Not really. While a very good preamp, the ARC isn't reference quality like the Line 3/se is. There are very few preamps that rank with the Line 3/se on all levels. For tube lovers who want neutrality, dynamics, balance, resolution, a beautiful midrange, musical truth, plus a high degree of functionality, the Line 3/se is hard to beat. Just some of the reasons owners seldom part with them even though it's several years out of production.
I have both a Line 3SE+ and the ARC Ref3.
Frankly, hard to say one is better. The Ref3 does throw a bigger soundstage across, while the Line 3 has a deeper soundstage - take your pick there. The Ref3 at first seems to be more dynamic, but then you realise the Line 3 has more control, less euphony, even though it has more tubes. I have found the Ref 3 benefits from a high end PC (20 amp) whereas the Line 3 is less sensitive, though I use a fantastic Granite audio silver PC to wring out the last bit of transparancy. Remote on the Line 3 much more funky. If you speak to Chris at PCX he will tell you the OP amp upgrade with new power supply is a big difference over Line 3SE and I bet the OP ams in the Ref 3 are cheaper?
I wanted to sell one of these - but am totaly conflicted!! In other words either amp will give you much satisfaction, as god as it gets and will never be the weak part of your system, especially with the balanced connections they both have. Both amps are dead quiet, same as solid state in this area, maybe slightly less noise (ear pressed to a ribbon tweeter) with the Line 3 matched with my SF Power 3's (another great bargain in Audio, no better implementation of push pull design IMHO, but needs the right tube complement to perform best).
Let me know if you want more detail
You've jumped up a model and about $3500 in price. Spaz is asking about the ARC Ls26, not the Ref 3.
If I am to believe you two guys, then there must be alot of hype on the Ref 3. Everything I read and most everyone here who owns one or has auditioned it thinks it is one of the finest sounding preamps made today.
No offense to your Line 3, but many would consider it a dated design and say comparing a Ref 3 to it is like comparing apples or oranges. Upgrades or not, it doesn't change the basic circuit, which, like the Power 3 amps, is nothing special. The designs of the Sonic Frontier pieces were hardly state of the art at their time, and there have been criticisms of poor board layout, where heat caused damage, criticisms of marginal circuit parameters where parts were stressed and then blew out. I knew two audiophiles who had SFL2 and Line 3 preamps where parts failed in both the power supplies and main units. So much for all the quality parts used in them. They obviously did something wrong in their implementation.
I would gather the point here is this. If the Line 3SE is
so closely comparable w/ the Ref 3, chances are the LS26
would no be a worthwhile upgrade path. This of course, based
on Radical Steve's experience. I have only auditioned the
Ref 3, but have no experience with the SF. BTW, what is the
approx retail on the Line 3 SE.
Which tube equipment does not have heat related damage? I have seen/heard many ARC VT series power amp failing due to poor tube layout and heat damage, but I will not declare it a poor sounding product though I do prefer SF Power 2/3 over VT-100/200. Same goes for other ARC pre or other tube gears out there.
And what's a dated design? If you can put in plain English what ARC has done that make them so much more advanced, many of us will be delighted to read. Or how SF circuit was dated? I am an EE by training, though my specialty is in semiconductor manufacturing so I feel I am not qualified to make comments on circult layout. I think Spaz is asking a question that related to sound, not design, board layout, circuit paramenters, etc. Good sound is often the execution of fine parts selection and circuit design, does not have to be SOTA to sound superb. Take the venerable Marantz model 9 or McIntosh 275, they were not SOTA back then and far from SOTA now, but why are they so desirable still after 30+ years?
This question has been asked before on Audiogon and many many owners have vouched the reliablity of their SF L2/3. You can't expect a tube gear to perform w/o issue when users start to try out NOS tubes that perform slightly out of the designed operating range, it's like modifying your car engine and call your car unreliable afterward.
So let's stick to the thread and only address the sound part.
"This question has been asked before on Audiogon and many owners have vouched for the reliability of their SF L2/3."
You said it Semi... if this is the point where all the SF L2/3 owners come in to back you on this, consider it done; there are plenty of us who couldn't have said it better than you did. My L3 is remarkably reliable and is now entering its 7th year of outstanding service while supplying phenomenal music to my life on a daily basis, (BTW Semi, your description of its exemplary sonics was 'spot on'). Getting back to that 'sound part' : AR has been a cornerstone of excellent tubed electronics and the latest reviews and overall feedback of their new Ref 3 has been a testament to their prowess. My personal experience with them is outdated, as previous auditions have only included an LS-16 and Ref 1, back in their days. -No one has to say they've had great strides since then and I'm sure the LS-26 is an excellent example of their progress but the L3 is still probably better compared as above, to the Ref 3. (IM Humble O). Good luck and happy Lissn'n.
You don't need to upgrade the line 3 is an outstanding pre I think even if you did upgrade you wouldn't hear that much of a difference.
Didn't want to take this thread in the wrong direction, but Fjn04 you are right, I wanted to point out that the SF Line 3SE is truly a preamp that can compete at the highest level with the best ARC has to offer.
The ARC Ref 3 is a very high quality reference preamp that conveys the ARC house sound and is a great piece of gear in the right system, possibly the last preamp you will need for a long time. For me, the "house sound" of the SF gear is different; being neutral, controlled, accurate, quiet and less euphonic than most tube gear. If you talk to Chris at PCX he will tell you that there are aspects of the Line 3 circuit design that are unique, leading edge innovations that have never been repeated since then. Never heard of QC issues with SF gear, quite the opposite I believe. As time goes on the SF Line 3SE will become more appreciated as one of those designs that stand the test of time. It seems in North America we have to upgrade to the "latest & greatest". Compare that with many knowledgeable audiophiles in Japan, Germany and Hong Kong who seek out the best in performance, get together and compare notes, do actual side by side comparisons and very often the most desirable equipment turns out to be reference gear from the past. It also means that you don't keep changing gear for 'upgraditis' reasons. I wish I still lived in Hong Kong!
Bottom line is that the Line 3SE is a high quality reference piece, not outdated at all, and will not be the weak link in your system. Do I say that as a proud owner of a Line3 - of course. But I also say it, by direct comparison with another reference preamp in my system and evaluations against other high quality preamps, such as the very accomplished Simaudio Moon P5LE, which also resided in my system, and the Kora Eclipse, which is also a nice piece (shame about the lack of support in N.A. for that brand).
Chris at PCX is a salesman, just as he was as president of Sonic Frontiers, and he knows how to do it well.
Frankly, it gets tiring to hear defensive outcrys from SF groupies.
Fact in point, ARC (William Johnson, among his other designers) are veteran electronic engineers, unlike SF, which was just a company started by a couple enterprising individuals who farmed out the design of their circuits to engineers of no particular great talent. Some good reviews by Dick Olsher and others at Stereophile catapulted them to a position loftier than deserved. My take? Too many audiophiles with limited musical discernment boast of the supposed sonic superiorities of what are, at best, mediocre pieces.
To call the Power 2/3 superior to the VT100/200 is simply ludicruous. Neither are the ARC pieces top flight in sonics. It's just that the Power 2/3 are less so.
Saxo at it's best again. Not stating any facts but just what he "heard" or "believed".
Take a quote from someone who has no financial interest in either ARC or SF gears, but respectable for his hearing and ability to pick out good gears. I won't say his name, but he imported EMM Labs and Dartzeel. He openly stated on Audiogon discussion forum SF Power 2 is better than ARC VT-100. Again, not my word, but I do agree with him.
Just keep in mind all stereo gears are tuned to please one certain market but not everyone, otherwise there will not be a need for hundreds of speaker manufactures out there. But calling a manufacture bad without any facts is plain wrong. I am sure there are lots of veterans out there who thinks highly of SF gears, you just called them deaf. Now show us your credential before everyone recognizes you as a cry baby.
I'll try it again..I'm thinking of changing PREAMPS.SFl-3 to a ARC ls-26.Is this a upgrade or a lateral move..Thanks
I think what everyone tried to tell you is it is a lateral move at best. SF L3SE is a reference piece and still competes with the best today, comes down to what sound do you like. there is no two gears that sound alike and saying which one is better is more personal preference than anything else. If you do change, you might like the change for the next few months because it's new, different, and better in some area.
To better your L3SE, you need something like CJ ART II, Lyra, or something in that caliber.
Maybe your right Semi.If people are comparing my preamp to a ARC ref-3 maybe this would be a dumb move..
Here is what Semi states above: Which tube equipment does not have heat related damage?
The answer: Most tube equipment doesn't have heat related damage, particularly tube preamps, which produce limited amounts of heat. You want to know what was wrong with SF designs? Ask the head guru, Chris at PCX. PCX started doing mods on the SFL2 where they actually cut out small ovals of the circuit board material itself, claiming it eliminated heat damage to parts. Now, does this sound like a well executed design? Cutting holes into circuit boards to correct this?
You can have their mods; I want no part. As far as personal experience with their products, I do. My friend's SFL2 developed noises, and SFL found numerous parts that had become noisy and/or defective. Remember their highest quality parts philosophy?
I personally compared this unit to modest preamps, like the Rogue 99, and the SFL2 sounded dry and lifeless.
I owned an Power 2 and a VT-100 at the same time. Despite any tube changes I made, the Power 2 was too distant in the midrange, lacked air and definition, and had virtually no tube-like sonics to it. Others agree with this assessment.
I spoke to a very famous tube designer who laughed at SF designs, saying these guys were copying old textbook circuits that were like sow's ears, meaning no matter what parts you put in them, you were just putting lipstick on a pig.
I don't mean to imply the Power amps were bad sounding units, but they just didn't have anything special to offer, other than beautiful looks.
I agree that the VT series circuits were run at too high voltages, pushing components to the upper ends of their limits. ARC has had their own issues, and I'm not tooting their horn. In fact, I don't own any ARC products
Yes, I don't have first hand experience with their latest LS26 or Ref 3, but when I hear source after source talking about how good they sound, these pieces definitely deserve a listen. Which is what I would recommend to Spaz.
I'll admit I haven't personally evaluated a Line 3, and it has had a following, but there has also been written enough criticisms of it being dry and analytical, which is similar to the SFL2, which many considered the most musical sounding of the SF preamps. Not an opinion I share with them.