Audio Research Reference 3 vs Modwright LS 36.5?
I have decided to upgrade my home system and after extensive search and testing I have shortlisted these two preamps, I like the combination of tube preamp with SS poweramp.
My associated gear:
- Sony CDP-XE220 used as transport, or modified Squeezebox Duet (Audiocom ltd mods, good power supply and Superclock 4)
- PS Audio DL III DAC with Cullen Circuits Level 3 modification
- BV Audio P1SE preamp (to be replaced with ARC or Modwright)
- Musical Fidelity 750K Supercharges used as monoblocks
- Revel Performa F32 speakers
I also own the correspoding BV Audio power amp - BV Audio PA300S.
Why these two preams? I can buy used ARC Ref 3 or new Modwright LS 36.5.
ACR Ref 3 (or Ref 5) was recommended by the studio owner, the man I trust - up to now he proved to be right in all situations were I asked him for an advice.
Modwright was recommended by another person I trust, long term involved in hifi - up to now he proved to be right in all situations were I asked him for an advice.
Here is description of the listening test, I was able to run. I have arranged test in a studio, 250 miles from my home. I brought my speakers, BVAudio amps and PS Audio DAC with me, the rest I borrowed. Unfortunately, as I am from Europe, it was difficult for me to arrange listening test with Modwright.
Source - Philips CD950 used as transport, PS Audio DL III with Cullen Circuit Stage 3 modification DAC, coax input.
Speakers - Revel Performa F32, in the last part of testing also Wilson Audio W/P5
- coax from CD player to DAC - US made hi grade audio cable supplied with DAC, ~80 USD
- DAC to preamp: SignalCable Silver Resolution Reference XLR or Audio Research XLR,
- preamp to power amp: Oyaide XLR
- speaker cables: Tara Labs RSC Generation 2
- power cables - Van Den Hul Genie with Furutech plugs
Power source for CD player, DAC and Preamp: PS Audio Power Plant Premier. Power amps connected directly to the wall sockets.
1. BV Audio PA300SE + BV Audio P1SE
This is my old home setting, before I bought used Superchargers. Good performance, including lower and high extensions, weak points are space, details. The sound of trumpet is a little cold, human voices could reveal more spirit.
2. BVA PA300SE + MF Primo
We replaced BVA preamp with Musical Fidelity Primo. Significant improvement in almost all parameters - detail, warmth, overall atmosphere, transparency. Better bass, much broader soundstage. Detailed smooth sound, even when we increased the volume. Can be easily listened to for hours.
3. MF750K + MF Primo
Now we replaced BVA power amp with MF750K. Additional improvement in high and low end of a spectrum, increased volume allows to distinguish more details. Another step in better transparency (however this step was smaller than the preamp replacement). Slight improvement in space and detail, the color of voices is better, trumpet is now made from brass.
We also tested the system with the CD player directly connected to preamp (skipping DAC) - much smaller soundstage, technically cold sound, no life. We returned back to PS Audio DL III and we kept it in place till the end.
4. MF750K + ARC Reference 5
Now I had feeling that it could not be better. We replaced MF Primo with Audio Research Reference 5. Once again a step further - better mids and highs, better detail. The trumpet, guitars and violins are closer to ideal presentation, we can hear more emotions in the voices. Overall harmony is extremely good, everything is well balanced, but still live and smooth. When increasing the volume, we can hear so much details, that I can't believe we have just a CD as the source.
5. Cello Encore 150 + ARC Reference 5
We replaced MF750K with monoblocks Cello Encore 150 (designed by Mark Levinson). If we thought, that transparency was at maximum possible level before, now, we can hear it could be even better. Cello is revealing more details, we can now hear, how "clean" is the power source of ARC Reference 5. Well done, really! We can listen to this for hours, we tend to forget that the main reason is testing and we want just to listen to the music. It is easy to hear the different quality of various CDs (Pink Floyd was one the best recordings).
6. Cello Encore 150 + ARC Reference 5 + Wilson Audio W/P5 speakers
Now we finally replaced Revel F32 with Wilson Audio W/P5. Another step in transparency, now it sounds "to much transparent", it is almost artificial sound, missing some warmth. Overall feeling is not so good. We hear improvement in details. Analytically exact sound presentation. It became slightly better when we switched the DAC oversampling frequency to 96KHz( we had 192 up to now). Wilson speakers were able to present better high and low end, also I see this setup extremely revealing.
- BVAudio preamp and power amp were the weakest systems, but the performace was very good at this price point (Pre is less than 1/10 of Primo or ARC).
- Primo was excellent, especially good match with MF750K. ARC Reference 5 performace was better than Primo, it was corresponding to the price difference.
- I was pleased with the performance of Revel F32 and modded PS Audio DL III DAC, the two components were able to reveal the differences between MF and Cello or ARC Ref 5 and MF Primo.
- I want to replace preamp. My budget is limited to ~ $6500 (but keep in mind I am from Europe, +30% to everything comparing with US market). I have bought these used MF750K.
And now I have two candidates for preamp on my shortlist.
As both are produced in US and you are much bigger community, I belive I can get some oppinion from Audiogoners.