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Arcam Solo Neo networking: The well-structured owner’s manual deserves kudos even if—and Arcam will dislike me saying so—it seems to deliberately go after Naim’s Uniti competitor. But Neo is designed sufficiently intuitive to get going without referencing the manual.

That’s fine since the writing suffers many spelling and punctuation errors. Even if Arcam is far from alone on this count, a bit more care  seems called for.

A clear advantage whilst menu navigating is the dimmable blue display. It is nicely legible from across the room. While hardcore ‘philes recommend to turn off the display entirely for optimized sonics (you can), I tried and couldn’t tell a difference. To integrate the receiver with the domestic network shouldn’t cause even computer dummies any sleepless nights. I opted for a wired connection to my DSL router and simply followed the setup instructions on the display. A few moments later I had numerous Internet radio stations at my beck and call. This did cause plenty of sleepless nights.

Accessing my hard-drive library was a bit more involved.  Mine lives on a Mac, i.e. inside iTunes. Apple dislikes interfacing with outsiders by design. Enter so-called virtual servers like Twonky Media. Some is freeware, some licensed. Twonky and Arcam got on splendidly with my iTunes media. Windows users won’t need a go-between. Once the pathways are open, data formats like MP3, OGG VORBIS, FLAC and even AIFF and WAV all stream without issues.

Sonics...: Certain review assignments are impatiently anticipated but initially disappoint. The Solo Neo was and did even after 24-hour acclimatization and a burn-in CD in best audiophile manner. The machine sounded strangely stuffy, flat and unemotional. Swapping speakers didn’t help. Did I get a lemon? I’m not one to cry wolf quickly and know how patience is often rewarded. This proved the right approach. Busy with other projects, I had the Solo Neo pump out background tunes in the office and checked in occasionally with some internet radio surfing without obsessing about sound quality. Such wallpapering lasted about 3.5 weeks when Arcam’s latest finally stepped out of its flaccid persona and into serious action.

…with the iPod: This requires the well-crafted irDock and another 250 euros. All iPods starting with gen 5 are tapped analog and transfer their menu functions to the receiver’s display. This lets Arcam’s remote control the iPod. Minus certain features even my ancient 40GB 4th-gen player from 2005 was copasetic. Only the ID tags of performer, album and track titles were iffy from day to day. German importer GP Acoustics proudly pointed out that Arcam has bestowed upon their dock audiophile parts to improve the output of the popular pocket rocket. Even the loading function of the iPod can be disabled should one suspect negative influences. It seems a lot of effort for precious little return.

That’s because even uncompressed WAV files sounded dimensionally flat and dynamically restrained while the bass lacked substance and structure. The same files run through Advance Acoustic’s MiP-Station II dock sounded decidedly fresher, more dynamic and nuanced. Female sibilance was far less painful than over the irDock. Even stage width, depth and placement were more convincing via outsourcing. True, the competing dock at shy of €400 was the more expensive but whoever relies on the iPod as key source should plan on paying the piper or forego a dock entirely and jack the iPod straight into the Neo.