Arcam Solo Mini combo hi-fi
Easy on the ear and on the eye
Review Not far from the horizon is the Solo Neo from Brit hi-fi specialist Arcam. Last year, the company’s Solo Music had a baby and it was called the Solo Mini. While we wait for Neo make an appearance and no doubt wow minimalists and audiophiles alike, a review of the Solo Mini seemed in order.
Arcam's Solo Mini: sonically, anything but diminutive
Compared to the Solo Music it offers half the power in a half-size box, but otherwise it's much the same as the original Solo Music, with CD playback, DAB and FM/AM radio, plus iPod/iPhone compatibility, all delivered with hi-fi chops derived from Arcam's separates know-how. It's sold on its own or fully loaded with a pair of the company's Muso speakers and irDock iPod dock, the latter package being the set-up I tried out.
Sharing some of the classy minimalist looks of its predecessor, the Solo Mini is a more discreet, just over half-size box measuring 230 x 90 x 350mm. But pick it up and you'll realise just how jam-packed with technology it is by its 5.3kg weight, due in no small part to the hefty oversized toroidal transformer on board.
The control buttons seen on the Solo Music have been moved from the front to the top and the display has been stretched downwards slightly, while the CD drawer has been replaced with a slot. Build quality feels rock solid and it looks every bit like a piece of premium kit.
Hi-fi highlights include a low-jitter crystal clock and a 24-bit DAC borrowed from Arcam's £1,000 CD37 CD/SACD player. The twin power amps are the same design as those on the full-size Solo Music, albeit half the size, delivering 25 watts RMS into 8 ohms rather than 50 watts.
The remote makes lighter work of things compared to the sparse controls on offer
On the front, the single USB port doesn't support tethering to iPods, but will play back MP3 and WMA files from a memory stick. No AAC or FLAC support though, which is a bit shortsighted, all things considered. There's also a 3.5mm auxiliary input for MP3 players and suchlike and another for headphones.
Price and "audiophiles"
When it comes to "Audiophiles", the price they pay is equated to "quality". For those who actually understand electronics, price does NOT mean as much. Usually the vendor will charge what the traffic will bear, and when you stick an "audiophile" sticker on it, you can increase the price 3x or more. Obviously there are some people who will (foolishly in my opinion) pay the outragous price for such kit, but please count me out.
As for silly things like 24 bits and 96 kHz sampling rates, please! You can't hear it, so why bother. Even if you could hear 24 bits, getting ALL the circuitry to work at that level (144 dB signal to noise ratio) is a task in itself. Simple things like resistors that cost pennies (and are used in 24 bit systems) have more noise than that. It is VERY difficult to get circuits to work THAT quietly. As for the sampling rate, our old friend Mr. Niquist says that twice the highest frequency is enough, and more is a wasted effort, so why bother. Yes, we can build supersonic cars (and they will cost big bucks!), but when reasonable speeds are under 100 MPH, why waste money on useless things (but one of those Buggati Varons would be nice in my garage!).
Bottom line: Price is what you can get for the kit. No more, no less. If they can get £1000, I wish them well. They just won't get it from me!
it dosent even have wifi! or flac! and you give it 80%? are you bonkers?
@ The Flying Dutchman
"The signals that make up your most prized recordings have travelled through tens of metres of cable that would cost a quid a metre at most, and often much less. On their way, they've encountered untold numbers of industry standard connectors that cost no more than a few quid apiece"
There's also a high probability that your chosen listening material was mastered by someone listening to it on a pair of Mackie HR824* NF monitors (~1100 quid a pair), and/or a pair of Bayer DT100/150 cans (~100 quid).
If it's good enough for mastering the material, then (in my book) it's good enough for listening to it with...
(*or a pair of Yamaha NS10, if they're inclined to be passive)
Anyone prepared to pay more than a few quid per metre...
...for speaker cables automatically disqualifies him/herself from being taken seriously when discussing audio gear.
The single requirement for speaker cables is that the conductor cross section be sufficient such that the series resistance can be considered negligible. For a 5 metre run, 2.5 sq mm is quite sufficient (having a total series resistance of about 0.07 ohms), even considering the fact that some of the more idiosyncratic speaker systems may have impedance dips as low as 3 ohms. Reactive effects (inductance and capacitance) can be safely neglected since the circuit impedance is very low, unless you're looking at *very* long runs. If one wants to be picky, one can use 4-conductor jacketed cable (with the conductors laid up in the shape of a square) so as to obtain a star-quad configuration. 3-phase mains cable works very well, and is very cheap.
Everything else (hyper-pure linear-crystal oxygen-free copper etc) is 100% hype. Copper used in run-of-the-mill electrical conductors is pretty pure as a matter of course, and the "linear crystals" are automatically obtained when the copper ingots are drawn to progressively thinner wire strands.
As a matter of fact, I dare anyone to distinguish the snake oil speaker cable of their choice from a run of suitably robust but very common and dirt cheap mains cable in a double blind test.
All those who worship at the altar of "high end" audio, I've got news for you.
The signals that make up your most prized recordings have travelled through tens of metres of cable that would cost a quid a metre at most, and often much less. On their way, they've encountered untold numbers of industry standard connectors that cost no more than a few quid apiece, and they've been routed through a truckload of top-of-the line recording gear whose signal path contains such diabolical things as op-amps, (gasp!) and electrolytic capacitors (aargh!). Lots of 'em.
Now ask yourself: Is spending 500 quid for a pair of hyper-duper "interconnects" with alleged magical properties, to carry the signal the last few feet from your CD player to your amp, really going to make one iota of difference?
A valid point for once
My cloth ears were perfectly satisfied with my ancient audio system until the volume control started to get noisy. Then I started reading hifi equipment reviews again - ye gods what rubbish!
In modern high quality equipment, bandwith, noise and distortion figures etc etc may now be in the inaudible region, just as the difference between lossless v lossy encoding etc can be, but in a technical review at least these parameters should be explicitly confirmed.
Treating hifi amplifiers like guitar amps is clueless posing as is missing out a really valid point like the omission of direct access to the input of the high quality DAC.
Please, in a technical journal, can we have equipment reviews by qualified engineers.
End of rant, I'm off to get my soldering iron.