A civil discussion about the state of Audio Research


I invested considerable time yesterday expressing my thoughts as to the current state of Audio Research as a company from the standpoint of quality (positive) and customer service (negative) only to have the entire thread censored/deleted by the mods.
For the small subsection of this Country’s population that are home audio enthusiasts, Audio Research is an iconic brand. Moreso than any other company, AR was the torchbearer for tubes when the rest of the amp manufacturers were turning to solid state. Further, though there were a few duds here and there, I am hard-pressed to think of any other company that has made as many legendary models of amps and preamps that have withstood the test of time (imho only Krell, Spectral, and CJ come to mind and present era super-brands such as CH and DarTZeel lack the history necessary).
My point yesterday is that 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. My second point is that unlike the car industry, audio is a niche industry and to refuse to interact with customers directly and to instead insist that the customer go through the local dealer is inexcusable. I think we would mostly agree that when one tries to call AT&T about one’s cable and internet service only to get a computer interface and then eventually a clueless third-party intermediary who barely speaks English in India, the entire experience is frustrating and inadequate. I have news (apparently) for the parent company of AR; the present system is not altogether different from getting a clueless intermediary in some remote country who can not really help you.
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. They have one salesperson who has a history of owning AR gear and he only works part-time. More importantly, based on other accounts, 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. My local Devore dealer, a nationally respected one-man shop dealer-used to carry AR and thanks to several awful experiences since the take-over dropped AR and now sells VTL instead.
I am hoping that this thread results in a CIVIL and appropriate, mostly intelligent discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of AR and AR's future. If the mods wish to delete this post as well, fine, but I want a forum to post my concerns about AR and if this one won’t accommodate me, I will find another.
Again, for the record, 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.
Ca345ea6 6d98 46ab a9fe db0c7a572262fsonicsmith
 @twoleftears sounds. like stock purchase buyers remorse to me....I lie awake wishing I had shorted them....

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.
The way audio research picks the operating point of the 6H30 driver often makes it possible to use 6922s without mod.  Tube rolling is possible and perfectly safe in some units.  Basic ohms law.  
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!)

Jeff