Arcam SA30 Notes

These are some brief notes about the Arcam SA30 that I’m trying at the moment.

The reason for the review is that it is currently discounted from around £2,300 to £1,300. It has some value above the new generation of amps because it has Dirac where the new generation doesn’t yet have a room correction model. The top of the range is now the A25 which costs a few hundred more.

The SA30 is the successor to the FMJ A39 Arcam FMJ A39 review | What Hi-Fi? and the SR250 Arcam SR250 review | What Hi-Fi? . The A39 was a straight amp and the SR250 was the stereo AV version with Dirac which was also discounted for a long period of time and was available until relatively recently at £900 down from £2,500. I have an SR250 for comparison but not an A39. I’m listening with power from the wall without conditioning with Dali Helicon 400 ‘speakers and Black Rhodium Samba VS1 cables single wired.

Side by side with the SR250, the SA30 is a fractionally less well made unit but to a much lesser extent than the internet would have you believe. Both are heavy. Technology has moved considerably between the two units. The functionality of an AV receiver is less necessary. Set top boxes have all but disappeared as have disc players - you can get them but it’s niche. Smart TVs are now the video source for most and if you need more functionality, you add a streaming stick to the television. All that the amplifier needs is an ARC socket to take the audio. The SA30 loses the bank of HDMI sockets in favour of this single ARC HDMI. It also loses a considerable amount of bulk and some internal fans. It adds WiFi where the SR250 is wired only and has more modern streaming functionality as well as higher resolution ADC and DACs. The SR250 has the advantage that it has a built in FM/DAB+ tuner.

Setup for the SA30 is done on the small LCD screen on the front where for the SR250, you do it on a monitor screen. WiFi connection is best done with a smartphone, using the Airplay functionality to get it to see the router. There is an Android equivalent.

The sound quality is better on the SA30 vs the SR250. Both have DIRAC, the SA30 has three slots where the SR250 has only one. The difference pre and post Dirac is greater with the SR250 than with the SA30. Dirac improves the SA30 in my room but it seems to need to do less so I can live without it on the SA30 but I’m glad it’s there. Dirac is full range on both. If you have a difficult room, Dirac is one of the great technologies of recent times. The sound is neutral to warm. Dimensional but not valve like. The consensus of reviewers is that it lacks a touch of excitement but I didn’t get that.

Are there any problems with the SA30? Yes, definitely. You will get no more firmware updates unless absolutely necessary. Arcam regards it as a finished product and has stopped replying to the user community in some forums. Some things could be better polished. Inputs can’t be renamed. Internet radio stations can’t be mapped to buttons on the handset. There is no radio input on the analogue inputs so you have to use a mis named input. Clearly, Arcam thinks we have moved on from tuners, respectfully, I disagree. On setting up the amp, there are the odd little glitches before it settles down and there are the odd little counter intuitive setup characteristics but after that, it’s fine.

Both amps use the MusicLife app. Some functionality is available to the SA30 that isn’t available to the SR250, the latter not getting internet radio stations from the app. The app looks about three years out of date. It lacks some customisability with respect to organising radio stations by number and priority and it seems to be impossible to add custom URLs unless I’ve missed it. It generally isn’t as slick as the Blusound app. The app does streaming services but it’s better to use either Spotify or Tidal Connect. Tidal Connect plays full fat high resolution files and MQA despite this being a recent addition to the Blusound Node. The SR250 only supports Spotify and can’t do MQA. Compared to a Node 2i with off board power mods as a digital source, the SA30 is comparable to the Node to the extent that I would not have bought the Node except that I already had it. The biggest advantage that the Node has is that you can map internet radio stations to buttons on the Arcam handset. The following generation of Arcam amps seem to have new apps so it’s possible to speculate that we might not see a lot of development to the MusicLife app.

Is it worth it? Yes if you can cope with the idea that it won’t be updated and that any bugs you find will be there until it breaks. It has a five year guarantee which is important because, unlike less technological amps, there are some things that a general audio engineer isn’t going to be able to fix, so you know you have five years with it at a minimum. It’s a better value proposition compared to the A25 but the latter might be a smoother technological experience.