86 responses Add your response
Jonathan Valin recently reviewed the Ref Phono 2 SE in Playback magazine. Of course he found it much better than the base version. I'll never make my own comparison since that's way more money ($12,995) than I'll ever pay for a phono stage. I tried to post a link to the article but it was five lines long! Here's a link to the blog section: http://www.avguide.com/blog - The post is near the top of the list.
Jonathan Valin Reports Upgrades to Legacy Units Possble:
Yesterday, I asked:
I own an ARC Ref 5, which I enjoy quite a bit. I've heard some very positive buzz in my hi-end audio community that the SE version is a significant step up. Your blog implies that that the Ref PH 2 and Ref 5 can be upgraded to SE grade. Is that your inference or did the ARC folks affirmatively state that to be the case in fact?
He later answered:
Both the linestage and the phonostage can be updated to SE versions. This is not an inference; it is (or soon will be) a fact. ARC's Warren Gehl gave me the scoop. As I said below, ARC will announce the upgrade program sometime around the start of the year. You will have to make an "appointment" to have your unit(s) serviced. I do not know how much ARC will charge for these upgrades.
FYI -- Happy Holidays and New Year!!
I wonder how long it will take for the upgrade. Did you get a chance to A/B the Ref 5 against the SE version? I'm sure the improvements are palable, but would sure appreciate reactions from folks who actually did a shoot-out. As I mentioned, I used to own the Ref 3. Yes, the Ref 5 is better in several ways, particularly in bass detail and neutrality, I guess some might say "air-i-ness." But to be honest, with the 5, it's like drinking a fine dry wine. The 3 is richer, less defined but more full bodied. I hope the SE upgrade will bring a little more life to the 5. It's like being married to a Stepford wife.
Bifwynne - since the power supply and the gain section circuit of the Ref Phono 2 are shared with the Ref 5, and since the SE upgrade to each includes an upgrade to the power supply and addition of Teflon caps, you may get some idea of about the improved sonics of the Ref5SE by parsing through the Valin preview on the Ref Phono 2 SE. Since his comments indicate he had roughly 10 days with the RP2SE, further improvements will come across the several hundreds of hours of break-in needed by a new unit generally and the Teflon caps in particular. The power supply upgrade should yield better low frequency articulation and, typically, Teflon caps will offer more tonal depth. It's likely the Ref5SE (and RP2SE) will sound closer to the Ref40 Anniversary and deliver improved image focus and dimensionality. Just my thoughts as an exercise; I've not heard the SE units, but I'm looking forward to 'em.
I did a bit more comparison between the KXR and the REF 5SE yesterday before returning the KXR to my friend. I think both preamps are excellent but thre are some minor differences and which one is better is a personal preference.
The KXR has lower background noise and instruments are better separated and the high frequency is a bit more extended. The REF 5SE on the other hand, has vocal that is more emotionally involved. I guess that is what tubes are all about. But to my surprise, the highs and low ends are more like solid state than tubes. I was expecting soft bass and rolled off top end.
To my ears, the REF 5SE is the better preamp by a slim margin. I have always been a SS guy and this is my first tube equipment.
I look forward to Tylercoupe's comparison of these two great preamps.
FYI: called ARC and put my name on the list for the SE upgrade. Cal said ARC will start working the upgrade list in late January. Cost TBD, but not cheap. The only concern I have is how much I will benefit from the upgrade in light of my source gear and amp. Take a look at my system. I'd appreciate any advice offered.
I have the VS115 and love it. It was paired w/ Ref2 mk2 and Wilson Duettes..
Your system is resolving enough to benefit from SE upgrade.
I will say that upgrading to Ref150 amp would be bigger improvement but likely more $$$ even netting sale of 115. I am matching the Ref5SE with the 150 in my cabin...Here are some pics of the system wher I put the ref phono SE and ref 250s. Also compares my 2 TTs...go to my gallery and look at media room. Started with ref 150 in there but switched to 250s
Remember you do already have a great system...may make sense to take upgrade money and put into more vinyl. I am using 2012 to rebalance my software spend
>>The only concern I have is how much I will benefit from the upgrade in light of my source gear and amp. Take a look at my system. I'd appreciate any advice offered.<<
On the flip side of Tylercoupe's comment, imo, your system could benefit more with an upgrade from the PH7 to the Ref Phono 2 (SE or original) than from the REF5 to the REF5 SE. Among other things that allows running a fully balanced system and would be a decision independent of amp/speaker synergy. My rig went from the PH7 to the RP2 and I have not looked back. My preference is to evolve my system such that no one component steps well beyond others - but that's just me and not a criticism of the positive 5SE move. Again, different dollars of course.
Jtimothya, fair comment. I have a feeling that RP2 units will start to hit the market after the RP2 SE is released. Cal told me that the Ref 5 is being discontinued and being replaced by the SE. I surmise the same with the RP2. Right now, the delta between the PH7 and RP2 is still pretty wide. Hopefully, the gap will close a bit when the SE hits the market.
Doggiehowser, did you get the upgrade of the Ref 5 or is this a new "out of the box" unit? Did you have the chance to A/B the Ref 5 to the SE?
I am unsure about getting my Ref 5 upgraded. I'm concerned the SE may be way out of balance with the rest of my system. Alternatively, if I was to drop the bucks of an SE upgrdae (whatever it is) into my system, I might do better waiting to change out my PH-7.
Just not sure?? Also not sure how long ARC will do the SE upgrade. Maybe for the indefinte future???
I'm standing pat on my amp. It's too close to the Ref 110 to change it out. If I change out the amp, it only makes sense to wait for Ref 150s to hit the pre-owned market. At this point, IMO, digital "redbook" CD (actual discs) is generally just fair, so I'm not motivated to change out my CD-7 CDP. Think I'd rather get a DAC 8 instead.
BTW, my system description is listed on A'gon.
Let's keep the SE discussions in this thread.
I live in the Far East so it was more attractive to trade the Ref5 back to the local dealer to get the SE.
Since this is a new box, it's hard to do any real comparison. And also because it's now currently in my THIRD system ;)
I am currently using my Bel Canto DAC3.5/LNS which I had displaced from my main system recently with an EMM Labs XDS1 and partnered with, don't laugh, a Quad 12L Active studio monitors (internally bi-amped with Quad's Current Dump amps derived from the 909s ;P)
I had my Ref5 in this system just a few months ago but partnered with a W4S DAC2 as a source. And in the interim, I have used a Bladelius Embla on loan from a friend as a DAC/pre/CDP/media player.
One of things I liked about the Embla was how precise the imaging was vs the Ayon CD5S and the ARC before this. But it lacked the same kind of depth as with the tube designs.
With the REF5SE just out of the box, it appears as if that the imaging is more precise than the REF5. But while still maintaining the same 3Dimensionality.
If missioncoonery's mission statement is always to wait for the next best thing, he might never have to buy anything ever.
Everything gets replaced. :)
It's like guys always waiting for the next intel processor.
Just buy what you need and can afford.
To paraphrase something from another forum I read, be a "sharpener" when evaluating new gear for purchases. Then be a "leveller" and enjoy what you have.
"If missioncoonery's mission statement is always to wait for the next best thing, he might never have to buy anything ever."
Doggiehowser..You missed my point.AR changes its line so often it doesnt make sense to buy anything from them new as its replaced quicky.Quicker than any other manufacture IMO,which sucks if you buy new..Whats great today,tomorrow is now under performing and on the cheap...get it?
Missioncoonery - Not sure I agree with your statement about ARC changes lines so often. After all, the REF40 was issued as a limited production model, and a game changer at that.
If ARC wanted to be consumer unfriendly,they could have forgone the upgrade route with the REF 5 and come out with a REF 6. But they didn't and IMO did the right thing by offering the upgrade. Heck, if you don't want it then you don't need to buy it and if you do, your not spending 13k on a new pre-amp.
If you want to pick a company who revamps there line-up frequently, look no further than Magico.
Anyhow, back to the REF 5, does anyone know if the upgrade includes the new faceplate and buttons?
Darkstar, I spoke with Calvin today about the Ref 5 SE and he confirmed what Doggiehowser said. Yup - new face plate. I even asked Calvin if I could keep the old face-plate so my wife wouldn't catch the change. He said nothin' doin'. I guess I'll take my luck -- I've signed up. Should hear back from ARC by end of January/early February for the my upgrade. Calvin also mentioned that ARC will do the upgrade for an indefinite period of time. Point being that folks on the sideline don't have to rush to a decision -- at least that's what Calvin said.
It is important to note that ARC stresses that the updated Ref 5/5se's will be identical to a newly manufactured 5se in every way, zero difference. As a current Ref 5 owner, I am happy with this.
Also, regarding the usual silly comments that ARC is always updating products, the facts are that they generally go five years between new models. The ref 5 is less because the unit was already a very fine piece that benefits greatly from an even stiffer power supply and new capacitor materials, and is a fairly simple update. I applaud them for making the update available.
Less than a week and 55 hours later, it's already obvious they've done something special with the SE.
The noise floor seems lowered a fair bit. Where it took me to 50-55 on my old 5 to get some semblance of dynamics, I can now tap happily to the beat and dynamics at 18-20 when I listen late at night. I still listen at 55 during the day so the relative levels appear unchanged.