Audio Research Reference Linestages


Just want to hear if anyone else have a similar experience that I do.
Some 8 years ago I bought my first ARC Ref linestage.
It was Ref2 mk2, which I first enjoyed very much, but soon I found the bass to be to close in the soundstage and the treble too far away which never allowed the soundstage to get really homogenous and create the real music event.
When comparing with a Conrad Johnson LS17 it was very easy to hear that Ref2 mk2 had some issues with it's soundstage.
But I'm a fan of ARC's high energy "big" sound so I bought a used Ref One (later model with Infinicaps and detachable powercord), and it easily beat Ref2 mk2 in every way.
There I had the perfect soundstage with great dynamics.
It simply sounded more complete and homogenous than Ref2 mk2. Still not the last air in the highest treble that C-J LS17 have, but the rest was much better with Ref One.
Recently I tried to replace my Ref One with Ref 3, but after 3 months I gave up.
I found Ref3 to lack dynamics and the perfect soundstage of my Ref One. It simply sounded less involving and a bit lame compared to my Ref One.

Anyone else that have kept their Ref One simply because the find it to sound better than later ARC Ref linestages ?
flex2
Yes- I have a Ref One, plus there are two local friends of mine who both find their Ref One's to be superior to any of the newer Ref series (except the Anniversary no doubt!)
Well, I have not owned any of the ARC Ref. series myself, but my friend has owned all four of them, (they skipped the ref. 4). I have heard his system countless times, and personally, I disagree with your assessment.

The One was always a bit noisy for my tastes.

The Two was slightly better, but not much.

(That being said, both the One and Two were quite musical, and possibly more so that the Three and Five that followed, but I would never have owned either.)

The Three was a big step up, IMHO. It was much quieter, and more transparent. I would consider owning this preamp.

The Five is basically just a better Three, IMHO. (Basically just more of the same, with slightly better dynamics and slightly better bass response.)
I recommend that you not bother with the Ref. Five, because if you dislike the Three, the Five will not be much better, (in my estimation anyway).

FYI, as you can tell, I highly prize deep, dark, black backgrounds, and the Ref. Three and Five preamps excel at that, versus the One and Two. (FYI, I own a solid state preamp myself, (Ayre K-1xe), primarily for that very reason.) Tube rushing noise bugs the heck out of me, and both the One and Two had it, albeit somewhat muted, but still, it was there. (I should point out that it never much bothered my friend, so perhaps I am just overly sensitive to it.)

My two cents worth.
ARC seems to have been on a course toward detail/resolution over the recent decade-ish. As a result, it does not surprise me that there will be some/many that prefer the earlier versions to the new versions. Personally, there are parts of the LS25I that I like better than the LS25II. I think this case is mostly having to do with the tubes used vs. major changes to the circuitry. These are personal issues or opinions and you are likely to get people strongly agreeing with you and those that strongly disagree with you. Neither is more right or wrong than the other - such comments are based on personal opinions.
Ref 1 is a an all tube 6922 based preamp.
Ref 2 is still all 6922 but with 6550C regulator
Ref 2 II is a hybrid with JFet input and 6H30.
Chassis may look similar but they are completely different animals.

I concur with Sutt's opinion.
Thank you for all answers and opinions.

Just to comment on a few things that I don't agree with.
My Ref One is dead silent. No tube noice at all.
But I had that problem with my Ref2 mk2.
Might be a problem with more sensitive loudspeakers, but until now it haven't been an issue for me.
Tubes at the moment are Telefunken E88CC and Ei E88CC which both are low on noice.

Yes, I assume that ARC always are aiming at more detail and higher resolution, but when comparing my Ref One with Ref3 I find Ref One to be better.
Higher resolution and more dynamics.
Simply more nerve and musicality.
But as you say, it's a matter of personal preference.
Flex2: I am not surprised with your results at all. I still prefer the performance of 6922-based line stages over the 6H30 tube.

I had the LS5 MK II for several years when the Ref1 came out. I immediately compared the two and much preferred the LS5. And two other ARC fans did the same thing and we all preferred the LS5. The LS5 MK III came out a year later with greater tonal coherency and more resolution but the overall LS5 magic remained. If you really like the Ref 1, you should try to audition the LS5 in any version.

I wanted so much to investigate the Ref2 II with Amperex, Telefunken, Mullard or Valvo tubes. But a short time with the BAT 31SE and then onto the Aesthetix Callisto Sig., there was no going back to 6H30 based line stages. And now the Aria WV, first with Amperex PQ 6922 and now with the RCA 12BH7, is so far ahead of the others I had, that I have no desire to bother with 6H30 tubes.
Hello Jafox:
Actually I owned LS5 mk2 for a while, but found Ref One to be superior.
Less colouration, bigger soundstage and with higher resolution.
In short most things seemed to have improved to my ears.

I just noticed this LS5 mk3 rev. 2 schematic at Manfred's website. Didn't know there where severals revs of mk3.
This schematic is very simliar to Ref One.
Ref One have little more gain in each amplification stage but also have a overall higher gain.
Both seems to have approx. 12dB feedback. (for dynamic reasons???)
VT-100 mk2 also use a very similar circuitry so it seems like most amps was designed around the same principles at the time.

Ref One have a different and later powersupply circuitry though. Like LS25 mk2.
So it's very likely that Ref One simply is a more refined version of the last LS5 linestage.

http://www.arcdb.ws/LS5/LS5.html
Flex2: Yes, exactly. I understood that the LS5 III was an update due to things learned in the Ref1.....most notably the audio circuit....and a reduction of gain from 30db in the II to either 12 or 18 on the III based on a change to 8 resistors as I recall. I do not think much was changed to the LS5 PS.

One flaw I felt about ARC products was their wimpy power supplies, especially the power transformer. It's incredible how much a preamp's power transformer can affect the performance. I learned this when I had the Counterpoint SA2 stock transformer changed to a Plitron. Swapping between the two external boxes was truly incredible. There was so much life to the music that was simply squelched by the older and pint-sized transformer. I have thought to do this with the ARC MCP-33 that I also own. I know that GNSC did this to a few select ARC updates. I can only imagine the incredible effect it would have on the ARC preamps and line stages of the 80s/90s.
Hello Flex2,
I'm sharing some of your remarks regarding the ref3 and also the LS5MKII that i'm still owning.
I would moderate a little, the Ref3 is really an excellent Preamp, it sounds very liquid with a fantastic 3D image, yes that is not the more dynamic preamp i ve heard. It has really taken time to me to make it work as now, i used 6N30P-DR tubes, and a good power cable. I ve found the LS5MKII more musical than the Ref3 for a long time, but now i do prefer the Ref3 over the LS5MKII (even when i use Telefunken E88CC as you). I have no experience with the Ref1 but i ve listen the Ref2MKII and i ve owned also a LS25MKII. I found them "crispy" and less musical than LS5MKII and Ref3. The doubt a have is regarding the Ref2MKI and the Ref1, and i wanted to give a chance to the Ref2MKI. I ve expected than the Ref2MKI will have been more musical than the Ref3, but now i have serious doubts, and i don't thing i will look for one. The association of the Ref3 with my pair of amp (Ref300MKI) is just superb.
Have you also listen the Ref2MKI ?
Which amp are you using ?
Laurent
I have owned a Ref 2, mk2, a Ref 3, and several lower level ARC preamps. The Ref 5 is a HUGE step up. If Naim made a tube preamp, it would sound like a Ref 5. It offers incredible detail, but also excells at revealing nuances of rhythm, dynamics, and musical intent and subtlety. I upgrade from a Ref3 to the Shindo line, starting with an Auriges and then a Masseto. But with the Ref5, I am back! Really a GREAT preamp. It is anything but a subtle refinement of the Ref3. To your point on the Ref 1, if you like it best, that is a great circumstance to find yourself in. That is how I feel about the Ref5. I can stop looking... again.
Thanks for your inputs Arcl60 and Dbarger.

Laurent:
Yes I have listened to Ref 2 mk1 but only shortly so I might not be the best man to ask, but I remember that I found it to be a bit coloured. I wouldn't search for one if you have LS5 mk2 and even like Ref 3 better.

Regarding the Telefunken E88CC:
I can't use all Telefunkens in my Ref One. I simply get too fast and too dynamic, so I have found a combination of 50% Telefunken (first four tubes) and Ei E88CC for the last four tubes. That mix have given me the best sound so far. Very musical and with very natural pace and timbre.
For power amps I use ARC VT-150SE for mid and treble.
ARC 300.2 for bass.

Dbarger:
Great input. Thanks.
Hello Flex2,
I know very well the VT150SE as long as i'm still owning a pair. They are really great amplifiers. I ve recently did the upgrade to Ref300MKI and it's really a huge upgrade. When you compare the VT150SE and the Ref300MKI, the VT150SE is sounding more Medium, the Ref300MKI are just more extended on the bass and high frequency.
Definitively the Ref3 sounds better with the Ref300MKI than the LS5MKII which is a good match with the VT150SE.
Regarding the E88CC, i guess you maybe did that, the input tubes of the VT150SE can be replaced by Telefunken E88CC. That really a huge huge upgrade. I did the same on the Ref300MKI but only to 2 of the 4 inputs tubes. That's really make a big difference with recent tubes or even NOS Philips ECG tubes.
Thank you for the information for the Ref2MKI
Best Regards
Laurent
Arcl60:

Have you installed all three upgrades in your VT-150SE ?
I have never heard anyone mention these upgrades, but they are official upgrades from ARC.
One of them is to change from MIT Coaxial caps to Infinicaps, that made a quite dramatic improvment on the over all realism.
The other two are a change to the bias circuitry to make the start-up bias more stable until the tubes are warmed up, and the last are change of cables in the powersupply that increase impact and give the amplifier 10 extra watts.
I would say that the Infinicaps and the bias circuitry are very essential to all VT-150's.
Ask ARC for the instructions if you want to make these ugrades.

I'm not surprised that REF300 have better and deeper bass since everything (amount of tubes, powersupply and transformers) are beefed up.
Better treble than VT-150SE ???
Well, I have to hear that cause my VT-150SE are absolutely superb in the upper registers. Specially with Infinicaps.
Hope I get the chance to do so in the future.
Hello Flex,
I was aware of those 3 upgrades.
That maybe why my pair of VT150SE is less extended than the pair of Ref300MKI, i didn't do the infinicap upgrade. So maybe if i keep the pair of VT150SE, i will perform the upgrade. Well i guess it will be difficult to perform better on the bass register than the Ref300MKI, they are just more powerful, they use the double of tubes for the power.
By the way if you are traveling to France, and if you close from home, you are welcome to listen the Ref300
Laurent
Hello Laurent
I just looked and actually VT-150SE is a stronger amplifier than Ref300.
In fact it is stronger than all Reference amps except Ref600 which is as strong as VT-150SE.

Energy storage: Ref300 448 joules and VT-150SE 420 joules.
Feedback: Ref300 10dB and VT-150SE 15dB.
Damping factor: Ref300 have 11 (0,8dB at 16 ohm) and VT-150SE have 16 (0,5dB at 16 ohm).

So beacause of the higher feedback VT-150SE have a stiffer output, but I assume the "sence" of Ref300 being more powerful are because of the bigger transformers that transport the power more easily.
You better get some more iron in a 60Kg amp compared to a lightweighter like VT-150SE (35 Kg)
Ref300 also use less voltage swing over the output tubes compared to the same output from VT-150SE = more linear amplification and less distortion.

Thanks for the invitation.
I live in Europe too so please send an e-mail to flex2@live.se
I have Ref 5 and 1 side by side,I finally choose the Ref 1 for its outstanding transparancy,not to say Ref 5 is not transparency,the color of Ref 1 is whiter than the 5,lets put it in this way,Ref 1 is typical US sounding,but the Ref 5 has been turned to European sounding.
Thanks for the input Lawence_carpio.
Haven't heard the Ref5 yet, so your input are very interesting. Please describe more if you can...

...or correct my assumptions if you find them to be wrong.

Ref 1 have a bigger bolder soundstage with greater dynamics compared to Ref 5 ???

Ref5 are a bit more lean or slow sounding than Ref1 ???

Ref1 is LESS "musical" than Ref5 ???

Ref5 have a deeper but not as wide/high soundstage than Ref1 ???

Which of them do you think have the highest "truthness" to individual acoustic instruments ?
You don't make sense. If the REF 5 is leaner how could it be more musical? I think you are getting your thoughts mixed up.
I guess we all listen and hear a little different . My experience with my ARC Ref preamps are nearly opposite to the OP's . I won't go back to the REF 1 or 2 for any reason including price .
ARC is a great company with lots of great products though .
Regards Tim
You forgot: Ref 1 is a lot cheaper than Ref 5.
Jwm:

I don't see why a leaner sounding can't be more musical.
IMHO any of the better Conrad Johnson's is more musical than any of the Ref preamps I have owned and at the same time leaner sounding.

Remember that Ref One have 12 dB feedback while Ref 5 have no feedback.
When adding feedback you mostly get a fuller, wider and cleaner sound, but loose in musicality and soundstage depth.
It's a delicate act of balance to get the right mix and the best possible sound from a design.
Pubul57

Considering that Ref One costed $9000 when released 1995 and Ref 5 costs $12000 when released 14 years later I would say that Ref One is any "cheaper" than Ref 5 if you look at the general price development over the years.

But if you look at the price you would need to pay for a used Ref your right.
Tim, just out of curiousity, which preamp are you using ?
I own the VAC Sig Preamp and it uses no feedback but does not sound lean and is the most musical line stage I ever owned. It replaced the AR Ref 2 Mark 2.
You can't buy one new nowadays:)
Jwm:
I'm not surprized.
VAC make excellent amplifiers and Ref2 mk2 is not the best effort from ARC.
In my experience the Ref 3 was a total departure from the previous Ref series which I frankly found underwhelming except in comparison to ARC's own offerings down the food chain. The Ref 3 is (and I presume the Ref 5 as well) a world class preamp due to it's musicality, depth and width of sound field, instrument detail and correctness of timbre and remarkable black background.
Hi Flex2,

What I liked the Ref 1 is,the speed,transient,mirco dynamic,and the truthness of the acoustic / vocal as well as the way it presence the soundstage,almsot you can fell & touch,extremely vivid and lifelike,of cource,associated equipments is inportant.

The Ref 1 let me remember the CELLO Audio Suite pre amp,still one of the top notch pre amp in the world,I have owned different version of Cello Audio Suite before I got married,the Ref 1 has almost the most vitus of the Audio Suite,believed it or not.

The Ref 1 is not for everyone,hence I guessed ARC need to change and tune their sound from time to time for market strategy in order to get most of the customer in all over the world,this happened as Wilson speaker,I have owned many version of Watt / Puppy series,they changed too.

I don't agreed because of price different of Ref 1 & 5,I agreed with your comments on that,I'm will to pay for the price of Ref5,eventually I liked the Ref1 the most.

For the time of searching the Ref1,I have quite a hard time for it,will post my experience later.

I'm happy we have satisfied user of ARC Reference 1 pre amp here,plerase share more :)
Hi Flex2,

What I liked the Ref 1 is,the speed,transient,mirco dynamic,and the truthness of the acoustic / vocal as well as the way it presence the soundstage,almsot you can fell & touch,extremely vivid and lifelike,of cource,associated equipments is inportant.

The Ref 1 let me remember the CELLO Audio Suite pre amp,still one of the top notch pre amp in the world,I have owned different version of Cello Audio Suite before I got married,the Ref 1 has almost the most vitus of the Audio Suite,believed it or not.

The Ref 1 is not for everyone,hence I guessed ARC need to change and tune their sound from time to time for market strategy in order to get most of the customer in all over the world,this happened as Wilson speaker,I have owned many version of Watt / Puppy series,they changed too.

I don't agreed because of price different of Ref 1 & 5,I agreed with your comments on that,I'm will to pay for the price of Ref5,eventually I liked the Ref1 the most.

For the time of searching the Ref1,I have quite a hard time for it,will post my experience later.

I'm happy we have satisfied user of ARC Reference 1 pre amp here,plerase share more :)
As compare with 5 & 1,the 5 has all the vitus of 1 but a little colored which made the sound bolder / heavier than the Ref 1,the image is too large for me, the top end is not as detail as Ref 1,one thing it truly beat the Ref 1 is the noise floor,others the Ref 1's sound extremely balanced to me.

The 5 is better performance in classical music than the 1,my music do not have classical / symphony preference.
It is true that the Ref 1 is hard to find for the latest version,I bought 4 different version of Ref 1,they sound completely different !

The conclusion that I made for the above is based on the latest version,the Ref 5 returns my friend home after the searching:)
Flex2,

I'm not good in describing sound,I would say listening to Ref 5,just like the sound of Ref 1 having the "Loudness" button pressed in,all spectrum is enhanced,love it or hate it different preference,my friend has Wilson's Grand Slam III,it gave stronger effect,peoples like the Ref 5 as if they have really large speaker :(
Flex 2... I had been using the Ref 3 for the last three years and decided I would try the 40th Anniversary Ref . It was a step or two up from the Ref 3 . but I thought I should be open minded and try every other preamp I could get my hands on , even though I loved ARC products and the company . In the end It was the Ayre KXR that got me a step closer to the musicians than anything else , without any added artifacts . See my system link for more details .
.
I've had the Ref 3 for about four years. I can't imagine a better preamp. I don't dare listen to the Ref5 or the 40th Anniversary models because I'm sure that I won't rest until I get one if I hear them.

I've owned the SP9, LS-10, Ref1, and the Ref2 MkII. Each newer model better than its predecessor.
.
Thanks for your comments so far Lawence_carpio.
Seems like you have very similar experiences with Ref One.
Mine is the lastest version too.
Love to hear more about your Ref One adventures and what made you like it...

Tmsorosk:
Ayre ?
Hmmmm...
Might need to hear one of those when I get the chance.

Mitch4t:
Thanks for sharing your experience with ARC products.
Have a similar history with ARC myself, but a different result. Ref 2 mk2 and Ref 3 was not my cup of tea.
Hi flex2,

Mind tell me what is your others associated gears?...
Main rig:
ARC Ref One
ARC VT-150SE (mid and treble)
ARC 300.2 (bass)
Linn Akurate SACD
Exact Power EP15A
Shunyata Hydra
Powercables from Shunyata and Elrod
Interconnects Wireworld Platinum Eclipse, MIT Oracle 2.1
Loudspeakercables MIT MH-850CVT Evo Shotgun and Magnan Signature
My own design of loudspeaker (based on Thiel & Partners later cheramic drivers and Eton bass, quite similar to Avalon Isis except for the diamond tweeter) and Infinity IRS Epsilon
Vinyl Rega P25 with Ortofon MC-10 Supreme
ARC PH5 for RIAA + a prototype of my own design.
Personal listening:
Sennheiser HD650 and Beyerdynamic DT-880 (600 ohm version)
My own design of headphone amplifier with crossfeed.

TV-rig
ARC LS12
Restek Tensor (excellent solid state poweramp)
Mark Levinson No.36
Exact Power EP-15A
Interconnects Wireworld Gold Eclipse 5.2 and MIT Magnum M1
Loudspeakercables Kimber 8TC
Loudspeakers KEF Reference 107.2

Living room system
T+A V-10
T+A D-10
Interconnect Wireworld Gold Eclipse 5.2
Loudspeakercable MIT MH-770 CVT Twin
Dynaudio Confidence 5

What about your own system ?