Audio Research Ref 3 Opinions

Anybody heard the new ARC Ref 3? Comments please !! in comparison to the ARC Ref 2 Mk2
Has it already been relased ?
I didn't think it was officially announced or available? The pictures and the description are really impressive!
FWIW, here is some info on the Reference Three. Makes my socks roll up and down.
Where did you find info about Ref 3? the Audio Research site does not have any mention of it yet.
Well that must explain why there has been a whole lotta Ref 2's for sale lately! I was wondering it was due to the latest Bose Wave radio that now extends down another half octave!
Here is the link to the ARC Data Base. I don't know who runs this site but it sure is comprehensive. Whoever is responsible - THANKS!
OK, I want it! I want it! I want it!
It's time to start throwing those hissy fit tantrums with my wife--who by the way could not care less about my righteous audio yearnings!
Jokes asides, the specs sound very impressive. At least on the page referred, the price seems the same 10K as Ref 2 Mk.2: I hope this is real and not an oversight from the site's owner.
When will the REF3/mk2 be released :-)
Still uses a digital volume control................>>red flag.
Downunder, the Ref 3 hasn't made it even to the ARC site yet. We will likely see it at CES this week for the very first time. You can expect a Mk.2 version of it in anywhere from 2 to 4 years if at all.
If Audio Research holds true to form, a Ref 3 Mk. 2 version should be out in less than a year.
MCHD1, I know AR introduced a REF2 Mk2 within 1 year from the Ref 2, but was the event typical and part of a past pattern, or rather unique instead? On the other hand ARC has consistently offered upgrade paths to move users of its devices up the revision ladder.
Let the ARC-bashing commence! :-)
Guidocorona: The Ref 2 was not unique. If you look at the release dates of Audio Research products in the Audiogon BlueBook section you will see that this practice has involved many of their products in the past, and many times the new version appeared within a year or two of the previous model.
Oh well, companies that have strong market presence with products with unique personalities will always be a little controversial and become the favorite topic of animated discussions. On the other hand, I hope we will be able to keep the bulk of the postings on this thread roughly on topic. I'd like to invite anyone who is visiting CES to comment on the Ref 3, if they have already seen it.
reb1208 could you elaborate on your statement above ?
"Still uses a digital volume control.........>>red flag."
I have just called Audio Research. I have confirmation that Ref 3's price is the same as the older Ref 2 Mk.2. This is welcome news inddeed, as I was fearing/expecting/dreading a higher price. The product is being shown in Vegas at CES as I write. I will receive a blurb in the mail during the next couple of days about it. I will OCR it and post salient passages to the thread as soon as I receive it.
I ordered a new REF 2 just before the new year, matter of fact, I didn´t know (neither my local shop) that the REF 3 was available, so originally I ordered a REF 2 and only early this week, when the shipment was suppoused to leave the States, we found out of the new REF 3. It´s on its way now, expected arrival by saturday next week toghether with a Krell 700 cx...I cannot wait!
Now, I have a question: I received the specs by fax yesterday from AR (incredible service, one call and 2 minutes later, 3 pages on my machine) and can see that there are several differences on the specs when compared to the REF 2. Specifically, the ones that rings me a bell are gain (lower than ref 2), higher impedance output than the ref 2. Can anyone enlighten me with what does these differences mean? I can post the specs here if needed, yesterday were not listed on the ARC Data Base.
Brgds, Marcelo
The lower gain is probably no big deal, but the higher output impedance might make a difference if you decided to pair the preamp with a solid state power amp. The Ref 2 has an output impedance of 400 ohms and ARC suggests a minimum of 20k ohms input impedance for a power amp. ( 50/1 ratio) In balanced mode Pass Labs amps are 22k and some manufacturers offer amps below this figure. Most tube amps , including ARC come in at about 100k . In any event enjoy your new treasure.
Hi Jeff, thanks for the clarification. Currently, I have my LS25MK2 mated to a Krell FPB300c. The new Ref 3 will be mated with the 700cx, so I guess it will be no trouble matching those 2? The specs for the REF3 are:

freq. response: 0.2 Hz to 200 Khz
Gain: 11.6 balanced (18db on ref2), 5.6 db SE (12bd on ref2)
impedance: 600 ohm balanced (400 ohm on ref 2)
max input: 20 v rms max (balanced) (14v on ref 2)
output: 2v rms into 200k ohm (2 v into 100k ohm on ref2)
noise: 2.7 uV (20 uV on ref 2)
tubes: 4x 6H30P (plus -1 each- 6L6GC and 6H30P in power supply)

Does anybody sees what these changes suggests?

Thanks, brgds, Marcelo
Marcello, if I understand things correctly, and the Ref 3 has an output impedance of 600 Ohms on the balanced outputs, this change makes the device meet the standard for balanced output impedance. I spoke to a friend of mine who is a pass lab dealer. He told me that the ratio between pre output impedance and amp input impedance need be only 1 to 10 for good results. So for example, as the Ref 3 has 600 Ohm output impedance, and the new Pass Labs X600.5 amps I am interested in have an input impedance of 22K Ohms, the two should, at least in theory, work well together, as the ratio is 1/30. Needless to say, my knowledge of the subject is rudimentary at best.
Hi Guido, mi knowledge is also very very limited, here I am, talking about impedances and gains while I have not really a clue how this 2 work toghether...

Anyway, I will be using the REF3 with a FPB700cx that I ordered to arrive toghether, and I can tell you that the Krell has an impedance input of 100 Kohms and the input sensitivity is almost 4v. If we consider that the AR pulls out 4v when having a 2 v input (this considering the 6 db gain on SE of the REF3 and considering, IF I´M NOT MISTAKEN that the 6 db gain means doubling the voltage), there should not be any problems...I guess...what a mess...

Using your formula of minimum 1:10 ratio, do I understand correctly that with a 600ohm output (REF3) and a 100kohm input (Krell) we have something like 1/160?
Marcelo, you are likely correct, but our hypothesis need be verified by someone more knowledgeable than us. When do you expect to receive the two units?
Expected delivery at my place is late this week (maybe as late as friday or even saturday) but this will be confirmed to me tomorrow or tuesday.
Word is that both units should be in Spain by now....

I can't wait, I´ve been going around in circles thinking of the Ref 2 for a long time (well, not that long, I´ve only had the LS25MK2 for 1 year...), as well as upgrading the Krell 300c.
brgd, marcelo
Is it better than the $35,000 (!) Krell Evolution 2, four chassis preamp?
Hard to know at this stage, I doubt many (if any) have had the chance to listen to either one.
However, I´ve had the KCT at home and was sent back, in my system, I liked a lot better the AR.
Anyhow, 35k$ would probably result in 50k$ in Europe...out of my league. I´d rather spend the 50k in a pair of Statements...
brgds, marcelo
I'm sure ARC is excellent. Also wonder about new CAT Legend and C-J ACT 2.
arrghhhh....just learned today that the Ref3 AND the Krell were not shipped yet from the factory...this means minimum another week or so. I have not the details as for why the delay, but could imagine neither ARC nor Krell had a 240v unit ready to go...
Oh well, I´ll concentrate finding a new cart to upgrade my Frog Gold MKII...any ideas?
brgds, marcelo
Stereotimes, Or has a short report on the ref 3 just for your info. Can't remember which site I was at so try both to find the right report. Brian
Hey, thanks Brian! That was nice! will look around. brgs, marcelo
As the Audio Research web site has not been updated with information on the new Ref 3 linestage, I thought of pasting here the OCRed content of the entire blurb on the device that I have recently received from Audio Research. So, here it goes. . .
If you were interested, the text was generated using the ABBYY Fine Reader V7.0 recognition engine at 400DPI in grayscale. No manual error correction has been applied.

audio research


3900 ANNAPOLIS LANE NORTH / PLYMOUTH, MINNESOTA 55447-5447 / PHONE: 763-577-9700 FAX 763-577-0323

Introducing the REFERENCE 3

Introduced more than five and a half years ago, the REF2 has received a continuous stream of accolades from around the world. True to its name, it has become the reference line-stage preamplifier, purchased new by a thousand music lovers and coveted by thousands more. With the MKII version four years old, it is time to push the performance envelope once again. We are proud to introduce the new REFERENCE 3, with a retail price of US$9,995.00.

"Breakthrough" is an overused term, but it is the most fitting word to describe the REF3. As you can probably imagine, it is difficult to write about a new product like this without sounding cliched, but the REF3 is so good that it is startling when you hear it in your system. How is its presentation superior to the great products that have preceded it? Simply, in every way. The REF3 is more musically transparent. It presents a soundstage that makes everything else sound one-dimensional. There is pinpoint focus of voices and instruments. The deep, powerful bass is fast, articulate, and controlled. It posesses a dynamic swing that is breathtaking. And, most importantly, there is a directness and immediacy that connects the listener with the performance. The results are simply thrilling.

Externally the same dimensions as its predecessors, the REF3 is new inside and out. The front panel marries the classic Audio Research look with a modern display and intuitive controls that will be appreciated. In the middle of the panel is a large display which can show the volume level (numerically and via line graph), input, and operating status (including BAL/SE, Mute, Mono, and Phase). Flanking the display are two knobs which control volume and input. Under the display, in place of the toggles, are four soft touch switches controlling Power, Processor input, BAL/SE, and Mute. The new remote controls all front panel functions plus the balance control, and also a display readout of the number of operating hours the vacuum tubes have been in service! It will be easy to integrate the REF3 with system controllers from companies like Crestron or AMX. Inputs are direct access, and there are discreet codes for power on/off, processor on/off, etc.

The rear panel is the same as the REF2 except for the deletion of the tape monitor input. The REF3 does not have the ability to listen to one source while taping another. Also, the IEC connector for the removable power cord has changed from 15A to 20A.

The remarkable level of performance has been achieved with all new audio and power supply circuits. There are four new circuit boards and two new transformers. The new audio circuit is pure tube, Class-A, with zero feedback, utilizing a total of four long-life 6H30 twin triodes. FETs are


P.2 REFERENCE 3 introduction

used for constant-current sources, and the analog circutry uses a long-tailed pair input stage to provide the same performance in either single-ended or balanced operation. Total gain is 12dB balanced, 6dB single-ended. The hybrid power supply has over 50% greater energy storage than its predecessors, greatly contributing to its tremendous dynamic capability. There are other improvements which can be seen on the bench. Bandwidth has increased from 60kHz to 200kHz; noise has been reduced by 12dB; headroom is much higher, with the maximum input increased to 20 V balanced, and distortion has been lowered by 40%. The advancements of the REF 3 are both audible and measurable. As you would expect, older REF preamps cannot be updated to the REF3.

It will be easy to hear and see how the REF3 extends the boundaries of preamplifier design. With its great build quality, versatility and the ability to musically transform every system, the REF3 also represents great value. Building upon the foundation of its famed predecessors, the REF3 will be a resounding success. Call your Audio Research dealer to schedule a personal audition.

Model Reference 3

Limited Warranty
Audio Research Corporation products are covered by a 3-Year Limited Warranty, or a 90-Day Limited Warranty (vacuum tubes). This Limited Warranty initiates from the date of purchase, and is limited to the original purchaser, or in the case of demonstration equipment, limited to the balance of warranty remaining after original shipment to the retailer or importer.

In the United States, the specific terms, conditions and remedies for fulfillment of this Limited Warranty are listed on the warranty card accompanying the product in its shipping carton, or may be obtained from the authorized retailer or from the Audio Research Customer Service Department. Outside the United States, the authorized importing retailer or distributor has accepted the responsibility for warranty of Audio Research products sold by them. The specific terms and remedies for fulfillment of the Limited Warranty may vary from country to country. Warranty service should normally be obtained from the importing retailer or distributor from whom the product was purchased.

In the unlikely event that technical service beyond the ability of the importer is required, Audio Research will fulfill the terms and conditions of the Limited Warranty. Such product must be returned at the purchaser's expense to the Audio Research factory, along with a photocopy of the dated purchase receipt for the product, a written description of the problem(s) encountered, and any information necessary for return shipment. The cost of return shipment is the responsibility of the purchaser.


FREQUENCY RESPONSE: +0 -3dB 0.2Hz to 200kHz at rated output. (BALANCED, 200k ohms load.)

DISTORTION: Less than .01 % at 2V RMS Balanced output.

GAIN: Main output (SE or BAL input): 11.6dB Balanced output, 5.6dB Single Ended output. Tape output: OdB. (Processor input: OdB Balanced)

INPUT IMPEDANCE: 120K ohms Balanced, 60K ohms SE, Inputs (7): CD, TUNER, VIDEO, PHONO, AUX 1, AUX 2, PROCESSOR. (XLR and RCA connectors).

OUTPUT IMPEDANCE: 600 ohms Balanced, 300 ohms SE main (2), 20K ohms minimum load and 2000pF maximum capacitance. Outputs (3): 2 main, 1 tape (XLR and RCA connectors).

OUTPUT POLARITY: Non inverting

MAXIMUM INPUT: 20V RMS maximum Balanced, (10V RMS SE).

RATED OUTPUTS: 2V RMS (1V RMS SE) into 200K ohm balanced load (maximum balanced output capability is 30V RMS at less than 0.5% THE at 1 kHz).

CONTROLS: Volume (104 steps), Select Input. Push Buttons: Power, Proc, BAL/SE, Mute.

POWER SUPPLIES: Electronically regulated low and high voltage supplies. Automatic 40 sec. warm-up/brown-out mute. Line regulation better than .01 %.

NOISE: 2.7uV RMS residual IHF weighted balanced equivalent input noise with volume at 1 (106dB below 2V RMS output.)

TUBE COMPLEMENT: (4)-6H30P dual triodes, plus (1 each) 6L6GC and 6H30P in power supply.

POWER REQUIREMENTS: 100-135VAC 60Hz (200-270VAC 50/60Hz) 125 watts.

DIMENSIONS: 19" (48 cm) W x 7" (17.8 cm) H (standard panel) x 15.5" (39.4 cm) D. Handles extend 1V21' (3.8 cm) forward of the front panel.
WEIGHT: 29.6 lbs. (13.5 kg) Net; 43 lbs. (19.5 kg) Shipping. Specifications subject to change without notice. ©2004 Audio Research Corporation.
Has there been anymore updated review and comments on the Ref.3 please? I am currently deciding on buying a brand new Ref.3, or a cheaper second hand Ref.2 Mk II.

I traded my Ref 2 Mk II (which I still think is an awesome product that I would be proud to own) for the Ref 3 several weeks ago. I had the chance to a/b them for about two hours in my home on my system using an sacd front end before I wrote the check. I thought that the Ref 3 was quieter, had greater dynamic range, and was more transparent. Also, in comparison, the Ref 2, while throwing a huge soundstage, sounded a little as if it had been processed through a phase shifter. The 3 did not have as big a soundstage, but now that I have racked up about 130 hours on the unit, that is coming along. Regarding the noise floor and dynamics, the Ref 3 was superior to the point that I had difficulty setting the two pre-amps at the same perceived volume. The difference was not unlike the blackness between notes on good sacd compared to redbook. Also, the 3 is not quite as warm and bloomy, but is tighter in the bass and cleaner top to bottom.

Although this sounds a little bit like the ARC promo, it is really my own thoughts developed primarily during the a/b session. Hope this was helpful to you. You really cannot go wrong with either pre-amp; both are great.

Rom, the observation of the Ref 2 sounding almost slightly phase-shifted and bloomy is right on. I am delighted that the minor shortcoming has been addressed in the Ref 3. How many hours have you racked up on the Ref 3 break-in this far? Are you using the stock power chord or an aftermarket powerchord? Thanks, Guido

Yesterday, the tube hours counter read in the 130s; my rig is off right now.

I did the a/b comparisons using the stock cords on both units.

The Ref 3 comes with a hefty cord with a 20 amp IEC. I plan to eventually try out some commercial cords (probably Shunyata, others), as well as homemades made from twisted solid core wire shielded with tin foil. The sound is good enough that I have not felt compelled to mess with it yet.

I think you are really going to like the Ref 3. To my ears it does not cast a soundstage via the phasey sound you mentioned at all; it is gone. Rather, the sound is extremely focused, clean, and transparent. The soundstage you get is more like what is on the recording, but not necessarily as "spread out" as on the Ref 2 (at least not at this stage of break-in). The Ref 3 is really quite different sounding than the 2 but is still "beautiful" and natural, as opposed to cold and mechanical.

To perhaps help you put my comments in context, my current system is:

Sony XA-777es
ARC Ref 3
ARC VT-100 mk iii
Vandy 5A
Audioquest Anaconda ICs

I'm sure I'll get around to messing with my digital front end eventually. I wish that we would see some more killer SACD players, as I have invested a fair amount in SACD software and generally like what I hear.

Best regards.

Has anyone tried the REF3 with EMM LABS DCC2?
Thank you so much Rom, the Ref 3 sounds more and more attractive. One of the probs I heard with the Ref 2 Mk. 2 was a trace of an almost glassy sheen on the instruments, almost a touch of glare. Is that gone as well?

I did not find sheen or glare to be a problem with the 2. I do not really recall a difference in the two preamps in this regard. Again, there is a family resemblance to the sound between the 2 and 3, so this is something you will need to check out for yourself.

I would be interested to hear the opinions of others who have tried the 3 with top flight sacd front ends.
Rom, I detected the slight 'sheen' when auditioning the Ref 2Mk. 2 next to a Boulder 1012 preamp, which seemed at the time to have a slightly warmer more musical sound, still maintaining top/bottom extension. The preamps were driving a Rowland 3.02, and a pair of Utopia (perhaps Altos). By comparison the Ref 2 Mk. 2 sounded just slightly hard. In complete honesty though, I auditioned the Ref 2 Mk. 2 another time on a different system, driving ARC VT200 and Maggie 3.6 speakers, and found it marvellous.
In both cases, the Ref 2 was driven by an ARC CD-3 Mk. 3.
How about Ref 3 vs. Ref 2 (MK1)? Any one has the experience? Is that true Ref 3 is not as warmer and sweeter as Ref 2 MK1? Thanks!
Now spent a few hours with the REF 3, it is a revelation.
Anyone knows which manufacturer or which kind of caps the four golden caps are? Teflon? oil impregnated?
Soundoc, please elaborate on your Ref 3 experience!
to my thought he Ref 3 is quieter, had greater dynamic range, and is more transparent. the noise floor is very low . the sound is extremely focused, clean, and transparent. the soundstage dimensions as with the former Ref 2 wide. tight bass and clean top. very good low level detail information. bass articuliation is in a class for itself. very holographic.

Those are technical attributes that you have described.
Is it more musical than the Ref 2?


Gmorris: The Ref 3 is a lot more musical than the Ref 2, it draws you in the music
Hi all, I´ve just unpacked my REF 3, finally home!
Right out of the box, dead cold, hand to hand with the LS25MKII, it was a revelation in terms of sheer bass response without loosing the top end.
After 2 hours continuos operation, suddenly it changed and sounded like the scene was grouped in the middle (no, I was not in mono mode ;-) ) and harsher than the hour later (now we are at the 3rd hour) and it came back stronger than ever.
A friend of mine who knows well my setup drove to my house with his `reference´ recordings and was amazed at the clear sound, but most of all, dynamics and bass response.
Too early to say anything else, need what...100 hours? (no mention about burn in time as with the CD3).

Anyway, it is different and certainly an improvement to the 25 (sure, what else..). One of my worries about the lower gain (down from 9 db to 6 db SE on the phono section) is gone. There is enough there to drive the Krell 700cx with the Colibri at the other end (0.3 mV) at very loud levels. Back to the listening session now...bye
Soundoc: Which Ref2, MK1 or MK2, have you auditioned against Ref3? I am curious about Ref2 MK1 vs. Ref3 in terms of the warmness and sweetness.
Jshaw1004: The Ref 2 MK1 is the warmest, the Ref 2 MKII sounds differently however better, the Ref 3, at the risk that I am disparaged, sounds to "Spectral like": But it shows all, nothing remains in the dark.
I wonder what the Mark4 will sound like??