ARC Quality Issues Ref75 Ref5SE Ref10

Over the past two years I had several issues with ARC Ref gear and am wondering if I'm the only one out there having so much "bad luck"?

My issues started when I bought a Ref5SE plus Ref75.
The two meters in the Ref75 had a noticeable different color and had to be replaced by my dealer.

Two of the Ref5SE tube sockets were soldered crooked to the board. I found a loose screw bouncing around inside the chassis when I unpacked it and found that the two crooked tube sockets were not even bolted down to the metal support on the main board. ARC apologized and replaced the brand new Ref5SE.

The replacement Ref5SE blew up after 600 hrs of use. A small component in the power section exploded with a single loud bang with smoke following.

To not end up with a nearly new but repaired preamp I upgraded to Ref10. The Ref10 power section also blew up after two months and only 390 hrs of use. One or more of the smaller white caps in the power section exploded (four or five significant and loud bangs with smoke). My dealer just informed me that ARC is going to replace the failed Ref10 against a brand new one.

I can not believe I am the only one having repeated problems with ARC's new gear!?

Feedback and comments will be greatly appreciated !
One of the caps in my Ref 250 Amp Blew at 800 hrs and I had to change caps in both Amps .
ARC reliability is not what it is cracked up to be!

ARC buyers just like the sound, and put up with all the problems!

You are not alone!
Wow! I've owned quite a bit of ARC equipment over the years and have not had a problem however I have to admit the my last purchase from them was several years ago. I look forward to reading other comments.
I will vigilantly follow this thread. My next planned purchase is the Reference 75. Decibel, I know you are having quality issues, but could you please give us your opinion on their sonic attributes? Happy Holidays to all!
Decibell: You have stable A/C and use a power conditioner?
I've had minor issues with ARC but nothing ever exploded.

Most recently, I purchased some ARC 6H30 tubes for my BAT int.
These lasted a few months the started growling at me.
NOS 6H30 DR from BAT ($600) not only sound twice as good but so far show no signs of failure. You get what you pay for (sometimes).
I have a number of ARC components and have not had any real problems. A year or so ago I had a problem with the on/off switch of my Ref 110. No big deal and my dealer took care of it. I have had no problems with my Ref CD7 or DAC 8.

I have owned ARC equipment since the late 1980's. I will say that I feel some of the older gear was made a bit better. I am not a big fan of the plastic switches and buttons which just seem cheap.
That's why I switched to VAC gear! Sounds better too!
If I may inquire , Which ARC model are referring to here ? VAC most certainly utilise superbly designed and wound OPT's, probably better than equivalent ARC, however in a shoot out I would go with KT150 over 88's any day!
12-18-14: Hifimaniac
That's why I switched to VAC gear! Sounds better too!
Hmm! Weren't you singing a different tune when you had VAC Phi pre and mono amps? Why did you switch FROM VAC gear? LOL!

I'm not bashing but a big fan of VAC. I'm using a VAC pre and ARC amp and I prefer the current ARC amps. Will be much superior to MY ears when KT150s are off the bench.

IMO. it's the nature of boutique hand built industry. I've heard horror stories with many brands. The deal breaker for me is how they handle problems when occurs.

12-18-14: Don_c55

ARC buyers just like the sound, and put up with all the problems!
Sure, some drive Prius to save the earth (moon bats) and $$, Accord average in all categories and Porsche for performance. That's what makes the world turn.

Decibell, sorry to hear your troubles. I guess if you like ARC sound and ARC is providing you satisfactory/fair service, then stick with it. Otherwise, try getting a refund from dealer/ARC or swap for another brand. There's a saying bad luck happens in 3's so you should be all set now :-) GL!
I must be lucky. I have had ARC gear for 15 years and never had a problem.
I also have owned ARC amplifiers back to the D115 and had more than my share of problems with them and went to VAC. I owned an ARC VT200 mk2 and a Ref 110 with KT120 tubes both at the same time, then purchased a VAC Phi300.1. The VAC showed them both the door in every way you could think of and is still here, three and a half years with no issues.
Have had ARC many different amps and preamps for over 25 years without any issues and some modded by GNSC. I was considering replacing (scaling down) my all ARC REF separates with a VAC 160iSE. As good as VAC products may be, i won't touch it. If you can not have a dealer in a city of over 3M people with a world renowned audio show being held each and every spring, that tells you how serious they are at expanding their market share across the US and Canada. I would have to drive 400 miles to audition a VAC product. ARC's been around for 45 years with a well established dealer network and likely will be around t'il the day i die. The little boutique shops like VAC; when the owner/designer dies the brand dies.
One such company is Hovland and Joule will likely be next.
Only owned the Ref 75, no problems at all so far after 15 months. Re tubed with KT150's, no problem there either, except the amp top will not fit over the tubes.
Thank You! for sharing your experience(s) w/ ARC gear. It is imperative that users of such pricy gear post both positive & negative examples fort he rest of us.

Do not forget to mention your dealer/retailer whom helped or did not help you. Keep us posted & happy listening!
Decibell ... of course I can't dispute your sad tale. If it happened ... it happened.

For the record, all of my electronic gear is ARC. Never had a problem, save for an occasional and very rare pesky blown bias resister.

As I am sure other owners of ARC would attest, every ARC unit comes with a QC card that shows all the QC checks that every unit undergoes. Even Bill Gehl, ARC's official listener, performs a listening test before any unit leaves the factory. And this applies to new units that come off the production line as well as units that go in for repair.

Sorry to read about your troubles. But for the benefit of other readers, Decibell's ARC troubles are a rare anomaly. I hope ARC puts everything in proper order for Decibell.
I've never had a quality issue with an ARC product.

I've owned 5 different models of their line stages, 3 different models of their phono stages and 3 different models of their cd players. Never a problem with reliability with any of their products in more than ten years of ownership.
I am a french Audio research customer since 2007.
My equipment consists in the following gear:
DAC 7 (bought in 2009), reference 3 (bought in 2007), and HD220 (bought in 2007).
In 2008, while my hd220 was still under warranty, I had to return the hd220 to the dealer because of an overheating problem of the amplifier output stage.
the dealer told me that overheating was caused by shifting of the bias of some of the thermal trak bipolar transistors.
The device was repaired and then worked fine until this year. But in august, a complete breakdown of the right channel output stage occurs.
I have returned the HD220 for repair to the distributor in France.
Of course, the device is not under warranty anymore.
The dealer asks me 2k€ for the repair, which consists in the replacement of the output stage on both channel.

Today, I have to decide wether I can trust the dealer or not. I don't know if I can be confident on the repair, and what is the risk to have the same breakdown within the 2 or 3 next years.

My other ARC equipments (ref 3, DAC 7) work fine.
Who jinxed me? I just blew a bias resister. :(

The ARC tech is coming out on Tuesday.
I have had ARC gear since 1989. Well, I have had three different preamps the DAC3 and CD3- so not so many changes. The umbilical cord on my SP-15 failed in 2004. ARC repaired the cord and refurbished the power supply for me while they had it. Kind of weird since it just sat on a shelf.
My CD3 MKII player has been repaired by ARC twice. Once for something internal that made the system pop when muting and then one time the CD drive mechanism failed. I have never had an ARC amp. Three repairs in 25 years. That's pretty good, I think.
Knghifi, the Phi Beta units Kevin Hayes designed and built over ten years ago suffered from a military spec component that failed in many units within a year and half and for me this was very disappointing and it did cause me to lose valuable listening time and then eventually move away from VAC. When it worked back then, I loved it and it surpassed anything I had ever known. Based on the long history and what others had claimed, I purchased a ARC LS25 pre-amp, a LS-9 SS pre amp, a PH-7 and then an REF-5 in the ARC line to try it's flavor. In my mind, they were okay, but more to the boring side; the REF-5 had a big sound stage and was detailed, but it lacked body and bloom on the notes and musicality. It sounded more like a solid state than a tube pre-amp; sounding a little lean. I spoke with Kevin years later and he told me the issues with the Phi Beta were caused by that capacitor or whatever it was. After speaking with owners of his newer line and the lack of issues, I went back to VAC and couldn't be happier. For me, the VAC gear has a huge sound stage, depth of sound stage, inner detail and bloom on the notes and incredible bass extension for a tube preamp. The phono option destroyed my ARC PH-7! There is an ease and pace to the music with VAC that is very inviting and engaging. It isn't syrupy or overly colored like many tube manufacturers; just musical. ARC has die hard fans like MacIntosh; they exhibit cult like tendencies in their defense of ARC. If you and the others are happy, great. I find ARC equipment boring and sterile sounding; lots of detail, no musicality. I admire Kevin Hayes for admitting the issues with the Phi Beta, taking care of the units with problems and then redesigning his equipment. One thing I also respect about VAC is they don't have a new model every six or 12 months. Kevin takes his time and makes sure the newer design truly is a notch above his current offerings. As far as the continuation of the line if Kevin leaves, I am not sure. He has talented people around him that can surely service what's out there and maybe design and continue the quality after Kevin leaves. ARC lost their genius and they still seem to be designing and developing new models! I suspect VAC will make arrangements to do the same. As far as dealers in every city, there are many high end manufacturers that don't have dealers in every city and do quite well.
Aisip, the Ref75 is a wonderful amp. Besides the power meters I had no problem with it so far (appr 1800 hrs). If your speakers have a decent efficiency and are not too hard to drive the Ref75 will impress you (I use Coincident Pure Reference speakers). It combines many positive attributes and simply gets out of the way. The Ref5SE was much better than the Ref3 I owned as well - but the Ref10 is simply in a class of it's own (as long as it works ;-)). I just hope the replacement Ref10 (expected to arrive on Tuesday) does not blow up on me again - because I don't see me looking for another preamp anytime soon.
Feel free to email me if you have more questions about sonic performance.
I don' use power conditioner but have dedicated power for each device. I can hardly imagine that the usual power swings of a few Volt are able to blow up capacitors ...?
12-20-14: Bifwynne
In regards to ARC's QC card - how can a preamp pass a thorough QC check with twoo loose and crooked tube sockets - plus be boxed up with a loose srew bouncing around inside the preamp? The QC card is a piece of paper - and has NO value if the people who sign it don't live and breathe Quality ...
Thanks to all for your responses on this subject. It seems we share both - good and not so good experience with ARC gear. So far ARC and especially my ARC dealer have reacted very quick and obliging. I hope ARC simply had a bad run of components and gets the problem under control.
What seems obvious though is that cost savings at ARC are more important today than a few years ago. While the Ref3 was double-boxed at it's time - Ref5SE and even Ref10 are shipped single boxed - held together with one layer of paper tape. I believe this is the wrong place to save money when shipping sensitive and quite expensive audio gear. Esoteric for example even triple boxes their gear. I like that!
You are not alone. A couple of weeks back I began to sense a slight imbalance between channels, lo and behold, V5 was down to 61mA , V7 On spec, V9 ON spec, V11 down to 62mA.
V5 biased back to spec and remained as such over the next couple of days, on the other hand I could not manage to persuade V11 to re bias beyond 63mA. Substituting with KT150/V7 indicated A problem with the bias circuit to V11 as that valve promptly dropped 5mA.
I advised my dealer of the problem and as I am still under warranty collection was organised PDQ.
The snake in this tale will see me without the Ref150 until after the Holidays. The ladder? Well that has manifest in the form of the Distributers own GS150 in situ For the duration!
Unfortunately, the GS has just the 60 hours on the clock, and whilst hinting of great promise, is still quite 'tight' ergo déjà veu with break in on the Ref150, however I am hoping to rack up enough hours on the GS in order to make some sort of valid comparison.

Decibell. I would call ARC and ask to speak with Terry Dorn. Terry needs to know about those quality issues you are referring to. Make sure that you have your serial number of each piece while speaking with him. Crooked tube sockets and loose screws bouncing around inside a $30k preamp is unacceptable.
Terry is retiring isn't he?
He might be. Haven't talked to him in quite sometime but Decibell should make the call nevertheless and speak with Chris Ossana. Not sure who else you can talk to nowadays. With Terry gone/leaving, the "old guard" is quite decimated. ARC has not been the same since the days of Bill Johnson, Rich Larson, Len Gustafson and a few others who have left.

The brick and mortar is still there but i'm afraid that the soul is gone; forever.

Bill and Rich would have never tolerated crooked tube sockets and loose screws bouncing around inside a $30K preamp shipped in a single carton.

Don't they have a QC guy? No piece should leave the factory in this condition. NONE. I can understand parts can fail but we're talking serious assembly issues here. Do we have cold solder points too????
Taking the piece back to the dealer is not good enough. Not to me anyway.
@Jasper ... let me try to translate your "high-English" vernacular into American. As a general matter, ARC says the "slave tube" bias spec should be between 57 and 73 mV assuming the "set" tube bias is set at 65 mV. If you have a tube that is presenting a bias of 5 mV, probably a blown bias resister. I assume your talking about a "slave" tube.

Do I understand your post correctly that you bought a GS-150? If so, I anxiously await your comments ... after break-in.

Meanwhile, I anxiously await for my local ARC service tech to make a house call tomorrow to replace a blown bias resister. Bummer ... no music for 2 days.

@Smoffatt ... very troubling news about Terry Dorn. As an ARC "oldhead," I recall the great customer service from the folks you mentioned in your post, especially Len. Not sure what to say. I am greatly troubled to learn that ARC "may" be shipping shoddy product. I hope your experience is that one in ten thousand case.
@Bifwynne, a close enough 'Interperation'

I am indeed referring to the slave KT120 V11, and associated circuit, controlling bias to that particular socket, the bias resistor of which would appear to have drifted out of spec.
My commiserations on your miss-fortune. As it would seem that this particular fault is not entirely uncommon! I am considering a discussion with the engineer, requesting that he replace the factory bias resistors with one of a higher wattage rating.
Given the timing that our respective Ref150's are under the 'hand' of an ARC certified engineer, there would also appear to be a dilema shared in the 'rumoured' KT150 modification pack,

Unfortunately the GS Is with me only for the duration whilst the Ref is in the shop, however I shall pen a few thoughts, here, for your consideration.
Jasper ... my local ARC just left my house. My Ref 150 sounds great!!! Two bias resisters on the same tube blew. No surprise really. The tubes have almost 2000 hours of use on them and they are ready for a replacement. Maybe KT-150s if this stupid KT-120/KT-150 enigma is "officially" resolved.

Your solution is NOT about using more "robust" bias resisters. The problem has to do with arcing inside the tube itself. Although new tubes can arc, older tubes are more susceptible because of the natural process of heating (expansion) and cooling (contraction) that occurs when the unit is turned on and off.

I am dubious that an authorized ARC repair tech will replace a burned/open bias resister with anything other than original ARC spec. It may seem crude, but one of the functions of a bias resister IS to open if the tube arcs. It protects the amp like a fuse.
I have three ARC equipment in the last two years.

First, it was the 40th Anniversary, the remote control failed in the first two months. I don't bother to replace it since I always use universal remote for the whole system.

Then, in the first week, Ref 250 failed to turn back on again when shut down, it took a couple of hours of cooling before it could be turned on again. I reported it in this forum. After a length discussion with local dealer and ARC, both amps were replaced after nearly 4 weeks.

Third, recently 40th Anniversary was upgraded to Ref 10. Some of the 6H30 tubes were not working after one month and 200 hours. They were replaced with EH 6H30DR gold pin. They sounded better and are problem free for 500 hours now.

So far, all my experiences with ARC were not perfect. Although I still like their sound, their reliability is a real concern.
I didn't think much of it until reading this thread. I've had no issues with either of my ARC pre amps over the years, but, the last set of tubes I bought from them, one 6h30 was DOA. This makes me wonder why I'm paying a premium for these to be tested?
I can only said it is now Italian style, fashionable but not reliable, sensational but not stable.
No_money: When I bought my 6H30 from ARC, they asked me "what kind of ARC product do you have?". I told them I was going to use them in a BAT integrated amp.
Do they save "the good stuff" for Ref 5SE and above?
Did I get shanked because I don't have ARC equipment?
They should not ask what equipment you own.
They should just sell you the tubes, IMO.
I'm not sure Dweller? I know when I buy tube sets from them they are labeled Ref2 MkII. For the prices they charge I assumed they where all well tested and matched. The argument I always heard was that many tubes wouldn't pass, thus the waste and increased charge.
But now I question that argument. This tube wouldn't even light up, totally dead.
I hope they get this straight. I want to upgrade pre amps next year and LS 27 was on the list.
12-24-14: No_money
I'm not sure Dweller? I know when I buy tube sets from them they are labeled Ref2 MkII. For the prices they charge I assumed they where all well tested and matched. The argument I always heard was that many tubes wouldn't pass, thus the waste and increased charge.
But now I question that argument. This tube wouldn't even light up, totally dead.
I hope they get this straight. I want to upgrade pre amps next year and LS 27 was on the list.
Tubes have a 90 days warranty so just exchange for new pair. What's the big deal? DOA is not isolated to ARC.
Yes, they replaced the tube, no problems there.
@Bifwynne, whilst the points that you make are known to me, however as there have been a sufficient number of instances reported where drift, or critical failure of bias resistors has occurred, and where the clock time on OPT's has past the initial phase where a weak tube may fail early and well within the usable life span of an KT120, For me, to reason, that a slight increase in current handling of the bias resistor, whilst remaining at the same ARC specification Ohmic value, may provide an increased margin of function, without compromising their additional role as a fail safe.
The 6H30 is rated for 10,000 hours of service.
Mine lasted 5 or 6 months (i.e., outside of warranty window).
I don't know why I purchased from ARC instead of BAT (my Father used to "spread his business around" -I must have been copying him).
I won't stray in the future.
Merry Christmas!
At 2x normal retail, I really don't expect a DOA tube though.
The idea of buying a "vetted" tube at a much higher price is an interesting concept. IMHO, who ever thought of it was a very smart marketing person. The question much validity is there to this approach for the a'phile consumer?
The other question that comes to mind, is how many non-"vetted" tubes can one buy for the same price as the "vetted" tube? Something to maybe ponder, LOL.
Tsushima1 ... your point is beyond my technical pay grade. Maybe Gary (Hifigeek1), Al (Almarg) or Ralph (Atmasphere) can explain why ARC uses bias resisters that handle only the rated wattage so chosen.

Again, from a non-techie perspective, I surmise that ARC is using low wattage bias resisters as a fuse and wants a quick "blo" to protect the rest of the circuitry if a tube arcs.

If I knew what I was doing with a soldering iron, I would do the repair myself. It's actually quite simple and low tech. Just clip out the burned resister, but leave a little stub sticking out if the board. Then soldier in the new resister to the stub of the old resister. Took the tech about 20 minutes start to finish.

The ARC tech also checked the other passives in the tube pair to make sure they were still in spec --- they were.

Tsushima1 ... this is NOT a big deal. You wanna own a tube amp ... it goes with the territory.

Btw, I understand from older threads that the reason ARC doesn't use circuit breaker type devices in the bias circuit is to limit the number of artifacts. Even still ... hard to believe that a fuse or circuit breaker in the bias circuit would make much of a difference in sound quality. But as I said ... this is above my technical pay grade.
Its common these days to use flameproof resistors in certain locations, usually the screen and cathode circuits), to prevent damage to the output transformer. If the tube conducts too hard, it can exceed the wattage limit of the resistor, causing it to fail just like a fuse.

Of course, why not just use a fuse, which has the advantage of being user-replaceable? There is the argument that a fuse might cause the circuit to not sound as good, but IME I've not seen that argument hold up in practice. Our Novacron amplifier has individual fuses for each power tube, and in studies we have done we don't find that the fuses or lack of them is any issue. But reliability certainly **is**.
Thanks Ralph .... sure wish ARC would get where you are.

Pushing a button or replacing a fuse makes a lot more sense to me than calling my local ARC tech. I am dubious that if ARC did blind testing on a "with and without" basis, that Bill Gehl, ARC's official listener, could tell the difference.

Oh well ... in the meantime, just glad the ARC repair guy is a short drive away.
Buy a Primaluna & be done with it. Euro design, premium Chinese build.
I never quite understood my buddies infatuation w/AR gear that would work
for a while then..... Big silver handles, big deal. Though I do like the early preamps, sharp edges and all, I wouldn't own one. Kinda the Chrysler of American audio. Nice motors but the rest is of questionable design build quality. You guys pretty much confirm what I've always suspected, a new
reference every 6 months...
Bifwynne, - its 'Warren' Gehl.
Nice motors but the rest is of questionable design build quality.
I've own many high quality components and find ARC has one of the BEST build quality plus EXCELLENT service.

You guys pretty much confirm what I've always suspected, a new
reference every 6 months...
Nothing wrong if every iteration is an improvement. To my ears, current ARCs are SOTA regardless of price.

Companies generate interest by releasing new products periodically. There's a reason ARC is the oldest OPERATING audio manufacturer in US.
Ralph ... my bad. Thanks for the name correction.
...ditto what Knghifi said.