Digital to Audio converters are on the rise. More and more we are seeing USB capable DACs flood the market with portable size, budget pricing and headphone options. While the competitive landscape is positive for consumers, it also makes sifting through the choices a bit more complex. Many of the current DAC entries offer varying input and output options and cater to several different types of implementation. The Arcam rPAC ($250) is one of the more simple solutions for computer HiFi listening, providing USB-exclusive input and both RCA and headphone outputs.
The construction of the Arcam rPAC is probably one of the most durable I have ever reviewed. The rPAC’s compact size and rubber-like coating cast a resemblance to a hockey puck in more ways than one. The unit is astonishingly heavy for its relatively small size. It feels dense and solid. The bottom is covered with a non-slip material that grips with authority. Two volume buttons are the only controls that grace the top of this portable device and a simple USB input and analog outputs cover the rear exit. A single LED light is located on the front edge which flashes rapidly when you adjust the volume and remains solid to let you know when you have reached the max/min levels. The unit is powered exclusively though the USB port, making it a seductive choice for those looking for a simple setup for portable and home computer upgrades.
Setup was as easy as any of the other DACs I have reviewed as of late, plug and play at its best. My Macbook Air had no trouble finding the necessary drivers, I was up and running within seconds. The TI PMC5102 DAC chip handles up to 24/96 kHz files, which is starting to feel more like a standard issue spec than even a few years ago, especially for DACs in the sub $300 range. The Arcam rPAC falls neatly into the sub $300 DAC range as a whole. Offering comparative connectivity and portable power consumption, the unit itself feels somewhat defined by its competition. I found the DAC output through the rear analog outs to be very comparable to other DACs in the $200-$300 range. Likewise the headphone amplifier performed adequately with the low impedance IEMs I tested it with. When listening to Sufjan Stevens’ They are Night Zombies… I did notice just a little more bass presence than the AudioQuest Dragonfly through the headphone output, but it was very subtle at best. The rPAC did fall a little short when it came to full-size headphones however. I felt the overall sound was a bit flat and less coherent than I usually like to hear when driving a pair of Audeze LCD-3. The amplifier section of the rPAC had just enough juice to push the LCD-3s to louder-than-normal listening levels to my ears.
The Bottom Line
If you are looking for a USB-powered DAC for your home rig that takes up a small footprint and has a durable build, you may want to check out the Arcam uPAC. The same can be said for In-Ear Monitor users looking for a simple, portable all-in-one solution. If full-size cans are more your cup of tea I would recommend adding an additional external headphone amplifier into the mix to the get most out of the rPACs DAC section.
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007NXM3K2