If you enjoy listening to music with headphones and have high standards, sooner or later you will have set your sights set on a dedicated headphone amplifier. With the Arche model, Focal offers you a premium device for stationary use.
The black device has a stylish metal housing with cooling fins and internal power supply. With dimensions of approximately 32 x 20 x 30cm, it looks like a high-quality hi-fi component and can actually be used as a preamplifier, thanks to the analogue outputs. A sturdy aluminium bracket is included and it serves as a shelf to store your headphones when attached to the top of the device.
Technically, the combination of DA converter and headphone amplifier is based on a dual-mono construction. At the analogue level, a two-channel Class A amplifier designed specifically for the requirements of headphones ensures low-distortion performance and dynamics but also makes the device noticeably warmer. A special feature: This amplifier unit can be used as either a voltage or a hybrid amplifier. The latter version combines the advantages of a voltage and current amplifier. Arche can handle headphone impedances between 16 and 600 ohms and can, therefore, be used universally except in combination with electrostatic headphones.
Two high-quality AK4490 DA converters are used for signal conversion, which enables resolutions of up to 32 bits and 768 kHz, as well as DSD operation up to DSD256 format (in practice, PCM audio files up to 384 kHz are supported).
The rear ports are used to connect the source; either analogue via gold-plated RCA sockets or digital interfaces USB, S/PDIF-Toslink or S/PDIF coaxially. The S/PDIF interfaces work up to 24 bit/192 kHz. On the output side, there are two parallel headphone outputs available on the front panel: 6.3mm and four-pin XLR for balanced headphones. In addition, there are the aforementioned rear analogue outputs, with which Arche can also drive amplifiers or active loudspeakers as a converter/preamplifier. These outputs are available in parallel as Cinch and balanced XLR outputs.
Arche offers a sophisticated solution for sound purists. There is no sound control, no manipulation of the stereo base, but also no functions that can be used to compare headphones, such as RMEs ADI-2 Pro FS.
In practice, function management is limited to volume control, which is carried out via the high-quality raster encoder and visualised via a large display. Nevertheless, some options are available via push buttons. Here you can select the input source, choose between a low and a higher pre-amplification – depending on the impedance – and invert the phase of the signal. For controlling the levels and source selection, I wished that there was a remote control.
A further selection allows you to adapt the device to be a voltage or hybrid amplifier. As with the other Focal models Utopia, Elear, Clear and Stellia, the actual process that happens here remains the manufacturer’s secret. In fact, in combination with the company’s flagship Utopia headphones, I couldn’t perceive any significant sound differences.
On a second menu page you can configure the brightness of the display and an automatic switch-off (display and device), as well as retrieving status information on the firmware (01.01.08). The functionality can, in principle, therefore, be supplemented by appropriate updates.
The USB connection to a Mac is class-compliant, while a driver is available for Windows. On the test device (MacBook Pro with macOS 10.14.6) this worked fine. High resolution files from Audirvarna were also used.
There are only positive things to report here. Arche provides a pure transparent amplification, which can cope well with different dynamic headphones and provides sufficient levels if required. With the two test devices – Focal Utopia and Sennheiser HD660S – absolutely first-class results were obtained. Unfortunately, however, I could not test Arche with a balanced headphone. The frequency spectrum is reproduced in full width with the highest detail resolution and transparency, as well as the dynamics, stereo stage and room. In short: Arche is a no-frills audiophile product, which dedicates itself to its task in a purist way and fulfils its function in an exemplary way. Thus, in addition to impeccable technical performance, the sound reproduction succeeds in making the lively experience of listening a real pleasure.
With this complex and high-quality headphone amplifier, Arche Focal aims at sound connoisseurs who want to equip their high-quality headphones with a suitable transducer and amplifier, and are willing to pay a suitably exclusive price for it. A cohesive concept with straightforward operation which results in exemplary neutral, transparent and – at the same time – emotional sound.
- Ear couplingAmplifier
- Frequency response (headphones)10 - 100.000 Hz
- Impedance16 - 600 ohms
What's in the box
- Headphone stand
- 3 x fixing screws for the headphone stand
- 1 x Allen key (for mounting the headphone stand)
- 1 x power cable
- 4 x silicone pads
- Type: DAC and headphones amplifier
- Max. power: 2 x 1W @ 1kHz under 32 Ω
- Frequency response: 10Hz to 100kHz
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): < 0,001%
- Signal-to-noise ratio: > 116dB @ 32 Ω (Class A)
- Power supply: 85 to 265 Vac / 47 – 63Hz
- Dimensions (H x L x D) without stand: 60 x 200 x 297mm
- Dimensions (H x L x D) with stand: 321 x 200 x 297mm
- Weight: 10.25 lbs (4.65kg)
- Audio inputs:
- Unbalanced analog RCA
- Digital S/PDIF coaxial (RCA): Max. sampling frequency: 192kHz (AES3-compatible); Max. resolution: 24-bit
- Optical digital (TosLink) Max. sampling frequency: 192kHz (AES3-compatible);Max. resolution: 24-bit
- Digital USB (USB-B): standard USB: USB 2.0 / USB 3.0 – USB audio class
- Audio outputs:
- Balanced analog 3-point XLR
- Unbalanced analog RCA
- Firmware update: via USB port (USB-A)