The general audiophile consensus is that iPods killed the world's love for hi-fi, and that for every pitiful 128Kbps iTunes download sold, Apple kills a kitten. But now, with better DACs, Apple Lossless encoding and the iPod classic (160GB discontinuation notwithstanding), iPods are appealing more to audiophiles.
Arcam aimed to harness this with its audiophile-grade rDock. Now, with the launch of its Solo Mini, it hopes to bring iPod and rDock together with hi-fi circuitry to create an all-in-one amp, CD player and iPod system, and show the world that separates aren't the only way to experience true hi-fi performance. It's on sale now for £650, with the optional rDock at around £100.
At roughly half the width of a regular hi-fi separate, and effectively incorporating three separates-worth of functionality (amp, CD and tuner), the Solo Mini redefines compactness -- it's the studio apartment's hi-fi.
The Solo Mini doesn't come with the rDock in the box. It must be purchased separately for about £100, but it's well worth the money. It's by far the best dock on the market and reflects the Mini's superb, sold design and construction.
As if all that British-built construction wasn't appealing enough, the smashing dot-matrix display is clear and easy to read. And since with the rDock attached it'll display your iPod's contents and song titles, this is a significant plus point.
In addition to all this, the Solo Mini's integrated stereo amp packs 25W of oomph per channel, plays MP3s and unprotected WMAs from CD-Rs and USB sticks, and in the UK, DAB radio accompanies an FM/AM tuner. Sadly -- and surprisingly -- there's no love shown for AAC, FLAC, Lossless WMA or WAV. And we'd love to have seen SACD support, though we're picking hairs here.
With four gold-plated RCA inputs to the rear, and a 3.5mm line-level input up front, hooking up your Blu-ray disc player, Xbox 360, PC and even your Betamax or HD DVD player isn't out of the question. And neither is wiring up speakers with decent speaker wire, thanks to some chunky 8-ohm output terminals.
But the real trick of the Solo Mini comes when hooking up an iPod with the rDock. The uninspiring-but-useful remote control lets you navigate iPod contents extremely simply. Browse by artist, album, genre, playlist or song.
Should you want to add a separate amp to the setup, Arcam offers a pre-out and a fixed-level output. This is a good bonus, but this setup is mostly aimed at people who will never use such bonuses.
Operation is as simple as it comes, even when browsing iPod contents or scanning for radio stations. This means nothing will get in the way of your music. Available as a package with the Solo Mini are the Arcam Muso speakers, separately worth about £250 a pair.
They're certainly well above average speakers for the price, but we hooked the Solo Mini up to our reference speakers, and were immediately impressed with how well the CD player and amp performed. The system offers a powerful sound, bursting with detail and smooth bass -- and with the right speakers it creates a vivid, deep soundstage with incredibly low distortion. Good going, Arcam!
The toroid-based power supply handled everything we threw at it, highlighting that the small size for which it was chosen hasn't hindered the system's performance -- Metallica's Enter Sandman exploded from the Mini, just as well as the rather more delicate Feist carefully and emotionally flowed from the system.
Interestingly, the audio processor inside the CD player is a 24-bit model from Wolfson -- the Scottish chip-maker that used to make the audio chips inside Apple's iPods. Inside the Solo Mini is the same WM8740 audio chip found inside Arcam's high-end CD and DVD players, the CD73 and FMJ139, further emphasising that the Solo Mini's small stature belies its true audiophile qualities.
If a better combination of value for money and performance exists, we've never seen it. Arcam has crafted a truly admirable all-in-one system, bursting with features and oozing true hi-fi qualities. Only SACD inclusion could've made this even better.
If you thought it was explicitly essential to use separates for creating a hi-fi experience, give the Solo Mini a spin before voicing those opinions to people who know better. It'll save you the embarrassment of standing corrected.
Edited by Marian Smith