Audible Illusions Modulus 3 Audio Research SP-11

Hello folks out there,

I have heard many consider the Audible Illusions Modulus 3 as their reference piece against the Audio Research Sp-11 or Sp-15.

Does anyone own both of these preamps and can tell me if the Audible Illusions Modulus 3 is really that good?
I have heard it almost beats any top preamp out there.

It is very good, but it eats tubes, as they run them hard, probably why it sound good.

Cheers George
I have heard the Audible Illusions 2-D was the one to get, but I never see one for sale now.
It eats tubes?

Normally tubes in preamps are uncrictical? How often you did them raplce?
I owned an AI 2D from 1991 until I sold it 2 years ago. It still was as awesome sounding and looking as the day I bought it. Loved it. Sold it ONLY to upgrade to an AI 3A with John Curl MC Phono circuit so I could go back to using low output MC cartridges. Have had the 3A for about 2 years now. I bought AI's best set of tubes as the used preamp's tubes were pretty old and the original ones the seller used for 4 years. I changed the tubes 2 times in the 20 years with the 2D and the 3A's have been running for 2 years with NO problems. I always bought AI's tubes--maybe there is a problem with buying tubes from a non-AI source. The 3A is a definite step up from a preamp I NEVER felt the need to upgrade. Nothing lasts like an AI and I'd bet with the new tube set, it sounds better than the Audio Research in most ways. It is dead quiet and very dynamic with a beautiful but more incisive sound than the 2D with much better bass clarity. I have mine in an extremely revealing and yet musical system and will not be looking again for a preamp for another 20+ years. I've heard AR's in the store but have never had one home in my system so a perfect comparison of their sound qualities is missing here.
That is an interessting answer.

According to some reviews it is also said that the Modulus 3 adds more detail is more transparent and adds backround information in the music by pushing it to the foreground which is bascially what I am looking for.

I am not sure if I can be wrong with it.
On the AI website they list which tubes will perform with their preamp. They state that most NOS tubes are not a good match.
I'll throw in my perspective, (for what it's worth). I was an ARC dealer for many years and an AI dealer for a few years.

I have personally owned an AI 2C, 2D, 3 and 3A. I have owned almost every preamp that ARC made back in the day.

I would take the SP-11 or SP-15 any day over the AI 3A. This is just a personal preference.

Since we are taking used here, the price difference is pretty large. The ARC SP-11/15 are still going for around $3000 and I've seen AI 3As for around $1000. So that would have to be a factor.
It seems to me that nobody can describe the sound or make any direct suggestions.

I have heard the SP-11, SP-10 and Sp-15 as wel, but it seems that some folks still say that

the Modulus 3 has

- a quieter background
- better details
- better focus background info is pressed to the foreground( that was basically what I was looking for)
- no bubbled edges
- Tubey in terms of depth, but not warmth

Can anyone make some statments about the sound how he or she thinks about this after having had a comparrision with those units.
@ Mofimadness: Did the Audio Research really sound so much better? or was it just becouse Audible Illusions had bad service?
Arc gear really does sound good. I'd be hard pressed to think anything could clearly trounce it unless one prefers some special flavor.
09-24-14: Stefanovitch
It eats tubes?

Normally tubes in preamps are uncrictical? How often you did them raplce?
Stefanovitch (Threads | Answers | This Thread)

My friend would replace them every 1 to 1.5 years He would use it around 2 to 3 hours a day.
It's common knowledge that they eat tubes.

More talk on it over here.

Cheers George
I owned a Modulus 3 years back. It sounded good but not better than my TAD Signature 150 preamp. Came with a brand new set of National 6922 tubes (not factory recommended I know). They were fried within 200 hours of use. What a tube eater. Sold it and never looked back. I question a tube circuit design that runs the tubes at their absolute limit. Not a good design regardless of how good it sounds. How are you suppose to swap tubes when the majority of brands can't be used. I tried contacting AI via phone calls and/or emails. Never did connect or get a response.
The Audible Illusions 3A is a damn nice sounding preamp. After installing it in my existing system I received many compliments from friends and family how excellent it sounded and how it improved the overall sound.

I think the reason that it got a reputation for eating tubes is because many owners were installing NOS tubes that don't have the durability of the Sovtek tubes that Audible Illusions recommends and sells.
I have owned the Modulus 3, 3a, L1, L2 and L3 and I can say for the money nothing comes close. The M3a, when it first came out, was the preamp of the ages. Stereophile had it in their "Class A" ranking for a long time and it did sound better than the M3.
As for sound, as is usual for audiophiles, sound is in the ears of the beholder. The AI stuff was always very neutral for a tube pre. Compared to ARC, the ARC had a more "Tubey" sound. ARC's did not have as good bass and more midrange bloom. Compared directly, I always felt the AI a notch above personally and I liked their more neutral presentation. Many like the euphoric tube sound but I personally feel it masks certain aspects of the sonic picture. Easy to listen to though with the warmth, etc. But an accurate portrayal of the music, no, I don't think so. But each has their own thing and the debate of the "Best" is an effort in futility.
My last AI was the L3, which was too me, one of the best sounding preamps I had heard to date. Clean, neutral and very quiet. The price has gone up to $3795 but I still consider it a steal for the money.
As for tube life, as long as you use good quality 6H23's from AI or a place like Upscale Audio, you are fine. These tubes were very durable and stayed quiet. Never an issue with me. Other NOS tubes, hmmm, good luck. They may go a month before they got noisy and I couldn't really say they improved the sound, just different.
As a side note, I have personally felt that the tubes the manufacture installs and were used to fit the design of the preamp sounded and worked best overall. I know this goes against everything audiophile but the circuits were designed for the particular tube. Of course, because of price and availability, manufactures can't design for NOS tubes. With AI, my advise is to stick with original tubes and you will be rewarded by longevity and great sonics.
That is right. I never got a response from Audible Illusions either. Audio Research did also sometiemes ignore my mails.

Well, I have a goot technican with 40 years of experiences that services anything, so even the manufactor doesn't respond I usually do not consider it a problem for me.
Re, no response from AI. Email is not used by owner for business. Had 3A for a long time, very nice class A sound on a class B budget. Got in touch by phone. Was told that a matched set of tubes from them with the specs they had in house on the unit was in order to improve sound. Sent check with explanation, etc., to Florida address. No tubes.
My bad.
Traded it in on something else, more happy.
Suggest you scan web on customer experiences with AI.
Stefanovitch, it appears to me that what you really want is the AI and are hoping that the comments about it being the equal of the AR are true. I am with Mofimadness; I would take the SP11 any day. He also rightly points out the price differential. I would submit that there is a reason that the differential exists; and it is not only because of the AR's original list price. I think that this thread proves, once again, that there is no substitute for listening for oneself and that "better" for one listener can be a totally different thing than for another. My perspective:

I owned the AI Modulus 2C and then the 2D for many years before replacing the 2D with a Counterpoint SA5 which I thought was an infinitely "better" preamp that the 2D. Why? Because although the 2D had a larger and more stable soundstage with practically no image wander, it lacked the sense of dynamic aliveness (like live music) that the Counterpoint had. The Audible also sounded dark and with images that were too thick (but pinpoint stable). A couple of years later when the upgrade bug bit again I purchased the recently released Audio Research SP9 which was very very similar sounding to the SP11; the hottest preamp at the time. While auditioning the SP9, I was able to also listen to the SP11 quite a bit in order to compare. They both sounded fantastic in the two different systems that I heard them in. I bought the SP9 and it turned out to be one of the most frustrating audio experiences that I have ever had. Long story short, what the experience taught me was that, while the SP9 was a potentially much better preamp than the Counterpoint, my system was not ready for the true neutrality of the SP9; it did not add much character to the overall sound and caused the system to sound way too lean. However, it was very realistic dynamically and very very clean sounding in comparison; the potential was obvious. After living with the SP9 for a while I sold it and started looking again; around this time the AI M3 was released and I was able to compare it to the SP9. Similar reaction as to the AI M2D: the Modulus had beautifully stable and large soundstaging, but sounded thick and dark in the sense of not having a sense of limitless extension in the highs; it also sounded dynamically polite to me.

IMO, the Audible is a terrific preamp for the money; maybe impossible to beat. However, in my audio book, it is not in the same league as the SP11. The SP11 is one of the classic preamps and I don't think it does anything less well than the Audible. However, I believe that for your system to make its superiority obvious, it needs to be at an overall level where you, as it's architect, are thinking more in terms of removing sonic character instead of adding character in order to come up with a pleasant end result. If the price difference between the two is not an issue, I think that you would ultimately have much better sound with the SP11. Good luck.
@ Frogman!

The point is that I have alread heard a Counterpoint SA-5 and it was far beyond anything Audio Research ever did. The warmth, the depth, the beauty of the sounstage and no bubbled edges even with the most difficuilt recording material.

Yes, there is a price reason for going with the A.I. But as what I have heard peeopl are not really missing much compared to the SP-11.
****The point is that I have alread heard a Counterpoint SA-5 and it was far beyond anything Audio Research ever did****

Proves my point; one has to listen for oneself and make one's own decisions. For me, the Counterpoint was superior than the Audibles, but "far beyond anything AR ever did?" Really? AR has improved on the SP11 quite a bit, but even then it was better sounding unit than the Counterpoint IN MY SYSTEM. Good luck.
"Counterpoint SA-5 and it was far beyond anything Audio
Research ever did."

This is total BS! I was one of the top Counterpoint dealers
in the country. While the SA-5.1 was an excellent preamp
and one of my all time favorites, this statement is crap.
Two totally different flavors of sound. Each had it's pros
and cons, but to have a blanket statement like this is

I really liked what Frogman stated: "I think that this
thread proves, once again, that there is no substitute for
listening for oneself and that "better" for one
listener can be a totally different thing than for

Sounds to me like you have already made your decision, so
just move on.
Well based upon what is left in improvement I saw no reason to buy an SP-11. I own four of them! Mk1 -Mk3! two MK1 versions!

I was looking for a bloomy warm sound or if not for a crispy clear neutral sounding amp. While the SP-11 due to its FETS and tubes might need a longer time for warm up to reach its full potential, the AI is simply faster. It lacks a little of the sweetness in the mids and highs, but stil is a little better in transparency.

I also consider a MFA Magus, Bruce Moore preamps and many other did fall in love ith them as well.

Audio Research is a great and is more complex in its circuilt while transistor selection is also more critcial, but it does only achive 5% better sound in my opinion. So I rethink why buying off an expensive preamp when a cheaper one would do the same.

By installing a filter against dirty power, replace the main caps and its power transformer with Piltron you might still get better results than with Audio Research.

I had a discussion with Paul of PS Audio, Bruce Moore and both agreed that they have heared similar stories. The price tag of Aduio Research does not ALWAYS fully give me a reason to buy it when the improvement isn't that high.

Yes, it is generally so with Audio equipment, so I will go ahead and try and see what I like ...I personally see no reasn to threw the AI off.
Say what?!
You could get the same quality with fimilar sound for much less!
The price tag does not qualify its quality!

"bubbled edges"

To me that says you've got a microphonic tube, to do a simple test (without an oscilloscope on a test bench).

Take the lid off turn on the whole system. Turn the volume control up around loud level.

Get someone to listen close at the speakers left and right. While you flick each tube with you finger nail.

If they hear a 'bonk" out of your speaker/s then this tube is getting microphonic.

If it is really bad then it can in the worst case start a continuous feed back bong happening, and you may have to turn the volume down to stop it.

Cheers George
I've owned a Mod 3 and two different ARC preamps, tho neither was an SP-11. IMO, they fall at opposite ends of the spectrum. ARC gear can get a satisfying 3d presentation, but never gets tubey in a dark or romantic sounding way. Tonality stays neutral enough to feel very much like the best solid state gear.

My AI Mod 3 was darker, thicker thru the bass and lower mids, and all together a tubier sounding piece. It was definitely less neutral. I liked both, but the AI was IMO more personal taste/system defendant. I'd think that most folks would have no problem choosing one or the other.
The Modwright LS100 blows the Modulas 3A away.
I owned for several years very unreliable and it
takes months to get back from repair.
Sound is adequate but no magic! you saying that you currently own (4) ARC SP-11's? I find that kinda hard to believe?

Also ARC never made a SP-11MK3. They made a SP-11SE (Special Edition) out of the last 50 or so SP-11MK2 models, but never a MK3.

I am really confused by your initial post if you already have the ARC unit(s)? Not sure what your end game is here?
Elliotdrum it is possible the Modwright LS100 is a better
sounding unit compared to the the AI 3A but at a far
greater cost. I have an ARC SP11 MKII I purchased several
years ago and yes it is better sounding than the AI 3A but
try to find one under three thousand used. I would prefer
to say all the above mentioned preamps are great in their
own right but go about their business in different ways and
depending what your trying to match them up with, will
determine what you end up with.
Does anyone own both of these preamps and can tell me if the Audible Illusions Modulus 3 is really that good?

I own both

I own four of them! Mk1 -Mk3! two MK1 versions!

There is no such thing as a MK3 technically speaking as Mofi said already. My understanding is the MK3 was nothing more than a "bling" thing for audiophiles with a gold faceplate. This is confirmed on this webpage.

ARC SP11 MK I and II

I personally see no reason to threw the AI off.

no reason at all, I agree and I do happen to own both.
An SP11MKII with a modded power supply for about 17 years and AI Modulus 3 for 8 - 9 years? (not sure)


For the money the AI is great value. I remember I had sold off my SP8 at the time and regretted it. That thick sounding baby SP10 preamp was great to tube roll with. The AI replaced it. Much closer in sound to the SP11 than the SP8. Also unlike what some others have said here I have had few problems with tubes.

The SP11 MK11 is an all assault design built in the heyday of vinyl by someone that knew a thing or two about how Music is engineered and delivered to us in digital and analog mode. It has on the fly GAIN for digital/analog and vinyl cartridge LOADING ! Sonically it is truer to neutral than the SP10 which i have also heard - same system.

On the fly gain allows for great adjustment of bad digital recordings. I have a friend that spent mucho dollars on a German preamp/phono stage and it takes him all afternoon to do one loading change. Sometimes he would throw out his back attempting it.

The biggest thing about the SP11MKII is its secret weapon that either few know about or its just not discussed. But I will let those here in on it that are not aware. You see the SP11MKII has a stealth mode that ARC calls the HOTROD mode. Its called the bypass switch which disables most of the circuitry. When run in full mode with all its features intact including (balance) it is a good preamp. In HOTROD mode it becomes a window to your equipment before and after it. The AI can't touch it in my room.

I have owned and/or demo'ed - CAT, SP8 and SP10, Newer ARC, Allnic, Pass, Krell, Bryson, Classe preamps. The Sp11mkII remains to this day and is used in HOTROD mode only.

also fwiw - I owned OTL's for a year. I asked the Maker of the amps if he would be interested in taking a shot at a new phono stage for me to trial - he told me "why bother". He thought the SP11MKII was that good in hotrod mode. Have had many offers on it including the tech that upgraded the power supply. He was really impressed with its construction.

Stefanovitch - Do you understand how the bypass and gain features work on the sp11 ? If you have not heard the SP11MKII with bypass engaged, and direct outputs - imo - you have not heard this preamp.

I would never buy a reference level preamp/phonostage that did not come with on the fly gain and cartridge loading because the music we listen to is not standardized. Some has been recorded at high gain levels others not so much. The gain control separate from volume control allows you to adjust for this. Anyway some direct impressions for you.

Happy listening.
CtO517, On the SP11 does the hotrod mode apply to all inputs or just the phono input. In my SP 10 it only worked with the phono section. And, wow, did it work!
@ Mofimadness I get confused with the numbers so easily. Yeah one is a Special Edition imported form Japan. I consider it to me as an MK3. Altough an MK3 never exists.

Yes, I own four of them and I have already heard them bypassed on an Inifnity IRS MK5 from my friend Serial: 059 and on an Infinity IRS Beta ........
It's all about system matching and synergy. You don't mention what amps you are using... I had an older AR (don't remember which one) which was way to muddy with my amps. That said I've been using the AI 3B since the upgrade came out and I love it. Can it be beat, sure but at what price.

The AI is very transparent, and doesn't add anything. And if one more person says its eats tubes my head is going to explode. That's just not true (anymore), if anything tubes last longer since they are constantly heated. (The JC gold phono board is a big plus for us vinyl lovers as well.) I can understand people bitching about the high output but that can be tamed. Some folks love to pick on the two volume controls or lack of remote, forgetting that it's a dual mono design...

Good luck
Oh well there are different setups more at my friends house, beocuse my place is small.

Infinity IRS MK5 with sevro, Audio Research Sp-11 Mk2, Vincent CD S-6 tube cd player, Audio Research M-300 at the mids and highs or VTL300's.

Infinity IRS Gamma, Audio Research Sp-11 Mk1, Lector CDP-7, Conrad Johnson premier 5 on top. Threshold SA10e on botom.

All cables are Monster M-1000 cables and M-1 for speakers.

I was looking for something affordable and I am no longer interessted in paying mega bills for AR.
... and I no longer can't.

I have a small system and was looking for an affordable piece close to the top of AR.
If you like sound of the CJ, I don't think you'll like the AI. I did direct comparisons with the CJ Premier 14 (and 17) which were both very dark in comparison to AI 3A. The AI doesn't have that classic tube preamp coloration. It's neutral to perhaps a bit bright in the upper spectrum. I don't know the rest of your gear sorry....

Georgelofi makes a passive called the Lightspeed that a lot of folks like so maybe he can help you out... It's very afordable as well.

Oppo, I didn't realize the CJ was an amp... Never-mind!
F-ing auto correct. That was "opps" not Oppo (which makes nice Bluray players...)
Great thread. Wondering if comparing the AIM3A with ARC SP-16 might be a better match price wise. I own both in different systems. Both very good for the money. Better certainly can be had but at a price. I've never heard an SP-11 but would love to. Got both of my preamps used so they were just barely affordable for me. I also have a Counterpoint SA-1000 that I think is really good for the money. The Counterpoint and ARC are much easier to tube roll with. Not so with AI. I use the EH 6922's and have not had any problems. I would not advise NOS. I stupidly burned through some NOS Telefunken 6922's in about a month!!!! I've had the AI for 15 years, Counterpoint for 17 years and the ARC about 5 years. No problems with either.
The AI 3A is a much better sounding unit than the earlier 3. The 3 was not much better than my 2D. The 3A has excellent clarity, is dynamic, punchy, clean bass that has texture and nuance, and sounds just plain beautiful in MY system. Here's another reason to go AI--I owned my first AI 2D for 20 years. I bought it while specifically shopping for my affordable under $1000 speakers 25 years ago. Idid not want to buy a new preamp, BUT...the audio store I went to often in the Chicago suburbs used the 2D to demo both speakers I was interested in. The sound was so good in that room compared to what I had experienced with either speaker. Ones I knew well with the same amp and tt/arm/cartridge I already owned. The ONLY difference in the store's system and my own at the time was that 2D preamp. I really could not believe it made the difference in the sound MUCH MORE than either speaker did vs. my own system minus the 2D. I NEVER thought of upgrading it until A'gon was discovered 5 years ago by me--I was pretty internet unsavvy at that time.
I started buying and selling stuff like an idiot at a slot machine. About half the purchases were to my liking in my system and half were not. The AI 2D always remained. The 3A is a very good leap in sound quality, with another decent increase if you buy AI's best matched output tube set ($225 for 4). Dead quiet at very high volume levels--not obscene however--I don't go there yet--will have tot try and see though). I now have a very good idea of what my idea of great sound is and have been lucky with the experimental buying trying and selling process to NOW have JUST what I was listening for. The only real drawback with the 3A is that it does not have a remote--you have to get up off your lard arse and walk to the preamp to mess with it. I now no longer have one--a lard arse, that is. Isn't that a blessing in this day of fast food, buffet restaurants, and minimal working out by the general population--can you tell I'm a PE teacher? Although my lust to improve got uncontrollable, I loved the sound of the AI and the 3A with the John Curl phono is fantastic. I DON'T FEEL THE NEED TO UPGRADE MY PREAMP EVEN THOUGH THE REST OF MY SYSTEM HAS HAD MULTIPLE UPGRADES. Spend more, do it again when the bug strikes--it IS A CERTAIN KIND OF SICKNESS. Personally, I want to enjoy the sound at a price I can live with and not be too embarrassed when someone comes to my house and has been out of work for awhile and sees my stereo, knowing it may have cost more than he made this year because of a layoff that cost him his job.

The sound of my system, in my opinion, and other's too is pretty ridiculously good and if I can't be satisfied for a very long time as long as nothing breaks, I really shoot be shot. The AI 3A, in my system is that good--if it sounds like crap to you or in other's systems, should that rather make any difference to me? However, if you don't think it is good sounding in your particular system, I would have to say it is a system mismatch. I didn't say there weren't somewhat better sounding preamps made if cost is NO OBJECT, but the term blows away the AI 3A (not the 3)I believe is total exaggeration.

As OF 2 weeks ago, I added 3 sets of RTS Couplers--one each to my Modwright 5400, my AI 3A, and my Edge M6 amp with Star Sound Audio Point mod to the trans(awesome)and stuff on Sistrum racks. The change the couplers did to the sound in all positive ways was at least the equal of good from a Nad 502 cd player to a super modded MW cd player--except times 3 as in it's clamping 3 separate components.

I KNOW most have never heard of these tuned clamping devices and to tell you the truth, I really don't care. BUT...after they have been install on your rack (Sistrum racks are designed like the couplers--to drain vibrations away QUICKLY from your vibrating equipment without deadening the sound) so the equipment's sound can be better heard rather than mechanical noise coming through. If you don't try these, not my loss. I have nothing to do with the company now manufacturing them, but just lucky to have scored 3 used pairs someone no longer needed--he still uses 3 pairs on his stuff.

Long post, I know. And somewhat off the mark for the topic at times. Jeez, it must be DORKWAD!! I need a life sometimes.

If you had nothing to do for the last 15-20 minutes other than reading this, I'm sorry. If you liked it completely, you're one sorry dude. KIDDING--don't take it personal.

Should have previewed that last batch of drivel--lots of language errors, typing errors--did I mention I'm a PE teacher? Got to laugh at my own self too. As I told my principal several times after yet another screw when he asked me, "What the f--k's wrong with you?" And I'd put in his place with a kind, but accurate assessment of his question and say, "What the f--k's wrong with you? You hired me!!!" That usually ended the yell fest with an embarrassed principal saying, "You got me on that one." I'm more mature now, and don't use that f word anymore. So-o-o-o, the moral of this little paragraph is, consider the source and remember my moniker--dorkwad, when reading these things.
Fun thread :^)

09-26-14: Newbee
CtO517, On the SP11 does the hotrod mode apply to all inputs or just the phono input. In my SP 10 it only worked with the phono section. And, wow, did it work!

Hi Newbee - its all inputs on the SP11 MKII.

Page 5 of my Audio Research SP11 MKII Preamp Manual (noted price in the upper right side corner of the first page) $5.00
lol - u gotta love it. This is for a hand bound typed out manual from the looks of it. I dug it out to look for you.

Bypass Switch - In "Bypass" position, directly connects the Gain (volume) control to the output of either the RIAA compensated phono amplification circuitry or a selected line-level source (such as CD). The Balance and Mode controls, as well as the "Monitor" Switch are removed from the active circuit path when this Switch is in operation. The Bypass switch is provided for use with audiophile-quality program material or whenever maximum fidelity to the input signal is desired.

I cannot confirm the above for the SP11 MKI so I fired off an email to Kalvin at ARC to let me know.

Note: I misspelled "Bryston" in my previous post. Inexcusable for a Canadian. :^(

Happy listening
To clear things up, the "Hotrod" mode uses the
bypass switch AND the DIRECT outputs to be fully hotrodded

The SP11 has four different RCA outputs: Main 1, Main 2,
Direct and Invert.

So to be fully hotrodded, the unit needs to have the bypass
switch engaged and use the Direct outputs. You can use the
bypass switch with any of the RCA outputs, but again to be
in full hotrod mode you need both.
yes I use direct output + bypass = stealth fully hot
rodded mode :^)

The one downside of the SP11 to me; is it all sounds
sterile and cold until at least one hour in; then it just
keeps getting better and better. So I do a minimum hour
warm up. For a serious evening session it gets turned on
early in the day. The warm up period is also clearly
spelled out in the manual. It does however make me wonder how many have heard only a cold SP11.
the AI on the other hand to me seems to sound good from
the get go with just a short warm up.