I have an Audio Research LS-3 pre-amp paired with McIntosh MC60 mono-blocks. I use an NAD 546BEE CD player and have Nola Boxer speakers on Skylan stands filled with floor dry. The cables are Kimber Heros and 4PRs...and I just added a REL T7 subwoofer.
Anyhoo...my latest thinking is that the system is a just a touch too bright...not much-just a little.
So my question is: I'd like to stick with an ARC pre-amp. Is there a model I should look for that might be a touch warmer? Maybe a tube version? Nothing too new and under $2000..$2500?
Can you adjust the position or orientation of the speakers so tweeters do not fire as directly at listening position? That would be an easy tweak to reduce brightness.
Or if tweeters are at ear level currently, try lowering the speakers, and use shorter stands if that helps. Try them on just a few inches above teh floor even with anything underneath them to make that happen just as an easy test.
I had similar brightness issues with my Triangle Titus speakers in my wifes sunroom at ear level. I moved them to low stands just a foot or so above floor and that fixed that.
I run other speakers in other rooms off the same source system, and no brightness issues there, so my input is that room acoustics, speaker location/orientation relative to listening position is always the first and often easiest thing to address before changing anything.
Its true a good tube pre-amp should be a step in the direction of more warmth and perhaps less brightness, but that alone is not a guarantee.
I use an ARC sp16 in front of the Triangle Titus speakers that I have had brightness issues with those speakers (not others off same rig) in some rooms/cases even with the tube pre-amp.
The sp16 is quite detailed and only the slightest bit warm to the point of making it hard to distinguish as a tube device compared to other good SS gear.
Other tube pre-amps likely tend towards a warmer tube like sound, but not the ARC sp16. ARC in general is known more for factors other than "warmth" I would say.
I am not a fan of the unnatural coloration too much warmth adds to certain recordings in certain genres in particular.
The best SS and tube gear tend to sound similar IMHO and not overtly warm, nor bright either, with the right setup to go along with it. ARC gear in general (VAC also) seems to reside firmly in that camp, especially in comparison to some other tube gear I have heard.
I've owned several ARC preamps, tube and hybrid designs, though I've never owned a SS ARC. I found all of them a touch too bright for my tastes. I would recommend looking for a VAC preamp in your price range. I found VAC to be almost as revealing as ARC preamps, but with just a hint of sweetness. As always, YMMV.
I use my sp16 mainly with Bel Canto ref1000 monoblock amps and my larger OHM Walsh speakers.
I would say the bass with combo is lean, but mean as well. :-)
Everything seems there and controlled and articulate and detailed. The absolute lowest octave might have a slight rolloff, but nothing of real consequence I would say.
Overall, by far, it is the best combo of quality and quantity of bass I have ever had, and no other reference systems I have heard in recent years make me feel lacking at all in regards to bass.
I have had some other amp/pre-amp combos in there that shook the rafters more easily, but that was mostly a quantity versus quality thing.
I'm sure there are other better pre-amps than the sp16 specifically, but it is hard to fault on its own terms I would say and at its price point.
I noticed a huge total change in the bass towards what I have today when the Class D amps came in. Much more open, dimensional, articulate yet powerful than anything I used prior.
The ARC/CLass D combo is most likely to come off as "bright" with some speakers that might come off that way overall normally, like the small Triangle Titus speakers I mentioned above. These are by far the most limited speakers I use with teh combo in terms of flat bass extension. Not much below 50 hz there. So things tend to come off as brighter in their case in egenral I would say compared to my larger and more extended OHMs or even my only slightly larger Dynaudio COntour 1.3mkII monitors, which do a good job down to 40 hz or so.
My experience in regards to bass extension with the ARC SP-16 is on point with Mapman's. It may well be possible to get more bass out of my system, but I am not missing it. The bass that is there is tight and under control, more so than with other amp/pre combos I have tried. For the record, I have not tried much and those that have been tried were lower grade than the ARC for sure.
However, I believe that my system's bass performance has more to do with the room gear interaction than the specific gear. I have a small space, to much bass would overwhelm the room. Another way to phrase it is I maybe satisfied now, but if I moved to a larger room I might not be.
Well if you are sticking with ARC, then maybe some warmer cables could help. Try some Cardas, Acoustic Zen, or Purist Audio in place of the Kimber. Or maybe a tube buffer stage between the NAD CDP and the ARC preamp. Just a thought.
I have the SP-16 with Red Dragon M-500 Class D amps and I find the sound to be quite neutral. Certainly not bright. The speakers are Vandersteen 3A Sigs. Certain tubes (12AX7) in that preamp can really change it's presentation. The Gold Pin JJ's are my favorite because they tend to be more open. The Genelex are very big with IMHO, too much bass for me.EH, Sovtek are sort of bland. I've not installed the Tung Sol or Svetlana's yet because I'm very happy with the JJ's. Try some tube rolling and see if that helps?
If you haven't already done so, my suggestion is that before replacing anything you try the 4 ohm taps on the amplifiers, even though the speakers are nominally rated at 8 ohms.
I couldn't find an impedance vs. frequency curve for the Boxer, but small two-ways often have a significantly lower impedance at low frequencies than at high frequencies. If that is the case with the Boxer, using the 4 ohm taps of your MC60's will result in a less bright sound than using the 8 ohm taps.
I gotta second the love for the sp16, its a very focused preamp. The preamp is not bright at all, the bass isnt super deep but tight, punchy and fast. That preamp and a decent turntable is a good combo. If your looking for a more tuby sounding preamp, then go vintage an sp8mki is the most tuby pre ive owned. You can turn that up and never get bright, very involving pre with deeper bass. The mids are not as focused and its slower, but is more fluffy. def a better pre for cds. I also just got an sp8mkii and thats just the best of both worlds and more detailed than both. I dont know anything about the ls3 but maby check out the ls5 if you dont want a phono stage.