It’s tempting to view the ST60 as Arcam’s first foray into network music players, but it’s fairer to say this is its first conventional player: the company has already had CD players with built-in streaming, the latest being the CDS50; an amplifier with onboard connectivity – the range-topping SA30 –; and the Solo Uno ‘streamer with built-in amplifier’, offering a simple ‘just add speakers’ solution. And that’s before we even consider all those Bluetooth devices, its AV receivers and the like.
The ST60, however, is different in that it’s the kind of network player some other companies have offered for a while: connected to a home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, the ST60 can deliver music stored on the user’s own network, whether that’s on a computer or a dedicated network attached storage device, or from an online streaming service providing a music library in return for a subscription. It can also play music stored on a USB memory device, or receive music from portable devices or computers via Apple AirPlay2 or Google Cast, allowing it will work with both Apple iOS and Android portables, and in addition it has two optical and two coaxial digital inputs, so external digital sources can be connected and fed through its internal digital-to-analogue conversion.
There’s no shortage of ready to run online streaming services here including Deezer, HighResAudio Napster, Qobuz, Spotify, and Tidal, with full MQA decoding for high-resolution from its HiFi service. Internet radio streaming is on hand to open up the world, and it is Roon-ready, enabling it to accept content shared by that music management software. The digital-to-analogue conversion allows the player to handle high resolution audio content at up to 192kHz/32bit, while the menu system provides the user with no fewer than seven digital filter settings, which can be used as a means of subtle sound-tuning. That opens up the possibility of endless fun, or possibly frustration, as different filters will best suit various kinds of music, or even specific recordings: perhaps it’s to stick with the setting the ST60 offers as a default, which seems to work best with the widest range of tracks.
Analogue outputs are available on both conventional unbalanced RCA sockets and balanced XLRs, with the choice of fixed and variable level: the former setting is used when the player is plugged into a line input on a preamplifier or integrated amp, while the latter opens up the possibility of connecting it straight into a power amplifier or a pair of active speakers, using the ST60’s volume control to adjust the playback level.
A remote-control handset comes with, but the ST60 is better operated by parent company Harman’s MusicLife app, running on either Android or Apple iOS devices, and recently updated with much appreciated additional features. First launched as far back as 2014 under the Arcam brand, this app has been updated regularly since, and now controls not only Arcam’s own products, but also models from the wider Harman stable, including JBL and Mark Levinson network-capable components. It also allows a degree of customisation, including the hiding of unused inputs, and can also be used to send music to Google Cast components on the network to which it’s connected. There’s also a web interface, accessed by typing the IP address of the ST60 into a browser running on the same network – but if all this sounds complex, it isn’t: it’s easy once the player is connected to your network and ‘found’ by the app, after which it’s just a matter of registering any relevant streaming subscriptions, setting up any radio favourites required, and allowing the app to scan any music stores on the network, before starting to play music.
That done, the ST60 delivers a sound that’s – well, very Arcam: it’s warm and lush, with a smooth, easygoing character to it, and while it’s not quite as open and fresh as some rival network players, meaning that some of the finer nuances of highly atmospheric recordings are glossed over, and there’s slightly less of the sense of the space around the performers, there’s never any shortage of clarity or detail here, and the player makes it easy to distinguish the various threads of a score or performance, while at the same time appreciating the overall flow of what’s being played.
Neither does that warmth ever make it sound slow or overly relaxed: rhythms are driven smartly despite the generous low end, which will help the player flatter smaller speakers and also put a bit more life into heavily compressed MP3 files, for example, and there’s never any sense that the ability of the bass to give even this lower-resolution music scale and substance is masking any of the character of voices and instruments in the all-important midband. It’s a fine, easily-enjoyed sound.
The smooth styling of the ST60 reflects its sound, and means the most obvious visual match is with Arcam’s own amplifiers, such as the SA20. But the warm, rich balance means it will work with a wide range of amplification and speakers with no problems at all. Make sure you have an Android or iOS phone or tablet to make the most of the excellent MusicLife app.
The ST60 may be a latecomer to the network audio party, but it was worth waiting for; from its clean lines to the warm, generous sound, it will sound excellent with a wide range of network and online music, and make everything supremely easy to enjoy
ABC: The Look of Love, Pt 1
Released in 1982, ABC’s The Lexicon of Love remains just about the definitive pop album, from its inventive songwriting to the production by Trevor Horn, famous for everything from The Buggles to Franke Goes to Hollywood. Add in lush orchestrations by Ann Dudley, who would go on to form The Art of Noise, and this is widescreen sound at its finest
Meat Loaf: I Would Do Anything For Love
Inspired by the success of Bat Out of Hell, Messrs Steinman and Loaf pushed things even further with follow-up album Back Into Hell, and this opening track, all 11 minutes and 58 seconds of it, is dramatic, operatic and simply massive. The Arcam plays up the scale of all the theatrics and campery, and sounds simply magnificent
Elton John: It’s A Sin
Sir Reg spent lockdown not just noodling on his Yamaha grand, but bringing together an all-star cast for his Lockdown Sessions album, and this cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ classic opens with a fragile Olly Alexander vocal before Pinner’s most famous son crashes in full disco pomp, using all the Arcam’s warmth and drive to great effect
As smooth in its sound as it is in its looks, this network player is the ideal alternative for those who find ‘computer audio’ too bright and brash. Warm and rich, the presentation here is easily combined with a wide range of amplification and speakers