04 Arcam rBlink aScenario: You have a stereo system you love that dates from pre-Bluetooth days and it still has a good 20 years left in it. But since buying it you’ve amassed a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, maybe even a portable music player, all of them equipped with Bluetooth and, to be blunt, you now regard finding a CD, inserting it and pressing play as just a bit onerous. What you want is something that will get all the good stuff you’ve got stored digitally to your beautiful analogue stereo amplifier and speakers.

But music over Bluetooth is crap. Right?

Actually since the aptX codec turned up with Bluetooth it can get seriously good if you do it properly. AptX has been around for decades but until about ten years ago it was mostly confined to professional applications like movie theatres, telephone exchanges and radio stations. But lately it has been turning up in more and more Bluetooth-equipped audio gear. It’s still, however, far from universal in Bluetooth components and it pays to check the specs to make sure whatever you’re buying has Bluetooth aptX, rather than regular Bluetooth.

Ah, and you need to be aware of the catch with aptX. It has to be fitted to both sending and receiving Bluetooth units before it works.

There are lots of Bluetooth receivers on the market that will take the signal from your digital source, translate it to analogue and send it to your reliable old stereo through familiar RCA cables and most of them only serve to underline the old maxim about getting what you pay for. I’ve tried some of them and the sound is dull, flat and lifeless. When they work.

This is not just because they’re running regular Bluetooth, it’s also because the digital to analogue converter (DAC) inside them is shudderingly dreadful. Okay, but who needs one of those high priced and highly complex DACs the hi fi stores sell when all you want is a simple Bluetooth receiver that can process your music at least as well as the Bluetooth aptX codec can present it?

I’ve just found one.

It’s from Arcam. When it comes to digital music Arcam knows its stuff; the first CD player designed and built in the United Kingdom was an Arcam and two years later it had the world’s first stand-alone DAC that, when plugged in between such players and an amplifier, made them sound good.

04 Arcam rBlink bThis is why Arcam’s Bluetooth receiver, the rBlink, costs $399; the DAC is a ripper, a Burr Brown PCM5102 24-bit that lifts aptX Bluetooth to where it’s barely indistinguishable from CD. And it’s dead simple. There are RCA and SPDIF outputs with cables for each supplied. Plug it in to a wall outlet and screw in the aerial, then connect to your amp. Press the ‘Pair’ button to hook in your Bluetooth source and, voila, all that great music you have on hard drives floods into your stereo. I had it running in two minutes and my only criticism is that the ‘Pair’ button is so tiny you need a pen to push it in.

It measures 7.5 x 10 x 2.6 cm (WxDxH) and weighs 350 grams, it can go practically anywhere. And it runs cool as a cuc so you can keep it out of sight in a cabinet if you want. It’s beautifully made and with a cast aluminium case it’s solid. I’ve been listening to one for a couple of days and I didn’t want to send it back. So I bought it.

Published February 2017

 

Tags: ,