ARC LS26 performance for $2500-3000?


I have been auditioning an ARC LS26 for the past few days. It is a very nice! A lot more detailed than my Dehavilland Ultraverve, and more crisp, with air under the instruments. I am quite impressed. The things I enjoy about this pre are the detail, presentation (quite neutral), nice soundstage, and the general very musical presentation without being overly tubey. It seems to build on what the Dehavilland does, but only does it quite a bit better. I am hearing background instruments with more clarity than ever before: it is as if somebody washed my window after a big dust storm.

Unfortunately, I have budget issues (they didn't have the LS17 available for demo, and the LS26 is quite a bit more than I was looking to spend). Is there anything available for $2000-$2500 (max $3k) used or new that can match the LS26? If not, I guess I should start saving! My other preferred option would be a Herron VTSP-3, but that is even more $. I tend to prefer tube preamps, and SS amps. I have auditioned the Dehavilland (very nice with a Tung-sol Black Glass, but nowhere as detailed as the LS26, very easy to listen to and a great deal), a Classe CP-700 (smooth, easygoing, nice control, but a little flat) an Eastern Electric MInimax (nice tube pre, but definitely a price-point item, with a smaller soundstage but otherwise similar presentation to the Dehavilland).

Here are some that may have come up as options:

Lamm LL2 Deluxe
Joule Electra LA-100
Sonic Frontiers Line 3 SE (one just went for $2450)
Dodd Battery Pre
Pass X1

These all fall within my price range. I am sure there are many others. Amp choice is currently the McCormack DNA-225, to be upgraded by SMC in the future. With this combo, everything seems to sound good, it is just that the LS26 was way ahead of the others in terms of clarity, soundstage, and detail. I would rather save for the LS26 than save a few $ at this point in time and get something inferior, but if I could get something similar at $2500, I would be even happier!
One you may want to keep an eye out for is an Aesthetix Calypso. Sonically somewhat similar to the ARC LS-26, not quite as quiet as the ARC, but detailed, extended, musical and similar soundstaging. You should be able to grab a used one for around $2500.

Hi John,

Thanks for the suggestion, but I have seen the Calypso has mismatch issues with the McCormack amps, due to imput/output impedance. If that wasn't the case, it would definitely be on the list!
If it is sound quality you seek and not gadgetry, and as it appears that used units are also on your list, a used LS-5 Mk. III is probably the equal of the LS-26 - some people prefer it to the Ref. 3.

The Sonic Frontiers is a very good unit and can be hotrodded and/or serviced by PartsConnexion, the company of SF founder Chris Johnson.

The Pass will be very quiet and will not have any of the impedance issues that the tube pres have.

The Rowland Synergy IIi should be on your list. Very quiet, resolving and musical, and like the Pass, solid-state - it has a 50 Ohm output impedance and can drive even professional equipment.

The VAC Renaissance Mk. I (not the very expensive "Signature" or "Signature Mk. II") is another pre to add to your list. It uses output transformers and thus can drive any amp or any interconnect. It features a triode circuit, is point-to-point wired, and has high parts quality - it's a great preamp.
Start saving. Unfortunately, you have heard the 26 and that sound is in your ear and mind. You will not be satisfied with anything else. At your price point there's nothing else you'll find that's going to match the 26 IMHO
I'm in a similar position, I have the LS-25mkII a very good preamp!!but can't afford at this time to move to the 26.
The 25 will get you close(with a good pr.of nos 6h30's)and its in your price range but its not the 26 and I'm not going to try to tell you it is but it is good enough for me that I don't feel a need to go out and hock my LP collection to get a 26. In due time I will make the move but until then I'm satisfied with the 25mkII
I hope this helps. If you want to know more feel free to e-mail me.
Also, the LS-5 mkIII is an all balanced preamp, so if your source components do not have balanced capabilities it probably won't work for you.
The only preamp that comes to mind is a Modwright 36.5 which you may be able to pick up used around 3K. In my search I was torn between the 36.5 and the LS-26 and had I gone for a DNA-500 I may have picked the Modwright, which I'm told is a great pairing. I'm thinking your DNA-225 would be a great match as well. Ultimately, I decided to keep my ARC 150.2 and went with the LS-26. I'm very happy with the decision but the Modwright may be a better choice for you given cost constraints, your amp and rest of your system.
Have an idea for you (sent you a pm offline, but it says your address may be 'experiencing problems').
Most truly differential balanced preamps can be run single-ended via the use of adapters, depending upon what is done with the ground PIN. If you would consider the LS-5 Mk. III, you should inquire. I have used Neutrik adapters with my Rowland Coherence II on both the inputs and outputs, and at the inputs to one of my amps, which is single-ended (fed by a long balanced interconnect from the preamp). All of this to say that I would be surprised to learn that the LS-5 Mk. III cannot be run single-ended with adapters (taking the example of the LS-26, its single-ended outputs are probably hard-wired versions of adapters - I believe the LS-26 is fully differential balanced as well).
One note: I cleaned up the tube's contact surfaces with some IPA and they must have been dirty, as the preamp really opened up. It is much improved, not too far behind the LS26 now! The Tung-sol black glass in there probably didn't hurt either!
Check out a used LS2B Mk II. It's a real sleeper of a preamp.
I agree with Bobgates,the LS-2B mkII is a sleeper of a preamp but it is not in the same league as the LS-26, not even close. I've had the LS-2, LS-15, LS-16mkII and currently have the LS-25mkII. The only one it is close to is the LS-15 IMHO.
can anyone comment on the Herron VTSP-3?
Why not start a thread for that item. Why tack it on this one???
Um, because if you read the original post that is one of the pre-amps he is considering...
The sleeper preamp is the ARC LS25 MKI wtih NOS or used vintage tubes. In my opinion, with good tubes (Mullard or Telefunken 6DJ8 ) the LS25 MKI betters the LS25 MKII in terms of musicality and liquidity, while matching the bass articulation of the MKII. The price of a used MKI should be reasonable.

On VTSP3, I up-graded from VTSP-2 but after a few months, exchanged back to VTSP-2! VTSP3 is not as musical and requires a carful matchup with your power amps.
Luna, I totally disagree. I have the VTSP-3, and it is head and shoulders above the VTSP-2. It has a much blacker background; it is far more detailed; its tonality is spot on; it has better base; and it is far more musical. The VTSP-3 is like a chameleon and will change its character depending on the power cord and the interconnects that one chooses. The pre-amp is so revealing that one can readily discern changes in interconnects and power cords. Nordost Frey between source and the VTSP-3 and Cardas Golden Reference between my Rowland Model 10 and the VTSP-3 are great. Dave Herron knows what he is doing and would never take a step backwards in redesigning his brilliant preamp. In going from the VTSP-2 to the VTSP-3, he did not make the changes merely to charge more money. He is a fanatic when it comes to sound quality. sflazor
Raquel and Eee3,

May I ask if the ARC LS-5MkIII would be significantly better than the LS-16? Is it true that this pre is close to the LS-26's performance? Since some preferred this over the Ref3 I guess the LS-5MkIII must be something special. Thanks in advance.
The LS-5 is an all balanced(inputs and outputs) preamp and yes it would be better than the LS-16 just based on that alone but it is better than the LS-16 regardless. So,if your components don't have balanced capabilities.... I don't think it will work for you.