"the addition of Herbies tube dampers really cleans things up."
Really, you cleaned up the sound of your Ref 3.
Well to be specific, although the bass on the REF 3 is very good, my listening panel and I found that the additon of the tube dampers on the 6550 and 6h30 that control the power supply, made the bass tighter, more refined, and with more resolution. We also found that the placement of the tube damper from top to bottom on the 6550 could also influence the sound. In my system we liked the tube damper placed about 1/3 down from the top. So far this is the only tweak I've found that after the initial placement and careful listening was taken off, listened to and replaced again. All the other tweaks I've tried have not withstood these tests. I've always gone back to stock. I believe if you read some of the posts about Herbie's products on his website, you'll find ohters have heard similar results.
I also removed the ARC tube dampers from the 4 6H30s in the rear of the preamp and substituted Herbie's Ultrasonic Tube Dampers. This was definitely not a good idea, as the soundstage and dynamics collapsed no matter where I place the new dampers. As soon as the ARC dampers were replaced, the normal sound of the REF 3 came back, which of course is quite good.
Yes, I should have been more specific than "cleans things up" but the phrase does overall convey what happened and I've tried to descibe the changes in this new post.
I recently re-tubed my ARC monoblocks, the supplier had Svetlana "Winged C" 6550`s which were also "Cryo-ed" 100 hr treatment by Pearl. These tube`s made a great difference in resolution and detail.
Wondering if replacing the single 6550 in the Ref 3 with the "C" cryo-ed version would or would not be a good idea.
I've tried various tweeks with my Ref-3 that normally work on other equipment, but not on ARC stuff. All of my ARC equipment )REF-3, CD-7, and PH-7 sound best by using nothing except the stock feet. The high end fuses improve the sound and using Pro Gold on all interconnects AND the tube pins make a definite improvement. I even Pro Gold the fuses. I tried various tubes, like classic Mullards in the PH-7 and found the stock tubes sound best.
- Run them without the top cover. 2nd choice - use the optional new plastic cover (for the Ref 3 - the Ref 5 already ships with the plastic cover).
- Upgrade the power cord; I use Nordost Valhalla.
- I agree that the feet it comes with are best - but every ARC piece seems to benefit from a top notch shelf and/or rack under it. I use Black Diamond Shelves for the Source with their cones supporting the shelf.
- My Ref 3 did benefit from tube rolling; haven't tried that with the Ref 5 yet.
- Finally, when they say it needs 500 hours of break-in time, they are not kidding.
Thanks for all the input so far. I concur on the feet. The REF 3 feet seem to be the best. I did put a VPI Brick over the transformer in the right front corner, that was a benefit. I've also used Mpingo discs successfully on the top. Purchasing a tube damper for the 6550 from Herbies Audio Lab paid off too. With the help of RTN1, I replaced the 6h30 tubes with some NOS, I forget which ones, they did make the preamp sound different, but I'm not sure better though I didn't spend hours listening to the change, I just knew I was not going to pay $250.00 per tube no matter what.
I've been told by a trusted friend that removing the covers from the ARC preamp and the phono stage is a significant improvement. I'll try it tomorrow and report back. I have a couple of audio enthusiasts coming over for a listening session so we can compare notes. By the way, placing a VPI brick on top of the phono stage helped a little too. With the cover removed, that eliminates that option. We'll see.
So what did you think when you removed the covers?
What did GNS do to your preamp and what did it cost?
One thing I've noticed about my REF3s is that the sound which is usually open, dynmamic and has great bass, tends to fade away, I at firts thought this was worn out tubes, but I've found a good cleaning of the tube pins with Caig DeOxit and the magic comes back. I've also found that anytime you move or reposition the preamp, the 4 6H30 tubes toward the back of the preamp tend to loosen and hang down just a little bit overtime. The cleaning process and restoring them to their 90 degree horizontal position brings the sound right back without having to retube. I'd not be surprised if this is where the discrepancy between ARC's claim for tube life and other audiophile's findings comes to life. Because of course a person putting in new tubes would probably clean them before inserting and they would be inserted correctly into the tube sockets. And viola, the the spectacular, natural sound is back.
I tried various tubes, like classic Mullards in the PH-7 and found the stock tubes sound best.
Never tried Mullards, but 6DJ8 Orange Globes or USN white label 7308 Amperex were a substantive enhancement over the stock Sovtek 6922 in my PH7. Nicely extended top end, considerably more detail and improved tonal depth across the frequencies.
Be that as it may, I agree that ARC optimally outfits their Reference components with tubes. The NOS 6H30-DR do offer improvement, but since that tube has really shot up in price the relative value equation may not be their favor. Never tried the NOS Tung Sol 6550 but the GE6550A is not a good choice in the power supply.
Upper echelon Shunyata power cords work very well with ARC Ref - try the Anaconda, Python or King Cobra.
Oreganpapa; The plexiglass top covers can be ordered as an alternative to the 'tin plate' originals. They [plexi]don't ring or rattle, as I've experienced with the earlier material.
Cost for GNS Statement upgrade was $3000+ plus return shipping from UK. New high grade components & piggy backed extras added, wiring shielded and lots of anti-vibration padding can be seen.
Sound is superb and has improved steadily over about 500 hours break-in.
Soon to be replaced by a 40th Anniversary, so we'll see what that brings to the party!
I've always checked tubes if I move any equipment and have often found some do loosen-up during moving.
I heard an improvement in overall air with no degradation in the bass at all. I removed the top covers in both my Ref 3 and the new PH-8. By the way ... the PH-8 now has 220 hours and is killer! According to my trusted source, the PH-8 will continue breaking in for 600-1000 hours. Zowie!
Thanks, I'm going to call ARC to ask about the cost of the clear covers.