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Amplifier Arcam Delta 290 review

Arcam has introduced the all-singing, ail-dancing ?500 Delta 290 integrated amplifier in order, it says, ‘to meet the consumer and legislative requirements of the Nineties’. As a company known for its caution and conservatism rather than fashion leadership, this is certainly a bold step, replacing the workhorse 90.2 while offering more power, full remote control of volume and (motorised) input selection, plus a complete re-design of the vinyl disc, line and power amp stages.

The latter marks a real departure for Arcam who is exchanging bipolars for pairs of quasi-complementary MOSFETs. The fuse-triggered speaker protection of old has been abandoned in favour of fast-acting relays. So, unlike its predecessors, the D290 will not live in fear of insensitive, low impedance loudspeakers.

The stylists have been at work too, though Arcam has not exactly let its corporate hair down. Instead the D290 comes across as sober and purposeful, a comprehensive meeting place for up to six line inputs (including two tape decks), two-way speaker selection, mono, tone defeat, pre-out and power amp-in facilities. The MM/MC vinyl disc board is an optional extra, which can be purchased and incorporated for an extra ?50.

Sound quality

introduced towards the end of a day dominated by amplifiers that either sounded dark, euphonic and rather mushy, or bright, upbeat and forward, the sobriety and restraint of the D290 prompted little but applause. Our panel voted the new Arcam ‘a class act’, its taut, dynamic and detailed sound uncovering subtle ambient clues that had been routinely obscured by its immediate predecessors.

We began to view recordings we had been listening to all day with fresh enthusiasm. The piano in Rachmaninov’s Symphononic Dances that had once sounded almost buried was now brought out and dusted off alongside the brass and strings at their feverish height.

Re-introduced on Day 2, the opening notes of Paganini’s piano struck up a marvellous ambience, depicting the acoustic of the venue in vivid fashion. ‘You can hear the wails’ announced one impressed listener. The accompanying violin was described as ‘staggering’, every scratch and scrape of the bow laid bare with a spine-tingling electricity. ‘Sounds as if its been plugged into a three-phase mains’ quipped another.

This renewed charge was tempered via CD, however, where a slight dryness pervaded. Our jazz selection sounded too close for comfort, though Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet was still pronounced ‘breathtaking’.

Conclusion

Amplifiers of this calibre are certainly uncommon. The secret of the Delta 290’s success seems to be that Arcam has cultivated a seed of dryness and restraint, a tinge that’s sufficient to bind the most arduous of musical styles into a coherent and memorable performance. All this plus remote control makes for a compelling and enthusiastic recommendation.

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