Nor did I use garbage wiring, instead opting for Atlas Hyper cable at £15 per meter - excellent stuff that will undoubtedly serve as my budget reference wire. (I also used a pair of Atlas' £60 Questor interconnects to link up the Quad CDP99 and Musical Fidelity X-Ray V3 for comparison purposes.) But back to the amp.
Provided you don't ask too much of it, e.g. driving Guarneris, the Arcam Solo should fill a normal room will delightful sound - presupposing that you realise one thing: the Solo is NOT a substitute for an 'eff-off' high-end system. It is ideal for students, for second systems as found in a kitchen, bedroom or study, for flats, for offices. Keep that in mind and you'll be OK. I loved it with the little Rogers, but I would implore you to try it with the PMCs. Add in the Atlas speaker wire and some halfway decent stands, and you have a heckuva system for under £2000.
Consistent from input to input was a rich sound (I ran it with flat settings, of course), which I found smoother than did my colleague, less open and airy than I'd hoped but hardly what you could deem congested. It delivered plenty of detail, so the Solo could handle subtle recordings with the sort of grace you don't expect from all-in-one units. I also fed the pre-amp section to some outrageous power amps, including the McIntosh MC275, and found the character of the pre-amp to be consistent with the power amp: robust, detailed and easy on the ears. Clearly, someone at Arcam anticipates the Solo as serving two roles - both as a primary system for those with space or money constraints, or as a secondary/background system in the kitchen or bedroom - so it has been voiced in a clever way, providing both genuine competence and inoffensiveness. You can listen to this for hours, without feeling fatigue. It's like a Tivoli radio with bells and whistles. And that's a Good Thing.
And the CD section? Probably the best part of the equation, more than justifying the pre-amp outputs to feed it to, say, a heftier Arcam stereo power amp. While it caused neither the Quad nor Musical Fidelity players to quake in their chassis, it certainly didn't seem like corners have been cut. It exemplifies the sound of CD-only players in the post-SACD era, competent, solid and full-bodied, shorn of most digital artefacts thanks to superior jitter busting. It has a more-ish midband, sounding especially good with vocals, so there won't be any shocks if you have a primary diet of chat shows or plays on Radio Two or Four in-between sessions with CDs. There's ample warmth, enough 'snap' in the transients to allay sensations of sluggishness, and you'll probably never feel the need to mess with the bass controls unless you hook it up to some very tiny, nasally speakers.
I fed the Solo a wide array of material, from Latin jazz on Chesky to Joss Stone's latest soul exercise to Green Day's . The Solo never favoured one over the other, which is as it should be. Somehow, Arcam found a perfect middle ground, the kind of necessary compromise - hey, we're talking all-in for £1000 without glaring economies - that you can easily tolerate. To me, it looks like we've already found the winning Budget Product of 2005.
But there's one other sound I associate with the Arcam Solo. And that's the wailing and gnashing of teeth in Glasgow. I think this thing is gonna kick some serious Linn butt.
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