Review: Arcam Alpha 9 cd CD Player

Category: Digital

I bought this unit used (Dec. 1999 production date)

OK, so, the box arrives at my office the other day at about noon. I have this temptation to suddenly acquire a nasty cold or stomach flu and just HAVE to go home. "I'll be fine by morning, I'm sure...." Were I a cop, I suppose it would be the "blue flu," but for a botanist, is there a "green flu?"

Anyway, I get home at about 6pm, change clothes, grab a glass of wine (a reasonably priced, very good Italian primitivo/zinfandel), and start opening the box. This guy really had things packed well! Very impressive, Peter!

I was a little surprised, by the way, at how light the box was. I was expecting something a little heftier. So what...

After getting it unpacked, I decided to rearrange everything on my rack. I didn't like where the NAD 521i cd player was nor the receiver (which I am using simply as a tuner), so everything came off the shelves and then back on in the right order. [Am I dragging this out sufficiently?]

Plugged it in (using stock pc, although I have a DIY pc burning in...I'll see how that sounds this weekend), turned it on.....nothing! Geeessh.... OK, I didn't have the power cord pushed in all the way. Whew!

I picked out a few CDs (most of the ones listed in my Plinius 8200 MKII review), including:

Barbara Bonney: "Fairest Isle" (early English songs) (EMI)

Tierney Sutton: "Unsung Heroes" (jazz vocals) (Telarc)

Eva Cassidy: "Live at Blues Alley" (mixture of jazz and R&B)

Beethoven: "Sonatas for piano and cello" Maria Kliegel (cello), Nina Tichman (piano) (Naxos)

Briefly glanced at the owners' manual (yes, I'm chromosomally challenged, although, in my defense, I DO ask for directions when I'm lost), put in a CD (Barbara Bonney's "Fairest Isle") and sat back.


Great detail!! Much better resolution, better staging, almost no hint of digital graininess (almost analogue-like)!! The highs are cleaner than the NAD. However, I must say that the NAD is better than a lot of people give it credit for, and will be fine in a second system. Every breath was clear and articulated. The control of Bonney's voice was matched by the control of the Arcam.

I then listened to Tierney Sutton ("Unsung Heroes") and heard details (background instrumentals, longer rolling off of cymbals, etc.) that weren't there before with the NAD. Some cuts, if not replayed well, can sound like a sonic mess, with piano, guitar, percussion, voice, etc. all mashed together. Not so, here. In fact, the staging and presence was "live."

After that, it was Eva Cassidy. With the NAD, it was obvious that this is really well-recorded. With the Arcam, it is even more "present." The details, again, are there. In fact, they are no longer simply "details," but integral (know what I mean?).

With all three discs, I could hear some inhalation and other things with the NAD, but with the Arcam it was all the more clear. I'm actually afraid of listening to some CDs I have of chamber music, particularly those performed by the Lindsay Qt because their first violinist sniffs so much! I think they will now be completely unlistenable.

Another disc I tried was a Linn recording of some Orlando Gibbons keyboard works (John Toll, harpsichord and organ). Even with the NAD, there was some obvious hiss that sounded like tape hiss. I bugged Linn about this a few months ago, and they gave me a song and dance about how a harpsichord has to mic'd closely, so there will be some hiss. BS!!! I have many other harpsichord CDs that have no such hiss. This Linn disc is HDCD, and with the Arcam's feature of automatically detecting HDCD, much of the annoying hiss was removed (but not all). Hmmm..... Linn coulda/shoulda told me that.

Oh, I also played a Naxos CD I have of some Beethoven sonatas for cello and piano. It's a great recording, and the Arcam squeezed every ounce of detail from the disc. The depth of the cello's bass register was stunning, as was the clarity of the piano's upper keys. Some of this is due to the qualities of the Plinius, not exclusively the Arcam.

Should say something about the remote: it's a full function unit. Pretty lightweight, as is the Arcam itself. Some might call both "flimsy," but they are flawless.

In sum, I think the Arcam Alpha 9 is a superb cd player for the money, and even more so used. The Plinius and Arcam are a fine combination and one that I will be happy with for a long time. The only thing I'm going to do is replace the stock power cord. The Tsunami, which was on the Plinius, reduced the noise floor considerably, but seemed to benefit the Plinius more than the cdp.

To put my pleasure in other terms, here's a multiple choice question:

By the time I was done auditioning, I realized that
(a) it was 1am
(b) I had eaten an entire pizza by myself
(c) I had polished of the whole bottle of wine
(d) the Arcam is a great match for the Plinius
(e) all the above

Associated gear
Plinius 8200 mkII integrated amp
Cabasse 30M1 speakers (from 1985)
Nordost Solar Wind ICs
Acoustic Zen Tsunami pc

Similar products
NAD 521i
California Audio Labs