Review: Arcam CDS27

…Is this new Arcam the Master or Jack of all trades?

With digital audio playback currently at something of a crossroads, it can be difficult to know which path to take when replacing older equipment. Do you stick with a CD player and its tried-and-tested, industry-standard formula? Or do you make the most of the computer age, streaming your music from a NAS drive or PC? For those whose want the best of both worlds, Arcam have the perfect solution: the CDS27.

Capable of functioning both as a CD player and a network streamer, this new component from the FMJ series could soothe a lot of potential headaches for those still undecided about which is right for them. And Arcam have another ace up their sleeve with the CDS27 – it’s an SACD player, too! CD and SACD are just the tip of the iceberg, with the network streamer and USB input also capable of playing FLAC, WAV, AAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3 and WMA. That’s just about every major format used for digital playback in the past 30 years!

As part of the aforementioned FMJ range, the CDS27 comes in Arcam’s heavy duty casework, which is heavily damped to stop vibrations from affecting performance. The player itself is a fairly staid design, not exactly likely to win any beauty contests, essentially aiming for function over form. I’ve no qualms with this at all. Any hi-fi component should put usability and practicality to the forefront wherever possible, and that’s what Arcam have done here. From way across the room the display is easily readable, perfect for navigating your way through folders when streaming. Not the prettiest thing to look at, but plaudits should go to Arcam for their sensible approach.

Connectivity wise, the CDS27 has plenty to shout about. Alongside the standard RCA connections sit a set of balanced XLR outputs, which is the recommended choice for those with compatible equipment. Both optical and digital coaxial are present for those with external DACs. A USB socket completes the connectivity, offering playback of files from HDD or pen-drives. The unit is has Wi-Fi built-in, but an Ethernet port is also on offer for a more solid connection.

Under the bonnet, Arcam have chosen to stick with their preferred Burr Brown PCM1794 DAC chip. Having used this throughout their range over the years their engineers are more than au fait with how to get the best out it. The use of discrete power supplies for the disc drive, audio and DAC boards is also something that Arcam rely on, giving greater control to the reduction of interference across these vital electronics.

Setting the unit up for networking was a doddle. Our network was found in no time, and from there our music was ready to be played back just as quickly. We used Arcam’s A19 amplifier for our testing, alongside the Dali Ikon 6 MK2 speakers. We allowed the unit 48 hours burn-in to warm up before critical listening began.

 Never shy away from a well produced album when assessing hi-fi

Never shy away from a well produced album when testing hi-fi…


Radiohead’s sublime Kid A started affairs. The bands follow up to classic record OK Computer saw them leave behind their guitars. The techno-stylings of Idioteque will give any player a run for its money, and the Arcam was happy to meet the challenge. The layers of sound were easily identifiable: all of the nuance of the track was laid bare for the listeners enjoyment. All this and still offering a cohesive and organic sound, the CDS27 was impressing from the off.

Dusting off some of our SACDs for a listen, hi-fi shop demo-disc mainstay Dark Side of the Moon was called into action. Again the Arcam showed its pedigree. The soundstage on this SACD mix was huge both in depth and width, and the detail on offer was a wonderful example of what the format is capable. Money, with its ringing till percussion sounded sublime – the sax solo held in check well. Tonally, the CDS27 leans towards slight top end warmth. Throughout the midrange it is crystal clear however, and this voicing really helps it pick out the detail without the overly bright treble that plagues hyper-detailed machines.

Next up was FLAC from our NAS drive. The large display made reading from a distance easy. Never to shy away from a great-but-cliched album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was our chosen poison, (the Lindsey Buckingham-penned Never Going Back Again). The delicate finger picking was sounding its very best here, and the slightly peaky notes showed no stridency as they can on mismatched systems. Sound quality was the same high standard as our CD copy, with no noticeable drop off with wireless streaming.

For a box that puts its eggs in so many baskets, the CDS27 never feels like it’s over-stretching itself. It was as assured with CD as with streaming, and its common-sense approach to ergonomics and design meant it was a pleasure to use as well as listen to. Highly recommended.

Author – Chris, Liverpool store

…Don’t just take Chris’ word for it, why not pop into your local Richer Sounds to hear it yourself?

This article has 1 comment

  1. Great review Chris, as well as being the first one I’ve seen. I have just bought one of these units and did so on the strength of my home demo – it is truly outstanding how good streamed music sounds. I’m running mine through an A28 to Monitor Audio RX8s and couldn’t be happier with the perfectly balanced sound.
    User interface is not so good but I believe an improved app is due in April and the fact that it doesn’t have all the ‘knobs and whistles’ of other network players doesn’t bother me a bit when my music sounds this good!