I had an Audio Research VT100 matched with an Audio Research LS 25 preamp in a previous system and it was an excellent match.
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Go with a REF3 or and LS26, I have the LS26 and would like to upgrade to the REF3 when the $$$ matches the dream. Also
ARC is doing some upgrades to the REF3 , I assume the knowledge they gained in producing the REF5 has revealed some circuitry/components that they can retrofit. A very nice gesture that ALL manufactures should offer.
I use a solid state ARC LS3 played through the "direct" inputs which, I believe, bypasses everyting except the volumn control. This gives a fairly grain and haze free sound with good dynamics and minimal color. Maybe you could find a LS3B, which added XLR outputs or a LS2, which is similar, but adds one whole vaccume tube. The LS3 was a Stereophyle Class A component and went toe to toe with pres costing 3 or 4x more. imo, the REF series would probably be a waste of money for that amp. The amp is great, but not in the same $$$ range as the REF products, again, jmo. Any ARC preamp will be a big step up from most other brands.
Until very recently I used a VT100 MK3 with my LS25 mk2. This is a very nice combination, the LS25 is an excellent preamp. I have owned an LS2 and my LS25 is in another league it is so much better. When I do upgrade it will be to either a Ref 3 or possibly Ref 5.
BTW the upgrade for the CD7/PH7 power supplies has to do with possible problems from the two 6H30 tubes not aging at the same rate and becoming unmatched. Audio Research did not charge anything for the power supply upgrade for my CD7.