One man's experience....
I used a Krell KSA 200S and ARC LS3B for years...detail and dynamics were killer, but at times the presentation was a little clinical. I always felt drawn to the richness of tubes. But I couldn't find tube equipment that didn't sound muted, muddy and compressed.
All that changed last year. I now have an ARC LS26 (new) and ARC VT100 (picked up a demo from the local dealer) and I've never been happier...detail, dynamics, soundstage, incredible sweetness...These two components are great individually, but together they have completely redefined my enjoyment...I imagine a Ref 110 would be spectacular with the LS26, but it's out of my pricerange.
First of all, the VT150/150se (monoblocks) or the VT130/130se (stereo) are in a class by themselves. Both sonically, and among ARC's designs. They have fully balanced circuits, balanced inputs (only,) and tube regulated power supplies. If you can get your hands on a used pair of VT150se ($16k/pr in '94), you'll be very happy! I'd suggest you check their S/N w/ ARC to find out if they have the capacitor upgrade, and if not, order the kit ($200/unit)
Read more: http://www.arcdb.ws/VT150/VT150.html
Thanks for your input.
Nsgarch, what does the capacitor upgrade do for the sound of the VT 150's?
On the subject of the SE's (special editions) are they an improvement in sound quality over the regular VT150's or is it just cosmetic? Some of my friends believe that the only difference is the faceplates and meters, others say the the SE has better circuit design.
The specs are the same for either. The main difference is convenience (and, let's face it, cosmetic ;-) The SE versions (applies to the 130SE also) make bias-checking much easier (a good thing because you'll do it more often) and all cords and cables are from the rear panel.
The cap upgrade is well worth it for smoother highs and mids.
I respectfully disagree with Nsgarch. The VT150 was very impressive in its day, but ARC has surpassed its sound with many amplifier models since.
The VT100mkII and VT200 (very similar designs) are faster, tighter, and more extended. The next generation VT100mkIII and VT200mkII are even better sounding still, with improved detail, high frequency refinement and openness.
The REF110 is in another league still. It is much more transparent than any of these amps and has a more liquid, open, grain-free presentation. It is also more dynamically free and effortless sounding.
Hearing the VT150 today after being spoiled by 4 generations of newer ARC amps leaves it sounding a bit veiled, slightly grainy, a little soft, overly round generally, and tubby and less extended in the bass by comparison. That's not to say that the 150 is without its own charm, it's still a very special amp compared to many others. But with that charm comes with significant coloration, lack of control and loss in transparency by today's standards.
This wouldn't be as important to someone who is used to more colored tube sound or older gear generally, but the original poster is already spoiled by his current LS26 preamp, which is very similar in terms of character and transparency to the REF110...and very different sounding from the older VT150.
I'm an ARC dealer
Mick, there are two, beautiful VT130SE's for sale here, both for $3700. I'd buy the one in Pasadena, because it will probably cost less to ship.
If you want some other points of view ;-)) search VT130 on the amp and tube forums at Audio Asylum too.
What about the ARC VS110? How does that compare with the VTs and the Reference 110.
The VS110 is ARC's entry level, unbalanced 100 watt tube amplifier. It is virtually identical sounding to the smaller VS55 aside from power.
According to some, the VS series was a 'budget' version of the VT series. So if you're on a budget, why not give it a listen?
And how does it sound, in your opinion?
How does the VS110 sound? Very nice, if rounder and less transparent than ARC's balanced amplifiers.
A Richard Vandersteen preference, which I agree with, is to get two VS55's and run them as balanced monoblocks. Very cool.
Sorry if I'm missing something - how do you run two VS55's as balanced monoblocks?
Each VS55 is normally a stereo unbalanced amp. To convert a VS55 into a mono balanced circuit requires that you have a balanced preamplifier and make two special set of "Y" interconnects.
Lets look at one channel for this example. Coming out of your preamplifiers right balanced XLR output, your cable would have to be terminated with a female XLR at the preamp end and then two RCA's at the destination end, which would plug into the two RCA inputs on your VS55. One RCA would represent PIN 2 (non-invert) & Ground, while the other RCA would represent PIN 3 (invert) & Ground. Balanced connections used to be more commonly terminated this way (two RCA's rather than an XLR).
Now your VS55's left channel circuit will carry the non-inverted leg of the balanced signal, while the right channel circuit will carry the inverted leg of the balanced signal.
The last thing you need to do is properly connect the speaker wire to the outputs. You will no longer be following the normal connection practices as labeled on the back of the amplifier. Here's what you do:
First tie the two 4 ohm taps together with a piece of wire. Then connect your right channel speaker (+) wire to the "Right" channel 0 ohm tap and then the negative (-) wire to the "Left" channel 0 ohm tap. Viola! You now have a 100 watt, truly balanced mono amplifier.
Warning: this really works well with speakers that are 8 ohms and don't dip too much below that. It's not a good idea with lower impedance speakers. For example, it works very well with Vandersteen Quatros which never go much below 7 ohms.