Review: Arcam FMJ A19

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Awarded with What Hifi?’s 5 star label in January 2013, the Arcam FMJ A19 integrated amplifier has been one of the leading references for stereo enthusiasts for the past 7 months. It was with undisguised pleasure that we decided to test this specimen from the British brand which has the reputation of having a great sense of scale.

The Arcam FMJ A19 is an integrated stereo amplifier able to deliver 2×50 W at 8 Ohms and 2×90 W at 4 Ohms. It is equipped with RCA line inputs and a phono MM preamp. The 80s style green light LCD screen makes for a simple design which goes really well with its thick steel front panel and gives it a very serious look. At the back, the connectors are easily accessible and we need to emphasize how pleasant the screw terminals and their solid grasp are.
For this test, we paired up the Arcam FMJ A19 with the Pionner N-50 network audio player, Norstone RCS-500 cables for interconnection and various sets of compact speakers amongst which were the Eltax Monitor III, Klipsch RB-51 and the Highland Audio Aingel 3201, all connected with Norstone Silver 150 cables. Small speakers, with very different sound signatures. The punchy RB-51 stand out due to their energy and the higher-bass frequencies they deliver (they’re a little shy in the higher end of the sound spectrum, though), the Monitor III provide very articulated high-mediums and the Aingel 3201 offer great linearity (with a slight sharpness around 10 kHz). All of these speakers range between 199? and 499? and the A19 should have no problem powering them.
ArcamFMJA19remote

Chet Baker Trav’lin’ Light (Baker’s Holiday) – FLAC 24/192

There are numerous difficulties with this recording. The saxophone as well as Chet’s voice can conceal the quiet piano situated on the right. The Arcam A19 faithfully conveys the piano while keeping it separated from the sound of the stand-up bass, also mostly on the right channel. On East Living, the aerial flute flows perfectly and is never pushed out of the sound stage by the saxophone. The end result is balanced and cosy, with delightful, deep low frequencies, especially with the Eltax Monitor III.

George Benson – The World is a ghetto (In Flight) – FLAC 16/44

The average amp would have emphasized the guitar solo and the rhythm section: the A19 puts the synthetic sounds in the spotlight. The stereo is outstanding. The singer’s voice perfectly finds its place in the rich and soft sound stage. Definitely enjoyable.

Depeche Mode – Welcome to my world (Delta Machine) – FLAC 24/48

This recording is quite the test for speakers and amplifiers. Not that it is extremely aggressive, but the least we could say is that it doesn’t hold back on low frequencies. If the amplifier is not able to properly handle the bass drivers of the compact speakers (most of the time set at 60 Hz) the whole track can turn into mush. The Arcam A19 kept the drivers of our Klipsch RB-51 seriously under control and even prevented them from going overboard. The sound goes up high in frequencies and the dynamic range is surprisingly wide. Dave Gahan’s voice finds its place very naturally and we re-discover the track. Excellent job!

Daft Punk – Giorgio by Moroder (Random Access Memories) – FLAC 24/88,2

From the very beginning we are immersed in the atmosphere of the restaurant where Moroder is interviewed and his voice ideally stands out from the bass line. What comes after is a real festival delivered by the Arcam, never short winded or tired by Daft Punk’s relentless rhythms. All we wanted to do was to turn the volume up and that’s what we did. As we did so, the sound stage expanded without ever becoming aggressive. The grand finale of the track sounds like fireworks, the explosive cymbals don’t conceal the sound of the turntable ?scratches?. Let’s not forget to thank the Pioneer N-50 for its exemplary decoding abilities as well as Qobuz for this 24/88 version.

Led Zeppelin – Kashmir (Live O2 Arena, Celebration Day) – FLAC 24/48

The 2007 live version is a Dantesque task to handle and the Arcam A19 did it with staggering mastery. Robert Plant’s vocals are at the limit of derailment and are extracted with such skills that it will give you goosebumps. Jimmy Page’s riff is mesmerizing, the bass drum powerful, we go on a real journey.

Muse – Plug in Baby (Live at Saitama Super Arena, 2013) – AC3 16/48

A ?lossy? source in Dolby Digital 2.0, therefore, not audiophile quality. Yet, it’s not that important as a good amplifier should be able to extract details from any recording even if it is perfectible. The result is extremely well balanced and provides a plethora of details. The crowd is pushed to the sides and back of the sound stage, which is perfect. The completely saturated guitar is as oppressive as it is enthralling, while leaving room for the bass, drums and wild crowd. It groans and hits hard without ever being aggressive to the ear, which is extremely pleasant. The presence of every instrument is exquisite, even at low level.

In conclusion, we warmly recommend this Arcam A19 as it is comfortable with any musical genre. Needless to say that with such an obvious amount of energy to deliver in the lower end of the spectrum, this amp will be able to power many floor-standing speakers. Its sense of scale is no myth and can be easily confirmed by watching movies in stereo. Sound buildups are impressive and you never feel overwhelmed or attacked by the sound. The amount of micro-details delivered should be a delight for many hi-fi enthusiasts. Icing on the cake: the headphone output is really good and provides a sound stage layout many DACs would envy.

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