Far as ARC’s future; much depends on McIntosh Group’s handling of the company, now that they own it.
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I would like to repost a few comments that I made in the now deleted thread. As a threshold matter, I want to restate that I am an ARC fan. All my electronic gear is ARC stuff. I have never experienced a catastrophic breakdown in any of my ARC gear, … past or present. At worst, just a pesky blown bias resister. No big deal. In short, I believe that ARC make excellent gear.
My only concern is that in that rare and unusual case where I have recently called ARC, I got tripped up in the telephone menu and had a hard time connecting with a service person. Eventually, I was able to speak with someone, but it wasn't easy getting through.
Compare that to yesteryear. If I called, a very nice person would pick up the phone and asked who I needed to speak to. I was immediately transferred to Len to Kal who were always helpful.
I agree with fsonicsmith's comments about the dealer network. The dealer folks I dealt with are nice and well meaning folks, but are not tech wizards like Len or Kal. Further, the dealer I used does not have an ARC service tech inhouse or located nearby. As I explained on the deleted thread, I would much rather deal with a local ARC service tech than start with a dealer. Just an unnecessary step and an unhelpful conversation.
So, if ARC picks up on this thread, I hope they will take to heart that personal service is very important to the retail consumer. The auto dealer analogy made in the deleted thread in not analogous here.
I hope ARC goes back to the old model and lets their dealers do what they do best, …. sell product. ARC should do what it does best, …. help retail customers with technical issues. If ARC wants to augment the dealer system, maybe they should couple an ARC service tech with each dealer. The tech doesn't have to be employed by the dealer, … just located nearby.
Just my humble opinion of course.
glad to see the thread subject resurrected for sure. My point, ignored by the previous OP was that the topic and content had value. Let’s hope this one does as well.
My situation and perspective might be a bit unique, but here goes. I currently own but one ARC component ( REf5se) but recommend and purchase for others many ARC bits built over a more than two decade span. I also have two systems in different geographic locations, one close to a middling ARC dealer and another with a fantastic dealer some 100 miles away ( easy drive considering the $ we are talking, right? )
ALL my interactions w selling dealers ARC or otherwise MUST offer more value than simple order taking
ARC so far still have ears and engineering talent, but IMO VTL and others are quickly catching up. ARC should bulk up the bench and offer better phone service. Stop charging extra for a metal remote. The plastic is good for one drop in the dark...
on China, all luxury brands that have a global strategy must address this vast potential market ( look to wine for clues ) Some brands have a USA only strategy because setting up export means jacking the USA price up and then allowing discounting. Not mentioning brands..no need to, you know the stuff that is always on sale, demo, etc..
replacement tubes better offer some spectacular value, sonics, reliability or both
enjoy the music...
Thanks for what in my opinion is a particularly excellent and well-stated post, Fsonicsmith, that will of course be of interest to many here. (Personally I don't own any ARC gear, though).
You may not have noticed in the other thread you referred to, that has now been deleted, that the OP made a post requesting that the thread be deleted by the mods. And in a subsequent post Elizabeth pointed out to him that as the OP he could readily delete the thread by himself. So it seems likely that deletion of the thread was either done by the mods in response to the OP's request, or by the OP himself.
... AR’s acquisition by a parent company has resulted in a dilution of brand identity-similar to when Volvo was acquired by Ford between ’99 and ’10 and suddenly cross pollination of parts and assembly took place.I don’t see evidence of that at all. ARC products are still very much unique and like nothing else on the market.
... to refuse to interact with customers directly and to instead insist that the customer go through the local dealer is inexcusable.I’ve certainly not found that the company refuses to interact with its customers. To suggest that a customer consult his dealer for routine matters is completely reasonable, imo. ARC’s job is to support its dealers, and the dealer’s job is to support his customers.
... the present system is not altogether different from getting a clueless intermediary in some remote country who can not really help you.What issue have you had with your ARC products that you were not able to resolve?
My local AD is not a top-notch audio salon. They don’t stock a single piece of AR gear in their showroom and primarily cater to home theater.That doesn’t sound like much of an audio dealer. For sure, he’d never be able to sell me an ARC product.
...I have no confidence that if I experience a catastrophic problem AR will treat me with respect and take care of me. I have heard nothing but the opposite.I’ve never heard of anyone having any issue with an ARC product that could not be resolved. I suggest you not be consumed by your worst fears.
... I am the original owner of a Ref 6 and Ref 150SE and therefor have ~$30,000 invested in my amp and pre alone. A paltry sum by the standards of some, but not paltry to me.I think you have buyer’s remorse, a very common experience. You expected some kind of consumer "experience" as part of purchasing these products, and reality did not meet your expectation.
I’ve owned various ARC products for years. During that time, I’ve dealt with three different ARC dealers, and each has given me exceptional service. I’ve never had any issue with service on any ARC product.
Most enthusiast companies bought by conglomerates that are mainstream, have no idea how to run an enthusiast company.
The things they do to streamline the company and make it more profitable, are usually the very things that alienate the entire enthusiast customer base.
To make the transition to a mainstream company, the enthusiast methodology and way have to be dumped on the side of the road. I don’t think that there has ever been a single exception to this sort of scenario, ever.
I’m not saying that the new owners are trying to make it go mainstream, no, not at all. Specialist audio and mainstream audio are planets apart. re how the companies handle themselves in their respective markets.
But there can be a high level of ignorance of how things need to be done, in an enthusiast market, vs that of what might happen when a mainstream organizational hire comes in and tries to align a small enthusiast company into a mainstream method and way, re offices, communication, customer handling, etc..
It’s very simple, as many dozens of results show...that the mainstreamization of the company/offices/manufacturing/etc edifice.... does not work.
I wish to apologize-and do so humbly-to the excellent mods for using the "C"-word (censorship) as it was totally uncalled for. I am often surprised by the threads that remain unfettered on this Board-the mods have proven their tolerance and restraint. Further, in light of Almarg’s excellent post, for all I know the OP deleted the thread.
Now on to Cleeds; did you not read my appeal for civility? To label a complete stranger with the patronizing term of "buyer’s remorse" is not only uncivil but it is incorrect in my case. I have owned my two ARC pieces for two years and am nothing but proud and happy to own them.
Those of us who own current-production ARC gear know that ARC has adopted the KT150 as their workhorse power tube. They emphasize that for best results and reliability we should buy replacement KT150’s from them, at fairly ridiculous pricing, to ensure proper tube matching and longevity. They claim that they put batches of KT150’s through a rigorous testing process that no other supplier can match. I sent not one, not two, but three emails to ARC inquiring as to an octet of back-up KT150’s six months ago, each email spaced two weeks apart, and was never graced with the courtesy of a response. Now they seem to know what they are talking about as I had one very well respected tube dealer-Jim McShane-tell me that he no longer sells KT150’s because the Tungsol factory is putting out so many crap tubes that he can no longer supply the customer with a reliable tube. With ARC not responding to me I felt compelled to pay more than a thousand bucks with someone else for an octet. They remain in their original shipping box and only time will tell if I invested well. Can you now see why I am somewhat frustrated?
As to dilution and cross-pollination with other brands, I happen to be of the belief that the new mono bloc amps are garish and smack of McIntosh with their oversized meters dominating the faceplate. YMMV.
fsonicsmith …. interesting post about Jim McShane. You said that "Jim McShane- [told you] that he no longer sells KT150’s because the Tungsol factory is putting out so many crap tubes that he can no longer supply the customer with a reliable tube." That is quite disturbing.
As I mentioned in the deleted thread, Upscale sells KT-150s for $95 per tube, about half the amount that ARC charges. The thought that 2 quads of ARC sourced KT-150s will cost upwards of $1600 is quite sobering.
As a general matter, I have had great experiences buying tubes from Upscale. The only glitch was when I bought power tubes for my ARC amps. For some reason, the bias spread of Upscale matched pairs was not as tight as ARC sourced tubes.
So, I have a back-up set of 2 quads of Upscale sourced KT-150s that I bought several years ago. As stated, the bias spread is barely within ARC spec. Maybe Upscale can rematch my KT-150s??
P.S. I agree 100% with Cleeds' comment that "ARC products are still very much unique and like nothing else on the market."
So many audio salons have turned home theater installers, it's so sad to see.
Nothing wrong with a great home theater, but what is the percentage of our population tat can afford, let alone enjoy, a custom built/installed home theater? Lots of these go to buyers who no more care about the brand of speaker than the brand of light switch or garage door opener.
Just like in the 1960s/1970s we, the enthusiasts, are left to define our own market.
As on owner of 3 generations of ARC electronics (currently Ref 40 and Ref 160 monos), each one better than the last--I can say that I do miss Kal. Email only is no way to provide real customer service for products like the Ref 160s that go for 30k a pair.
That being said, ARC continues to push the envelope in sound and I continue to be a fan.
Thread drift from my own post but; I ended up buying from Tyler and Chelsea of TCtubes.
This is what Tyler had to say about the KT150;
I avoid most QC issues by paying extra for tubes tested and matched by New Sensor. This costs me more on the front end but I don't get the rejects that they screen out. I don't rely on their matching. I order batches all from the most desirable range of tubes for the type I'm interested in. They are supposed to send me all closely matched tubes in the quantity I've ordered. I then retest those tubes and match them into sets using my own methods. In the end, I run the tube sets under the operating conditions they will be seeing in the amplifier that the customer has. In your case, most ARC amps run around 420-430v plate and screen and draw about 65mA per tube. I set the tubes up under these conditions and verify that they are matched at those voltages before shipping.I have Jim McShane's post but won't repeat what he had to say for fear that he would prefer that I keep it private. Having just re-read it, he did say that he plans to revisit the KT150 at a later time in hopes that the QC has improved.\
I have a long history of buying tubes from Kevin Deal of Upscale with mostly good but not universally good results.
Bringing this back to ARC, one of the few times that I DID get a response from ARC was when I wrote them inquiring if it was possible to use 6550s, KT88's or KT90's in my Ref150SE. I mentioned that my Devore dealer thought that those tubes were a better match for my Devore O/93's. I received a very curt response that my dealer (they knew his identity because I referenced him my name in my inquiry) "was an idiot" (verbatim) and that I "would be foolish to listen to him" and that there was no conceivable reason to use any tube other than the KT150 in my amp.
With ARC going to autobias, the tube matching issues will only be a problem for the existing user base. Everyone hears differently and prefers what they prefer. With this caveat, the kt150 has a superior sound signature to the 6550, kt88, kt90 and kt120. The shortcomings of each of those tubes have been overcome in the kt150. Let the flames begin....
With ARC going to autobias, the tube matching issues will only be a problem for the existing user base. Everyone hears differently and prefers what they prefer. With this caveat, the kt150 has a superior sound signature to the 6550, kt88, kt90 and kt120. The shortcomings of each of those tubes have been overcome in the kt150. Let the flames begin....I will again repeat, I want a civil and appropriate discussion. No flames here (from me) and hopefully none from anybody else. But then again, your post does smack of perhaps being a troll (-:
I am in the camp that believes that sound signatures are inevitable and a good thing in moderation. I never much liked the KT120 but there are 6550's, KT88's and KT90's that have a subtle "glow within" quality in the midrange that imo the KT150's lack. I happen to enjoy a slightly burnished midrange added to human voice, saxophone, and stringed instruments. The KT150's are unexcelled in slam/dynamics, frequency extension, and neutrality. Which brings to mind, why pay for the expense of tubes if it is only going to sound like solid state? The Ref6 preamp, as I stated in the deleted thread, lends a holographic, wide open and 3D soundstage that I have never heard in any solid state pre. It is a bit artificial but I am happy to have it.
On top of the KT150's solid state-like neutrality and expense, there is another glaring problem; only one manufacturer makes the tube and that manufacturer has demonstrated significant problems with quality control. Perhaps not only will someone influential at ARC read this post but Mike Matthews as well., Wishful thinking.
Cleeds; did you not read my appeal for civility? To label a complete stranger with the patronizing term of "buyer’s remorse" is not only uncivil but it is incorrect in my case. I have owned my two ARC pieces for two years and am nothing but proud and happy to own them.I don't know what could possibly be uncivil about raising your issue of buyer's remorse. While you now say you are "proud and happy," here's what you've previously written in this thread:
... current state of Audio Research as a company from the standpoint of quality (positive) and customer service (negative) ... AR’s acquisition by a parent company has resulted in a dilution of brand identity-similar to when Volvo was acquired by Ford between ’99 and ’10 and suddenly cross pollination of parts and assembly took place ... to refuse to interact with customers directly and to instead insist that the customer go through the local dealer is inexcusable ... the present system is not altogether different from getting a clueless intermediary in some remote country who can not really help you ... I have no confidence that if I experience a catastrophic problem AR will treat me with respect and take care of me. I have heard nothing but the opposite. The human touch is gone ...That sure sounds like buyer's remorse to me. But I'm glad to see that you're "proud and happy" now.
Gee, McIntosh bought Audio Research? Maybe one of the engineers at AR will help the Mc guys and gals figure out how to make equipment that not only LOOKS good but also does not add to the reproduction of the music.
Nah, sorry for being an optimist.
As for AR customer service, I guess my theory of life today is, in fact, true:
There are so many people with so much disposable income that high-end companies of all products no longer need customers who ask questions, etc. They sell everything they make and could care less about customers. With 340 million Americans today and something like 2000 billionaires in the world, it isn't the same world it was when Bill started the company in 1970--@200 million Americans and a handful of billionaires.
If only HALF of the billionaires and their families buy "luxury" products, we are simply not needed any more. Lamborghini only makes about 2000 cars a year and sells most of them in the USA at 200-400+K each. I would guess, and it is only a guess, that these are NOT daily drivers for most owners, but you never know, right? They could be the only car in the entire family. Customer service is a philosophical business position tied to money. Sorry, money ALWAYS wins no matter what.
For those of us fortunate enough to have met Mr. Johnson and sold his products in the '70's, re-read this for a refresher on expertise and inventor involvement:
Today, $$ rules and everything else is not important, obviously.
I assure you, no trolling here. I’ve owned Audio Research gear that utilized the 6550, the Kt120 and the Kt150. The Kt150 based amps Ive owned (gsi75, 75se) provided a complete frequency reproduction and did so with elegance and verve. I’ve owned other manufacturer’s amps that utilized the kt88 and the Arc Kt150 based amps simply reproduce the frequency spectrum more comprehensively.
I’ll be the first to admit that tube rolling is fun, I personally enjoy it and frankly, that may be the only reason I dont own ARC gear presently. Certainly there are days I wish I had left well enough alone when I had my ref5se/ref75se combo.
Fsonicsmith seems to feel that after spending what for him is a substantial amount of money he is now entitled by that very fact to "special treatment" by the manufacturer that includes personal attention to every detail and consistent, constant, repeated, assurances that he will be treat with "respect" and "care" in the event that something that has not even happened to him might actually happen and he assumed that such respect and care were included in his purchase price although he made no effort it appears to confirm or substantiate that in advance of his purchase. The sale of ARC is not something that happened recently and his learning of that transition of company ownership is now something he ties to his disappointments and general state of displeasure with ARC products and service. It is most likely and probable that this person has never purchased other high price items such as a new car or house so he has no frame of reference for customer service with such products but instead assumed a certain level of service based on a fantasy that has not materialized.
I am with @ghasley, by sticking to 6H30 and KT-150 tubes they have taken away the fun of tube rolling. Both of these tubes are very linear sounding and the implementation of them in their latest amp (160M) failed to invoke any emotional connection with the listener. I have listened to 160M twice and came away wanted lot more, their pairing with Sonus Faber Aida’s at AXPONA was horrible.
I think other manufacturers are doing a much better job with KT-150, i.e. Doshi Audio. Their pairing with Joseph Audio’s Pearls at RMAF was sublime. I couldn’t believe I was listening to KT-150 based mono amps.
@tomic601 , I understand that Upscale does special QC and matching for 6H30 tubes for ARC amps and preamps. I have bought a lot of tubes from Upscale (e.g.,Tungsol 6550s and 6H30s) and have been quite satisfied.
BTW, ARC uses 6550WEs for the power supplies in their preamps and many of their other source components. For kicks and giggles, I tried the Tungsol 6550 and was quite pleased with the result.
I own three ARC pieces. I purchased a Vt-100 in I believe 1997. About 5-6 years ago, I had to purchase from ARC a plate resistor and a screen resistor than had blown due to tube rolling at my hands. The ARC service tech was wonderful to talk and very helpful and the shipment came quickly.
About 3 years I purchased some new feet for the VT-100, and had the same experience: ARC tech was helpful and friendly.
My Ref 3 Line stage, although 10 years old has always provided such much satisfaction, I've never had the desire to replace it. (Although with all praise for the Ref 5 and then the Ref 6, I thought I should give something newer a shot). My CDT-1 and Reference 3 line stage have performed without issue for many years.
ARC techs from my perspective have always been quite satisfying to deal with.
McIntosh partnered with a private equity group to buy out the company Fine Sounds , who originally sought to by them out. McIntosh became the McIntosh Group when they absorbed the Fine Sounds Portfolio, one of which is AR.
The Trade off is that The McIntosh Group has to be profitable for their share holders. This comes at a cost which is the homogenization of Production and Services. I do not think that AR is in danger of experiencing the same fate as Wadia, another McGroup absorbed brand, - However shared resources of parts, labor and services is a reality. (usually not the best - but good enough).
As Many have pointed out The McIntosh Group is no longer the same company that it once was before the merger. Some of the products they and their subsidiaries once produced are too expensive to maintain, and are no longer relevant to what the current market demands are to be profitable.
McIntosh has evolved into a brand name audio lifestyle conglomerate. AR is a link in that chain.
It feels a little strange to do this but I kinda feel the need to step in and defend ARC a little bit. I ran Wadia for ARC's parent before we moved Wadia under the Mcintosh umbrella. We were housed in ARC's facility and worked around them and with many of their employees. I had a unique window into ARC. I can tell you a few things:
1) The people at ARC are as dedicated as they've always been. Every brand ought to have employees who love their company and their customers that much!
2) The parent isn't actually all that heavy-handed as a lot of acquirers are. Sure, they want to make money but not at the expense of destroying the brand. So while ARC may not be as free and liberal with all they can do for customers, they still go far and away over other brands.
3) While I'm not even remotely a tube guy, I can tell you that they go to what I always thought were ridiculous lengths to get quality tubes and to make sure they were matched. They treat those little glass things like preemies in a neonatal ICU.
As for some of the departures from ARC, people change jobs for personal reasons, they retire, and sometimes they just need a change. But they are very careful that they people they hire really fit their culture, and the late Mr. Johnson is a huge part of that culture and legacy.
So while I get that the industry is changing, it's changing for everybody and I assure you that they are trying hard to continue serving customers like they always have. If you have specific complaints or suggestions for them, send them an old-fashioned letter and I would expect that you'd see some concrete action and get a response from them.
OK, I'm going back to my day job, making the world safe from Analog Sound! (Just Kidding!)
I have had a few back and forth emails with ARC, first about purchasing a remote control for my LS15 preamp and the second time was about identifying the version of my newly acquired SP8 preamp. Lets see, LS is about 18 years old and the SP8 is about 36 years old. This was all in the past 6 months.
I'm not complaining, they helped me out on some older gear when they could have just said it was obsolete.
Heck, they will still service either unit. How many audio companies can claim that?
I want to say a hearty thank-you to Jeff Haagenstad of Exogal for putting his perspective into this topic. I appreciate the positive comments. But why not address the questions that remain unanswered; who is going to replace Ward Fiebiger with engineering of progressively better sounding designs? How is ARC going to dispel attempts by McIntosh to save money by sharing parts, designs, assembly processes and even circuits? I am NOT emotionally tied to ARC. I am not like that 65 year old Chevy Corvette fanatic who walks around with a Corvette ball cap and leather jacket at all times in public and has owned eight brand new Vettes. I am happy to switch to something else. I might. History teaches us that ARC’s future is tenuous at best save an independent buy-out/break-out. Will the factory remain in it’s original location during the next five years? I would be shocked.
Things have changed there.
My Ref5 has been at Service Repair for about 5 weeks. I actually received a notice on 9-17 that the repairs were completed and that I would receive a statement and the unit would then ship. I never received the statement and when I asked I was told the unit was in shipping and when it was ready I'd receive the statement. So far nothing.
Back in 2017 I'd sent a Ref 2 in for repair and turn around time was about a week. From repair complete to billing to shipping, 2 days. That's a metric I can't question.
The thing that got me to bring this up is not so much the exaggerated time line but that today I received my survey for the repair work even though my Ref is still waiting for billing and shipping.
I think what some of us are experiencing is what happens when a large company acquires a smaller company. They may well leave the core business alone, the guys designing and building the equipment, but try to meld other functions into the larger business. Things like customer service and billing and shipping will no longer happen with the original company but be handled by the acquiring company where those costs can be reduced by combining those functions between all the branch companies.
Sending a repair survey before shipping the unit is Big Company thinking. That's how large companies work. You and I know the survey results will be poor but big companies don't think that way. It's total Dilbert.
Me? I work for a large corporation that has acquired other smaller companies so I speak from experience. It's how things work in the real world.
I had the similar experience as monoogan when I sent my DAC9 for USB upgrade couple of months ago. The service was performed within 48 hours after they received the DAC. But then it sat there in shipping and billing department for a week. When I sent an email to shipping department, there was no response for 4 days. I end up calling my service advisor to get things moving.
Good luck getting any product support from McIntosh. They also provide support for Wadia but I had NO luck getting them to fix my Intuition01 which was still under warranty for a known manufacturing issue with Left & Right channels changing position (ie., left channel switching to right channel and vice versa) depending on the input selected let alone even answering my emails.
Great discussion --- the only piece that's missing is a contribution from ARC themselves. Here we are, significant purchasers of ARC products. The company should appreciate our views, experiences, and some frustrations, and take this as an opportunity to speak to us about the state of ARC: products, repair protocols, and future direction. I'm waiting...
In this day and age, most folks believe that bigger is better..and that more costly is worth more. ARC ( under World of Mcintosh) are a smaller entity owned by a bigger conglomerate...this is what the public has endorsed and respects. Remember, when ARC was a smaller company and privately owned, it was prime for take over. Typically when this happens, the actual customer service recedes; why- because the new logic is...there is ALWAYS another customer out there, so why bother with this existing customer. Short sighted, but common...and seemingly respected in most industries these days.
Another positive customer service experience to report for ARC.
I emailed several questions this week regarding my ARC integrated amplifier and various other inquiries, and received a very thorough and helpful response back within an hour. Actually, quicker than that - probably within about twenty minutes!
I confirmed that they could still fully service and refresh my 10 year old integrated amplifier, and was advised that no need to rush into that so long as it is working great, which it is. Maybe I'll give it another 5-10 years and then check back. But it is comforting to know that they will be there with on-site factory service when/if I eventually need them, even for products decades old.
And I can get a replacement battery cover now for my ARC remote. It's a minor thing, granted, but it's something that's been bugging me and I'm pretty sure the music will sound just that much sweeter when I replace that broken remote battery cover and don't have to be distracted by it as I settle in for a long evening of sonic bliss - haha!
This was my first time contacting the company, and I was nervous about whether I'd even get a response based on some comments in this thread, but I can report that the responsiveness exceeded my expectations manyfold. Thanks Audio Research!
One of the things that occurs to me is that alot of the negative experiences people relate in this thread which they ascribe to being the result of the buy-out may in fact have no relation to that whatsoever. Long repair waits are not pleasant at all and there's no reason ARC should have a unit in house for repair for 5 weeks without carefully explaining why but I doubt it can be ascribed to the buyout. I recently had an Aesthetix piece in repair for at least that long. The parent firm purchased ARC to continue the legacy of what has been built up to this point, not to altar and throw away that legacy. So far the new models that have come out from my perspective and I've listened to the new power amps and have the first amp the GS150 that was the fruit of that collaboration and its truly an awesome piece. The design direction away from designs which incorporated numerous tubes in preamps and multiple tube gain stages which begged for experimenting with NOS tubes was made long before the acquisition. So there's alot of conflating of different issues here which have nothing to do with the acquisition.