ARC or other Pre?

Hi all,
I need a balanced pre to go with my ARC V140 mono blocks. An ARC pre is the obvious choice but it seems that the REF5 is one of the few options worth having, the others sounding worse than it in the range (obviously). What else is out there for less cash? I have £3k uk pounds max. Can spend less! Doesn't have to be valves.

Front end is VPI super scoutmaster and speakers are Martin Logan Clarity.

Cheers, T
I am in the UK and use an ARC power amp, the reference 75. I suppose the obvious answer to that is a second hand Ref 3 pre amp, but that is still likely to be a lot more than £3000. There is another option I use and that is a passive pre. I picked up the idea from the HiFi+ review of the reference 75, which was matched with the non reference, but still excellent LS27. Alan Sircom, who did the review, had a Music First baby reference and compared them. He thought they were different, more than one better than the other. The LS 27 having more dynamics, the passive more delicacy and neutrality.

I briefly heard the Ref 75 with the dealers Ref 3, when he bought the amp to my house, but only briefly. I would agree with the reviewers description and am very happy with my amp. It is in fact a clone of the MF baby reference, built by a technician, with the same transformers. If you wanted a listen, I am in South Oxfordshire.

The V140 amps are very special amps. I owned a V70 for many years and now own a Ref 110. IMHO only the recent Ref series amps are truly better than the Classic and V series. If you have not replaced the large caps, I would check them as they are about 20 years old now and could start to leak.

ARC has made significant improvements with preamps in the last 10 years. If it were me I would look for a nice used LS27. I would be a really good match with the V140s.
The ARC Ref. 3 is within spitting distance of the Ref. 5, so if you can't afford the Ref. 5, the Ref. 3 should tide you over until you can.

My friend has steadily progressed from the ARC Ref. 1, to the Ref. 2, then to the Ref. 3, (which was a big leap forward, IMHO), and then finally to the Ref. 5. So, I have a fair amount of experience with the ARC line up of preamps. The Ref. 3 sounds very close to the Ref. 5, lacking only a very small degree of quickness and transparency. Other than that, they are virtually identical sonically, IMHO.

Another good preamp is the VTL TL-6.5 Signature preamp. This is a hybrid preamp, with only two tubes, (2~12AU7 tubes). It is very similar to the ARC Ref. 3 and Ref. 5 sonically. It too is fully balanced. Basically it is a VTL TL-7.5 series 2 all shoved into one large box. (And I do mean a large box. I bought the TL-6.5 and it barely fits on my stereo rack.) Used it runs about $4-5K. (It beats out, albeit only very slightly, my previous preamp, the Ayre K-1xe, which is another good fully balanced preamp. Used the Ayre goes for around $3K, without the optional phono stage.)

Here is a link where someone compares the ARC Ref. 3 and the VTL TL-6.5 head to head.

ARC Ref. 3 vs. VTl TL 6.5

Good Luck in your search!
From what I have read, the LS 27 nips at the heels of the Ref 5 (not SE) and probably sounds a little better than the Ref 3. Don't see too many LS 27s for sale, but occassionally one or two hit the "for sale" sheets.
Is there really that much difference between the models, such as the LS27 and say the LS26? And the Ref3 versus the Ref5? We're talking mid-20th century technology here, folks -- there are no real breakthroughs happening here. Something about a company that is constantly releasing new models and new "upgrades" makes me a little suspicious. Are they simply playing games, because they know they have a group of core customers who will go out and buy every new model that is released? I am just asking the question. As opposed to a company that is so confident in their designs that they only release new models when they have something truly new to say (Pass Labs for example).

I'm not attacking ARC very much -- I own an LS16 mkII myself! (also own a Pass).

I'm just wondering if we are exaggerating the differences too much.
^^ ARC has an internal policy of a new product announcement every 90 days. It might be an amplifier, DAC, preamp- whatever.
Abrew and Ralph ... I've been through a lot of ARC gear. SP16 >> SP17 >> Ref 3 >> Ref 5 >> Ref 5 SE. VS-110 >> VS-115 >> Ref 150. PH-7 >> PH-8. Ref CD-7 >> Ref CD-8.

Not sure I can say "one size fits all" as far as whether every jump either has been a real improvement or not. Having said that, I do think the Ref 5 SE is a far better sounding unit than the SP16, by a real long shot. Ditto re the Ref 150 as compared to the VS-110, and the CD-8 compared to the CD-7.

OTOH and IMO, any sonic differences between the PH-7 and PH-8 were slight nuances. A little more so between the Ref 3 to the Ref 5. Frankly ... I regretted some of the changes as not being worth the money, IMO.

In contrast, I think the Ref 5 SE and Ref 150 are better sounding than what I had immediately before. Earth shaking?? Like what planet have I been living on for the last 61 years?? ... Give me a break.

But ... looking back over the whole journey, I think ARC has made incremental improvements that add up to something special. I'm sure Ralph can speak better to this than me because he designs and builds "Class A" gear. I surmise that technology and materials know-how has improved over the last 30 to 40 years. I gotta believe that transistors and other passives are simply better than what was out there in the early days.

Ralph ... your thoughts???
OK- you asked... IMO/IME ARC has had a 'house sound' for a long time. To me it has always been slightly dry, conservative, good definition, but not lively. So far in terms of preamps I have heard they have all been some variant of that house sound.

I gotta believe that transistors and other passives are simply better than what was out there in the early days.

Not exactly sure how to interpret this statement, but if we are talking about passive components, I think you are right- they have improved. Transistors these days is another matter- the manufacturers are less interested in making linear transistors and there are a lot of counterfeits that have no-where near the performance they are supposed to have. This is one reason why class D is showing up more and more (not to mention they are a lot cheaper to build).
Bifwynne - thanks for the response. That's good insight you provided.
Thanks Ralph. ... Actually, my question or point was focused more to Abrew's prior post about whether there's been earth shaking changes taking place in the technology. I thought you'd be in the best position to comment since you are a designer and manufacturer.

As I said, although not a tech, my surmise is that the quality of passives "may" (??) have improved over what the SOTA was 30 or 40 years ago. I would like to believe that other SS components like transistors and ICs likewise would have improved. But given your last post, maybe not. Dunno.

I agree that my last several ARC upgrades, while an improvement over the immediately prior piece, do share a house sound of sorts. But having said that, IMO, my current rig has come a loooong way over what I started with, ... say 10 years ago.

Just my opinion.

P.S. -- One of these days I hope to have the opportunity to listen to some of your gear. I'm sure it would be an "ear opener" (pun intended).
Well, I see that you are clearly speaking with the Tube Boys, but you did say, "Doesn't have to be Valves"

Spread Spectrum Technologies Ambrosia.... It will certainly stand in the league of the pre's you guys have been discussing. Price point fits and I believe it has also been produced in 240/50
Technology always only improves.

Still there are good products and lesser ones always as well.

ARC not "lively"? Not sure how digest that one. Even my modest sp16 is quite lively I would say. Many recordings simply are not however.