ARC Phono Ref 2 SE - Dealer Demo Unit Worth Price?


The local ARC dealer I've purchased from many times over the years is about to move to a new location and has offered me a deal on a Phono Ref 2 SE he's had in his demo rack. He retubed the unit a while ago and the tubes now have about 1400 hours on them. Is $10K a good price for this? I've been saving for the Phono 8 which is just $2k shy of what he's asking.

For what it's worth, I'm running a VPI Classic 3 with Dynavector DV-20X2H, ARC LS-27 pre and Ayre VX-R amp into Vandersteen 5A speakers.
cosinaro
Tough call. On occasion, I recall seeing Ref Phono 2 SE preamps selling for about the same price as Ref 5 SE linestages, about $8K or so. If your dealer would drop the price to about $9k, I think the unit starts to look attractive, especially if it comes with a 3 year warranty.

IMO, I wouldn't spring for a new PH-8. I own the same unit. I previously owned the PH-7. IME, the PH-8 ain't that much better than the PH-7 and wasn't worth the bucks. As an fyi, there's a used PH-7 for sale right now on A'gon for $3,375. That is a very good price.

I am sure the Ref Phono 2 SE is much better than the PH-7 or 8 ... at least that is what many folks have posted. Nevertheless, you might get a lot more bang for the buck with a used PH-7 and upgrading your cartridge.

I used to own the DV 20X2 (H). I since bought the Lyra Kleos. BIG time improvement!!! Btw, I own a tricked out VPI basic Classic which I upgraded "DIY" with a Classic 3 tone arm base and wand. So, I think I know what I am talking about.

As I said, tough call.

Btw, I like the rest of your system, especially the LS-27. I've read that it gave the Ref 5 (not SE) a real run for the money.
Deal or no deal, 10k is a lot of money for a phono stage. If I couldn't arrange for an in home demo, I wouldn't even consider it. Its not something you can flip and break even on if you don't like it. An authorized ARC dealer is able to sell if for top dollar. Since you're not a dealer, its highly unlikely that you'll be able to get that much in a private sale.

Looking at your system, I would take a different approach to this. If you buy the ARC, it will outclass your DV-20 by a wide margin. Its a great cart, and I have one myself. But its the low output version. If you don't get a new cart, as well, you won't be taking advantage of what the Ref 2 is capable of. So now, you'll be compelled to go through with another expensive upgrade. Why not split your budget and get a new cart and a new phono preamp? 8-10k is a serious budget. You can get an exceptional combo for that kind of money. It looks like you want tubes, so you may want to check out an Aesthetix Rhea, and match it to a good cart. Aesthetix is a great match for Ayre and Vandersteen. There's other good phono stages as well, but that would be my first choice.
I agree with Z on that one and in a big way. I listen to the AR as well as the Rhea with Ayre and Vandy's at Audio Connection. I love the AR gear, but that Rhea is special with the Ayre and Vandys (5CT and the 7's)! Balance is important. Getting a new cartridge is also a nice thing.
Thanks for the quick responses! I realize the Ref2 outclasses the 20X2 in a big way and agree that if I do get the Ref2 I'll be looking at the 20X2 as the newest "weakest link".

I'll be speaking with my dealer tomorrow and will see just how low he's willing to go.

I'm not familiar with the Aesthetix but will start researching and looking for a local dealer who sells the brand.
Cossinaro, I admit that I am not familiar with the Aesthetix Rhea. But I have been around the block quite a few times with ARC gear. IMO, there is a real synergy with ARC gear which I think augurs in favor of matching an ARC phono pre with your very excellent ARC LS-27 linestage.

Therefore, while I agree in principle with what Zd and Ct posted, I think a good use of bucks would be matching a preowned PH-7 or PH-8 phono pre with your LS-27 and getting a better cartridge.

Of course, if you can get a **KILLER** deal on an ARC Ref Phono 2 SE, then that would be a hard upgrade to pass on. But Zd is right about overpaying for the Ref Phono 2 SE. If you ever wanted to switch it out, albeit unlikely, why buy something that comes with a built-in-loss.

I've done the Soundsmith Zephyr, the DV 20X2 (H), the Lyra Delos ... all good cartridges. But IMO the Lyra Kleos is really special and is very compatible with the VPI Classic 3 arm.

Bottom line: try to match an ARC phono pre with the LS-27 and put some bucks into the cartridge.
Go listen to the Rhea as well as the I/O which is their newer phono (one used one online tonight). These phono's work so well with the AR one and for the price I think they may be better overall. It's a personal thing, but I'm talking about hearing them with Vandy 7's and reference amps from Ayre, AR and Aesthetix.....Keep in mind that I too have loved the AR gear and have owned it in the past.
The Aesthetix Io is their older (not newer) phonostage, originally introduced in 1995. It is still their flagship model, with improvements over the years, but not nearly as flexible as the Rhea (I own one and recommend it highly).
Thanks for correcting me. The line is newer to me, but I've been floored by everything they make.
I've traveled down the ARC Phono stage road from the PH-3 right through the PH-8 that I am presently using. Contrary to an earlier poster in this thread, in my system, the PH-8 made the PH-7se and all of its predecessors it replaced sound broken. The PH-8 is a wonderful phono stage ... but be aware that it loves cartridges with between .4Mv to .8Mv output. I haven't heard the Ref Phono 2 SE in my system, so I cannot comment on that. If I were you, I'd audition a PH-8 AND the REF-2se in YOUR system, then make the choice. Be advised though, the ARC gear takes a long time to break in and to sound its best ... so try to get a demo unit of the PH-8 that has some hours on it for your review. If you like the PH-8 ... see what kind of a deal the dealer can make for you on a new one. If you buy used, even from a dealer, I would ask for at least a 30% discount from new. Either way, when you do get one or the other, be sure that the tube dampeners are placed as high as possible toward the top of the tubes without them sliding off. Also, be sure that both dampeners are solidly touching each other. This is a substantial improvement in sound ... and a free tweak. When you're ready for a tube replacement, seriously consider these:

http://www.upscaleaudio.com/russian-6h30pi-gold-pin/
http://www.upscaleaudio.com/sovtek-6550we/

I just replaced the tubes in my REF-3 and PH-8 with these tubes and the result was amazing.

I Love ARC gear right from my original SP-14 and Classic 60.

Hope this helps.

My system:
ARC REF-3 line stage
ARC REF-75 Amp
ARC CD-7se
ARC PH-8
WWTT-modified
AT-OC9 MKIII cartridge.
Legacy Signature III speakers
Lots of other stuff.
One thing I'll add to the discussion on ARC gear is that I feel ARC products are a must audition. The reason I say that is because ARC's components aren't always consistent in their sound. For example, if you look at companies like Ayre, Aesthetix, BAT and some others, they tend to have a consistent or house sound to them. ARC, doesn't always have this type of uniformity. The overall sonic signature can vary more from piece to piece.
I have never heard of a store offering 30 percent off new ARC gear. How can they offer 30 percent off when they buy the product for 40 percent off then have to pay for shipping. I think if you can 20 percent off on new ARC gear you are doing great.
Taters ...

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. :>)
Not to mention that the 30% off is for a used demo piece, and that the dealer is moving and wants to get rid of the unit.

On most things I buy, I always ask for a discount. I mean, My attitude is ... I can pay retail anywhere, why should I pay retail here? Try this the next time you buy a new mattress, car or piece of furniture: When looking at the price tag, ask the salesperson if that is the best he/she can do. Most of the time, they will offer you a 10% discount. When offered the discount, say again, quizzically and a bit perplexed ... are you SURE that is that the best you can do? Usually, there will be another offer even better. Keep it up until you are told "Yes, that's the best we can do." Then decide if you want to buy at the negotiated price point. Don't know about you, but my $$$ doesn't come easily.
After meeting with the dealer and wringing a better deal out of him, I have pulled the trigger on the Ref 2 SE. He gave me another $500 off and threw in some new AudioQuest balanced interconnects (worth another $525 if you believe in the price/value equation for high-end cables).

Funny thing, as he walked me to my car he said "you'll be back for a new cartridge soon". I think he is dead right.

I've read reviews that rave about "holographic soundstage" etc but never really got it b/c I've never experienced it. But I have now.

I'll be posting for sale a barely used Dynavector P75 Mk3 on AG in a few days.
Nice going Cosinaro!

Good choice on the phono stage. And now the dealer definitely deserves your loyalty and future business.
Pass no great deal.
True, not a GREAT deal, but good enough for me to go for it. I got a nearly-new Ref 2 SE with 1430 hours on it AND with over a year's warranty remaining, for just about 29% off the retail price. I'm not complaining.
If you buy a cartridge from the same dealer, insist on him installing and aligning it accurately, including azimuth adjustment (in my experience almost never level when viewed from the front), and included in the price. If he questions or balks at that, run for the door and never go back.
Cosinaro...

29% off from a dealer is a good deal. I worked for an ultra high end audio store for a couple of years ... and the best anyone ever got was a 30% discount ... and that was a couple of guys who were repeat customers who were turning over very expensive Goldmund equipment. You probably could have gotten one for less from a private party that was a couple of years old with no warranty left. You're better off with what you did, IMHO.
Me, for 10 g's I would buy a lower noise Pass phono stage and pocket the dollar savings. But that's just me. There's a factory refurb XP-25 for sale right now for $6800 at Reno Hi Fi web site that looks pretty good. (no connection to seller other than being a former satisfied customer).
Manley Steelhead would be my dream. First I don't like 6H30 tubes. There's no way to upgrade or fine tune tonal balance and I think they lack body.

Also the Steelhead operates differently if you go to their website. I asked one of the biggest writers in analogue about this question and that's how I learned about it. And it was his suggestion.