Arcam Solo Mini review

Arcam’s new Solo Mini one-box hi-fi system blows us away

TechRadar Verdict

With sound that recalls separates adding up to over twice its price, the Mini is close to being the perfect hi-fi component as any we can recall. Admirably adapted to the modern environment, it’s a joy to own and use


  • +

    Outrageously good sound from both the source components and the amplifier

  • +

    An implausibly small and nicely turned-out box, which is friendly to use


  • -

    Doesn’t turn into a beef sandwich at midnight

  • -

    Joking apart, at this price, we’d be churlish to criticise, so no significant complaints

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Flushed, no doubt, by the success of the original 'Solo', Arcam has now progressed to a three-band, half-width, receiver with built-in CD player - and that's usually the territory of Aiwa, Matsui and other faceless brands that no one has ever heard of.

All the same, Arcam is keen to point out that the Mini has plenty of Arcam cred, with features such as digital-to-analogue conversion and a 25-watt output (that's real hi-fi watts, not PMP0, or some such fancy concoction).

Combined DAB and CD player

There's certainly plenty of logic in combining a DAB tuner and CD player in the same unit, since they both need digital-to-analogue conversion. And, once you've done that, you might as well add a USB input, so that files on USB portable audio devices can also be played.

The power supply - which is a linear type based on a toroidal transformer - is common to all the stages. However, even with all the space saving efficiency that comes with surface-mount components, it was clearly a bit of a squeeze to get everything in the case.

The inclusion of a slot-loading CD mechanism could easily be seen as another compromise but, just because most slot-loading players are a bit ho-hum, we shouldn't be in a hurry to condemn this one.

The DAB module is the usual minute, self-contained affair and the FM/AM one likewise. Source switching and volume control are electronic and the final squeeze is in the power amplifier section.

It might have been just about possible to fit in a discrete output stage, but Arcam has opted for a power integrated circuit secured to a heatsink that, while on the small side, is more than adequate for any music duty we tried.

Simple operation

In case radio, CD and USB don't rock your boat, Arcam has thoughtfully provided four line inputs on the usual phono sockets at the rear, plus an extra one on the front in the form of a stereo mini-jack.

There's a fixed-level output, quaintly labelled 'tape', and a preamp output so that remote amps can be driven (the same output allowing the Mini to be upgraded by the addition of an external power amp). If you hanker after more, or more refined power, then also nestling at the rear are control connections for multi-room automation.

Operation is pretty friendly, with a fair degree of intelligence built in. For instance, when you insert a CD, the source selector automatically switches to CD on the reasonable assumption that you actually want to play the disc.

The controls directly above the front panel work well enough, though the extra buttons on the remote make life easier. Volume steps are sensibly set at 1dB, with basic tone and balance controls included.

We really can't think of anything Arcam's left off - you can even use the Mini as an alarm clock!

Exceptional performance

To our great delight, the Solo Mini proved to be everything we'd hoped for. Arcam sent it in for review with an accompanying pair of 'Muso' loudspeakers (£130 each).

These may be a popular choice, though we couldn't really work up much enthusiasm for them. Instead, we spent many happy hours enjoying the Mini's prowess in the company of a pair of the very fine Living Voice Auditorium speakers.

Purloined initially for our valve amplifier group test, their high sensitivity of around 92dB was no less-suited to the relatively modest output of the Mini.

Now that may seem an odd pairing - a £2,100 speaker with a £650 mini-system? On the contrary, we found ourselves drawn inescapably to the conclusion that, with a budget of two to three thousand pounds, a Mini, plus the best loudspeakers one can find, it's still an eminently sensible choice.

After all, the Mini isn't just competent; it is, in context, stunning.

Superb CD audio quality

One does, of course, makes allowances for systems like this and we had a high expectation of some residual hiss or hum. But, hang on - there isn't any.

With fine-quality separates, you have to press your ear to the tweeter to hear anything of that nature and, yet even though the Auditorium is a sensitive speaker, we were not aware of any background noise. So far so good!

The CD player, however, is bound to be a bit coarse and lacking in detail compared with any half-decent separates. Except that it's not! We compared it with the exceptionally fine Chord DAC64 fed by a decent transport.

While we could spot it as an upgrade on the Mini's built-in player, it was the sort of differential we'd expect from a £500-class CD player (and some of them are quite alarmingly good).

But isn't the Mini's amplifier a bit of a puny starveling? Well no, it isn't. It does run out of power eventually, but up to that point it has astonishingly high-levels of detail, control and grip.

It's not a Krell or Musical Fidelity, but it has real insight, tuneful bass, sweet and extended treble and admirably little character of its own - it gets on with any style of music with equanimity.

Why bother with separates?

The DAB tuner is perfectly decent, while the FM one may be the weakest part of the system but that's all relative and it's still better than the FM section of some digital/analogue tuners we've come across, with a nice 'bite' to the sound and good integrity.

It's worth mentioning that a quick visit to the lab, resulted in a set of measurements not unlike those from good modern separates, and the real-world power output is comfortably above the rated 25 watts.

This is a system that plays music with gusto, conviction and a degree of finesse that could convince the most hardcore devotees of separates to change their ways.

It's possible that some painstakingly assembled systems of CD, amp and tuner for under £1,000 could see it off, but they still wouldn't offer as many features and would probably take up about five times the space.

Endless possibilities

So what are the applications for the Mini? From ultra-upmarket alarm clock to the heart of a dedicated stereo system, they are nearly endless.

Add a pair of Musos or other miniature speaker and put it in a bedroom, study or kitchen. Use it to lift the performance of a (non-multichannel) TV setup and add games, mobile music player and auxiliary inputs to the equation.

Or, as already suggested, add the best speakers you can buy, secure in the knowledge that the range of inputs and outputs makes it painlessly upgradeable both upstream and down. You could even give one as a present and spread a little real music replay quality.

After all, we have no hesitation in declaring the Arcam Solo Mini as one of the nicest and most exciting hi-fi products we've come across in a very long time. We can't recommend it more highly.

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