Acoustic Research AR-UA1 review | What Hi-Fi?

You can tell Acoustic Research is eager about other folks paying attention to tune of the highest-possible quality.

Take the lights machine on its AR-UA1 USB DAC with headphone amp, for example.

Build and contours

With its LED turning white, cyan (necessarily another way of claiming inexperienced), blue, red, pink or yellow, it tells you the sample charge of the document to which you are listening. It’s simple and unflashy, however geared toward the serious listener.

That’s mirrored at the back, where, in addition to the 6.3mm headphone jack, there are two additional outputs: optical, whose prohibit is 96kHz somewhat than 192kHz, and single-ended analogue.

The designers at Acoustic Research don't seem to be aiming only for those listening with headphones.

Nor are they overly fussed with catering for on-the-go users – the lone USB enter is for connecting to your computer – or, judging by way of the reasonably clean presentation, the ones swayed through aesthetics.


Nevertheless, promoting great sound and actually turning in it are different issues.

Luckily, in some ways the AR-UA1 does each. Opening with TV On The Radio’s I Was A Lover, we're right away struck by means of the thud of the kick drum.

The further weight here emphasises the laziness of the drum loop, but with out sacrificing detail, cleanliness or agility within the low end.

That further weight is within the type of muscle somewhat than fat, and that helps the entire balance. The bass feels as though it’s supporting the combo, offering its foundations, now not clouding or dragging it down.

Coupled with a slight softening of the treble, it creates a actually clean sound that won’t fatigue your ears over hours of listening. It’s amusing however simple to listen to.

That a laugh facet additionally has a lot to do with timing. A track made up of loops, equivalent to I Was A Lover, lays that more or less thing bare.

The offbeat interjections of brass and synthesizer create their polyrhythm, sending the piece off-kilter without letting it topple over, permitting you to make sense of the vocal line.

We’re left short of just a little more element and expression although. The AR-UA1 is excellent, however now not £400 value of good. For the cash, we wish more.

We need extra separation in the vocal harmonies, extra texture from the distortion on the guitar; we want it to sound extra like real life.

That also applies to dynamics. Take Stevie Ray Vaughan’s intoxicating guitar intro on Tin Pan Alley. It’s velvety and cooler than a polar bear’s toenails, however it doesn’t ache the way in which a more animated DAC, such as the Chord Mojo would make it.

It is as if the AR-UA1 has traded a level of expressiveness for a smoother, easier listening sound.


These are advantageous margins, but for £400 we're allowed to be greedy. Acoustic Research has designed a top quality product, however it isn't reasonably able to blowing its competition out of the water.

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MORE: Awards 2015: DACs

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