Arcam ST60

With Arcam having dabbled in network streaming with its compact Solo Uno and more serious SA30 just-add-speakers systems in recent times, it was only a matter of time before the British company launched a dedicated music streamer.

© Provided by What Hi-Fi? Music streamer: Arcam ST60

The ST60 is that debut, and unsurprisingly uses the streaming architecture from its premium amplified sibling (and naturally strips out the amplification stage), gifting owners AirPlay 2, Google Cast, uPnP playback and internet radio at their fingertips, as well as analogue and digital connections and support for MQA and Roon. That’s a sweeping offering in today’s music streamer market – one inclusive of the popular streaming platforms that boast broad music service and device support, and that consequently taps into the emerging habits of this generation’s keen streamers. 

With such compatibility becoming more and more ubiquitous, however, it’s becoming harder for streaming products to stand out with their spec sheets alone, so performance remains a key differentiator. And Arcam has been in the hi-fi game long enough to know that.

Sound

As such, it has entered the music streamer market with an impressively talented performer. The ST60 is self-assured in its delivery – big, full, solid and expressive. Perfume Genius’s Jason comes through our speakers with stark clarity in a soundstage that’s pleasingly open and broad. His falsetto vocal is lush and romantic, bookended in the frequency range by a solid, substantial bassline and an equally present and nicely textured harpsichord up top. It’s a captivating rendition that’s easy to sink right into, thanks to the ST60’s tonality, muscularity and clarity – sonic characteristics we’ve come to expect from Arcam products over the years.

The benchmark at this price point is currently held by the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning NAD C 568, which is our first port of call after we unbox, power up and initially acquaint ourselves with the Arcam. The NAD’s precise, coherent presentation comes to the fore as we play Oneohtrix Point Never’s We’ll Take It, and yet one play of the piece through the Arcam is enough to tell us much more about it.

The ST60’s fuller, clearer delivery is better able to capture the atmospheric echo around the percussion. The percussive strikes and thorny synths take on extra dimension through the Arcam, too – and not just in terms of shape and texture but also how they all work together as a musical pattern. Experimental instrumentation like this depends on its ability to pique your interest and keep your attention, and the Arcam’s greater detail, dynamic insight and tighter timing does this better.

Similarly, as we shift through genres, the Arcam more capably dissects the electronica pattern in the backdrop of Dave ft Fredo’s Funky Friday. The beat is snappier, too, although in absolute terms the Arcam is on the measured side of carefree, and we do find ourselves wishing it deviated from some sensibilities slightly and freewheeled a little more during upbeat tracks. That said, it’s far from a slouch; agile and rhythmic enough not to hamper a track’s musicality.

Features

Most of our listening is from our NAS drive (via DLNA), our local iPad’s library (via AirPlay 2) and to Tidal (over Google Cast and from within Arcam’s MusicLife app), and each works well and sounds more or less consistent.

Arcam has made improvements to its MusicLife app (a gateway to streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz as well as internet radio) to enhance usability, and we find it a mostly fine and usable, but not seamless, experience. A few times during our testing, the app and machine would temporarily trip up between switching sources from Google Cast to built-in Tidal or internet radio.

Its interface isn’t as sophisticated as those of the Linn or Naim apps – perhaps not surprising considering the comprehensive ecosystem of streaming products those brands have compared to Arcam – and we find ourselves preferring to use the free Bubble uPnP app when browsing our networked libraries. That’s not the end of the world, not least as there are free alternatives and many will no doubt choose to use native music service apps supported by the aforementioned Apple and Google wireless multi-room platforms anyway. But we’d expect Arcam’s software to mature as its streaming portfolio grows. 

We reckon there’s more chance of that than Arcam taking physical design cues from the contemporary-looking Cambridge Evos and Naim Unitis of this world, anyway. We like the modern stylistic flourishes such entrants have brought to the hi-fi market, but we have to say we’re also fond of the ST60’s no-nonsense, traditional look, which could pass for any source from a pick of decades, and matches every other in Arcam’s HDA component range.

Not solely a streaming product, the ST60 also accommodates external sources through its twin coaxial and optical inputs. A USB drive can also be plugged into its USB socket, which is also onboard for software updates. Much more of a necessity for a music streamer is its outputs, of course, and to that end the Arcam has a fine selection – coaxial, optical, RCA and balanced XLR. An RS232 connection is to hand for those who wish to remote control the Arcam from a third-party home automation system, too.

Last but certainly not least (considering the streaming-savvy nature of the ST60) is an ethernet port, a connection we’d recommend using if possible to get the stablest, most reliable connection. For convenience, however, two antennas that screw onto the rear to grant the ST60 wi-fi connection (and, aesthetically, a pair of pointy ears) are supplied in the box, along with a full-sized remote control that too is fittingly functional over fancy.

Verdict

Arcam has carried its decades of sonic expertise seamlessly into the streaming segment, both paired with and without amplification, in one box. Its proprietary software may not be exemplary in the market, and its chassis design isn’t after best-dressed in the category either, but if you can get over that you will be rewarded with the best-sounding performer available for this money. 

If you’re happy with your hi-fi system but simply want to smarten it up by slotting a streamer next to your separates, the Arcam ST60 is a strong choice.

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Features 5
  • Build 4

MORE:

Here’s how to add a streamer to your hi-fi system

Read our round-up of the best music streamers

Read our review of the NAD C658

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