Audio Research LS17se vs LS27
I had the opportunity to buy an Ls27 a while ago but I settle for the LS17se due to price. I know that both of these preamps are now old hat nowadays, but people are still asking the question and no one is answering it. I was at my dealer a month ago looking for power cables and saw a black Audio Research LS27. I actually kept looking at it and thinking about my purpose for being at the shop and another customer was listening to the main, very expensive stereo system through an Aurender A10 and I walked over to listen. The whole time I'm there I kept thinking, you should take this home for a listen to see if it's better, you should trade in the Audio Research LS17se if it is, you might get a good trade in. So after I listened to the music that was playing, I left the store, but the LS27 never left my thoughts. The next day, I set up a home trial and negotiated a trade in.
I took the LS27 home and at first, I wasn't really that impressed, but I secretly had more reason for the trade in than just sound quality. I own an Audio Research PH8 and it is a great phono stage with one major problem and that is it is stuck at 58db of gain. The dealer told me when I bought it and I have also talked to Audio Research that it is best to be used with cartridges of .5mv and up. I used my Denon 301 mkII and it sounded good but obviously, the gain was too low. I used my Dynavector 10X5, which was great at 2.8 and I own a Denon DL-110. I bought a Hana EH, because my Dynavector needs to be re-tipped and I had heard great things about Hana.
What I found out is the gain can be a major problem with anything below 1.5 to 2.0 and you will be raising your volume knob, well over half and losing dynamics. The other reasons for the upgrade are, I now have a digital display that can easily be read from across the room and I have a tube reader so that I can tell how many hours are on my tubes, just like my PH8. I now have a low, med and high gain control that can be accessed by the remote and I now have an extra 5 DB of gain by using high gain. The gain option is gone from the LS28 and isn't in the Ref5, 5se or ref6. Each of my gain levels can be adjusted individually for each input and I have balanced inputs for every RCA input, which is something I wanted. I can adjust my balance left or right. I now have an Invert control and a Mono switch.
Now for the important stuff, how is the sound now that I have had this thing for a month. Quite frankly it is great, is it twice as good as the LS17se, no. The LS17se is great for what it is and it was truly a great starting point for any person considering Audio Research. What I noticed is on great recordings, the inner detail is better than the LS17se, the bass performance is about the same, but the midrange and treble extension is better. My reasons for this upgrade were mainly for the upgraded gain, the LCD display, and the balanced inputs because I have a mono switch on my PH8. The LS27 continues to sound better and better, but for those of you asking the question, should I upgrade from an LS17se to an LS27 or go straight to a Ref 5se or Ref6?
The answer is this I have heard the Ref 5se and Ref6 and I can tell you the upgrade from the Ls17se to Ref 5se is larger than going from the Ls17se to the Ls27. The Ref 5se and Ref 6 is truly magical and you hear things in the mix that you just don't hear with the Ls17se or the Ls27. If money is a concern do the Ls27, you won't be disappointed, but just don't expect the jump to be as large as jumping to the Ref series. I have heard the Ls28 is better but I haven't heard it yet and it's missing the gain control. The gain control saved me from thinking about buying either another phono preamp or a step up transformer and both would have cost more than the trade up cost easily for either a great phono preamp or a great step up transformer. The Ls27 is a baby Ref 5se and shares many of its features. Now to ponder my next upgrade, I will be trading in my Vandersteen 2ce Signature IIs and dual 2Wqs for a pair of Vandersteen Quatros. This is now getting pretty interesting indeed and my system is getting better and better. This is truly a great hobby for those who are interesting in doing their own research.