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This review first appeared in the February 2012 issue of hi-end hifi magazine of Germany. You can also read this review of the ARC DSi200 in its original German version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with the publishers. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of fairaudio or ARC - Ed.

Reviewer: Martin Mertens
Sources: Analog - Thorens TD 160 HD with TP250 tone arm & Benz Micro MC Gold cart; digital - Creek CD 43 Mk II, Logitech Transporter
Amplification: Phono pre - Lehmann Black Cube SE II; integrated - Jadis Orchestra blacksilver, Exposure 2010 S, Magnum Dynalab MD 301A
Loudspeakers: Gaithain ME150
Cables: Low-level - Vampire CC, high-level - Fast Audio Compact 6M in biwire config
Review component retail: €6.600

I admit it. I occasionally get sweaty palms when hifi blue bloods announce a visit. And Audio Research undoubtedly fits that bill. But actually - I didn’t need to get that nervous. I wouldn’t host some grey-haired baroness and her toothless baron by heavy way of a pre/power combo bristling with valves. I'd ‘merely’ host a young and somewhat unconventional pretender to the throne: the DSi200 integrated. Appearance itself keeps tight reigns on family tradition. The mighty black case of 48x14x40cm (WxHxD) and the two trademark frontal handles like studio gear demand respect. Aesthetically the handles are a matter of taste but during unpacking and installation they become enormously useful. Particularly for reviewers and others who routinely reshuffle their systems, such grips should become standard. The ARC next surprised me with a fit’n’finish I don’t always associate with US equipment. Superb in other words. Dedicated to tradition one might say.

Things get more non-traditional inside. Whilst the beefy power transformer and potent storage caps could just as well supply forests of power tubes or heat-sinked transistor arrays, the rest looks decidedly less conventional. That’s because with its Definition Series the firm has gone to switching output stages. Other levels in their product hierarchy naturally remain committed to standard class A or class A/B valve or solid-stage circuitry.

Switching or class D amp so named for the next available letter after class A, AB, B and C are highly efficient. That makes them darlings of office-bound EU legislators in Brussels who dream of an energy-efficient future where all amps operate in D-class. Here the DSi200’s 1-watt standby consumption is already progressively compadre with current EU regs. Idle consumption of ca. 38 watts isn’t too bad either though perhaps not extremely low for such a concept.

I’ll confess that prior analog switching amps of my acquaintance—the Primare I32 and Onkyo A-9355—were quite good but failed to inflame the last iota of personal enthusiasm. Both impressed with neutrality, high precision and good resolution but lacked temperament. But first things first. Before the ARC DSi200 enters the sonic witness stand, I shall make a few comments about interfacing with it. Here the machine eludes convention a bit, particularly with the volume control and input selector. Bracketing the central display are slim turning knobs. But they don’t turn far to prime the pump or quickly race through inputs. After about a 15° turn they hit their stops. Let go and they jump back to their center indents. They aren’t ‘true’ turning knobs but quasi switches. When the left control is pushed left, output is electronically attenuated to 0 while the other way ramps up to maximally 103. To inject a nit, the resolution of steps here could be better. In the quiet range they’re too large but get finer and finer as one goes louder.