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Arcam FMJ A28 review

For subtle sophistication, not instant thrills, this is a fine choice

Our Verdict

Principally a very civilised amplifier, with less assurance in the rhythm-and-timing department. What it does well, however, it does very well and the overall package is very attractive

For

  • Looks great
  • Sturdy build
  • Great tonal balance
  • Well-mannered performance

Against

  • Civilsed presentation won't be to everyone's taste
  • Timing could be tighter

The Arcam FMJ A28 principle of operation is familiar enough, with the large knob used to adjust volume and menu settings and individually-labelled buttons to select inputs and call up a few more functions.

The use of electronic input-switching and volume control has enabled Arcam to offer such niceties as three sizes of volume step, input level trims, and balance control.

There's also its handy ability to record one source while listening to another.

Six of the best

Six line-level inputs are provided, with phono (MM-only) as standard, too.

Twin preamp outputs allow for use with external power amps, for instance in bi-amped set-ups, and while there isn't a dedicated input direct to the power amp section, it's possible to employ the unit as a power amp by selecting 'processor mode', intended for use with an external processor as part of a multichannel system.

Internal construction is generically familiar Arcam stuff, though the circuit board is new (to us, anyway!). It uses mostly surface-mounted components, with fewer 'boutique' parts than the A38 but plenty of evidence of careful component selection at critical points.

As we've seen in other recent Arcam models, there's quite extensive use of both electromagnetic screening and mechanical damping in the shape of suitable materials glued to key integrated circuits.

Controlled performance

Although it didn't divide opinions quite as markedly as the Advance Acoustic, the A28 still brought forth some divergent comments. From 'rather boring' to describing the sound as 'civilised', well controlled, detailed and focused.

This is a classic example of the conflict between immediately attention-grabbing sound and a presentation that looks after the sonic pennies and leaves the pounds to take care of themselves, if you'll forgive the rather mangled metaphor.

To some extent you might think that the latter would grow on you with extended listening, but it doesn't always work that way and, in fact, our listeners' notes suggest their patience was wearing thin even after the modest four tracks of the main presentation.

So if you care deeply about sound that has an instant visceral impact, this may not be the amplifier for you. We would rather dwell on its virtues, however, which will certainly appeal to some ears.

Above all, there's a wholeness to the sound that's not always present in the performance of affordable electronics, a sense that all the various instruments and voices do after all, belong to the same musical phenomenon.

Ear for detail

This is largely a function of the amp's almost self-effacing retrieval of detail, which it presents in an unfussy but precise way, often without one being consciously aware of it.

Tonal balance is also very good, with extended bass which, however, doesn't call attention to itself by overstatement or exaggerated impact. Treble is sweet and perhaps just a shade recessed, though always open and easy to follow.

Voices are well portrayed and again the sense of integration is often welcome, returning the lyrics to the bosom of the accompaniment where some amps may seem to divorce the two – unduly forward vocals are a common complaint.

The Arcam FMJ A28 is not a high-energy amplifier, but it is a very well-mannered one, with an unusually detailed phono stage too, which is a nice bonus.