Super Test Stereo Amplifiers – Sonic Boon (Part 1) : Arcam FMJ A19

Your amplifier is the engine-room of your system. So if you’re serious about sound, it makes sense to invest in a serious amp. Like one of these, for instance…

A good stereo amplifier is the driving force behind any hi-fi system, helping you to really get the most out of your music. Exactly what it is you want from your amp will depend on how you like your sound, and so we’ve pulled together a troupe of seven that cover all the options. The Award-winning Cyrus 6a is in there alongside a group of old favorites and newcomers alike, including options from Naim, Arcam, Pioneer and Onix to name a few. If a turntable is a vital part of your setup, be sure to keep an eye out for an amplifier with a built-in phonon stage, while digital music fans should consider one with an integrated DAC. After that, it all comes down to how they sound. Can the Cyrus hold on to its crown? Read on to find out…

Arcam FMJ A19

Compared with some of the longstanding amps in this Super test, the Arcam FMJ A19 is the relative baby of the group. First tested in January, it joins Arcam’s high-end FMJ series, but thankfully isn’t a bank-breaker.

Inside its sturdy steel and aluminum case is an upgraded and optimized circuit layout, which is combined with a new ultra-low noise power supply and a redesigned headphone stage – something Arcam says is the equivalent of a $269 external unit.

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Arcam FMJ A19

The A19’s design is relatively simple, with a large volume dial and buttons that mirror those on the A19’s equally simple remote. These buttons let you choose the source, mute the amp, tweak the balance of your speakers and choose how bright the display is (or turn it off).

You’ll get a reasonable, but not class leading, 50W of power per channel, six line-level inputs, and a moving-magnet phonon stage and, on the front, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a 3.5mm input.

There are no digital inputs on the Arcam’s back panel, but in their place, the A19 packs a second power supply that can drive products from Arcam’s rSeries, such as the rDAC or Bluetoothpacking rBlink, offering you an (albeit Arcam-only) upgrade path.

Authoritative, room-filling sound

When paired with the Audiolab 8200CD player and ATC SCM11 speakers, the Arcam A19 immediately shows off its large, authoritative and room-filling sound, giving impressive space to both instruments and vocals, and staying composed with a strong rhythmic awareness, even when arrangements start to get busy and complicated.

The violin crescendos in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Winter) are portrayed with admirable detail and the A19 does a superb job at communicating the changes in pace and volume, keeping any harshness from the violins at bay. Subtleties easily skimmed over by other amps are handled with assurance, and the impact of the quieter sections is just as hard-hitting as the louder ones.

The Arcam A19 takes you along for the ride, doing away with flashy effects in place of the kind of sound that simply makes you listen to track after track, losing all track of time…

Switch to Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi and the opening bass line is controlled, but weighty enough to make an impact without overpowering. Gaga’s vocals are strong and accurate, with the amp offering the transparency to hear every bit of emphasis in her voice.

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The A19’s sound might not demand you sit up and pay attention, but its easygoing character will keep you enthralled

These strengths are passed on to the Arcam’s phonon stage and headphone output, which both retain the A19’s relaxed but open characteristic.

The A19s sound might not force you to sit up and pay attention – there’s a laid-back vibe here – you will find yourself simply sitting through track after track without realizing how long you’ve been listening. The A19 just takes you along for the ride, doing away with flashy effects in place of an enjoyable, assured and refined sound.

Kit matching

As with any amp at this price, taking care over system matching will pay dividends in sound quality and the A19 is no exception. We got great results using the Audiolab 8200CD player and a pair of ATC SCM11 speakers. Other options include the KEF LS50s.

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As with any amp at this price, taking care over system matching will pay dividends in sound quality and the A19 is no exception

Rating: 5/5

For: Large, authoritative sound; expressive dynamics; detailed and refined; good connections; reasonable price

Against: May be a little laid back for some

Verdict: A strong, enthusiastic and detailed all-rounder at a decent price. We like it a lot

Arcam FMJ A19 specs

·         Type: Integrated

·         Power: 50W

·         Tuner: No

·         Inputs: Line level x 6

·         Outputs: Preamp, speakers

·         Phonon stage: Moving-magnet

·         Tape Loops: 1

·         Tone Controls: Yes

·         Remote Control: Yes

·         Finishes: 1

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 8.5 x 43 x 27.5cm

Super Test Stereo Amplifiers – Sonic Boon (Part 2) : Audiolab 8200A, Cyrus 6a