain, I’m not even sure where I’d place the amp section. On par or probably ahead of the Pro iCAN I think, in SS mode. A bit richer than the Azure, but with a similar projection of stage and layering. Definitely more engaging than the current-darling THX AAA 789, and highly resolving both in terms of raw detail and micro-dynamic resolution.

The Matrix is purer sounding and perhaps a little more technically adept … but this is just much more fun. And the amp-stage on this runs rings around the Element:X.

If the Arche had a built-in WiFi Roon end-point I’d put this next to the bed, hang my Stellia off it, and call it good. As it is, I might just stick something like a microRendu on it and do just that anyway.

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You mentioned a “price point” (if my memory serves) but not an actual price?

It’s $2,499.

I’m sure there’s some “badge” and “lifestyle” factors going on there, but it’s in the ball park based on my listening and compared to an equivalently capable DAC/amp combination.

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$2500 Seems a figure many have settled on as reasonable for either headphones, source or amplification.
Ten years has seen a sea-change in the headphone world.
It’s from 2013 but is still an interesting (and IMO still relevant) take on high end audio by J.Atkinson in Stereophile…

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Beautiful photography Torq!

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Great handle :wink:

Ha ha! A fan? :wink:

Well, I’d say to get something that I think sounds as enjoyable, and as capable, you’d be looking spending right in the same ball-park on separate DAC/amp components (or you’d likely wind up losing the analog input).

I think most audiophiles will wind up passing this over in favorite of discrete components anyway, and suspect it’s targeted more at the “lifestyle” segment of the market (much like the presentation of the Stellia).

That’s a bit of a shame, because the synergy is fantastic (as one would hope for products from the same brand/umbrella, but is more often than not disappointed about).

While the back-panel is not especially fascinating aesthetically … it does have one feature that is almost always omitted on all-in-one or DAC/amp solutions:

Specifically, the analog input. Other such units, especially at lower price points, have only digital inputs OR they run the analog input through an ADC and then through the DAC (which most vinyl users will shudder at the mere thought of).

I ran my DAVE through this for a bit, and the amp did a very nice job with it. Far more so than I had expected. The amp is not quite as good as a dedicated unit like the Phonitor X, but is on par with, say, the iFi Pro iCAN.

But I will say that using the Arche as a DAC/amp sounds better than using the Phonitor X as a DAC/amp. The Phonitor is definitely the superior amp, but the DAC192 card for doesn’t do it justice. Where as with the Arche, the DAC and amp are very well matched AND independently accessible, so as an all-in-one solution it’s actually a better bet (signature preferences not withstanding).

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If you mean “a fan” of the person from whom you borrowed your handle, then yes, I believe he is a good man.

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I´m a huge fan of the simple design

Not that I would not enjoy a space saving non complicated thing like this!
would prefer 2(or 3) discrete components instead of this all in-one solution.

so I could easier save up a few months for a under 1k DAC use it with what I already own and save up again for the under 1k amp part
maybe they could add a streamer to the portfolio later
and they should put the headphone stand on each component - so you have to fill them with their headphones
somewhere on the line a vu-meter would be a nice touch :slight_smile:
and some tube along the line…

this won´t happen - not with the named price points

SMSL did such a thing with the SMSL SU-8 and the Amp + the other box or the old panda stack
Schiit tries it at least but fails with some components using slightly different materials - from what I read

I could sell the discrete Focal Design to my wife - with a warmer display colour like amber even better

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You could always mod an amber film over the display =) I made my THX788 display purple =)

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It’s interesting that the Focal pictures show the the display as blue, when it’s definitely white (and the settings for it do not include color).

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have some cto gels here - so … the Arché only missing brahaahaa
huge purple and blurple(Spyderco S110v) fan over here!

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maybe they had a prototype for catalog images before with another display or photoshoped the on/lit display in?

“white is ok” - my wife says

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That’s a serious-looking box, like $2500 well spent.