An intelligent little device
Well, think on a name for a new product. On Arcam, they succeeded after a long reflection. The rLink is a 'Digital to Analog Converter', according to the brief instructions included in the designed black package box. In any case it explains exactly what this little box was made for. The input is a digital audio signal, and an analog audio signal is provided to the amplifier, with the aid of RCA connectors. There are two ways to input the digital signal, via coaxial or optical. It is no more and no less. Or is it...?
It will be no news for most, that there is an ever-increasing flow of digital audio signal circulating on the internet. Most of us also know that this is compressed information, which doesn't benefit the sound. If you listen to it using a laptop, tablet or your computer, there is no major problem. These speakers usually do not have a high fidelity sound, so the low quality will hardly be noticeable. Who, on the contrary, wants to play this digitally stored music on a more professional installation can certainly hear that the spectrum is not complete. With the rLink, Arcam has made a device that tries to restore the lost information, thus creating a more complete sound. This is to be connected between a computer and an amplifier, but can also be used to improve the signals of for example older CD players, MP3 players, a Smart TV or set-top box.
An affordable upgrade
Under the motto "better sound for more people" Arcam has developed the rLink as an affordable alternative for much more expensive systems. It must be said: who wants to keep the investment limited, has a perfect solution with this invention. Making the connection is very easy, and indeed, it does produce a better sound. It is a pity that the connection cables are not included. So make sure you have an optical or coaxial cable at hand. After listening to a track on LP, on CD and on MP3, the rLink sounds warm and reasonably complete. Taking into account its price, it is simply a must for those who are annoyed at how the average digitally stored music sounds. True purists must still look a little further, or still use the LP, but having more than realistic expectations is somehow silly for a device in this price range.
The box can of course be used for more than only making stored audio files sound better. Who listens to online audio, can also include rLink in the process. As more people play their favourite tracks listening via services such as Spotify, Last.fm and Jango, a world of sound quality can be won. The rLink will make that also those media sound better. Arcam used its more than 25 years of technological knowledge an 'audiophile grade components' to upgrade the listening experience. The 'digital to analog converter' can also be connected to a Sonos system or other streaming devices, such as a Squeezebox Touch. This creates an affordable but good alternative to the often expensive high-end dedicated streamers. Arcam claims to easily win in the comparison.
A second life
Revitalize old CD players? With an rLink the reproduction quality improves and that applies to almost all digital sources. The only thing you need is an optical or caoxial output. Likewise, you can upgrade the audio from a set-top box, or boost your media player, DVD and TV sound. Arcam has demonstrated extensively the effects of rLink, and impressed many with the results. The biggest surprise was that even low-resolution audio can sound so well. A properly designed and built 'digital to analog converter' can really still make something good out of a compressed file. The creators of the rLink received good praise from the audio world after they let hear the results. They wanted to prove that a good converter can make the difference and so they did. It is wonderful that this technology is so affordable is within reach, in the form of a handy, discreet device. Music resumes authentic sound and without bells and whistles; Just plug and play!
I wanted a serious comparison, so I connected a computer via rLink to my NAD amplifier and listened to the same track on LP, CD and via the Digital to Analog converter. Springsteen's live version of I'm On Fire, as found in the box "Live: 1975-85", on LP keeps sounding the best for me. Of course, nostalgia also plays an experience-determined role, however it objectively sounds warmer too. Yet, the reproduction of the mp3 through the Arcam rLink didn't deceive me. I heard little difference with the reproduction from the CD, at most a somewhat different tone control, but it did not sound bad.
The pros and cons
Game stations, MP3 players, set-top boxes, computers or media streamers, this clever device is the perfect upgrade for those who simply and without too much cost want to improve the sound quality. With the high-end qualities that can be expected of Arcam products, presented in a high quality aluminium casing, this producer surely confirmed its promise "better sound for more people". A point I found personally somewhat disappointing is that I cannot directly connect for example my iPhone. I think the device would make even more people happy if more possibilities were enabled in that sense. And I have another little point of critique. Maybe it is an old-fashioned thought -in times when more and more devices are never really turned off and always on standby- but I miss an on/off switch. Once the rLink is plugged in the socket, it is on and cannot be turned off. Not really sustainable and probably not so safe as well. Who wants to turn off the device will need to unplug it every time. Nevertheless, I find it highly recommendable, especially for those who like to play music on a serious digital audio set.
FOR AND AGAINST
+ Easy plug & play
+ Real improvement of the audio signal
+ Good value for money
- Only optical and coaxial digital inputs
- No on/off switch