Let’s first talk about their sonics. Truth be told there is far less to differentiate them sonically than in all their other aspects so it can actually be covered off fairly swiftly. If you are used to something like a Melco Zs or Innuous Statement – both of which are extremely fine players I hasten to add – then jumping up to the Extreme or the Arkas is a very big step indeed. We have gradually begun to realise over the past few years that the Streamer, the home Network and indeed the Digital cable are each as important as the DAC itself and providing you have a good open system with a great digital front end then the uplift in sound quality when you plug in either of these beasts is not small.
Obviously sheer resolution levels, the amount of information you are hearing takes a big leap. Not just sound information and small delicate pieces of expression from instruments and voices, but information about everything from position, scale, surrounding ambience and air, note start and note decay and relative volume and relevance vis a vis all the other sounds in the mix. Like any great upgrade, the sound becomes more complex and more true, more dramatic and detailed, yet simpler and more relaxed at the same time. Both these players deliver a supremely unforced and natural performance, conjuring the illusion of realism in your living space more convincingly than perhaps you have ever experienced before. A cleaner, more present sound means there is a new greater sense of order and coherency to proceedings, particularly if you are playing more complex music underpinned by rhythms, percussion and drums. The sense of clarity and cleanliness on both units is outstanding.
So how do they actually compare between each other ? Well that is a difficult one because firstly they are actually so close with a very similar perfectly centered neutral attitude but also because it really depends on what software you are using and how you use each one and the status of your home network. The Arkas has no disk storage so you have to draw wav files from a USB stick or a drive plugged into the back or a disk elsewhere on the network. You can also feed the Arkas with another server itself like a Melco. I actually have one customer using an Innuous Statement as disk storage into an Arkas; overkill perhaps but it does take the Tidal unit to another place again. Both units can be operated by Roon but then of course we know that Roon more often than not carries a significant sound penalty in its processing of streamed and stored music so both products will sound substantially better by using their native apps, Lumin on the Arkas and TAS on the Taiko. Taiko’s up and coming new XDMS software will also sound better again, an exciting prospect for all existing owners as it’s also a fully fledged music exploration experience in the same sumptuous mould as Roon.
Whilst the Arkas is utterly superb playing files and does it as naturally and simply as if the disks were housed within, it is ultimately as a design geared more toward streaming services and my feeling is that if you are listening to Qobuz or Tidal and have a pretty clean network with a smattering of useful audiophile grade enhancements (high quality switch, ethernet lead, lan isolator etc.) then the Arkas does put a bit of a distance between itself and the Dutch unit, mostly in that last degree of purity, openness and life. The same is true if you feed the Arkas with a mid grade Melco, Innuos or similar as file storage. This is increasing the overall spend substantially of course so not really a fair comparison but then at this level people can and will do all in their power to squeeze out the last few percent and when the Tidal unit is combo’d with audiophile grade storage (as opposed to a regular NAS or USB stick) then the result is really quite remarkable with a new degree of saturation, density and realism to notes and instruments.
Using the standard units alone though and if you are literally only playing files, then the Taiko probably has the sonic edge and ergonomically is the more natural choice, certainly compared to an inexpensive memory stick being used in the rear of the Tidal. It has a slightly more organic and denser sound but appreciate that we are talking very fine degrees here. As my opening gambit suggested, the differences in sonic scores are very small between these two. The Taiko base price is £3000 cheaper but then add some extra storage, another output module and it’s the same or more. The £28,000 Arkas however ships with no less than 7 inputs as standard but then no internal storage. Bottom line, they are around the same retail price once spec’d so you’d expect them to be on a par in terms of performance and indeed they are. The differences between the physical units, the software, the companies behind them are far far greater and it’s these elements that will more than likely dictate your choice.