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I can't rightly recall what I originally paid for my Arcam Alpha 8 - I have the Integrated (Power) Amp - but a quick Dooyoo search revealed that they are now available for around £150 pounds, and can be had for much less, which as far as I'm concerned is a bargain. I have mine hooked up to a huge array of equipment, ranging from my P.C and T.V, to a full home studio, and a dedicated CD player. The Alpha is powering a pair of 4ft by 1.5ft B&W speakers from the sixties, and a smaller, more modern pair of Technics speakers, which essentially play the role of tweeters, filling out the high end. This set up provides spectacular sound for every device in my house, for only the cost of these basic audio components, and a variety of cheap basic cables. You can switch between your devices and separates on the front on the power amp, and the main volume along with the treble and the bass can also be altered. The Alpha has a bypass switch, which removes the EQ at a press, and provides you with a pure unaltered sound. This is extremely helpful for my needs, as I sometimes use it for monitoring direct input recording/productions. The sound from this unit has a very warm quality at it's neutral setting. Boosting the treble adds clarity where necessary, and boosting the bass provides a natural increase in the impact and low down rumble available. Listening to the Alpha's bass sound is more akin to taking in an orchestra, or a marching band, than a sub-woofer. The 'booms' and beats are less abrasive and 'pumpy', but do not lose any of their capacity to shake and stir you. I find that I can listen for music for hours on this system, whereas even good quality headphones, car stereo's, and the like, can begin to irritate me and grate after a shorter period. My friends, with their dolby 5.1, and 7.1, systems have often admitted their envy. Cosmetically, I have to concede that the Alpha is probably far from pretty, but I feel the interior content is worth the sacrifice. In addition, as the years (over a decade of them) have gone by, and my Arcam has failed to let me down even once, I've actually come to quite like it's boxy plastic-y looks. They represent durability and reliability to me, and underneath my widescreen Samsung monitor, it manages to reflect just a tiny bit of the retro chic afforded to old Amstrad's and industrial control units. My life would be worse without it. It's not for sale, and it never will be, but luckily, clever shoppers can get hold of one anyway, at a snip!
It's clear on first listen that Arcam have spent the money on the internals of the Alpha 8 rather than on the plastic fronted exterior. Partnered with Kef Concierto speakers and Arcam alpha 8 bi-amped amplifiers the Alpha 8cd does a fine job of recreating the performance in your living-room. Musicians are defined and a taut if slightly woolly deep bass underpins the sound. Music is naturally reproduced and even with a badly recorded disc never becomes harsh. On the negative side the players front is lacking in finesse as is the remote control, better looking products are available but many cannot match this player's sound at this price point. However, if sound is more important than looks then there is little competition. Careful system matching including cables and support will bring the best from this player. It took a £2000 player to significantly improve on this player in my system so therefore provides a good starting point for an audiophile system especially as Arcam's products retain a high second hand value.
I bought an 8SE as part of a setup that included matching an A10 amplifier and an A8 analogue tuner. These were all to use with my existing Pro-Ac Studio 100 speakers. Construction, as with all the Alpha range, is traditional simple, rather than elegant. Plastic dominates the proceedings here. While there is the feeling of fragility, nothing has broken in the 3 years I have had one of these. Yes, the front-panel buttons are a bit 'clicky', but they don't get used much, as I favour those on the Philips style remote. The unit as a whole is very lightweight, certainly compared to my previous top-of-the-range Sony dreadnought, which was not an easy lift. Gold-plates connectors at the back, although they too feel a bit flimsy, but are OK thus far. As I've added other Arcam Alpha equipment to the setup, I've noticed that the screen-print legends on the front of the CD have faded over a peruod of time, and are not as bright as those on my newer equipment. Sound-wise, this is a great CD unit. So much so that I see no reason to have it upgraded to Alpha 9 spec. I'm not sure of the benefits of HDCD compatibility, but I have no qualms over the sound at all. Ultimately, that's all that matters. The only irritation I have is that, if you set the display mode to anything other than the default (ie full-bright), this setting is not remembered at next power-up. This differs from the Alpha 10 amp which retains the setting. As I prefer the dimmed setting (as opposed to full-off), this stands out a bit.