Arcam DiVA A85 integrated amplifier Page 3

However, the A85's ease and smoothness were intoxicating in their own way. Politeness shouldn't be mistaken for reticence; for all its prissiness with small gestures, this DiVA never demurred in the face of large-scale crescendos and demands for sudden bursts of power. It was telling how well the A85 sorted out all the little textural and percussive nuances of Jascha Heifetz's bowing while maintaining the distinction between his dynamic foreground presence and that of the supporting orchestra on the superb new JVC XRCD remastering of the famous 1950s RCA Red Seal recording of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony, JMCXR-0009).

The A85's sense of ease was carried over into its realistic, intimate depiction of solo voices, all in perfect proportion to the scale of its acoustic space and orchestral accoutrements. I found the sound of the A85's silences to be especially profound on Yo-Yo Ma's recent solo cycle, Inspired by Bach: The Cello Suites (2 CDs, Sony Classical S2K 63203) and the exalted vinyl version of Patricia Barber's Modern Cool (Premonition PREM-741-1). The A85 made me quite conscious of the spaces between, the otherness of the music—not as some vague, inky backdrop against which sound was being projected, but as three-dimensional sources set in a lustrous, resonant, pulsating acoustic space.

The A85 added nothing, yet helped me catch a wave and float along on the music's frothy crest. Vocals were marvelously true and free; in the context of such unbridled fare as the unbelievable Three Mo' Tenors (RCA Victor 63827-2), the smallest breath seemed intelligible against the largest walls of sound. With ample reserves of power for a room of small to medium size, the A85 maintained its balanced resolution even at lower volume levels, giving up the ghost only when pushed to the outer reaches of its power output, where this DiVA retained coherence at the cost of a certain upper-midrange hoarseness and strain. Cough.

Conclusion
The Arcam DiVA A85 is an exceptionally musical performer: tight, quick, and tuneful; firm, revealing, and polite...if perhaps too polite for some thrill-seekers. It reminded me of a slightly drier version of the Linn Classik, though it didn't have the latter's low-end pop and high-end bite. The A85 represents a very resolved, laid-back, modern style of solid-state sound.

Like the NAD C370, nothing about this amp suggests vacuum tubes, but a more refined way of thinking about solid-state's speed, focus, and clarity in the upper and lower frequency extremes. Its mids were coolly rendered but highly resolved; some veteran solid-state fans might yearn for more crystalline high frequencies, but the A85 had a very linear frequency response from top to bottom. Some might find it wanting in terms of midrange tone and emphasis, but others will celebrate its smooth, evenhanded quality. Those who want more pop, passion, personality, and point of view in their electronics will likely not gravitate toward the A85, but I bet it'll tease the sweet teeth of folks who listen to a lot of vocals.

Ultimately, it is the epic openness, transparency, and low-level detail of the A85's midrange that would inspire me to seriously consider this $1499 integrated amp as the steam engine for my audio choo-choo. I found that the synergy of the DiVA A85/CD92 combo and a pair of space-saving minimonitors—like my trusty Joseph Audio RM7si Signatures ($1899) or Meadowlark Shearwater Hot Rods ($3200)—left me feeling like a real high-end mensch: for $5000-$7000, I had made no fundamental compromises. And not only will the A85 happily drive a wide range of speakers, but with its cost-effective P85 biamping option, your system won't run out of gas should you, somewhere down the line, desire more slam—or decide to take the plunge into more demanding full-range loudspeakers in a bigger space.

No matter your budget, the Arcam lets you keep your options open; you'll be living large well into the future with a DiVA A85.

COMPANY INFO
Arcam
8709 Castle Park Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46256
(888) 272-2658
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