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Arcam FMJ A19 +Arcam rDAC kw/Bakoon BPS-02 + Castle RICHMOND ANNIVERSARY

Price (in Poland):
3290 zł + 2390 zł + 330 € (+ VAT) + 3490 zł + 990 zł

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Text: Wojciech Pacuła | Photos: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Andrzej Dziadowiec

Published: 2. March 2013, No. 106

Synergy is the Holy Grail of the audio world. It is the final destination, the Nirvana and Eden – the Paradise. Not the “absolute sound”. That, like every imaginary concept, is too abstract and too easily eludes common comprehension to think of it with goose bumps on your arms. Synergy, on the other hand, easily triggers such emotions.
Yet the word is not commonly used, not in a normal conversation at least. It is a classical book expression, often used in articles, and to some extent abstract, too; maybe not as much as the “absolute sound”, but still. What is important, though, is that it is rooted in reality. When do we know we’re dealing with synergy? Each time we hear from somebody that “the sound is freaking awesome!” or when we feel shivers down the spine while listening to music, when it is hard to get up from the couch and stop the music, when we feel that THIS IS IT. I believe that it is the shortest definition of synergy. We can naturally refer to a dictionary definition which states that it is: “joint working, co-operation” and further “increased effectiveness, achievement, etc., produced as a result of combined action or co-operation”. “Jaw dropping” is much more evocative, though, to describe its effects.
It is worth noticing that we never mention the absolute quality of the said system, in our case an audio system, but such selection of its components that brings some added value to the whole, something that is not present in individual components. Setting up an audio system is a basic activity in audio (see HERE), continuously selecting its components, swapping them around and looking for the right combination that will allow us to sit and listen to music with satisfaction. Of course the satisfaction will only last as long as it takes us to “learn” that sound which makes us ready to move forward. In case of an audiophile this process has no end and is an integral and important part of life, as important as listening to music itself. That is why we often say of this type of “seekers” as “audiophile/music lovers”, emphasizing an equal importance of both these aspects.

How to set up, put together a perfect system? It’s impossible. No, please, don’t let it break you down – I’m speaking the truth, no matter how hard it is to swallow; still, it's better to articulate it than to keep telling yourself that it's different. However, it’s possible to prepare a system so good that it will be the "right" one for us. It’s worth doing! When you reach that point we will experience a revelation, an epiphany, music will start "speaking" to us with a new voice; we will often for the first time hear something more than just a melodic line accompanied by noise.
There is, however, one problem with audio systems: one needs to know the market well and know most of the audio components of the set up system. Hence, it’s easiest to rely on manufacturers and to buy all the electronics from one manufacturer. This ensures basic compatibility and co-operation. In a large proportion of cases it will be the right step. You can, of course, complicate your life and try to put together components from various manufacturers. That will allow coming even closer to what you're looking for; it is, however, time consuming, more expensive and gives no guarantee that the result will be satisfactory.
Keeping all that in mind, from time to time I try to show you an exemplary system, set up by me in order to make the best all its components. Such a system is naturally a reflection of my taste and preferences, but I think that it is universal enough to let almost everyone find something useful for themself.
However, testing a system is a rare case. It requires as much effort as several separate tests without any guarantee of hitting the "bull’s-eye". For, although I am knowledgeable about the audio market and know a lot of products, the basis is still organoleptic – I need to listen to a certain number of systems out there, in various setups, to choose matching accessories, and put everything together to make it sound – tada! – synergistic. Simply great. And that means one thing: time to spare. Which is what I do not have. Hence, once I finally decide on something, once I see in my mind a shape of a "model" setup, it translates into my even greater commitment to look for equipment, to test it out and make choices. Especially if the audio system consists of components that are particularly interesting, new, or have any unusual features/characteristics.


The first device in this review that I came across was the Arcam rDAC digital-to-analog converter. The manufacturer took the whole market by surprise, because for little money it offered fantastic sound, great features, and outstanding external design. In my review of DACs I did for "Audio" the rDAC was one of the stars. Since then, its functionality has improved even further – now it offers, then unavailable, wireless signal transfer from the computer. The technology is owned by Kleer and allows for the transmission of uncompressed PCM 16/44.1 (CD quality) signal. High resolution files need to be sent via USB (24/192 asynchronous), coaxial (24/192) or optical cable.
The rDAC in itself is excellent. However, since I wanted to make it a totally unique system I plugged the DAC into the SATRI BPS-02 battery power supply from Bakoon, the same whose products featured on the cover of the December issue of “High Fidelity” (see HERE). It moves the rDAC to a whole new level, I think even higher than with external power supplies from other manufacturers. After all, it is a battery… The battery power supply requires its own power supply plugged in to the mains, but the next component in this audio system allows for something special…

The center of the system is the latest design from Arcam, the FMJ A19 amplifier. We have been waiting for a new product from this manufacturer for years and it looks like (unfortunately, I cannot say anything more for now) soon everything will move forward and good times are ahead. The A19 is the least expensive amplifier from the manufacturer and belongs to the FMJ series. It is controlled by a microprocessor so operating it is really cool. To make it environmentally friendly, the device is equipped with an automatic switch off that puts the amplifier into sleep mode after a certain period with no input signal. We can set the timer value or switch off this function altogether. The amplifier comes with a MM phono stage on board, which we will not be using at this time, focusing on digital sources. An important feature of this amp, as it turned out during the review, is the presence of the headphone jack – as you will see, it is a true "integrated". That's not all; as I said, the A19 has something special, making for an easy integration with external Arcam devices from the "r" series. On the rear panel we will find accessory power output – mini-jack DC 6V connector. The amplifier comes supplied with an accessory power cable providing two 2.1mm 6V 1A connectors to power two 'R' series devices at the same time. And now: you can thus get rid of the external power supply for the Bakoon SATRI battery supply. Simply plug in the SATRI via the accessory power cable and you're done. It’s important, however, to set the amp on and off timer so that the battery was charged.

The speakers proved to be the biggest problem for me. I wanted coherent sound, without brightening but without excessive warming, either. I wanted a unique design. There are several options available and I will discuss the most interesting ones at the end, but let me now simply say that I decided for the Richmond Anniversary speakers from Castle (Limited Edition). The first version of the Richmonds appeared in 1973, at the very beginnings of Castle; the Anniversary model was created for the company’s 35th anniversary. The cabinet is similar in size, but is a bit deeper, with different speaker drivers, reinforced cabinet and better crossover components. The rear panel features a gold plated, large plaque confirming the speakers’ special status. Castle is currently part of Chinese International Audio Group, the owner of QUAD, Audiolab and other British brands. IAG, as you can see, has been doing very well with the British heritage. Those interested in accurate measurements of the speakers will be happy to find their review in Australian Hi-Fi magazine HERE.

And finally, the cables. I went for quite expensive, in the context of electronics pricing, Chord Cadenza interconnects. You have to pay 990 PLN for 0.5 m length, the same as in the review, but the system requires that. It’s not worth settling for anything cheaper.
I leave choosing speaker cables and power cords up to you. Chord speaker cables will be a good choice; in case of power cords you might consider Supra or Gigawatt.
I do not give you any particular model because I’d like to show you on this occasion a patent that’s worth using in this system. The Richmonds are equipped with dual speaker terminals. This is a legacy from the 1990s when bi-wiring was a hot topic. Fortunately, more and more companies withdraw from that idea – it’s better to use a single, more expensive cable than two cheaper cables. However, if we already have bi-wire terminals, it is essential to replace the jumpers between them for better quality ones. The majority of manufacturers offer something like that and it is best if the jumpers are made of the same cable as our speaker cable. But there is an even better, true no-compromise solution.
Although I have written about that before, let me repeat: Acoustic Revive has prepared a no-compromise way to couple the speakers’ bi-wiring terminals. This requires reworking of the speaker cable ends. Instead of terminating them with banana plugs we use the BWA-4 Bi-Wire Adapter. It is made of two materials, 2017 duralumin and brass, in order to minimize vibration.
It’s also subjected to a cryogenic process (-196 º C).
To the other end of the BWA-4 we connect two pairs of 15-cm lengths, separately for each pair of speakers terminals, of the same cable as the main speaker cable we use. And we terminate them any way we choose. In my case, I used the Acoustic Revive RBN-1 banana plugs.

During the review I focused on two types of signal: from the CD player via RCA digital cable and from the computer, wirelessly. The Ancient Audio Air V-edition was used as a CD transport. The player and the amplifier sat on the Acoustic Revive RAF-48F anti-vibration platforms. Since I used a short length of the Chord interconnect (due to its high – in the context of the whole system – price), I didn’t have much room to maneuver to set up the DAC and the amplifier. After several attempts I ended up placing the former ON the amplifier, in its left front corner. I could not hear any difference over against placing them next to each other, and the DAC’s rubber "sole" prevented its slipping on the top panel of the A19. rDAC battery power supply sat next to it on a wooden shelf. The HiFiMAN HE-300 headphones also came handy. As usual, I used them with the fantastic, beautiful Klutz Design cancans stand.


A selection of recordings used during auditions:

  • Random Trip, Nowe Nagrania, 005, CD + FLAC 24/44,1 (2012).
  • Abraxas, 99, Metal Mind Records, MMP CD 0102, CD (1999).
  • Allan Taylor, Old Friends – New Roads, Stockfisch, SFR 357.6047.2, CD (2007).
  • Barbara Lea, Woman In Love, Riverside/Sinatra Society of Japan, XQAM-160, CD (1955/2007).
  • Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out, Columbia/Sony Music Entertainment Hong Kong, 83532, No. 55, K2HD CD (1959/2011).
  • Dead Can Dance, Anastasis, [PIAS] Entertainment Group, PIASR311CDX, "Special Edition Hardbound Box Set", CD+USB drive 24/44,1 WAV (2012);
  • Depeche Mode, Singles 13-18, Mute, 6 x SP CD (1991).
  • Frank Sinatra, Only The Lonely, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 792, gold-CD (1958/2002).
  • Jethro Tull, Thick As a Brick, "40th Anniversary Set", Chrisalis/EMI 461923, CD + DVD PCM 24/96 (1972/2012).
  • Megadeth, Countdown to Extinction, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, UDCD 765, gold-CD (1992/2006).
  • Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, Columbia/Sony-Legacy, 480410, “Master Sound”, Super Bit Mapping, CD (1959/1995).
  • Muse, The Resistance, Warner Music Japan, WPZR-30355-6, CD+DVD (2009).
  • Porcupine Tree, Deadwing, Lava, 93437, CD (2005).
  • Portishead, Third, Go! Disc/Universal Music K.K. (Japan), UICI-1069, CD (2008).
  • Roger Waters, Amused To Death, Columbia/Sony Music Direct (Japan), MHCP 693, CD (1992/2005).
  • Warne Marsh Quartet, Music For Pracing, Mode/Muzak, MZCS-1111, „Mode Paper Sleeve Collection vol.1”, CD (1957/2006).
Japanese editions available from

Matching individual audio system components is not unlike cooking. Or designing a building. The point is to take some known patterns or designs and then convert them, add something new and spice it in such a way that we enjoy the result. While the basic conditions placed on this type of "work” need to be met, its final shape depends on us and it is to us that it should be especially appealing. It is no different with the reviewed system – it is a reflection of my understanding of sound and what I deem important.

And there is consistency. The Arcam electronics with the Castle speakers create something that can’t be called anything else than "a spectacle with bounds". That spectacle consists of drama, fullness, excellent tonal balance, differentiation and growth, and the bounds are limits imposed on the sound due to selection of small floorstanding speakers and inexpensive electronics. Of course, you can improve each of these components, but to fit within our budget, you have to give up something we already have. And that would not be advisable…
First of all, it is bass extension. The Castle are small standmount speakers and their designers did not try at all costs to squeeze out of them as many low sounds as possible. This type of strategy, i.e. lowering sensitivity, slightly changing tonality to get a better extension, is understandable and in the hands of a good designer can produce spectacular results (see RLS Callisto III ). Something else needs to be sacrificed, though – consistency and clarity of all components. The Castle’s bass is very consistent, low, but without exaggeration. After a certain point, somewhere around 100 Hz it is slowly phased out, without disappearing suddenly, without creating the impression of emptiness, absence, which happens even with very large floorstanders.
The reviewed system is thus very even. And while low-bass limits are clear, the volume of sound is amazing, as is its focus and spaciousness. The acoustics of any given recording is not based solely on treble, which happens if your system emphasizes treble. Then it’s an artifacted soundstage, kind of fake, lacking a stronger fundament and not credible. Something ticks, echoing for a long time, but it lacks body, is detached from the sound that created the echo.

The Arcam with the Castles sound deep, showing wide, deep, very believable soundstage. The first planes are saturated, strong and somewhat emphasized, but what is deep inside is well captured, clear. Soundstage, let me repeat, is very deep. Temporal relations between different sounds are correctly preserved. It happens because the presentation is normal, real, in spite of its obvious limitations. Selecting the recordings on which phase relations play a major role will keep us sitting down and listening intently, waiting for yet another "treat". It will be a part of something bigger, not a "treat for its own sake"; we will have it shown in a clear, interesting way, without losing sight of the whole picture. A seminary album in this respect, Amused to Death by Roger Waters sounded almost as good as with the Harbeths M40.1 (in terms of consistency of information outside of the main plane) or the Amphion Krypton3 (in terms of positioning accuracy). An even stronger "kick" the system gave the album 99 by Polish group Abraxas.
The fullness of the so the created "stereo" in the sense of "sphere" is associated with a strong lower midrange and a nice mid- and upper bass of the speakers, superbly driven by the Arcam, bringing full breath and reliable tangibility. In turn, its focus, precision, reliability, lack of image vibration on the edge of the "field of view" is a result of speakers dimension. We won’t get something like this, for the money, with any single floorstander. If you manage to find something with an even stronger drawn, even more powerful "body" of instruments, not just in front of us, but at every point in space, we'll need to pay for it with the size of soundstage, its momentum. And its color. And reliability. Despite the fact that everything is bigger, deeper, it will not be so clear, so well defined.

The system does not care much what kind of music we throw at it. Personally, I liked the most jazz recordings with vocals in the lead role, such as the not listened to for long and now refreshed with pleasure Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and Take Five by Dave Brubeck Quartet. Among vocal recordings - Sinatra with Only The Lonly. But I already mentioned Waters and Abraxas, and I can add to this both Depeche Mode, Clan of Xymox, and Jarre. Similarly, classical music.
When I played Bach’s Toccata in D minor, both my daughter and son came running, knowing the recording by watching the TV cartoon show Il Etait Une Fois ... L'Homme from 1978. It was a special experience, because even though the powerful Harbeths are ideal for my son, he admitted that he also liked the Castles and felt shivers down the spine. This particular version of the Fugue… comes from the compilation titled High-Quality Music Source. Technical MJ Disc vol.6 issued by the Japanese magazine MJ Technical. I hate compilations, but this particular album attracted my attention with covers of some discs. And very well so as the version of Bach's track I'm talking about sounds spectacular and allowed the system to show its best side. Low bass was still lacking, but was in a very suggestive manner suggested.
As it turns out, one can pinpoint the system components responsible for different aspects of sound and abstract how they limit the system. The amplifier has a slightly weighed down mid-bass and weaker treble resolution than that of midrange and bass. Although I opened the A19 after the auditions, I knew what I could expect to see inside – output stage on ICs. I have already heard it many times, both with cheaper, and more expensive devices. In this case, the "benefit of inventory" plays its role: it adds the speakers some "body", saturates the midrange and slightly dulls the treble. The speakers are in fact quite transparent. Preserving the "magic" of Castle, consisting in slightly sweet emphasizing the attack, they are cleaner and have better resolution than most of the speakers from the company, regardless of the price. Their treble is quite strong, and the upper midrange gently withdrawn. Therefore, it’s best to pair them with more expensive amplifiers, maybe tube. Unless it is the Arcam (or a Music Hall) - in this setup I got everything that’s best in the Richmonds, with something extra I was not expecting for the money. As I said, it is consistency and balance.

Headphone outputs in integrated amplifiers and in CD players are almost always a secondary feature, nothing to write home about. If we want to use the headphones in an equivalent way as the speakers we will almost always need to buy an external headphone amplifier. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are expensive: tube amplifiers from Leben and Cary, the Marantz SA-11S3 SACD player that I reviewed for "Audio" some time ago. The rule, however, is that headphone outputs are supposed to raise the functionality of the device, not affect its 'value'. Headphone output in the A19 is different. Although it is only a mini-jack connector, I used it to listen to music for long and with pleasure. The HiFiMAN HE-300, equipped with a mini-jack terminated cable proved an almost perfect match – there are no coincidences… The sound was not particularly resolved and differentiated, and the midbass was stronger, but the whole sounded surprisingly real and natural. High dynamics, very good "sound stage", the lack of the brightening - we typically get that in headphone amplifiers for 1,500 PLN and more. Here we have it for free.

As I said at the beginning, I was primarily interested in how the system sounds with the CD and with the signal transmitted wirelessly from the computer. All the above considerations and remarks apply to the signal from the CD, via cable. Kleer wireless transmission is very stable. I never had any problems with interference or signal “dropouts”. The sound, however, was worse than via cable, let's not have any illusions. It is shallower, lighter and less dynamic. It cannot therefore be our "main" transmission channel. However, if we want to use our computer as an alternative source, when you do not sit before the speakers focused on music, but only work, relax, or cook - it will be ideal. It is hassle-free and gives us easy access to thousands of recordings collected by us on our computer's hard disks.


Arcam rDAC/Bakoon SATRI BPS-02

It's a small box made of cast aluminum, with four LEDs and a button. The latter change the active input, and the LEDs change color from red (no signal) to green. We can feed it via RCA, TOSLINK optical (both 24/192) and USB (asynchronously, up to 24/96). The latter port features the TAS1020B digital receiver with software licensed from dCS, world leader in the field of digital signal processing.
RCA and TOSLINK digital inputs are coupled to the WM8805 digital receiver from Wolfson Microelectronics. There are actually two receivers - for the S/PDIF inputs and for an optional PCB with the Wi-Fi module accordingly. The former accepts 24-bit signal up to 192 kHz, the latter is limited to 24/48. There is a single D/A converter chip, a very good, modern Wolfson WM8741, accepting signal up to 32-bit and 192 kHz. The output stage is built on two low-noise, high-speed L49722 ICs from International Semiconductor. The whole section features very good Elna Silmic capacitors. RCA output (only ground connector is gold plated) is coupled via DC servo system and activated by a small relay.
Battery power supply from Korea is a nice aluminum box with a switch on the front panel and a small LED light, changing color from white (charging) to green or amber (charged), depending on which of the two batteries works.

Arcam FMJ19

This is the latest amplifier design from Arcam, but it looks exactly the same as the first device from the FMJ series, many years ago. It is housed in an aluminum enclosure, dampen from the inside with glued-on aluminum plates. The front panel sports a green display screen, a large volume knob, and a row of buttons. They are used to select the active input, to activate channel balance and 'Mute' mode, to dim and turn off the display. There are also mini-jack connectors – a headphone output and an input from an external device.
The connectors on the rear panel are of medium quality. There are, however, surprisingly many of them: six line inputs, MM phono input (which can be turned into another line input in the "menu"), tape loop and pre-out. Speaker terminals are single. There is also a mini-jack accessory power output connector with 6V DC.
The electronic circuitry is mounted on one big PCB. The preamplifier is based on National Semiconductors ICs and the Burr Brown PGA2311 stepped resistor attenuator. Phono stage sports a single JRC2114 chip. Power amplifiers are built on the LM3886 ICs from National Semiconductors mounted to a sizeable heat sink. Most components are surface mount, with the exception of through-hole resistors and electrolytic capacitors.
The power supply looks very nice: a large toroidal transformer and four filter capacitors for the power amplifier. The preamplifier section has a separate secondary winding and voltage controller. It also supplies power for the accessory output 6V.

Castle Richmond Anniversary

The new Richmonds are small, beautifully finished with natural veneer and very heavy. The original cabinet of 15 mm MDF was additionally damped in the 3i version by the addition of bitumen mats. For the Anniversary Edition the engineers reduced panel vibration and resonance even more, using multi-layer composite laminate and soft wool to absorb sound waves inside the cabinet. As Peter Comeau, the head of Castle designers, said, in order to fully realize of the dynamic capabilities of the 110 mm midwoofer the cabinet was reinforced by carefully selected additional internal bracing. The midwoofer has carbon fiber woven cone. The driver motor system employs a Kapton former with a copper clad aluminum voice coil. The whole is mounted onto a solid cast aluminum chassis. Treble is handled by a polyamide micro-fiber 19 mm dome tweeter. It is placed below the midwoofer which provides a degree of time alignment between the drivers and allows a phase accurate Linkwitz-Riley type crossover for the best tuning of the speaker drivers. The tweeter is offset to disperse and reduce front baffle reflections, further enhanced by the new profiled cabinet edges. The speakers are supplied in mirrored pairs.
The crossover components have been selected for their “transparency” and include oversized air coil inductors and Castle’s proprietary low-loss polypropylene capacitors.

Distribution in Poland


ul. Malborska 56, 30-646 Kraków
tel.: 12 265 02 85, 12 265 02 86 | fax: 12 425 64 43



30-646 Kraków, ul. Malborska 24
tel./fax: 12 655 75 43


  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition, review HERE
  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
  • Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE), Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III [Signature Version] with Re-generator Power Supply
  • Power amplifier: Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom Version, review HERE
  • Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro; 600 Ω version, review HERE, HERE, and HERE
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300 (article HERE, preamp-power amp: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE
  • Stand: Base; under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under the CD and preamplifier
  • Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS [Custom Version]; review HERE