On 7/6/09, Samuel gave a nice assessment of his early experience with the REF 5, comparing it with the REF 3. Do a search here.
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Here is a link to the thread that was referenced above, by Rgurney.
Samuel's Thoughts on the Ref. 3 vs. Ref. 5
It seemed very informative actually.
I too am interested in the discussion, but for the opposite reason. I am very impressed with the Ref. 3, (a friend has one), and I am considering swapping out my preamp for that one. I am hoping that all the Ref. 3 owners will start flooding the market with their used Ref. 3's, in order to buy the new Ref. 5, (that way I can pick up a Ref. 3 cheap.)
FYI, I would think long and hard before giving up the Ref. 3. It is the best preamp ARC has made in a long time, IMHO. (It impresses me quite a bit, whereas the Ref. 1 and 2 were merely very good preamps, and did not impress me in nearly the same way. FYI, my friend with the Ref. 3 upgraded from the Ref. 2, (and from the Ref. 1 before that).
Maybe, but then again, I've found that I get the best deals from people who like to experiment with equipment, which means that the Ref. 3 I buy, will probably have changed hands two or maybe three times. (The Ref. 3 has such a reputation that most people would be willing to try it out for exactly that it has a great reputation. And for some people, it may not be "tubey" enough, as it is a rather neutral sounding preamp. I on the other hand, who have and like solid state equipment, think it sounds more than "tubey" enough, and yet it is extremely quiet, unlike the previous Ref. 1 and 2 preamps from ARC).
Not that it matters too much in the short term, as I am broke right now anyway. But hopefully next year I'll be in a better position to buy one. Although, that assumes that the economy recovers for my industry (construction) in the next year. And here in California, I have virtually no hope that it will recover, due to the incompetents who are in charge of the state government, (and don't even get me started about the federal government).
As an addendum to my previous comments, the Ref 5 now has a little over 200 hours on it and has improved markedly in terms of perceived frequency extension, micro-dynamics and its ability to capture the natural weight and dimension of instruments in space.
Third order harmonic information lingers even longer, further outlining the recorded venue and space around instruments but not in the traditional "tubey" way. It continues to strike me that a lot of the gains over the Ref 3 relate to background silence, quicker transient articulation and a rock solid foundation in the lower octaves, which opened up and clarified huge amounts of lower midrange information I was missing before.
The uppermost octaves nay or may not be measurably more extended, but unquestionably there is far more diversity in terms of tone and textural contrast apparent, such as the multicolor sheen from cymbals or the resonance from stringed instruments. The solid state like character that I referred to in a prior post has abated but what remains is still far more clean, defined and direct sounding than the Ref 3, which in contrast reminds me more of the Ref 2 (which I had at home and did not like (too slow and tubey). In short, the Ref 3 by comparison has noticeable mid-bass overhang and sounds noticeably slower, lacking immediacy, coherence and upper frequency transparency.
Put in perspective, the differences are obvious and well worth the increase in retail price (to me), but impressions may vary from system to system depending on context. In my experience pre-amps are more sensitive to system differences and contexts except speakers, than most other components including amps and front ends, so all this is FWIW. Again, the difference was more dramatic than going from the CD-7 to the CD-8.
Samuel--In short, the Ref 3 by comparison has noticeable mid-bass overhang and sounds noticeably slower, lacking immediacy, coherence and upper frequency transparency.
I concur with Samuel on shortcomings of the Ref3, couldn't have said it better myself. Seems to me like they (ARC) too have realized these and ameliorated them with their new 5--hopefully.
In case anyone has trouble understanding, my comparative comments were couched in retrospective contrast with a _new model_, not as any glaring pronouncement regarding deficiencies of the Ref 3. Every opinion involves comparison and I thought I was pretty clear about mine.
Just as with any new iteration of a product where there have been improvements made, they highlight where a previous model may have fallen short of accurate either slightly or noticeably in different areas of performance.
Many times these shortcomings are not noticeable until the new model highlights them by displaying better accuracy in specific areas. Could anyone perfectly point out every flaw in an excellent standard TV picture prior to HD coming along? HD quality pointed out cleanly where standard picture TV fell short --HD set a new standard. The same holds true for high-performance audio and in this case the Ref 5 compared to its predecessor the Ref 3.
The Ref 3 is still an exceptional pre-amp and I would likely still own it had I not heard the Ref 5 and been able to afford it. In addition, the Ref 3's second market value accurately represents in my opinion, the difference between the two units performance. So, I see only upside, more choices of high quality products at different price points --and this holds true as new and better products come available in any category. The used Ref 3 buyer is still getting a great deal on a fine pre-amp at a reduced price.
Is this more clear now?
In my case, a comparison of my old Ref3 to an FMA 245 about one a half years ago. Fairly similar conclusion then, thus my concurring with Sam's statement. I'd probably also add, in that comparison, the Ref3's extension at the frequency extremes (ie.high and low), felt to be lacking by quite a fair bit too. Still a fine pre-amp though, and should be a good snatch at around 4k now?
Having had many preamps in this category over the last 10 years to include VTL 7.5 mk1, cj ACT-2, cj Art mk-2, ARC Ref-3 twice,and Mcintosh c-500. I believe the Ref_5 tops them all by quite a margin. The first thing I noticed with the Ref 5 Is more information and greater transparency in a very relaxing musical fashion. I found the Ref 3 to be just a tad bit mechanical which is why you see the cj preamp in my history. The top end extension of the REF-5 is so clean and pristine but never fatiguing. I hear so much more information with the ref-5 and don't find myself straining to hear little bits of information in the background. Therefore my listening session is more relaxed. Everything is openly illuminated. Soundstaging and imaging are remarkable, so much depth and expansiveness. This is the kind of gear that causes you pull out old music and hear what you've been missing. A very exciting and fun piece. I think they finally got it right this time.
The moment any great high end manufacturer ceases to do R&D and make improvements to their products as significant as the Ref 5 they might as well hang it up.
In case anyone hasn't noticed amidst of all the hand wringing over economic circumstances there have been some very cool advances in almost every product category and the cost of great sound is still going down--in some cases dramatically. If manufacturers sat on their hands and did not reinvest in making the best possible products there would be more worthy issues to sit and complain about
Well, of course no one can argue with the merits of R&D. And obviously to stay in business manufacturers must manufacture. I am not clear on where the cost of great sound is going down in the high end audio business, however, considering the increased price of the Ref5.
Perhaps it is like the wine business and consumption in the U.S. in which there are now plenty of pretty darn good and improved wines to be had at reasonable prices, however the cost of Lafitte, Latour have gone to the stratosphere.
Right. ARC is definitely top end and enjoys a healthy pre-owned market also. It seemed to me that the 2K price increase for the Ref5 was probably carefully considered. They would have to establish perception that the unit was indeed superior, but not overprice it. If they chose price same as Ref 3, it might tend to lessen the perception of the Ref3.
Then there are the new ARC owners who no doubt are looking at margins and profit for their investment. A casual look inside the Ref5 might indicate that manufacturing costs are less, i.e., one board instead of multiple, side mounting of other components. To further differentiate they change cosmetics. What is it really worth? Whatever we as listeners are willing to pony up, just like anything else?
It really doesn't matter to me if they are able to build it for less money. What matters to me is;were they able to make a significant improvement, I think they did. Further refining and improving something great must be quite a task for R&D there is a cost here too. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to make improvement tweeks in my own system and wind up making it worse . My hat's off to them on the Ref-5. The 2k increase in price is well worth the benefit.
Interesting. I never noticed any "electronic" artifacts in listening to the Ref3 (or any ARC tubed gear for that matter). I am not sure what you mean by "organic".
OTH, I might be interested in the bass and mid-base especially where I think there may be at times some unwarranted "warmth" in the Ref3. The ref 2 by comparison has what I would call some bloat in mid upper base. I never cared much for the Ref2 Mk1, the Ref was a major improvement.
Okay I would like to jump in here and provide my 2 cents.
I'm a happy owner of the Ref3 for many years now and reading replies here some I must say shocked me and suggest I gotta just get this new Ref5 because it's just that much better than my Ref3. I don't know so please don't start getting all defensive because I have not compared as of yet in my set-up but reading I decided to visit my dealer who is a long time ARC dealer on the intentions of actually buying one. This specific dealer is one of the oldest and I have known them for over 20 years now so one would think that they would know.
I was told today there are sonic differences but very slight, one might prefer one over the other depending your system but most defiantly not night and day. I took a peak inside and saw the design layout, how the heck can these guys justify charging more then the Ref3 list price when it's less work etc.
I will get one into my set-up some day to compare but now I'm not in such a hurry!
>how the heck can these guys justify charging more then the
>Ref3 list price when it's less work etc.
Just consider that the usd/euro rate is less than .70 today.
I owned a Ref3 and now own a Ref5. It was a mystery for me how ARC could sell the Ref3 for 10000 usd - other preamps in this price did not have the build quality of the Ref3.
Looking at current used prices of the Ref3 at audiogon it is now definitively a true audiophile bargain !
Dev, I share your sentiments and thoughts, and also own a Ref3. I actually prefer the horizontal board layout of the ref5, and in some ways cannot understand why they ever used vertical boards, however with the cover on the preamp, I usually do not dwell on it!
At this level of quality and performance, improvements are going to be slight as you mention. I think they are charging more because they can. I will borrow one to try in my setup sometime, but I am not in a hurry either.
I wish I could say that the improvements of the Ref5 are slight versus the Ref3, but IMHO they are not.
The Ref 5 has lower noise and higher resolution, but also handles dynamics in a more musical way.
I have measured the noise and distortion spectrum of the Ref5 and both broadband noise and mains harmonics are really lower than those of the Ref3.
Obviously there will always be a spectrum of opinion on new models versus what they are replacing. For those pleased with the Ref 3's performance there is little reason to waste time or money considering an upgrade. Who knows, the differences are so striking between the two models that maybe some might prefer the softer and more languid presentation of the 3.
I am taken by surprise however that _anyone_ could ascribe their differences as minor or inconsequential in any top system context. It would be interesting to know more about the system and circumstances of that opinion, but it came as second hand so there's no way to qualify it.
In 25 years of system building and evaluating hundreds of components I've never heard a larger difference between successive models of any component, let alone pre-amps. By comparison, the CD-7 to CD-8 upgrade was minor --though that was a pleasing and worthwhile upgrade. As I stated earlier,in my experience the difference is much closer to the difference one should expect upgrading to more powerful, refined twice-the-price amps in a system with slightly inefficient speakers.
Hi guys, this dealer is one of the first original ARC dealers arround, along with ARC caries all kinds of other gear including Jeff Rowland, Boulder, DCS, Esoteric, JM Labs, Sonus Faber and the list goes on. They have all the toys to play with and to compare and as per my thread above that's what I was told. I have not compared in my own set-up as I have already mentioned but what I will say that I have found in this hobby is that some seem to have to justify their owning and it's a personality thing, for me it's not.
I'm sure the dealer would have liked a sale especially when I was prepared to buy but being a long time client told me what they did so all I can say is I'll find out down the road but as I mentioned in no hurry now.
It's great you have a close friend/dealer whom you trust to give advice and there's no reason to think of his opinion as anything but genuine. Knowing some of the circumstances and context for that opinion would be enlightening but no one expects you to share all of that. It's just fwiw.
>>>"I will say that I have found in this hobby is that some seem to have to justify their owning and it's a personality thing,"<<<
Ok, there's no need to belittle anyone's opinion that differs with your dealer.
Everyone has a right to share a first hand opinion here based on experience without you questioning whether it is based on ego or purchase justification.
Using the "My dealer told me..." reasoning makes sense as an excuse to defer or delay your own trial of any product, no quibbles there.
However, using his comments as evidence that anyone who experienced it differently is over-stating their experience or has some furtive motive for doing so is whacked.
Like I said, good for you. Within whatever context your dealer tested the pre-amp in I am sure he was entirely truthful and reported his impressions accurately.
I've said and written this many times. People using different systems, different rooms, various ancillaries and frame of reference can come to different conclusions about a piece of gear and BOTH can be spot on accurate. Or am I over-stating that subjective reality?
The fact that your dealer told you the differences were minor should in NO WAY have you inferring that mine or anyone else's reported experience is not genuinely derived. My system context was explained from soup to nuts as were my impressions and full context. I took care to make sure my comments were accurate and carefully qualified.
Having you drop in with a "dealer friend" who disagrees is no problem and is in fact interesting to know( if there were more context). However, the misplaced bard about people posting positive experiences or reviews of the Ref 5 because they are justifying purchases or on some ego trip is crap.
If you believe that is true in this case, bring more than "a dealer told me..." as your evidence that someone else is being disingenuous.
I can see you are one of those types I mentioned by your response above, take it easy. I never attacked anyone's opinion and enjoyed reading your review but provided another version in which you seem to have a problem with and that tells me allot.
As I mentioned when I get arround to it I'll get one and have a listen within my own set-up but I'm in no hurry now. Just to let you know I had a listen with the Ref5 in a system that I have heard a few times prior and this time arround it didn't have my jaw dropping saying, wow! this pre has just changed everything I gotta have it. I referred to the dealer saying, is it just me but I don't notice much of a difference from when the Ref3 was hooked-up and that's when the comment came about.
I would rather wait and hear it within my own set-up to hear if there really is all that much of a difference as a couple of you point out to justify the cash upgrade difference but others are also allowed to provide info. right without being attacked.
I don't know where this "I'm being attacked" idea comes from. I have absolutely no problem with any different point of view or impression and I stated that upfront. Disagreements are common and understandable (systems, references, rooms, listeners all being different etc..). That you or your dealer have a different opinion is of _no consequence_ to me other than a point of mild curiosity.
You can share all the anecdotal info you want here. No one, including me is questioning your motives, your hearing, your honesty or your right to share whatever opinion you see fit. Nothing I wrote came close to "attacking" anything you shared.
I had a problem with the pointed inference you made that anyone who was impressed at the magnitude of difference and yes, improvement between the 3 and the 5 in their system must be protecting some kind of ego/financial expenditure. The fact that you or your dealer have differing opinion does not mean others are wrong or steeped in egotism.
<<<"I can see you are one of those types I mentioned by your response"<<<
And you see no problem with writing that? Based on what? A few posts on an internet forum? You've actually classified me into a "type"? Wow, I have six years of psych schooling and 15 years of field experience and I have NO idea what "type" of person you are from anything written here. Nor would I ever attempt to "class" anyone.
I think it is ok for people to disagree on the merits or value of any product without resorting to undermining the opinion, motivation or character of others. Since you admitted that you believe I am "that type" of person, this makes a clear point all by itself, however you want to spin it.
I owned and enjoyed the Ref 3. I evaluated and was extremely impressed by the Ref 5, enough to purchase it and share a rare opinion on a forum. You can disagree and so can your dealer. Keep the the inferences about others character or motivations to a minimum and we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming. See you at the med window ... :o)
IMHO It appears that both Dev and Samuel may be measuring their expected value calculations from the point of view regarding the bias of their cost of purchasing the Ref 5. If the lower actual relative buying opportunities for the new user/purchaser of the ARC preamplifier is wildly variable between these two gentlemen, it could have the possibility of accentuating the potential cost/benefit perceptions of the potential gains of the Ref 5 over the Ref 3. If that price is marketly different, the purchasing entry point along or within the marketing channel could and would most likely affect that bias of measuring utility.
While I was at the dealers my intentions being directed at listening to the Ref5 and purchasing but I did get to hear the new New Jeff Rowland Criterion pre, besides the stunning eye candy look it seemed to offer more sonic difference.
I also own the MBL 6010D pre. which is a really nice pre but I still prefer the Ref3 over all mainly due to the 3D images, stage presence, and just over all more realistic to me.
Samuel if you read my thread carefully you will read that I said I enjoyed reading your review and you do not see me arguing regarding your findings, these are your opinions which are okay. I have not demoed in my own system so I can't provide as of yet a comparison but will eventually and was sharing my initial findings which obviously by reading your threads did not like. You seem to be on some type of power trip along with sarcasm or something, for what ever reason you seem to have the need to say "I have six years of psych schooling and 15 years of field experience" doesn't impress me at all and then you say "See you at the med window ... :o)" Samuel now I know why we are always short of them, you are the guy always in line.
Guys I want you to know that no where did I suggest I did not like the Ref5 but just providing info. of my recent experience.
Lets put it this way I'm looking for a new pre right now, the Ref3 is going for how much even though I own one still but have to sell it or trade-in and the Ref5 being aprox. a 8K upgrade, is the difference worth it.
No power trip, just my surprised response to being psychologically classified by "Type" on an audio chat forum. That was a first. This has absolutely nothing to do with your disagreement over a subjective opinion of mine.
My last comment was no dig against you. Just trying to bring some light into your characterizations of my motives for sharing what you believe is an overly positive opinion. I did try to highlight my intention for shared levity with a :o). Maybe you missed that. "See you at the med window" meant I was already there....
I have posted a total of one, that's right, one review here in 10 years of fairly regular participation on these and other forums. I did not turn my reply into a formal review nor did I bother to put it in any "review" section to get more views. I simply _responded_ to someone I know who was asking for first hand comparative impressions--something I rarely if ever do. No one yet had, so I obliged. Silly me.
So far, responses include accusations of collusion, your classification of me as the "type" that would be swayed by ego justifications and finally unoear with the economical breakdown of pricing and cost differences being a determining factor. On the one hand unoear is right and so are you, there are a great many factors that play into one persons opinion...but none of these are over-riding factors in most anyone's impressions.
For me, regardless of cost the upgrade was substantial or I would NEVER have bothered to respond and share my opinion. No, I did not pay $8k for the upgrade so feel free to take that into account.
Do I think the upgrade is worth $8k? There are so many factors that play into that equation no one can make that call except the buyer. Based on the large sum of money involved an evaluation in your own home is of course---mandatory.
The Ref 3 is a great pre-amp and had I not heard the 5 I would still be enjoying the 3. By any measure, in _my system_ the differences between the two were obvious and repeatable in the areas I mentioned. These were not audiophile tweaky differences, they were demonstrable. And no, my shared impressions were not grossly altered by ego, insider or psychological variables. I was simply answering Baby Bear's question in a straightforward way.
Obviously and in all cases, ymmv.
Hi Bvdiman, really like your set ups and enjoy reading your threads, only wish you were close enough to be able come and listen, no one around me has such and I'm sure sounds marvelous.
Regarding the Ref3 and Ref5, please if you or anyone can do so send me a personal message because I would be more than pleased to intertain such, I would still want to hear one within my set-up to see if it justifies even that amount though.
Samual I just want to let you know I think you have a marvelous system also and enjoy reading your thoughts but when others like my self provide info. you shouldn't take it so personally as I was not addressing you directly but for what ever the reason it went that way but hopefully finished and we can move on.
Since you prefer the Ref 3 to the Mbl 6010D, why not sell the latter (for a
lot more than the former) and get a Ref 5? I've actually been considering the MBL for quite some time; it's lack of a mono switch is distressing to me. I had a
disappointing experience with the Ref 3 which I attribute to the usual problem of dealing with the impedances of 2 amps (I have a bi-amped system) that ARC
has always had. Even though I'm in the 'safe zone' of about 33K (according to
Ohm's Law), there is a reason that ARC amps all have very high input impedances....150K-300K. I know this is getting somewhat off topic, but I
wonder if you can tell me the sonic differences between the Ref 3 and 6010D? Or, perhaps e-mail me privately. Thanks.
After reading this I realize that the Ref3 I have listened to and coveted, over my Cary preamp, is really a piece of audio-crap and anyone who owns one should be embarassed.
To help out those poor souls stuck with such a glaringly inferior piece of gear, I will save you the trouble of throwing it in the trash, and have UPS come pick it up for you. No, you don't even have to box the offending unit up, I will pay someone to do it for you. I know it's magnanomous of me to do it, but I am all about helping out my audiophile brethren.
If you happen to have that aweful Ref Phono stage (there's now a much better Ref 2) I will take that off your hands as well.
Don't feel sorry for me, I know the gear sucks, I just have one of those hard-to-embarass personalities, and would love to help you out.
I realize this comment is in jest, but in all seriousness in my system the ARC Ref3 was not all it's cracked up to be, IMO.
I had lusted after the Ref3 for three years since reading the plethora of gushing reviews.
Actually hearing it was akin to entering the carnival sideshow in anticipation of seeing the amazing bearded lady only to discover she was actually a bearded old man in lipstick and a gingham dress.
I auditioned it against a Lamm L2 Reference, and the Lamm was so clearly superior to my ears (and to the ears of a close friend who is familair with my system, and to the guy who subsequently bought my Ref3 and sold it a week later) that I sold the ARC Ref3 the following day. And yes, it was thoroughly broken in and yes the tubes were fresh with only 650 hours on them.
The ARC Ref3 was bland and uninvolving, while the Lamm had jump and life (while remaining tonally balanced).
Before I get flamed, please keep in mind that I am only speaking from my experience with my system and my ears. In others' systems, the Ref3 may be sublime...but not in mine.
Hello David...I do apologize for my meandering prose. I was just going out of my way not to offend anyone that has the ability to obtain any audio products at favorable industry accommodation discount pricing...it tends to make the eventual switching cost proposition very close to cash-flow neutral. A great place to be...if and when you can get it!
just as I mentioned earlier:
"In my experience pre-amps are more sensitive to system differences and contexts except speakers, than most other components including amps and front ends, so all this is FWIW."
That said, the Lamm L2 Ref and L1 for that matter are amazing pre-amps and it is no surprise that someone might prefer them to the Ref 3. The 5 is enough better than the 3 that I think it would be closer and may come down to system contexts.
For instance, I borrowed a Luxman CD/SACD player while I had the Ref 3 and literally could not use it because the gain mismatch (CD output was too low). With all the input/output sensitivity issues between pre and amp, then CD and pre the variables are paramount ahead of design and raw performance differences. That is why trying everything in one's own system is so important.
Vladimir makes great products across the board, can't go wrong there.
I appreciate your sensitivity in explaining the economics. That was some pretty nice dancing! :o)
Actually, I did go a couple grand out of pocket and I sent the 3 in for new tubes and a thorough check up before selling it--another $500, So, add that to my wife-altered budget and it was a tidy little sum to buy the new model.
Also, I was careful to qualify my statements as to Ref 3 to 5 value given my unique circumstances and stated:
"Put in perspective, the differences are obvious and ___well worth the increase in retail price (to me)___, but impressions may vary from system to system depending on context.
My only sensitivity here was having motives questioned or some inference that my comments were protecting an "ego" related purchase. If Dev says that comment was not directed at my mini-review I'll accept that fwiw.