Arcam Alpha 10 Home Theater System

      Date posted: June 10, 1999

Arcam Alpha Ten Integrated Amplifier

Arcam Alpha 10 Integrated Amplifier
Sugg. Retail: $2295 (CAN)
Arcam Alpha 10 DAVE Home Theatre Module
Sugg. Retail: $2300 (CAN)
Arcam Alpha 10P 3-Channel Power Amplifier
Sugg. Retail: $2295 (CAN) (stereo version $1595)
Arcam Alpha Ten Three Channel Power Amplifier
Distributor: Emerald Audio Resources,
RR #1, Palgrave, Ont., L0N 1P0
(905) 880-7170 FAX 880-7171

(Reprinted from the Summer 99 Issue)

      This new modular home theatre system from Arcam could be called plug-and-play, though it’s the dealer who’ll be doing the plugging, putting the DAVE (Digital Audio Video Entertainment) module into an Alpha 10 integrated amplifier, and configuring a 10P basic amplifier by adding in the same internal space an additional Power Amplifier Module (PAM) for the centre channel. The result is a home theatre control centre with its own two channels of amplification and an additional three channel amp for surround and centre channels.

      The Alpha/DAVE 10 does Dolby Digital and DTS, as well as Pro Logic, and handles CD players as well with its 24-bit/48-kHz DACs, with a pair of TosLink inputs, as well as a pair of RCA coaxials. On the video side there are a single set of component ins and outs, as well as 4 S-video ins and 2 outs for monitor and VCR. All video inputs have composite inputs provided in parallel with the S ones, and the manual notes that no conversion takes place internally, that is, the composite and S paths are separate right through the unit; this means that any S inputs will not go to the monitor through a composite output, and vice versa. Inputs are provided labelled DVD, AV, Tuner, CD, and Aux, with additional audio and video tape monitor ins and outs.

      The remote control that is the key to the Alpha 10 system can be a bit confusing if you try to use it without consulting the manual. For example, the set of input buttons at top under the LCD display are not to select inputs for the system, but to control individual components in the system, including those feeding signals to the Alpha 10 system. The display reads which of these is selected on the buttons below: AUD, CD DVD, AUX, SAT, TV, VCR, and CBL. The remote is programmed with infrared codes for hundreds of components of many brands and will also learn codes from other remotes. It has special buttons, too, that allow operation of satellite receivers, including Guide, Menu, and 4 cursor buttons. There are numeric buttons below these which also serve as input selector buttons in Audio mode. Near the bottom are controls for surround modes, rear levels, and to set other parameters for audio. At bottom are 4 different memory buttons for customizing the system for different users or circumstances. Power, Volume, Mute, and Channel up/down buttons are near the top for easy thumb access. At the very bottom of the remote is a Light button to backlight all controls. Unlike some home theatre remotes the Arcam has the primary function of all buttons written on them, so that you can read the word or symbol in the dark through the backlight. I can’t believe that some companies could design remotes where even with the backlighting on, you still can’t see what the buttons do because their functions are noted below or beside the buttons in small white print. But they do!

      I’ve been using the Arcam Alpha 10 system for a couple of weeks now, and I still continue to be impressed. In overall sonic terms it’s just about the best sounding home theatre system I’ve heard since the Linn, a few others like the Sunfire Theatre Grand coming close. The Dolby Digital/DTS board comes from Finland, and uses 48-kHz/20-bit DACs that are particularly good sounding. Analog surround signals are actually digitized in surround modes in order to use the digital Pro Logic decoding. The power amplifiers are the best I’ve heard yet from Arcam, with a clean, effortless quality, and plenty of power and dynamics.

      I expected quite a lot from the Dolby Digital decoding, but was surprised at how good both Pro Logic and DTS sounded. In the case of the latter, I’ve always disliked logic matrixes for their pumping in the front channels, especially using a centre channel, and for vague, muddy sound at the rear. The Alpha 10 provides a much better focused and stable soundstage, with plausible rear image. With DTS, it sounded better than any processor equipped with this system I’ve yet heard. I’ll say more about this when I write about the quite large pile of DTS CDs I’ve accumulated, these never sounding even decent before, especially the classical ones, but coming alive through the Arcam system.

      Numerous films were passed through the PAM and DAVE process, including both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. I used both the Mirage MRM-1 small monitors and the Klipsch Synergy Quintet system to show both audiophile and home theatre performance of the Arcam gear. Music titles included the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over, a personal favourite for its intelligent songs and good sound. I don’t think it’s ever sounded better.

      The stunning new IMAX DVD of Titanica was followed by the new laserdisc version of Titanic, which was, as noted elsewhere, something of a disappointment. However, sound and image were stunning. The laserdisc of Lost In Space, another visually spectacular film with a cartoon script, looked and sounded great in DTS audio. In sum, I think anyone who springs for this home theatre system will end up spending a lot of time in front of the big screen. And who would spend $7000 to watch a small screen? If your dedicated home theatre room is ready for it, check out the Alpha 10 system from Arcam.

Andrew Marshall

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