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Amplifier Arcam Alpha 3 review

Close encounters with the unexpected are just one feature of the truly blind listening test, whereby the panellists have no advance knowledge of the makes or prices of the products being reviewed. Precisely matched listening levels remove another potential distraction and the end result sometimes doesn’t tally with previous expectations and prejudices.

So it turned out with the Aracam Alpha 3, which entirely failed to justify the praise that has, up until this point, been lavished upon it here and elsewhere. This is something of a pity because its predecessor, the Alpha 2, was awarded a best buy. It’s all the odder still because of the very close relationship between Alpha 2 and 3, the only externally visible difference being a ‘Direct’ (tone bypass) facility included on the newcomer.

Inside the same general topology is evident, with the same MM vinyl disc stage and power transistors but serviced by uprated 10,000pF power supply caps. There’s a new transformer too, with higher secondaries to sustain the beefed-up 50W output.

Detail revisions include removing one of two coupling capacitors in the signal path and opting for air-cored rather than ferrite-cored inductors in the zobel network.

Sound quality

Two examples were auditioned over four separate sessions employing a total of six different listeners. The Compact Disc input was considered better than the MM stage, primarily because of its greater composure, more realistic soundstaging and better sense of involvement.

Even here it was far from neutral, however, emphasising Julia Fordham’s natural sibilance, for example and becoming progressively softer and hazier as more instruments joined the fray. ‘Plenty of top-end’ the listeners said, while also acknowledging a lisp or ‘rider’ on guitar strings, vocals and percussion.

The moving magnet vinyl disc input tended to throw the music forward, causing remarks that the soundstaging was not as precise as it could be. ‘A little diffuse’, the listening panel ventured, particularly with the busy horn and string interplay from the Rachmaninov Symphony. The sound had weight and body but somehow lacked form or tangibility – a further reference to the diffuse impression.

Jazz strings were also less distinct than usual, but the character of the woodwind was undeniably sweet.

‘Easy listening’ was the slightly condescending conclusion, and it was considered that competitors offered a considerably more engaging performance.

Conclusion

What more can I say? We gave the Arcam Alpha 3 every chance to shine but it consistently failed to justify its reputation.

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