Audio Research Cheap as Dirt?

As my beloved ARC SP-11 MK II continues to fetch big bucks on the used market, I was a bit surprised to see the low prices for later model line stage preamps.

It never occured to me to buy a solid state ARC product, but perhaps the LS3 is worth a listen for a spare preamp? Or video or desktop system?

If nothing else, it would be nice to have the same ergonomics and build quality as I have in my main system.

In the < $1000 range for systems where I will not need a phono stage, what is the hierarchy of bargains in ARC preamps?
The LS3 is inexpensive but I owned one and wouldn't recommend it at all. Its sound is flat, timbre is monochromatic, dynamics are compressed, bass is weak and highs are grainy. It ranks as the worst preamp I have ever tried (and I've had a dozen). For barely more money, the Classe CP50 was far and away more sophisticated and accomplished. Such was my experience.


Thank you. I just got off the phone with Leonard at ARC.

In my experience over the years, he has always been a pretty straight shooter, but he described the LS3 as "a nice preamp". Then again, I suppose ARC pays his bills.

He did, however, detect that I like tubes, and for "tubeiness" pointed out that the LS7, 8, 5, 15, and in particular LS 22 would be "tubeier."

Also, that the LS1 is basically an SP-9 without the phono stage?

Dont know if any of these approach the bargain prices of the LS3?
Had an LS-9 & it was a good sounding unit-it would be my pick.

If I were looking for an "inexpensive" preamp, I would get an Acurus LS or RS-11.
The LS-1 is the line stage of the SP9 MK ll, they typically sell for under $500.00 and have a 6DJ8/6922 tube. The LS3 is completely solid state and sells for a bit more, around $500.00 to $550.00 in single ended and $650.00 or so in the optional balanced configuration depending on age and color of faceplate. There were a small number made with remote controlled volume/mute and these will bring at least $100.00 more. The LS2 is an excellent hybrid preamp that listed for around $2500.00 and seems to have fallen to around $650.00 to $700.00 a good choice if you need balanced outs. The LS-7 is an all tube unit that typically sells for $650.00. Many are really partial to this preamp and it is only a smidge more expensive than the LS1/LS3 series, and it is newer as well. I hope that this helps. The LS22 is much more expensive and does not seem to find favor with ARC enthusiasts. The LS5MKll is fabulous, but over double the cost of the other preamps mentioned. If you have the scratch after today's stock market action, the LS5mkll would be nirvana.
LS-1 sounds very good but kind of in your face. Had to knock its gain down by melting a PC board solder trace (Leonard can tell you how).
Also, needs a good quiet tube (had some that actually whistled -bummer!).

LS-9 was an excellent pre-amp. I'd say top of its solid-state price-class. Lots of features and remote.

LS-2B is in another league, however, soundwise.
Some were made with remote.
Only the "B" models are balanced.

Never heard the LS-5 but know it has a very good rep.
I had exactly the opposite experience as Arthur & wrote a detailed description about how badly the Classe preamp performed compared to the LS3 over at Audio Asylum a few years back. Guess it all comes down to system synergy.

My vote - in the right system, the LS3 is one of the best solid state line stages under $2k.

Re another league for the LS-2B - better or worse?

Nice thread - more ideas please.
Cwlondon: It's in the league of extraordinary preamps!
All LS2 preamps have balanced outputs, only the B has balanced inputs as well. Please refer to the back panel photos in the excellent Audio Research Data Base.