ARC LS1, LS2, LS3 , or LS7, which to buy?

Oh great and knowing Audio Research mavens, I have around $750.00 to spend on an ARC preamp. The models listed above are all in my price range. Can anyone sort out the sonic characteristics a bit for me, I have no way of auditioning any of these. Balanced outputs are not required. This is the start of a new system, so info on solid state power amps that have a synergy with the ARC preamps would be appreciated as well. Thanks, Marty.
The issue of "accuracy" comes in many ways. If we are talking about tonality, tonal coherency, and such, I would agree that the LS2 is more tonally coherent than the SP8 and SP-10 line stages. I owned the SP-10 and realized how compromised its line stage was 10 years later when I went on a quest to upgrade this.

If we investigate other sonic attributes to determine accuracy, the LS2 is so far away from accurate it is not even funny. Listen to a piano, saxaphone, even human voice with the LS2 and take notice of how quickly tones terminate in space. This is not accurate nor natural at all. Notes with the LS2 occupy little to no space; the presentation is very one-dimensional. It only takes me one trip upstairs to hit a piano key and to know a piano does not sound like this.

As much as I wanted the LS2 to work for me, it was such a huge disappointment. Staying with the SP-10, with all of its tonality colorations and such, was easy as it at least conveyed the dimensionality of the performance that the LS2 failed miserably. Fortunately the LS5 came alone and retained the SP-10's strengths and brought on a huge refinement in tonal coherency, frequency extreme coverage, lower noise and thus greater resolution over the SP-10.

We all tend to speak in our own absolute terms. But our comments are relative to what we have owned or heard elsewhere. Had I not owned the SP-10 for many years, and had also not been so impressed with the LS5 vs. LS2 audition at the ARC dealer, the LS2 may have survived less scrutiny. But I also heard the magic in the MFA and CJ preamps and line stages; I knew how flawed the LS2 truly was.

Concerning some comments above, the LS2 uses one tube, not two. The LS1 and LS2 are hybrid designs, the LS3 is all solid state and the LS7 is all tubed.

I have no experience with the ML models as mentioned by Greg, but I did hear the ML38s directly against the LS5, and the ML sound was way way way too analytical for me. The Klyne was much more to my liking and was much less than the ML. The Krell KRC at the time was as dreadful as the ML38s.

For me, a component's tonal coherency only has relevance once it passes through the dimensionality, harmonic structure and decays in a believeable manner. And unfortunately, it is darn tough to find such a product in Marty's price range. The "modify" route would be the way to go here. Marty: you have a tough job ahead of you.

LS-7 wasn't bad as I remember I listened to it before I bought the LS-15. I believe the LS-7 has no remote control though. If that's not an issue, what John recommended with the Dynamicaps upgrade makes a lot of sense. I upgraded the caps in my LS-15 to Dynamicaps and the preamp is a different animal now.
I stand corrected regarding the LS-2 tube complement it was 1and not 2 (confused it with the SP-9). I am puzzled though at the overall condemnation of the LS-2 circuit, that Jafox seems to elicit on all his threads. This circuit right or wrong, was closer to a CD player strait into an amp than all previous ARC offerings including the SP-11/9 linestage. Of course the decay time on reverb ambient cues was not in league with the SP series that preceded it, but in real world listening (to CD sources), you could not go back. This is based on the original 1991/92 offering of the LS-2.
JAFOX, is your experience with both the original LS2 and with the later LS2B? I can definitely fault my LS2B for lacking top-2-bottom extension, harmonic definition, and for sounding relatively hazy, but not really for lack of staging. Furthermore, I confirm I find the sound of my LS2B to be somewhat warmish, with a moderate bloom in the midrange, rather than dry. Is it a case of the two of us hearing/judging thing differently, or could unstated design variability on the same product version account for some of our differing perception?
Frap - My comments on the LS2 are directly in comparison to the LS5. After I sold the SP-10 in the Spring of 1995, I went on a quest to find a line stage to match with the ARC PH2 phono stage I had just bought. And I was sure the LS2 would be THAT model. Afterall, Stereophile had given it the coveted ClassA rating. Unfortunately as I came to learn, such ratings had little meaning compared to back in the 80s when JGH ran the magazine.

Interestingly enough, another ClassA rated line stage that I also wanted to hear so much was the SonicFrontiers SFL-2. Had anyone told me I would not end up with one of these I would have told them that was impossible.

I drove to the SF dealer and borrowed one for the weekend. Oh yes, I had tonal coherency and extension with the SF but gone was the magic of the aged SP-10. I was so unprepared for the disappointment. And ARC had convinced me that the PH2 was their best phono stage to date so I held off any judgement here as CD playback did not fare much better with the SF.

Back went the SF and then over to the ARC dealer. With checkbook in hand, I was all set to drop the LS2 into my car. But of course, I had to hear it first and learn about it from the salesman. He had LS2 and the LS5 on another shelf both warmed up when I got there.

We started with the LS2 and everything was there except the involvement. I guess I had been spoiled all too long with the SP-10. And my thoughts of ever getting that magic again were quickly dwindling. The salesman knew my disappointment. But he said he had one more shot to throw at me....the LS5.

I had read the LS5 review from 1994 but it was really out of my budget at $5k for the MK I and $5500 for the new MK II. But he had a MK I demo for $2600 as he got the MK II that week so my timing was so lucky. It only took a dozen seconds with the LS5 and man oh man, there was the SP-10 with a ton of refinements. It was sooooooooo incredible.
Of course I went with the LS5 and then later with various upgrades to the III which I finally sold in late 2002.

And when I got the LS5 home, this along with the PH2 was so far beyond the SP-10's phono playback. I was a happy camper for many many years with this pair.

That the LS2 and LS3 remainded ClassA rated and the Counterpoint 5000 only ClassB rated was so ridiculous after hearing the LS5 and the Counterpoint which were both in a totally different league than the LS2 and LS3.

My comparisons to the LS2 were the SP-10 and LS5. I did not care how it fared to the other ARC models as they never did anything for me each and everytime I heard them against the SP-10.

As for using a CDP straight into an amp, so very few such players have as good a volume control and circuit to drive an amp like so many good line stages. Even the very good Audio Aero Capitole CDP with a volume control greatly benefitted in a friend's system when we tried my BAT 31SE and Aesthetix Callisto Sig line stages. Both of these brought on greater dynamic contrasts, tonal coherency and dimensionality with only a very tiny loss in detail; you had to listen hard to notice the latter. And much of this can easily be due to the extra IC which I have learned much about lately.

Guido - As stated above, the LS2 sessions were with current models in 1995 so this was a MK II and it was a LS2B as the dealer was driving the huge and phenomenol balanced Gryphon amp.

I have not heard the Ref3 but my gut feeling is that it is more into the analytical/neutral zone than the SP-10, LS5 and Ref2 MK I. So perhaps the Ref3 and LS2 have a similar sonic palette? If so, I will stay with the Callisto. But I still would like to try the Ref3 here. Once I get things settled down here, I will work with JD (A'gon jadem6) and w can try this in our two systems. Stay tuned.