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:
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.
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.