The three amps you ask about are all very good, but there are some noticeable differences in character.
VTM200- these were a breakthrough for ARC. They had a combination of the best control and extension at the frequency extremes of any ARC amp until that point. They sounded more neutral than the original version of the REF300. What they do not do at all (even less than is typical for ARC) is sound tube like. Some may not like this. They almost sound more like a great solid state amplifier. Not very liquid or pretty, but very accurate and fast.
REF300mkII - The mkII was redesigned after the VTM200's broke new ground. Once this was done, the REF300 achieved and even higher level of musicality and power combined with the improved control and extension at the frequency extremes that was pioneered in the VTM200's. The REF300mkII, however, still sounds friendlier and more tube like than the VTM200's.
REF210 - This current REF series is another breakthrough for ARC for they have now officially eliminated any trace of "silvery" or "white" sonic artifacts in their high frequencies. The REF210 has a more liquid and grain-free presentation than the other amps mentioned above. The sound is much more tube-like in this way, yet paradoxically very controlled and neutral with excellent extension at the frequency extremes. Once you get used to the sound of the REF110, 210 or 610T, the older amps sound somewhat grainy, congested and analytical by comparison.
I am an ARC dealer (and a huge fan of the new VS115)
I agreee with Davemitchell regarding the VS115...it may be their best amp ever, and also the most affordable tube amp they offer..win, win!!
Thanks Davemitchell. If you were not an ARC dealer and you were in my position (can't quite afford a REF 210), what would you do?
REF300 MKII, VTM200......or keep the Classic 120's until you can afford a pair of REF 210 new or if/when a used pair comes up for sale?
In a nutshell what would better the 120's by the widest margin possible.
The VTM 200's were analytical sounding and whitish in tone color...almost everyone who's owned them has sold them! The new vs115 will seem like a much more powerfull amp in the bass region and improve your sound overall.
Dave b and I seem to have similar feelings about the sound characteristics of some ARC amps, although I actually like the VTM200 amps quite a bit so long as they are partnered with the right system and speakers to balance their less tubey sound.
I guess if I had to pick between those two (VTM200 and REF300mkII) purely based on sonics I would choose the REF300mkII.
The other things you could consider are the VS115 or REF110, which may have plenty of power for your speakers. I did a quick check of the current iteration of the Verity Parsifal and they are 8 ohms nominal with a minimum impedance of 4 ohms. They are also pretty efficient at 89db. Without seeing actual measurement graphs I don't know if there are any difficult phase angles, but they appear easy to drive. I'm not sure if your version is the same or not.
The other thing you can do with 8ohm speakers is run two VS115's or REF110's in a balanced bridged or push pull configuration. I recently set up a system doing just that on Vandersteen 5A's with two REF110's and the results were incredible. So you could start with a single amplifier and see if it's enough power, and if not, just add a second one later. (Not recommended for 4 ohm speakers)
I guess my point here is that the VS115 and REF110 are both better sounding in nearly every qualitative way than the VTM200's and REF300mkII's except for power.
What does the VS115 retail for? Are these amps auto bias or manual ?
VS115 retails for $6495 and has manual biasing.
Thanks for your insight Dave Mitchell. The Parsifal Encore and the newer version Ovation can not be bi-wired or bi-amped. Their design does not permit it. So, potentially using 2 stereo amps would not be possible. Only the Sarastro's and their top of the line Lohengrin's allow bi-wiring and bi-amping.
I would hate to rid of my Classic 120's for one VS115 and find that (in my system) sonically, is a "little bit better" or worst, well, worst.
I need something that will floor me and get me a heart attack.
Much appreciate your input and until next time, i will keep my eyes open for a pair of REF300MKII or better yet, a pair of REF210. Not sure that i would be able to handle the weight and heat dissipation of the REF300MKII.
What I am describing as balanced bridged operation does not require a biwireable or biampable speaker. It actually has nothing to do with that. It means bridging an amplifier without the need for any switches or modifications. You simply connect the inputs and outputs differently across the two channels to turn the amp into a monoblock.
On the other hand, a single VS115 or REF110 should be plenty if you are happy with the power you get from your current Classic 120 amplifiers given that they make almost exactly the same amount of power. The VS115/REF110 are vastly superior to the Classic 120's in every other way. But the best way to find out is by auditioning them yourself.
Dave- why the signficant price increase from the VS110 to the VS115? (i am not an ARC basher here, just curious).
That's a very good question. The VS115 is a completely new fully differential circuit based very closely on the more expensive REF110 ($10K). Sonically it is much more similar to the REF110 than the VS110.
The VS110 was simply an enlarged version of ARC's entry level VS55. Both were less sophisticated unbalanced circuits built to reach ARC's most affordable price points. The sound of the VS55/VS110 is very nice and musical but not as high resolution or as good at the frequency extremes as other more expensive ARC amps like the VT100mkIII.
Looking closely and comparing the VS115 to the REF110, you can see where the compromises were made to get the VS115 down to $6500. The open chassis with no thick faceplate is much less expensive as are the binding posts on the back. The power supply filter cap bank is a little smaller with 8 of the 470uF electrolytics instead of 12. Finally, the critical output coupling caps are much less expensive than the $100+ a piece Stealthcaps used in the REF110.
ARC's goal was to get 85% of the REF110's sound out of the new VS115 and based on my side-by-side comparisons, I think they have done at least that. I just bought a VS115 for myself.
thanks so much Dave. look forward to hearing one.
Thanks as well Dave for all your information. I have just purchased a LS26 and will also purchase a VS115 in the near future. Together the LS26 & the VS115 should adequately power my Proac Response 2.5's. It's as close as I could get to the REF3 & REF110 combo without the additional cost.
I am a relative new owner of the Audio Research VS115 power amp. Very young out of the box, it is an amazing amp. More to come as it breaks in...
Thanks to Audio Concepts in Dallas (Gary Smith) and Dave Mitchell for their input as I evaluated this purchase.
My equipment includes Audio Research LS26 preamp; Wilson Audio Sophia Series II loudspeakers; Purist Audio/Cardas Golden Cross Cabling; Audio Research CD3MKII CD Player; Audio Research PH5 phono preamp; Linn LP 12 Sondek late model turntable/Linn Ittok LVII tonearm/Lingo power supply/Lyra cartridge...check my prior posts for more equipment details.
I own a VS 115 combined with a LS17 preamp, a CD7 CD player and Magnepan 3.6 loudspeakers. I am very fond of the VS 115 but needed bi-amplification to drive my loudspeakers. I discovered this forum a little late as I just bought a pair of VTM 200 before reading your points of view and I am a little anxious as what I love most in my system is the warm and tubey sound of the VS 115. Do you think that the bridging of the VS 115 with the VTM200 will allow me to keep the tubel-like sound I enjoy in my system?
And how would you bridge them? Should I keep the bass and high for the VTM200?
Excuse my English I am writing from FRANCE.
Dave Mitchell did you have an opportunity to listen to the VAC PHI 300.1 Monos in comparison to these latest Audio Researches.
JWM, I have not listened to the VAC PHI 300 amps.
Dave, how do you connect the inputs and outputs differentially across the two channels?
Not to really mess up your thought process, but have you considered a Ref5? I got one recently, and it is really incredible! I had a Ref3/Ref110 combination for a couple of years, and switched over to Shindo Masseto/Montille which was a step up, imo. But when I heard the Ref 5, I had to have it. Sold the Masseto, and used the 5 with the Montille. Now, I picked up an VT100mk3, and it sounds spectacular with the Ref5. My point? The Ref 5 is such a huge step up that you may not have really heard your amp's limits. This is my second 100mk3, and I really had no idea how great they were with the previous preamps, a Ref2mk2 and a Ref3. With a better preamp there may be more life in those 120's yet.
Granted the VT100 IS one of my personal favorite amps - but pair with a $12000 preamp to sound its best? Maybe the VT is better with a hybrid pre that leans towards solid state sound, rather than a pure tube beast like the LS5 - maybe that is why you like it better.
I switched out an LS16MkI for a Ref3 paired w/ a VT200MkI and the difference was profound in terms of detail, imagining, and soundstage depth. I believe the early VT series of amplifiers are all tube.
I too owned a VT200 (mk1)and it was probably the finest amp I have owned. I sold it only because of two repairs requiring freight shipping back to ARC, very expensive. I must add that these were due to buying tubes from a well known tube seller, NOT from ARC. Saved some money, and it cost me big time... I won't do that again. Loved that VT200 though.
I also had to send it to ARC for a retube but it has been flawless since. I have thought about giving them a call to see if they would be willing to retube my VT200 with KT 120's and maybe even update the power supply to handle the KT 120. At 13K for a Ref 150 I'd like to keep the VT200!
Geez, someone had to resurrect an old thread.
I have since replaced my Ref 2 MKI and Ref Phono (original) with a Ref 3 LE and a Ref Phono 2 (both GNSC modded). Was the sonic difference profound you ask?
I will let you guess.
I will soon be replacing my Classic 120's with (2) Ref 150 in a bridged mode configuration. Will this bring a profound sonic difference?? I will let you guess but i will report back.
Smoffatt, Is your Ref 3 LE the limited edition version? I believe ARC may have only made a dozen or two LEs, which I think has special upgraded coupling caps. If so, how did you come across the Ref 3 LE version? I've never seen one for sale on A'gon. Also, am I reading your post correctly that GNSC modded your Ref 3 LE?? If so, what type of mods did they do?