Arcam has a fiercely earned reputation for high-end stereo equipment aimed at those who would happily describe themselves as audiophiles. At first glance, the DT-91 is a well-built separates unit with both analogue and digital audio outputs to interconnect your existing stereo system.
You'll need an existing amplifier and speaker set to plug the DT-91 into because, unlike radios like the PURE Digital DRX-702ES, this Arcam does not have a built-in headphone jack. Listening without a headphone pre-amp or hi-fi amplifier is not possible.
DAB stations in the UK use bit rates that continue to disappoint us (as low as 80Kbps), but for audiophiles there is always the option of listening to FM broadcasts on the DR-91 where they're available. One reason to listen to DAB, despite its sub-par bit rate, is the sheer choice of stations. Can the DT-91 justify the investment when it comes to decoding and playing DAB broadcasts?
The front panel on the DT-91 is dominated by a large, central tuning dial -- this rapidly scrolls through stations like a traditional analogue tuner. The majority of controls are clearly displayed to the left of this.
The unit is noticeably lightweight -- an inevitable consequence of the minimal size of the electronic circuits needed to operate a DAB/FM combo these days. Arcam has done a reasonable job of bulking up the unit, but as with all DAB manufacturers, you get the impression that it struggled to fill the large 19-inch chassis of a standard hi-fi component. As a result, the DT-91 feels hollow and the buttons make an empty clicking noise. We're used to something a bit more hardy from Arcam in this respect.
A large, bright LCD display is to the right of the central tuning dial. You can summon menus, change band and recall memory presets using the menu and select buttons. These buttons are comfortably sized and quick to locate.
The DT-91's standard 19-inch case stacked neatly on our existing hi-fi separates. The feet on the unit raise it about 10mm off the ground, providing adequate ventilation for an amplifier placed below.
The rear panel on the Arcam offers a selection of outputs in the form of digital optical, digital coaxial and two sets of left/right gold-plated phono connectors. There's also a Remote In and an RS232 port for external control.
The DT-91 tunes rapidly -- a similar speed to other separates we've tested. DAB stations are automatically listed, and you can move through the station listings using the tuning wheel. Initial setup is as easy for first-timers as it will be for anyone familiar with using a DAB.
Connecting the DT-91 to your existing hi-fi can be done using the digital optical out, coaxial out or either of the two pairs of phono outs. Some listeners will discover that their amplifier only uses the traditional phono connectors, in which case, a good pair of phono interconnects will do the job of connecting it to an amplifier set up.
Often, high-end amplifiers have an optical input, in which case you can run an optical cable (not included) from the DAB to your amplifier. Given the low bit rate of DAB, you're unlikely to hear a massive improvement over the phono interconnects, but you will eliminate potential problems with ground loops and other noise anomalies.
The DT-91 is compatible with all UK DAB broadcasts. Band III transmissions can be received on the tuner at up to 256Kbps. If you're underwhelmed by DAB, or are having reception problems, FM frequencies available to the DT-91 range from 87.5 to 108MHz. Again, this includes all commercial FM broadcasts in the UK.
FM, AM and DAB bands can be tuned using the main central dial and the unit includes a range of view options. Power is supplied via a sturdy kettle-lead-style connector.
Auditioning the DT-91 with a Radio 1 DAB broadcast showed off the unit's strengths in producing a solid sound on our reference amplifier and speaker set. The radio exhibits good tonal balance, doing its best to avoid over-emphasising the low end and create space despite the tendency of radio producers to heavily compress broadcasts. Fortunately the DT-91 does a decent job of coping with the fairly poor raw material it's being made to deal with.
Listening to Radio 4 was rewarding. Broadcasts sounded clear and steady without over-emphasis on any particular range of the spectrum. FM reception on the same station was immeasurably better -- the DT-91's analogue tuner matched our expectations for a premium separates unit.
There's very little to divide the DAB separates we've looked at so far. They're all like very fast sports cars being made to drive on mud. The low DAB bit rate just can't really tax these tuners. Owners of an existing Arcam setup will find the DT-91 well matched to their current components. For others, it may be a case of weighing up whether the small improvements in reception are worth the sizable investment the DT-91 represents.
DAB is already a less than pristine signal in the best of cases. With the Arcam DT-91 you're getting the best possible reception of this digital signal. Whether that's good enough for you is a personal matter, we'd recommend auditioning the unit before you buy.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield