This weekend we’re giving Headfonia readers our early impressions of the Focal Arche headphone amplifier, DAC, and preamplifier which the French manufacturer sells for $2,490 USD.
Each Sunday we give Headfonia readers a sneak-peek at new gear that we have in the review pipeline, along with some of our early thoughts and impressions. Focal’s Australian distributor, Busisoft A.V loaned us the Arche to share our impressions with Headfonia readers – as always, our thoughts and conclusions are our own.
I had enormous fun reviewing the Focal Stellia back in March – the French brand’s unashamedly opulent, and equally impressive closed-back flagship. While the Stellia wasn’t particularly difficult to drive and also plays nicely with a range of source gear, let’s just say that the upstream components didn’t have the same sense of panache as the ‘cognac’ and ‘mocha’-coated Stellia.
Enter the ‘Arche’: Focal’s Flagship DAC, headphone amplifier, and preamplifier. Not only is it specially-designed to pair with their range of audiophile headphones – the Elear, Clear, Elegia, Stellia, and Utopia, but it’s also been given a dose of the same visual flair that the French manufacturer has imbued into their headphones.
It’s a very nicely put-together all-in-one unit, with a minimal ‘no-nonsense’ user interface on the front panel – a push-button stepped digital volume control that takes care of all settings and adjustments. Along with an LED display panel, the Arche features both 4-pin XLR balanced, and 6.3mm single-ended headphone connections, signaling that this has been designed for serious desktop, full-sized headphone listening.
Without a doubt, the pièce de résistance in the Arche’s design (and presumably where its name is derived from) is the incredible built-in headphone stand. It’s both incredibly functional, and visually stunning – the shape is inspired by Focal’s logo, and it cuts an amazing figure in the flesh. It’s a perfect rest for Focal’s full-sized, high-end headphones, and the Stellia sits on it beautifully. It also makes clever use of space, cutting down the need for an additional piece of desktop real estate to hang your expensive headphones from. And therein lies the purpose behind the Arche – it’s designed to be the only piece of equipment that the Focal headphone owner *should* ever need.
Under the hood, there’s plenty of power and components that make the Arche more than a match for just about any other pair of headphones, too. The Arche sports a pair of AK4490 DAC chips capable of decoding up to 384 kHz PCM, and up to DSD 256. Amplification is an all Class-A affair, with a dual mono design – each channel capable of 1 full watt of power. I’m also pleased by the full suite of digital and analogue facilities on the rear-side of the Arche. The Arche accepts analogue-in from a pair of RCA connectors, meaning it’s able to be paired with an external DAC, or in my case – a turntable. The Arche’s AK4490’s are able to be reached via USB, coaxial, and optical inputs. And by way of outputs, the Arche can function as a preamp thanks to both XLR and RCA outputs.
Without a doubt, the most interesting feature of the Arche is its ability to switch between individual preset modes for each of Focal’s range of audiophile headphones. Using the volume dial, the user is able to choose the setting for their headphone of choice, and a unique EQ profile is applied. Using the Stellia, the effect is extremely noticeable – there’s a distinct smoothing of the Stellia’s top-end, and its signature aggression is mildly reigned-in. I’m looking forward to testing-out the Arche with a range of non-Focal headphones to understand whether it’s a worthwhile contender as a do-all, all-in-one unit – it’s features and form-factor are all looking positive so far. The Focal Clear will also be joining the Arche in-house in the next week or so (review on that one also inbound!), so the Clear/Arche pairing will also get a thorough testing. Stay tuned!