This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Beneath the bonnet Arcam mixes tradition and modernity. Each channel gets its own Burr Brown PCM1792. That isn't the very latest chip but one that's well established to remain an ongoing reference. Its output is dual-differential and the D33 processes it as such all the way to the XLR outputs. The RCA outputs get a summing op amp to desymmetrize the signal. So much for tradition. Where's modernity? The USB transceiver is an asynchronous XMOS module considered current state of the art. Ditto the power supply. Two quite massive toroidal transformers feed the analog and digital sections discretely. A Xilinx FPGA affords two additional digital filter choices over the 8 x oversampling built into the PCM1792. More on that later. Time to let the ears be the judge.

I started with basic 16/44.1kHz Redbook provided by Audiolab's 8200CDQ used as pure transport; and HD material streaming off my notebook. To keep the remaining chain as simple as possible, the D33 then connected directly to my Abacus Ampollo amp via XLR. For get-to-know-ya sessions I've relied on Pete Doherty's Grace/Wastelands album for a bit. It combines mostly acoustic material with very clean production values and over the right system the well-captured live atmosphere can cause actual goose bumps. “Salome” is one of those gentle kitty-paw ballads whose true depth only sneaks up on you with repeat listen. The instrumentation is quite dense but clever voicing plays it down with bass, two acoustic guitars, melodica, solo violin, later a small string ensemble, subdued percussion and of course Doherty's hooded slightly frazzled voice.

And I must admit, the FMJ D33 immediately had my attention with two core virtues. The first dealt with how the stereophonic illusion came off. Some gear handles that as though an afterthought à la soloist in the center bracketed by a few instruments on either side, everything clearly locked, finis. The Arcam meanwhile began with a clear statement. "This is merely the frame within which the music arises." The virtual venue was both broad and deep but also clearly contained. And interestingly this was clear already during the sparse intro with its bass at left, rhythm guitar at right and a mellow ride cymbal doing quarter beats. Thus merely 10 seconds into the piece I had a very clear idea about the space in which things took place in every dimension. This was a bit of a stunner but also instantly relaxing because thus set up, I could focus on other things. Like talent N°.2.

Tonally the D33 was pure as a loupe or laboratory kit. In principle that's no surprise of course. Getting linear response from a digital deck is about as difficult as sticking a finger into your nose without accident. That said, flat response and listener delight don't always go hand in hand so this required mention. The various instruments felt perfectly natural and realistic, with the acoustic upright traversing its high registers at left full of substance without grumble, the guitars following easily separated despite covering overlapping bands, the cymbals fine and clean without hiss but laden with nuance. Last but not least Doherty's voice exhibited the minor hoarseness and restraint that's exclusive to ambitious chain smokers.

Aside from such tonal evenness the Arcam DAC also garnered points with stupendous resolution. Doherty's hall sound is accompanied by very mild delay of perhaps a quarter second which flickers at half right in the stereo panorama to cast more depth. Such production decisions the D33 tracked without batting an eye lash. Admirably this didn't disturb. Au contraire, I felt served by an exceptionally honest butler. This first impression continued throughout the audition. To get rocking I cued up Indie trio Yuck. Their eponymous album was launched in 2011 and is one helluva cracker. Wikipedia's references for it are Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. That I'd sign very reluctantly. To me Yuck is quite distinctive particularly from the two latter bands, with a far more direct less embellished vibe and friendlier mood. I'd thus reach for early Pixies to create the most meaningful context – melodious, surprising, with fat guitar salvos and 'song' that must have redlined the VU meters of the studio gear.