Audio Research LS26 vrs REF 3

I am considering my next upgrade, have an ARC LS26 now and would really like to move to a REF. Can anyone compare a REF 3 to the 26 and or is the 5 that much better than the 3 ?
Thank you
I haven't heard the LS26, but have a REF3 and have directly compared the REF 3 with a REF 5 and I can tell you they are very close. So close it wasn't worth it to purchase a REF 5. Even my dealer said the same to me. The REF 5SE on the other hand is an entirely different story. That is definitely better than the REF 3. But, I can tell you that the REF 3 is an excellent pre-amp still. if you are thinking about an LS26 or a REF 3, take them both home and demo them in your system. Don't change anything else, just the pre-amp and play it with your favorite music. Make sure the tubes still have appreciable life in them and are not on the ragged edge of failing before the demonstration.

If you can afford the REF 3, do it.
About 2 yrs. ago my LS26 needed a relay replaced and the dealer goofed up and long story short, sent me home with his demo REF3 till the parts came. About 4 days, and I kept wishing that the plane carrying the parts would crash or get hi-jacked. I really grew attached to the REF3 after having my LS26 for about a yr. at the time. The REF3 out performed the LS26 in every measure. My room issues were minimalized, the music was just so much more natural in sound. I could go on but the jest is, YES, the extra 4000 at new was worth every penny. I still have my LS26 and when
budget permits I will sell it and buy an LS27 or possibly the SP20. My understanding is the LS27 out performs the REF3. So much so, that I was told the REF5 SE was prompted as the LS27 was too close for comfort and ARC decided to implement improvements in the REF5 to justify the extra cost. Either way I will continue to buy the ARC pre-amps as I feel they are the right combination for my system and tastes.
Hope that helps.
I originally purchased the LS-26 mated to a Ref 110 some 7 years ago. After about a year, I decided to demo the Ref 3 and after trying out for a few days in my system, I traded in my LS-26 towards a new Ref 3, which I still own today. What's the difference? The Ref 3 has more accurate/natural timbre. It's more dynamic and has better extension at either end of the frequency spectrum. It's more spatially holographic. It just did all the things that ARC is known for (midrange see-through resolution, tonal neutrality, 3d staging/imaging, etc...) and boosted those qualities. So the LS-26 has all these traits. The Ref 3 just delivers more of them and when you add it all up, it delivers a more natural and believable sound. Clearly the Ref 5SE has taken it to the next level, and, of course the Ref 40th Anniv and Ref 10 are at a different level altogether.

I find with ARC you get more of the same traits as you move up the line consistent (generally speaking) with the price differential.
The Ref3 is one serious preamp. Used prices make it a serious bargain.
Cool! Thank you guys thats just the kind of information I was looking for!

I have spent some time w/ both the ARC REF3 & REF5 SE.
If you can afford either of these pre-amps, go for it.
If you can afford the REF5 SE, this is the better of the two. Happy Listening.
I've owned both with the LS-26 being the first ARC preamp I ever purchased. The Ref 3 is a worthy upgrade, especially at the cost differential if buying used. It dug out details the 26 couldn't reproduce. I did email a reviewer a few years back who reviewed the LS-27 and thought it, in his opinion, was better than the Ref 3 but not by a whole lot.

I will say I didn't own the Ref 3 long enough to acquire a Tung Sol 6550 from the 50's that is reported to be the "must have" tube in the Ref 3.