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Review: Focal Arche Amplifier Transforms Over-Ear Headphones Into High-Fidelity Sound Machines

When the music industry transformed itself from an analog to a digital environment, it was simply responding to the demands of an ongoing global technological evolution. LPs gave way to CDs. Walkmans bowed out to iPods. MP3s emerged as the easiest way to preserve and send music via the internet. Songs and albums became easier to produce and share around the planet. Even if the music industry was sometimes slow to adapt, the digital revolution is all but complete now.

The problem is digitizing music means compressing it, and compressing music means stripping out portions of a given song’s audio elements. To combat those effects, the world’s top consumer audio technology companies put a lot of work into enhancing and recovering the lost sound to sweeten digital music as much as possible.

As a result, true audiophiles take great care to assemble the best gear, whether that’s premium noise-cancelling headphones or high-tech headphone amplifier systems.

The Arche from Focal — the elite audio component company — is a headphones amplifier system that settles in between a good pair of over-ear headphones and a music source. It works to combines a digital-analog converter with separate amplification modes designed for those headphones to warm and flesh out the sound. While it’s designed for use with specific Focal over-ear units such as the Clear or the Utopia, it includes settings that will enhance any brand of over-ear headphones.

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What We Liked About the Focal Arche

The Arche is an impressive achievement of audio programming. Focal’s engineers created and built in a system that matches the Arche to each individual pair of Focal headphone utilizing “impedance optimization circuitry.” The necessary settings and tech to make every Focal headphones pair sound even better are saved into the Arche’s menu. If Focal adds future models, a firmware update will add new settings to match.

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Best Feature: Hybrid and Voltage Modes

Though the Arche is designed first and foremost to cooperate with Focal’s own line of headphones, the company is smart enough to be inclusive. As explained, the device matches up with a given set of Focals and adjusts the sound to ideal levels. Still, those users who have quality headphones from another manufacturer can still get the most of them with the Arche using the more generally compatible “Hybrid” and “Voltage” modes. A quick bit of intel gathering points you to whichever mode is best for your brand. Then, it’s plug and play.

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What We Didn’t Like About the Focal Arche

It’s not the sexiest looking component you’ll find out there. It’s little more than a foot-long box studded with inputs, outputs, a readout and a single volume knob. Fortunately, it’s packed with AI that does all of the level mixing and audio adjustments for you.

Then, of course, there’s the price. There’s no getting around that $2,500 price tag. Still, if you’re in the market for high-end audio equipment at Focal’s level, you know what you’re getting into from the start. The French company sells only the best of the best, and you’re not getting your hands on anything they make for less than four figures.


The Verdict: If you’re an audiophile, find a way to add this to your setup

While the Focal Arche is designed to amuse the ears, it’ll have an effect on your eyes. The first time you plug in your personal pair of over-ear headphones (…If you’re well-heeled, they’ll be Focal. If you’re not, but doing your best, the brand doesn’t matter…) and select the right audio mode to match, you will hear music like you have never heard before from a device with which you were previously familiar. The Arche transforms your equipment and elevates the entertainment experience. The sound is bigger, warmer, richer and bolder. There’s more air around the instruments and the music sprawls out before you in a way any headphones couldn’t manage on their own.

The Focal Arche is expensive but transformative.

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