Focal has been developing high-end headphones, speakers, and other audio products for years, but until recently the company had yet to enter the high-end DAC world. Now, however, that has finally changed with the launch of the new Focal Arche.
The Arche is designed to be an “all-in-one” solution for headphones, combining a digital-analog converter with two amplification modes designed for headphones. It has built-in presets for Focal’s top-tier headphones, like the Focal Utopia – but you can use it with other headphones too.
But at $2,499, it’s not necessarily cheap. And, even if you are in the market for a high-end DAC, there are other options out there. Does the Focal Arche beat out the rest? We’ve been testing it out for a while now to find out.
The Focal Arche is modern-looking and well-designed — and the sleek black metallic look should help make it look right at home in any audiophile’s setup. The device measures around 2.4 inches tall, 7.9 inches wide, and 11.7 inches long.
On the top of the Arche, there’s a small grill that can be used to place an included headphone stand in, which is a nice touch. The stand is perfect for Focal’s own headphones, but will work great for other pairs of headphones too — and helps make the device more of a nice, compact, headphone station.
On the front of the Focal Arche, you’ll get a balanced 4-pin XLR output, a standard 1/4-inch output, a small screen, and a knob for controlling volume and interacting with the software. Using the device with the knob is very easy — you’ll simply press it in to access the settings menu, from which you can switch between modes and even adjust the gain.
On the back, there are a range of input and output options too. You’ll get three digital inputs, including a USB port, and balanced and unbalanced outputs for those who want to use the converter with an external amplifier. Most will want to simply plug the Arche into their computer through the USB port.
The Focal Arche is built for versatility, and it achieves that. We’ve already mentioned the range of inputs and outputs that help the device fit well into any setup. It goes beyond that, however, allowing you to tweak a range of settings to perfect the sound you’re looking for.
For starters, there are a few different modes to select from. There are dedicated modes for each of Focal’s high-end headphone models, as well as a Voltage mode and Hybrid mode. We’ll get into how they sounded a little later. You can also tweak between high-gain and low-gain options.
Under the hood, the Arche offers two AKM4490 balanced converters. Output power is an impressive 2W per channel, with an impedance of 32Ω.
Features and design are only a small part of what makes the Focal Arche great. The main event? The sound quality — and it delivers.
In all, the Focal Arche delivers a detailed, rich sound, that can go head to head with some of the best converters on the market. Add in the fact that this is both a converter and a headphone amp, and you’ve got a winner.
The Focal Arche does an excellent job at producing a highly detailed sound. High-end is natural and smooth, while still retaining a fast-pace and an engaging tone. Every song we listened to was more exciting and rich than we’ve ever heard it before. That depth didn’t translate to a lazy response either — dynamics hit as hard as you would want them to.
The difference between the Voltage mode, the Hybrid mode, and the preset modes is subtle, but keen ears will be able to hear it. There seemed to be just that little extra oomph in the hybrid mode using the Utopia headphones, however the dedicated Utopia mode perhaps offered a slightly more natural take.
The Focal Arche is excellent at retaining a low signal-to-noise ratio too — ensuring that you won’t suffer from that background noise while listening.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one DAC/headphone amplifier unit, especially for use with your Focal headphones, the Focal Arche is the way to go. It compliments Focal’s own headphones extremely well, and works great with other headphones too.
The fact that you can use the Arche as a pure DAC or an amplifier is a bonus too — as it means you can combine the product with your other favorite headphone devices.
Simply put, the Focal Arche is a joy. It’s pricey, to be sure, but to get an audio quality this enjoyable, you would probably spend a similar amount on separate amplifiers and DACs anyway. Thanks to the stellar audio quality and great user experience, we’re awarding the Focal Arche the Headphone Review Gold Medal.