ARC's new REF-75

I read Paul Bolin's review of the new REF-75 in AudioBeat and was really taken by it. So, this past weekend I drove down to Newport Beach and attended The S.H.O.W. to take a listen. In spite of the room being a bit bright, I could clearly hear the advantages this amp offers.

The REF-75 is physically beautiful with a kind of retro look. Must have been the meters. I love the looks of this amp! I placed my hand on top of the amp and it was barely warm to the touch. It runs really cool in spite of not having fans. Another advantage ... no fans ... no fan noise.

Right off the bat, the REF-75 was so grain-less, it was simply amazing. The sound comes out of a perfectly black background and the inner detail is amazing with great decay on vocals and simple instrumentals. I love classical guitar and small jazz groups, so this is right up my alley. Vocals were amazingly clear and realistic as well because of the lack of grain. Separation of instruments is another VERY strong point of the REF-75, adding realism to orchestral music. Tonality is one of the first things I listen for ... and this amp is right up there with the best of the ARC amps, including the big REF Monos. The demonstration was made using Wilson Shasha speakers ... 87db, and the meters hardly moved at all even while listening to full orchestral music. The darned thing just coasted no matter what was thrown at it. So, dynamics are terrific ... the amp supposedly uses the same power supply as that in the REF-110, so that would account for the dynamics and particularly good bass punch and depth. Huge sound stage as well. Width, depth and height were more than expected ... in fact, huge in every way.

The REF-75 I listened to at the SHOW was a prototype, but based upon what I heard, I'm buying one later this month. I've owned and/or listened to a lot of ARC amps over the years, and I can say without reservations, that this is one of the very best amps ARC has ever done. The release date is toward the end of June and the retail price is scheduled to be $9,000.00 US. Oh, and if you own a REF-110 ... sell it quick!

As a further note, I visited the Optimal Enchantment room and auditioned the new ARC REF-250 mono blocks. Randy Cooley, the owner of Optimal Enchantment, had the system set up in a suite and really had the system/room dialed in. Randy always has a great demo and has an impeccable taste in music. What I heard in Randy's room this year was simply magic. It had me shaking my head in disbelief wondering how much more information could still be hiding in those record grooves. Was it better than what I heard in the room that demoed the REF-75? Ahem ... it was, after all, Randy Cooley's room. :>)
Thanks for the posts, Oregonpapa. Sounds like a great product, would like to try them out as well.
Good to hear Randy is still very much active in the audiophile business, great guy.
Oregonpapa, did Audio Research have their Referenc DAC at the Newport Beach show?
Good post Oregonpapa..
Agree the new REF amps sure packs power and that they'll drive almost any speakers sufficiently. However much also depending on the room size, how loud you normally listen to, and the types of music.

When mood kicks in, I'd sometime like to blast my system a little and feel that excitement of room being pressurized--the REF150 just barely made it. Of course I'm talking dB levels where you actually feel waves of air surrounding body--loud. Thus got me thinking during those moments of the REF250.. Not that I need them, but sometimes good to have reserve watts up the sleeve. I'll stick with my REF150 for now as a single stereo chassis is preferable in my set-up. So far they've been performing flawlessly and I'm just about to pass the 500 hour mark--once settled, it's a great amp!

So just a little heed of caution there to better try the REF75 out first in your home/system prior when possible to see that they'll not only drive your speakers, but drive them with aplomb. In another system I'm familiar with, driving Sashas in a 4x5m room, the REF150 seems to have ample reserves. My speakers are slightly easier load, but in a bigger room.
Funny. I thought tonality in the midrange was the Ref 75 big weakness.

I will say if you like current arc gear, it will please you.
I thought so too initially. Now after more than a couple of months with them, realized
my earlier impressions don't count. From 100-400hrs with their roller coaster of ups and
downs make it rather difficult to guess what to become of the sound.

Only after passing the 400 mark it stabilized then became much more relaxed,
real/organic sounding, and continue to bloom there on. But still, if the typical 'warm thick
full euphonic' tube coloration you are seeking--they are not.

Love the cool retro metered look of the REF75, yet also the REF150 for its understated
The REF75 at the show was driving Wilson Sophia 3s, not Sashas.
Stereophile's testing says they're 88.3db(B)/2.83V/m.

I guess if you judge the amp's midrange by playing recordings like Alice in
Chains, you'll be disappointed.;-)
Sorry about the error in my post re: the model of Wilson speakers.

All the latest ARC gear takes about 500 hours before it really sings. My PH-8 continued to improve right up to the 1000 hour mark.

There was something I noticed about the room in which the REF-75 was being demonstrated. I arrived on the second day of the show, and the room/amp sounded terrific. If you visited the room on that day, I was the white-haired guy in the center front seat who was glued to his chair. :>) On the third and last day of the show, the room took on this brightness. I noticed it as soon as I sat down. I'm wondering if something was changed during the night, like inner-connect cables, or perhaps a tube going bad. I don't know if you guys noticed, but the Phono stage being used was made by Boulder. Perhaps that was the problem?

My speakers are Legacy Signature IIIs - 94db efficient. I don't listen at massive volumes, but I do like to feel the bass energy in my chest from time to time ... and I think the REF-75 will fill the bill nicely.

For those who listened to the REF-250s in Randy Cooley's room ... was that a treat, or what?? Kudos to Randy and ARC for that magic.
Sorry about the error in my post re: the model of Wilson speakers.

All the latest ARC gear takes about 500 hours before it really sings. My PH-8 continued to improve right up to the 1000 hour mark.

There was something I noticed about the room in which the REF-75 was being demonstrated. I arrived on the second day of the show, and the room/amp sounded terrific. If you visited the room on that day, I was the white-haired guy in the center front seat who was glued to his chair. :>) On the third and last day of the show, the room took on this brightness. I'm wondering if something was changed during the night, like inner-connect cables, or perhaps a tube going bad. I don't know if you guys noticed, but the Phono stage being used was made by Boulder. Perhaps that was the problem?

My speakers are Legacy Signature IIIs - 94db efficient. I don't listen at massive volumes, but I do like to feel the bass energy in my chest from time to time ... and I think the REF-75 will fill the bill nicely.

For those who listened to the REF-250s in Randy Cooley's room ... was that a treat, or what?? Kudos to Randy and ARC.
The brightness you heard the following day could have been due to a lack of people in the room. Most of the rooms were acoustically challenged. Adding bodies to the room seemed to soften up the top end a bit. It also tends to break up a bit of echo as well. I noticed this is a few rooms.
Kana813- I'm sorry that I don't listen to boring typical audiophile music.

FYI- that "crappy" Alice in Chains track got raves reviews in numerous rooms. One dealer bought the album that afternoon.

I also heard the Ref 75 on 3-4 of my reference cuts. Same results.

>>> "I thought tonality in the midrange was the Ref 75 big weakness." <<<

That 75 was connected to a diverse system of components, Sophia 3's, Boulder phono-stage, T + A turntable, Spiral Groove TT, Shunyata cables/power, music server etc....

All those variables make it difficult to detail specific component contributions with any degree of accuracy. Even if you had intimate knowledge of every link in that chain and the 75 was the only variable, it's still better to paint with a broad brush when talking about show-system sound related to this or that component. If there was something wrong, blame the cables.

We were part of that system and set up. Even with all the listening we did, I could not get a great handle on what component was doing what in terms of sound quality. I was certain the Spiral Groove TT was a huge plus in terms of sound quality compared to streaming. With records, I thought the system fared well given conditions.

At home, the ref 250's are an absolute revelation, so I suspect the 75 will be a great amp.


Shunyata Research

Shunyata Research

"I'm sorry that I don't listen to boring typical audiophile music."

Neither do I.

"FYI- that "crappy" Alice in Chains track got raves reviews in numerous rooms. One dealer bought the album that afternoon."

I'm sure that Layne Staley’s estate will appreciate the royalties.

"I also heard the Ref 75 on 3-4 of my reference cuts. Same results."

That's shame. I guess that system does work well with Andrew Bird, Calexico, Alice in Chains, Gotan Project and Florence & the Machine.

Like Oregonpapa's, all of the other reports I've read about Room 335 at The Show have been very positive.

I'm looking foward to hearing the REF 75 when it arrives at my dealer.
Kana- You have an agenda, I don't. Simple as that. Enjoy your audition. I don't base my decisions on reviews or reviewers, perhaps you do.

You are welcome to my room anytime btw to hear whatever music floats your boat.

Grant- I listened to digital through Dac 8 and Ref 5 fyi, no analog. I am quite sure the 250s sound much better in your beautiful room.

Thanks,I'm sure I will enjoy my audition of the REF 75.
I haven't been pleased by Audio Research amplification for a very long time, and that dissatisfaction only mushroomed over the past dozen years or so. Keep in mind I've sold and owned ARC in the distant past. I'm long out of the industry. I've cited ARC as tragic evidence that hifi took a wrong turn, continuing to release products built more for ego than music. The entire REF line has sounded so far just about as far removed from convincing musicality as one can get using vacuum tubes, so I had hopes that the REF 75, being a modest implementation of a simpler, rethought ARC sound, might reverse their long slide into toneless asceticism.

I guess not. I heard the REF 75/ Wilson combination, and every other ARC installation at the show. I suppose one can get so accustomed to that sound so as to interpret it as "grainless" if all other comparisons are to amps that have more grain, but that's not what I heard. In fact, one of the distinguishing "features" of every modern ARC tube amp I've heard (and I've heard just about all of them) is the pervasiveness and persistence of distracting sonic grain. I'll go further and say there's midrange grunge, too, as in the subtle crossover notch grit common to all push-pull tube amps voiced to sound like solid state and tilted to over-resolution. Another common "feature" of the REF series, including this new one, is spatial "field flattening" and vocal glare. But again, if all you listen to are amps that are worse in these respects, the REF might be heard as smooth and articulate.

Not to me.

Some of this is surely the fault of current production tetrodes and pentodes, but some of it originates in design. The REF 75 sounded tonally bleached, with incomplete note decay. It was revealing of leading edge detail and very competent with hard-but-not-harsh sounds like single-event percussives and strong string plucks. It lost the rest of the note too soon. many simultaneous transient events didn't put the amp in a good light. Unless congestion upon crescendo sounds normal to you. And I don't forgive it insufficient break-in time because these same traits are exhibited by every other REF amp in the series as well.

The svelte Audience solid state amp was better in all these respects and I say that as someone who has never had a single year of my life without tube amps amplifying music for me. The McIntosh autoformer SS amps are more musically convincing. And lots of non-mainstream tube amps will trample the REF 75 if you're judging by musical performance instead of wanting to listen to square waves.

I'll say one thing in the ARC's defense. Most of the "name" tube amps of substantial power at the show were lashed to crossover-intensive multi-driver speakers, so on top of the compromises in the amps, you were listening to compression and subtle grunge at the crossover points of the speakers. The two together aren't a recipe for convincing music reproduction, but they're certainly a recipe for something....else.

The REF 75 wasn't nearly the only disappointment at the Newport Show, but it was one of the more egregious let downs.

When I visited the ARC room with the REF 75 on Friday, I had the same basic impression as Keith. The amp was certainly not bad, OTOH it wasn't as great as I had expected. The mids seemed to me to be lacking in the midrange magic that my older D70Mk2 brings to the table in spades. However, I suspect that the room, and the fact that this was a prototype, most likely had something to do with that.
What's more disappointing to me, is that these new series of ARC amps require a balanced connection ( no single ended connections). Which is ok IF you are running balanced correctly throughout your system, BUT if not ( which is the way I suspect most a'philes are doing it) then it's a negative, IMHO.
Phil- So you are saying the only time you heard the Ref 75 was at The Show?
I heard the REF 75 at the show. In a room full of other people who were uttering superlatives. I disagreed with them. While I will hear a REF 75 again in a more domestic or dealer setting, given that I heard nothing out of character with the rest of the REF line, I have no reason to expect this amp to impress me under different circumstances. The people who are praising the REF 75 express admiration for other REF amps, including the toneless REF 250. None of them are convincing to me. It does look good in a more subtle expression of the ARC industrial aesthetic. OK, there's a compliment.

But this is a common phenomenon in high end audio: a vaunted brand develops a house sound bereft of convincing musicality, and its following reveres this enough to render it a new, if wrongneaded, reference. Whether referenced gear bears any resemblance to how real instruments and voices actually sound becomes a disregarded criterion.

This amp, in particular, because of its rumored promise and (well, in a hifi way of thinking) moderate pricing, is Exhibit A in the parade of proofs at the show that hifi is largely off the rails, and most reviewers are happily in the lead.

In any other industry, ARC would be considered an insignificant and marginally-successful company. In high end audio, it has a magnified brand and it has stayed true to its ardent commitment to build quality. But now it is sonically-uninspiring and generic, in my view. Having forfeited, due to musically-indifferent products, the reverence once justifiably granted ARC by music lovers, it no longer merits default consideration by them. I was hoping this amp would signal a turn back to musically-legitimate amplification but unfortunately I didn't hear even the briefest indicator such might be so.

If you're an exhibitor and you can't give me even a glimmer of hope that your new amp is musically-persuasive while you believe it is, what are you doing? Enough with the excuses. I don't mean to pick on the REF 75. But as one of the more egregious let-downs at the show, it stands in for a freight train's load of aural trouble that was, collectively, the Newport show. Quality was largely on the fringes. The mainstream in high end is mostly off the rails, having remembered the "high" and forgotten "fidelity."

I guess you don't like ARC...Or just fed up with the state of the industry in general?
>>I guess you don't like ARC....Or just fed up with the state of the industry in general?<<

Some of both. There was a time when I loved ARC products. Today ARC makes some good preamps, and their DACs have been sonically interesting. It's in their power amps where they've taken a wrong turn, in my view.

I've been spending my own money on audio for a little over 40 years. It's not that I'm so old as that I started young, and I'm old *enough* to have experienced a more successful time in the industry. Our industry has dug itself into a hole and not being happy with nearly complete cultural irrelevance, it is digging faster. There are many reasons for this, but among them is products like the REF 75: over-resolving at the expense of natural tone; current into any load at the expense of nuance and clarity; leftover grunge due to the topology; and in this case lock you into one power tube by one maker.

I sent a friend to the show who is not an audiophile. He appreciates my systems, which has led him to begin considering spending real money on audio. I said, "considering." He didn't go to the show the same day as me. But I wanted to know what a music lover and musician who has had little exposure to our industry today, likes, dislikes, thinks. I didn't prompt him about anything. Just suggested he go, hear everything he can.

"I heard a lot of sound but not much that sounded like music." That was his first assessment. He loved what he heard in one room and one room only: The Audience room when the ClairAudient One was playing. A tiny $1800 speaker blew away the giants. Now, that did happen to be the best sound at the show, though I wish they had demo'd the 2+2. And it was the best sound of the show because it was the most coherent and it struck the right balance between resolution and tone. It was also playing via the most natural solid state amp at the show.

He couldn't really relate to much of the rest of it, though some rooms sounded closer to music than others. His conclusion was that the worst rooms were those with the most imposing gear. With a few exceptions, that's my experience too. If it's garish and imposing, it's probably not going to sound much like music. The little REF 75 is only small in the context of the many bigger amps on display, but it's by no means small, alone. It does exemplify however the prevailing sound that's come to be associated with high-end cred: cold, spatially flattened, inorganic, super clean, resolving beyond the actual acoustic experience of hearing music performed, bleached of tone, overdamping of decay, incapable of communicating the seduction and full emotion of the music passing through the gear.

And the trouble is, once you no longer know what the full emotion and tonal integrity of music sounds like in real terms, then something synthetic becomes the new measure. That's where we are now, and that's what was abundant at the Newport show. I could not reconcile the groupthink enthusiasm I heard expressed for 97% of the gear demonstrated, with what I was actually hearing.

But there was beauty and truth in about 3% of it, and that's what keeps my interest. It just wasn't coming from the likes of ARC, Wilson, VTL, Scaena, Focal, et al. As long as the mythmakers in the industry, and the people who extend them credibility, believe that Wilson and Focal, to spotlight two egregious offenders, make musically convincing speakers, the whole industry will be a headscratcher to anyone coming from outside who can't reconcile their sonics with how music heard in performance actually sounds. In high end audio, it's the 3% who get it in the realm of right.

So much from a Guru whose references are Klimo and Kent. ;)
>>So much from a Guru whose references are Klimo and Kent.<<

Kent? I've never owned the Klimo Kent amp. The Klimo Merlino Gold spent 6 years in my system -- and it was and remains excellent -- but the change from Zu Definition 2 to Definition 4 warranted a change in preamps.

My current preamps are Melody Pure Black 101, Audion Premier, S&B TVC. My current amps are Audion Golden Dream 300B PSET, Audion Black Shadow 845 SET, Quad II Jubilee. Of course, that's what I own. I've heard most of what the industry sells, and don't own most of it by choice.

@213cobra, based on this list of your current gear apprently you savor space, delicacy, and texture over pace and the somehat glassy openness that is characteristic of the current generation Audio Research gear (in their stock form) that draws the attention of audio buyers.
I have high regards of your opinion but what I found is those with deep pockets to buy new gear often seek out components with a sonic signature that leaps out at them.
HOwever, I must disagree with you classifying VTL and Focal into the mix of myth makers. IMO the current VTLs in pentode mode will leap out at you, not in triode mode. As for Focal, anything particular you dislike about them?
I will offer my opinions on the sound of that room at the show, just to give another perspective. I have no dog in this fight, and I will try to be as kind as I can, so as not to attract rotten eggs flinging in my direction. I did not stay long in this room, but I was seated in the 'sweet spot' listening to something jazz-like (can't remember exactly). What I heard was a rather dryish sound with boosted high registers and a moderately thumpy bass, in combination with a recessed midrange. And, it was quite a forward sound, all projecting from the front of the speakers, instead of mixing all around them. I won't go on, as I really don't want to piss off anyone. But this was not my cup of tea at all. It was playing rather loudly, which would cause all kinds of reflections and perhaps explain some of it. Only one or two others in the room with me. Sorry I don't have a better report. And I do hope that the room was to blame, but I do wonder....
"kent |kent|
past and past participle of ken .
ken |ken|
noun [in sing. ]
one's range of knowledge or sight : such determination is beyond my ken." ;)

Been down that road as well. Low powered/SET tubes Cary, Jadis, Kondo, and yes, a brief stint with Audion too (WE 300Bs on them being my favorite). Speakers among others then were Quad 57, 63, Tannoys, and AudioNote. What I'm trying to get to here is that there will always be trade offs. Never a system IME that will do all types of music as well and that would suit everyone at that. Condescending other brands whilst insisting your route is the only right route (well at least that exclusive 3% club) into attaining musical bliss is 'sorry' pure BS.

Don't own ARC Ref amps and have not heard the new REF75, but from frequent exposures at friends/dealers of their 150 and 250s, when everything is dialed in right, they could be highly musically rewarding and a noticeable steer away from past signatures of last decade or so when they did lots of hybrid stuffs, thus quite way off from your very negative descriptions of them.
>>but what I found is those with deep pockets to buy new gear often seek out components with a sonic signature that leaps out at them.<<

No doubt. But what does that kind of assertiveness of signature have to do with music? This has always been a tension in music reproduction, but there was once a balance. Now it seems in runaway. It would be easy to blame buyers who respond to the sound you describe, but it's builders who started down the path. I trace it to the sonically disastrous introduction of Krell circa 1980, which was a sharp turn in ego purchasing. At the time I was astonished that reviewers went along with the sound. It bent the industry, and of course only led loudspeaker designers to come up with more crossover-intensive designs, also having more difficult loads to drive. It's not hard to understand buyer preferences evolving toward the synthetic since the industry has been moving its market away from natural references for many years.

I agree VTL in triode mode, like most pentode or tetrode amps offering a pseudo-triode option, sounds different and largely better. Hardly anyone uses them that way, though.

My complaint about Focal is the obviousness of compression and tonal strain near the crossover points, and the insufficient unity behavior of the drivers -- not unique to Focal but it sounded especially distracting and not least because of being present in such an expensive speaker well engineered in so many non-sonic ways. I have to believe the designer(s) can do much better with so much material cost in their speakers.

>>What I'm trying to get to here is that there will always be trade offs. Never a system IME that will do all types of music as well...<<

I don't agree. Any combination of hifi gear claiming fidelity can and should perform any kind of music "well." Perhaps not perfectly, but certainly well. If it cannot play a full orchestra, Andrew Bird, Jack White, James Blake, Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, Gillian Welch, Led Zeppelin, Doc Watson, M.Ward, the full international catalog of MA Recordings, Sonny Rollins, Gram Parsons, Justin Earl, Tom Waits, Hound Dog Taylor, Alison Krause, Kate Bush and Maria Callas with equal credibility, then a system is too skewed to genre.

I didn't reference my own systems, but you looked them up. Unless you've put together strong, big-glass SET with a fast & clean full range driver based speaker option of over 100db/w/m efficiency, you won't have heard the sound implied by what you saw listed. As speakers, Audio Note, Tannoy, Quad all impose marked trade-offs denting the polar graph of "all types of music [played] well." Good as they are, this can be overcome via some other brands.

You can get to a higher state of musical realism via many lesser-known brands *not* named Audio Research and some of the other offenders I mentioned. And I didn't mention "bliss." This is important to the point. Realism and convincing musicality are the objectives. If that's present, then you get bliss if the music content takes you there. If it doesn't, no bliss. Not all music is blissful. Were it so, that would be a distortion too.

Cary, Kondo, Jadis, Audion -- each a very different sound. I couldn't lump them together as representing any one thing. I haven't claimed there is one path; I've said that THIS path, represented by the ARC REF series and for reasons I've already written, is a dead end for anyone expecting more fidelity, not less, over time. That ARC has done worse in recent years doesn't convince me to be enthusiastic about the current series. I agree the new amps are better, still continuing a flawed direction. If you believe criticism is intrinsically condescending, then so be it but that's neither the tone nor intent of what I've written. Regardless, I stand by my description and people who don't agree will buy the REF amps or something like them.

@213Cobra: re: "sonically disastrous introduction of Krell circa 1980, which was a sharp turn in ego purchasing"

Ironically that perfectly describes yours truly in the mid-late 90s. I had quite a bit of disposable income and churned through many many amps of the well known brands, anything that had a shiny faceplate and weighing over 90lbs each. Ego purchasing, that was it. I went after anything that provided me with a false sense of air. I mistook squeaky highs as detail, and bombastic thuds as realistic bass. Nowadays I spend more on classical concert tickets and jazz gigs than audio gear. With that my taste for reproduced music changed quite a bit. These days I still buy Audio Research gear, but I buy them just for rebuilds, taking advantage of their trannies and pretty solid regulator circuits.

If someone doesn't have speakers that are over 100db/w/m efficiency and needs an amp in the same power range as the
REF 75, what would you recommend?
213cobra thanks for taking the time, you have made some fair points. Good thing is that in this hobby, its like walking into an ice-cream parlor, everybody get to choose their flavors--no right, no wrong, no absolutes.
Kana813, You asked 213Cobra for an alternate amp in the same power range as the REF75 that is more musical. Although I don't claim to be 213Cobra, I can certainly recommend the Emotive Vita monoblocks to be a highly musical alternative in the same power class. My Vitas now have Tung Sol KT120s and so should be roughly comparable in terms of power. More importantly, in terms of sound, they allow music of all varieties to sound like itself without the ARC house sound distractions.

That's a good question. The difficulty of finding *any* suitable higher power pentode or tetrode push-pull amp using modern tubes and having natural voicing is enough to make my first recommendation abandonment of lower-efficiency speakers. But I know not everyone will do that. It would send a hell of a message though. If I needed ~75w/ch and I was predisposed to tube amps to get it, my first stop would be the Melody 845 push-pull triode amp at 70w per monoblock. Cost is similar or less.

Another option available to you because of ARC's long history of owner-friendly business policies is to find a good condition ARC Dual 76A and send it back to Minnesota to be refurbed to current standard, and then have a local tech retube it again with known NOS tubes.

Another option is the Tim DeParavicini-designed Quad II-Eighty monoblocks. Also his EAR Yoshino 899 or 890 power amps. As someone mentioned, big VTLs in triode mode are contenders. That's a flash answer to your question. If I think of others, I'll circle back. I mostly find natural sound between 5 - 50w these days.

There's also always McIntosh, though I think in powerful amps their quad-differential/autoformer output SS models (specifically and exclusively) are now preferable to their push-pull tube amps -- which is an exception for me to say. They're not a clear preference over ARC REF -- just different. In some respects these are all "lower-tech" circuits than the ARC REF amps, but for convincing musicality at the 75w power level from tubes, they are honest alternatives I hear as more natural, sonically. But they are also all amp types that are in my rear-view mirror.

I somewhat concur with 213Cobra.
I am using speakers of 90dB/W/m efficiency and I am driving them with 30-35W triode mode amps that started their lives as 100W UL or Pentodes (I mod them to triode and run them half-power)
Anytime you parallel tubes in PP mode you add smear no matter how hard you try to match a quad.
Also most "100W" amps use trannies that can barely go 100Ws. By running my amps in half power I get a lot more good headroom from the trannies. Many will say "oh 30W is not enough it distorts when played loud". Guess what? A lot of times its the driver stage wimping out, not the output stage. A well designed amp with a current-stable driver stage will get you all the power you need even with 2 KT88s or EL34s or 6550s on each side.
Quote: "213cobra---I don't agree. Any combination of hifi gear claiming fidelity can
and should perform any kind of music "well." Perhaps not perfectly, but
certainly well. If it cannot play a full orchestra, Andrew Bird, Jack White, James Blake,
Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, Gillian Welch, Led Zeppelin, Doc Watson, M.Ward, the
full international catalog of MA Recordings, Sonny Rollins, Gram Parsons, Justin Earl,
Tom Waits, Hound Dog Taylor, Alison Krause, Kate Bush and Maria Callas with equal
credibility, then a system is too skewed to genre."


I don't see no Sade, Boney M, UB40, Sergio Mendez, Fourplay and the likes? And how
about some '70-'80s Disco and '90s Techno? ;p

I too have taken that so called 'purist' route (less is more thinking) at one time and have
enjoyed them quite immensely. Too many stuffs to list within that decade or so. Two of
the best sounding and most memorable amps that I have owned amongst the low
powered ones was AN Ongaku, and for mid powered unit, the VTL90 WE300Bs Triode
Monos (modified). Agree that they could sound magical, bordering surreal at times,
tears, goosebumps--aplenty for sure. Play some Ella, Nina Simone, Carol Sloane, Shirley
Horn etc. you'll be transfixed by the pureness of tone and lit from within quality that
good SET amps provide--they'll melt you for sure--literarily. But put the wrong music
at the wrong volume--they falter. Realizing then that my system began dictating my
music buying choice--I moved on.

In the end, which ever route one chose to take, it should be *music* first, and not
otherwise. As the saying goes--"There are many roads to Rome.." *Keep a
GPS handy in case you get lost! :)
The 30-35wpc amps I have can play almost everything other than Telarc 1812 to very convincing and satisfying volumes.
Eagles hotel California, Roxy Music, Mahler 9, La Valse, and piano pieces played by Pollini (they cause under powered amps to wimp out more than anything). No need to go ultra-non-linear.
Note the music I listed do not necessarily tax on watts/current, but more of speed, continuos mid bass punch/power/drive/agility.

Honestly, my turning point and what got me to re-think my whole set-up was when some friends, took few CDs off my rack--a couple of R&Bs, UB40, Sergio, and the Hugh Masakela's Stimela and played them on my then Ongaku, Tannoy, ML 30.5/31.5 (Jadis, EAD D/A as alternative) set up. They blasted them way up (not to room pressurizing level yet btw.), soon enough began winching and one commented.. "Why the hell spent so much when you can't even get to enjoy some real music properly". Sad, but quite true.. Bass was there--plenty, but just couldn't catch up in the speed, control and socks dept, and those 'continuos bass drives' at 'continuos loudness level' sure is a spell for disaster causing lower powered amps to clip and get mushy much too soon.

Hence, the prelude of my new quest.. VTL90s and on and on and on.. Got too engrossed into modifying this one, spent too much time and money on them, was basically listening to tubes, resistors, caps, wirings etc2 day in day out that music was no longer top priority--thought this was wrong, so sold them, but regretted since. (and yes, I think this particular VTL is a keeper, if ever they re-release, I'll buy them over).

Back to ARC new Ref series amps. Their availability, price, power, brand, good after sales service and re-salability in my country is what, for me, make them an attractive buy--the whole complete package. In a well balanced enough system, with some good simple tweaking, you could certainly ameliorate their weakness (if any), fortify on their strengths and make them sing--no problem, ime.
I agree that many SET amps aren't versatile. Like any other topology, only a few examples excel across genres.

I was late to SET for this reason. In the 90s, all examples were slow and rounded, and crossover-based speakers didn't leverage them well. I tried single driver speakers but they were too colored with shout and glare at the time, most also lacking any reasonable power handling.

I found two breakthroughs in sequence. Audion's 845 mono amps combined real dynamic muscle with SET finesse, and Audion's circuits all sound uniquely "fast." Faster than push-pull amps. The second breakthrough was finding Zu's full range driver speakers, especially the Definition.

101db efficiency from a speaker that can also take a 1000 watts amp is a remarkable thing. Crossoverless coherence, near-electrostatic speed, and the dynamic response to pressure a room on 25w changed the equation.

The combination will play the 1812 Overture, and UB40, as well as Dusty Springfield or a solo piccolo recording. But then Definition is a speaker good to below 20hz if your room supports it, and gets to 101db on the first watt, 1 meter from the speaker. Most people in all of audio have never heard this, and it's not only Zu that can put you in the realm.

Point is, I don't let the gear determine the music I listen to on it and no one else should either. Today's market gives everyone options for more convincing fidelity from simpler gear, more akin to what instruments and voices sound like, but those options aren't generally coming from the best known brands and their design rut.

Hi Bvdiman,
Reading your account above it just seems the amp-speaker match was`nt ideal rather than an inherent problem with the amplifier.A good SET amplifier with the 'appropriate' speaker can play all types of music in my experience.
Hi Charles,
I've tried..
2 Tannoys, 2 Pro Acs, 1 AudioNote speakers--owned. Accapella, Avantgarde--
tested. With numerous various SETs owned/borrowed--too many to name/remember.
It wasn't amp-speaker matching issue in my case, probably more of the very diverse
musical genres that I listen to. Room size (my old space is larger than current), and
loudness level that I sometime like to crank the system up are determining factors too.

Will a full blooded sports car take me to the Ball, sure it could.. Can a limousine
accelerate fast and cruise me effortlessly at 120mph, yes certainly. But depending on
occasions, one is clearly made to be better/suited than the other. Hence, if you love
speed and often hit the highway, yet use that 'one' and only car you have for weekends
with family too, then getting rides such as Panamera Turbo, or Bentley GT cruiser is the
best compromise/option--I think.
As for 845s based amps, currently my bet is high on Jadis SE845NEC over others. But
wait.. this is ARC's thread! :)
You`re right, I don`t mean to hijack this thread, sorry.
Rather surprised to see an audio research UL PP amp work with bvdiman's accuton tweeters. I boldly assume bvdiman doesn't listen to violins much, or the listening room is extremely long.
And so, I can safely assume that you know very well the rest of the system too.

Have a nice day.
Well, the REF-75 will be making music in my system by the first week in July. Oh ... and I AM very familiar with live music as well. I'll report back on the results. 'Till then, take care guys. :>)

What speakers will your new REF-75 be driving?
Hi, Kana813 ...

The speakers presently used are a pair of Legacy Signature IIIs. 94db efficiency. Here's a link to the owner's manual:

I'm using an ARC REF-3 preamp and the ARC PH-8 phono stage. Digital - ARC CD-7se. At present, I'm using a spare solid state amp replacing my ARC Classic 60 for the time being. I'm looking forward to getting the REF-75 ... my trusted sources tell me that its one of the finest amps ARC has built to date.

As for the comments presented by 213cobra: We all have our biases. I've heard the Zu amps and speakers. In fact, I bought my Legacy speakers from a guy who replaced them with Zu products. He said he couldn't live with the "hardness" of the Legacy speakers. He was using a system that was all solid state. It's commonly known around my audiophile circles that the Legacy speakers have to be driven with tubes in order to sound musical. In fact, a friend has a pair that he drives with a modified Dyna 70 ... and the musicality is amazing. I was always an electrostatic/planer fan until I finally heard a box speaker where the tweeters just disappear, and the Legacy tweeters do that in spades. Unfortunately, these speakers are no longer made, and only available on the used market. I could move up to the Legacy Focus, but I'm afraid of overloading my room (15x18).

But more on Kana813's comments: At first, I thought it was an attempt at buzz-kill. Then I thought, here is a person with an agenda ... most likely a dealer, or someone in manufacturing that competes with ARC. The reason I thought this, isn't because of what he described in the room with the REF-75, but because of his analysis of what he heard in Randy Cooley's room with the REF-250s. THAT, my friends, was one of the finest music retrieval systems I've ever heard in my long experience as a music lover and as an audiophile. Now that I've read more posts submitted by Kana813, I've come to realize that my initial reaction wasn't accurate. He's sincere in what HE hears. The SETs and Zu type speakers CAN sound amazing, especially in the midrange. It kind of reminds me of when I had my modified Acoustat IVs driven by Atmosphere, transformer-less 60 watt mono-blocks. Lots of real beauty in the mids, in fact, mids to die for, with, however, a rolled off top and not much real bass to speak of. But honestly, on some nights, with the lights out, when the power coming into the house was more pure than usual, the walls just fell down and the music was beautiful. So, I'm not taking anything away from Kana813, and what HE hears, nor am I saying that ARC gear is the end all ... only live music is that.

I, like Kana813, have my biases as well. I listen to a lot of live music, from symphonic to blue grass. I have thousands of vinyl records, having collected jazz since high school, and that was a LONG time ago. My first record purchase was a 45 rpm of Jerry Mulligan/Chet Baker - red vinyl and brand new. Hey, that was 1955! For my taste, ARC has made some amazing strides. What ARC is trying to do, and has succeeded in a very large part with the new REF series of electronics, as witnessed in Randy Cooley's room, is to transcend tubes AND solid state altogether. I think they are succeeding. Why should we even notice if the gear is solid state or tubes for that matter? We certainly don't listen with that as an objective when listening to live music, do we? Live music is unforced, no "cringe" factor and very natural.

Some of the posters on Audiogon remind me of when I was a kid and interested in hot rods and motorcycles. We all had an opinion of the "proper" dwell and lift of the camshafts. Is one four barrel better, or two? We argued over compression ratios as well. In the final analysis, it really didn't matter at all. The point was, who could get to the end of the quarter mile first. With music systems, the same thing applies. Does one's music system convey music as the LISTENER wants it conveyed. That is a personal matter, and with ARC gear, their world wide sales certainly speak for itself. My goal is not to be listening to my system thinking: "man, this amp or pre-amp sound great," but instead, "Man, those GUYS sound great. So far, so good with my mostly ARC system.

Oh, and I am personally offended by the notion that the only reason someone would own ARC gear, or any gear for that matter, is to satisfy one's ego. To suggest such a thing, really is an attempt to marginalize the opinion of others. There is an excellent article in the latest Absolute Sound by Dennis Prager that explains this. Hey, we listen mostly alone ... so whom are we trying to impress?

So, with all this said, the money is in, the order has been made ... and the amp should be in my system by the second week of July. Stay tuned for the update. Till then, take care.
Sorry Kana ... I got you and 213cobra mixed up in my latest post. My apologies to both of you. Gee, I think I'm blushing a bit. :>)
I have to agree with 213cobra. Never heard anyone articulate their view better and completely agree that the ARC, Wilson etc... Just make HiFi equipment not music producing equipment.

I heard an all ARC ref system recently and after the initial first moment of "wow" I left confused as to why anyone would spend that kind of money for no tonal quality what so ever.
Different strokes for different folks. Try as I might to understand why people like Zu speakers, they have never impressed me at shows or dealers even when paired up with the likes of Shindo which I do like very much. But I do believe D'agostino, ARC and various Lamm amps paired with ARC or Spectral preamps and Wilson speakers sound glorious and true to life in most aspects of musical reproduction. That's just me. I also think very highly of the entire ARC Ref line. Oregonpapa---I think you hear what I hear. Enjoy the new Ref 75.
Thanks for the kind comments, Gpgr ...

I now have 150 hours on the Ref-75. My initial impressions of the amp were typical of every piece of ARC REF gear I've had ... An improvement over the equipment it replaced, but still in need of a lot of improvment. Its to be expected as the caps need a total of 500 hours to comlpletly break in, with the amp starting to come into its own at around 250 hours. At 50 hours, the midrange clarity was something I've never heard in my system ... amazing. At 75 hours, ditto for the highs. At 150 hours, the bass is still the weakest point, but natual sounding, non the less. My trusted source at ARC tells me that I haven't heard the amp until 250 hours, at which time, I will be hearing the best bass from any tube amp that he's heard, except for maybe the Ref-250s. So, at 150 hours, what am I hearing? An entirely new record collection. Old favorites have new life. Mono jazz fills the room. If you know Bruebeck's "Jazz in the USA." Desmond's sax comes alive like never before. On orchestral recordings, the soundstage is huge, and each instrument is articulated in a realistic way. Trios and quartets are in the room. Both female and male vocals have such purity to suspend disbelief. This is the very best midrange I've ever heard from an amp ... and this amp transends tubes and solid state. The sound is neither. It is the best of tubes and the best of solid state. One word to describe it best would be "grainless." Another word would be "purity." And one more ... "musical." And now, onward to 250 hours. Stay tuned. :>)
Oh, and I forgot to add ... With this amp in the system, Digital is worth listening to FINALLY! Who knew? :>)