Arcam FMJ D33 DAC – Review
I had this DAC a while ago, but only for a few days and did’t have time to write a review about it. Now it’s back in my house and since I had more time to test it properly, here we are. The first time I’ve used it with both Burson Conductor and Decware Taboo MK3, adding HD800 and LCD-X at the end of the system. Now I am pairing it with Audio GD-Master 9. Because of M9’s amazing transparency I’ve heard more of D33 than the last time, if you know what I mean. This amp really lets a good DAC shine.
Who is Arcam ?
I like their first sentence on the about page:
Arcam is based just outside the famous university city of Cambridge, and our story started the classic way: two friends with a passion for music and electronics met up while engineering students at Cambridge University, and founded Amplification and Recording Cambridge in 1976.
You can find more about the company right on their well written about page. So they are a British company and have been on the market for almost 40 years. During this time they have given the market some very interesting products, sometimes innovative.
Actually, in 1988 they launched the first offboard digital to analog converter (DAC), to improve the sound of CD players. In 1988 they released a high quality DAB radio tuner for wifi hi-fi systems, then their own Dolby S cassette deck.
From what I’ve heard, they have received some investments recently, boosting their R&D capabilities, so you should be expecting some very interesting products in the future from them.
Intro and Specifications
The product won’t win any beauty contest, but it has a nice simplicity attached to it’s design, simplicity that might attract the eyes of a purist.
It doesn’t have a screen, just some inputs, filter selectors and some lights to indicate the frequency rate it’s playing. Considering that it also has a remote and the frontpanel is very easy to use, I don’t see the lack of a screen as a downside, because it makes the user experience more straight forwarded and simpler.
The finishes of the unit are OK and is combined with a good build quality. The case is not as thick as the one from M9 or Moon 650d, but it’s sturdy enough.
When I took a look on the black plate I was impressed with all the inputs and outputs of this product and it seems it is made to be very versatile as well.
Inputs: 2 coax, 2 optical, 2 USB (1.1 and 2.0), 1 IPod USB Input, AES.
Outputs: 2 pairs of single ended rcas, XLR balanced output.
- Fully balanced with 2 X Burr Brown 24-bit 192kHz Advanced Segment Delta-Sigma.
- Signal to noise ratio > 110dB CCIR (unweighted)
- Harmonic distortion (1kHz) 0.0008% (20Hz — 20kHz, unweighted)
- Frequency response (+0.1dB, -0.5dB) 10Hz–20kHz
- Filtering User selectable, fast or slow roll-off
- Output level (0dB) 2.2Vrms
- Output impedance 47Ω
- Minimum load 5kΩ
- USB Class 1 electrically-isolated USB 1.1
- Class 2 USB 2.0 High Speed (480 Mbit/s)
- AES/EBU Up to 192kHz sample rate
- Coaxial S/PDIF x 2 Up to 192kHz sample rate
- Optical S/PDIF (TOSLINK) x 2 Up to 96kHz sample rate Computer compatibility
- PC Windows 7, Vista & XP (driver required for 24/192 material)
- MAC OSX (no driver required)
So, the D33 has two filters which helps with keeping the diversity in the sound type you want to hear.
Oversampled digital-to-analogue conversion uses digital filtering to process the signal. The D33 uses custom processing to provide two different digital filters, allowing the conversion process to be optimized to personal preference and listening material. Use the FILTER button on the remote control or front panel to toggle between the two filter options.
The Filter 1 is a minimum-phase filter with a fast roll-off that should remove the pre-ringing on transients that could appear in normal filters.
The Filter 2 has a much slower roll-off than Filter 1, with no pre-ringing and minimal post ringing.
I couldn’t resist the temptation and I had to take a peek inside the unit. The simplicity, organized design and high quality components were a pleasure to my eyes.
I was very surprised to see a xilinx spartan fpga chip, as you can’t see anything about this on Arcam’s D33 official page. I see this as a major plus, as I didn’t come across a product with a spartan fpga digital processing unit that didn’t impress me.
So the Xilinx FPGA has the role of filtering the digital signal and I think they did a great job with that.
The 2 big toroidal transformers supply independent power to the digital and analog sections, which also have smoothing capacitors and heat-sunk voltage regulators.
Each channel uses a dedicated PCM1792 Burr Brown DAC chip:
The tests have been done with Audio-Gd Master 9, MSB Analog Dac, AG500 Power Regenerator, Sennheiser HD800, Audeze LCD-X.
I also had the pleasure of hearing this DAC in a Martin Logan Theos speaker system as well as my headphone system. I must say that the speaker system sounded absolutely fabulous, showing very good dynamics, transparency, details, naturalness and holography.
After listening to D33 in my system, I realized that it had a major role in those pluses.
Plugging the D33 in the AG500 power regenerator improved the sound of the DAC quite well. It boosted the transparency, details, soundstage, etc.
The USB input was very good on it’s own I don’t think the unit needs an external usb interface.
Watching the front plate I couldn’t resist on playing with the filters. These filters really make a difference in the sound. It’s not a night/day difference, but quite enough to assure you have diversity with just one DAC.
The first filter makes the sound a little more laid back and speeds up the transients. Also the soundstage and the distance between the layers and sounds expand with this filter. The decay is very fast, but sometimes too fast for that matter. It takes away from the extension of the instruments. However, the attack of the instruments is more present because of that and in crowded passages it can be very helpful.
Even if I like both filters, I tend to let it play on filter 2. Why do I do this? Because the extension of the instruments is great with this one. You can hear the body and chords of the guitars and instruments very well with it. Also the bass goes deeper. It makes the sound more analog/natural and more enjoyable for longer listening periods.
Let’s go through a couple of songs.
Infected Mushrooms – IM The Supervisor
The sound is spacious and the imaging was very very good. When the bass kicked in it really impressed me as it has a very powerful kick, control and depth. The sound was fast even with the filter 2, making it very energetic and fun.
The instruments were really amazing showing very good texture, extension and detail. The layering was again very good with a lot of space between them. The voices were clean, but presented some sibilance. Again, the energy of the song was very well transmitted by D33.
The sparkle on the treble was very fun, showing good treble energy without harshness. The voices were transparent but lacked the naturalness and the presence they have with Analog Dac for example. These being said, they were still very good and well separated with a good tonality overall.
D33 managed to reproduce the very crowded passage from the beginning with ease. Here is where the Filter 1 shines as it managed to separate the instruments with very good precision giving a very tickling sensation from the sparkly guitars. It also managed to reproduce the greatness of the scene and to give a holographic presentation. The song was extremely enjoyable with the D33.
Leonard Cohen – The Gypsy’s Wife
D33 is capable of very good transparency indeed. The instruments were incredibly crispy and detailed. I just loved those guitars. The one from the left channel gave me goosebumps. The the violin started on the right channel and impressed me with the extension and detailed texture. The voice was very transparent and clean but lacked a little presence.
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – Antonio Vivaldi – Concerto in F major
The scale of the sound was impressive. It was a pleasure to listen to and it transposed me in the concert hall. The soundstage was incredible spacious with very good instrument separation and layering. I never heard any sound to blend over another. The presentation was clean as a whistle showing top transparency again. This piece put into play the excellent dynamics and micro dynamics D33 is capable of. Every instrument had a very good impact in the scene with great detail and tactile presence. D33 is excellent with classical music!
Etienne Moulinie – Je Suis Ravi
I love the transparency of this DAC. The voice was excellent this time. The scene was greatly enlighten by the voice and it’s echo throughout the song. The sparkly guitars were very well separated by the voice giving you the impression of greatness again. The voice was incredibly clean and transparent, a pleasure to listen to.
The bass is very good. It has excellent control and speed with a very strong punch. The extension is very, very good but I’ve heard better (Analog Dac, Wavedream). However, it managed to impress me quite a lot and it is my top experiences.
The instruments have very good details and extension, especially with filter 2 on. The voices are very clean and pleasant, but not so textured and present as on MSB or Wavedream. However, the midrange is still incredible and very very enjoyable. One of the best I’ve experienced!
The D33 has very good treble extension, energy and details. I cannot say it is bright, but you have to take care of the pairing with the amp. For example Conductor had some treble energy itself and wasn’t a great match with it and HD800. M9 and Taboo however were a very good combo with it. If the recording has some trouble in the treble area, this dac will be honest with you.
This DAC really impressed me with it’s transparency, that made it a clear window into the music.
Dynamics & Micro Dynamics
Every instrument in the scene was alive and kicking, even the farthest ones, giving a tactile and detailed sound presentation.
The details of D33 are very good and tickled my ears with sparkly guitars, well textured violins, extended trumpets, etc.
This is another area where the D33 shines. The attack is powerful and impactful and the decay is fast and natural. This is something that you can also tune with the filters.
Soundstage, Imaging – Instrument Separation
The soundstage of D33 is very spacious. The instrument separation is top notch showing great imaging and layering. With classical music when you close your eyes it transposes you in the scene.
Compared to MSB Analog Dac
D33 is a great DAC but not quite in the same league with MSB, as the Analog Dac beats it on all categories from naturalness, details, transparency to soundstage and imaging. However, considering the price difference, D33 is still very good for what it does.
The transparency, soundstage & holography, crisp & detailed midrange lead to a very remarkable sound presentation, placing it really high on my recommendation list.
I’ve enjoyed writing this review as D33‘s performance was refreshing and very impressive. While it was great with all the music genres I’ve tested it with, I just loved classical and instrumental music with D33.
This DAC is definetely one of the best DACS that I had the pleasure of reviewing. Its performance, versatility and possibility of sound variations because of the filters, makes it easy for me to place this product really high on my recommendation list.
- very good bass with strong kick, control and depth
- very clean and detailed midrange
- good treble extension and spark
- excellent soundstage and scale with very good instrument separation, imaging & layering
- very good dynamics and micro-dynamics
- very good details
- nice sound variations with the filter selection
- lots of inputs & outputs
- neutral sound presentation
- sometimes the treble could get a little sibilant in bad recordings.
- the voices, especially the male ones could use a little more presence and texture