Compare: Modwright LS 36.5 & Audio Research LS26

I'd appreciate opinions from anyone who has experience with these line stages. OK any comparisons including the Modwright and Ref 3 are also welcome.

Amps: Audio Research VM220 Mono Blocs (the Mono version of the VS110)
Wison Audio Sophias. Music: Classic Rock, Singer Songwriter, Classical, Small ensemble chamber, LOTS of vocals.

Recreation of stage & space, tube glow and midrange warmth and vocal realism, and rhythmic integrity top priorities. 80% vinyl, 20% digital.

Thanks for your assistance.

since you are 80% vinyl, are you aware the Modwright 36.5 does not have a phono stage in it?

I currently own the 36.5 and like it very much. It is dynaic and detailed and wonderful with vocals, but I would not consider it "tubey." If you are looking for added wamrth than this is not the piece for you. If you are looking for detail, dynamics, and soundstage then you will love it.
Yes I'm aware. I've recently added the Modwright SWP 9 phono stage to my system. I replaced the power supply tube and the 6N1p's to obtain a tad more tube midrange with stunning results. Thanks for your response.
Dan makes a separate, standalone tubed phono stage, the SWP 9.0SE, which you could use in conjunction with the 36.5 for your vinyl. I have no direct experience with that piece. I'd concur with Rydenfan regarding the 36.5 - superb resolution, linear, fast, and uncolored. The only other pre I've had that provided as black a background was a passive pre (I much prefer the Modwright for putting meat on the bones). If you are looking for a tubey sound, look elsewhere. I'd describe Dan's pre very clean and pure. Sorry, no experience with the ARC Ref 3 to compare.
Whoops, obviously I missed your response as it had not been posted as I wrote mine. Also, I missed that you were considering an LS26 and not a Ref 3 - still, no experience there either. The only ARC piece I've owned is a GNS modified LS2B, which only shared what I'd the same uncolored and neutral character with the 36.5, but that's where the resemblance ends. The ARC I owned could not hold a candle to the resolution and remarkable spatial soundstage the 36.5 renders (I forgot to mention that - it is definitely one of the 36.5 strong qualities).
If you are enjoying your Modwright phono stage then you will certainly love the 36.5. Dan voices his gear to work together. I love my 36.5 and will soon be adding the dual mono power supply upgrade :)
As a former owner of LS-26 I can tell you that its not typical tube sound either. Its quiet close to SS IME & IMO and paired with the wrong amp can be quiet lean and unforgiving.
I've compared the 36.5 with the separate PSU to a BAT 51se and a few months later to the 52se. The Modwright was, in my system and to my ears, better in several ways - cleaner, stronger transients, deeper SS with more air and separation. Everything was just a bit more palpable, more there. SS width was similar. All are very quiet. I could live with the 52se, it's great but I like the dynamic transients of the Modwright more. Notes jump, drums sticks THWack (while deep in the SS a brush still sounds like a brush.) Vocals were similar but the Modwright produced the fine details while the 51se was more polite. The 52se really did vocals right but the Modwright had them a touch more forward, which I like, mostly.

I haven't heard an ARC pre in my system yet. I have heard the Ref3 many times at shows and I like it but... If I were to place the sound of these three or four preamps on a scale from tubey to SSey I would say the Modwright sits right there between the 52se and the Ref3 - the Ref3 is not very tubey to my ears, the 52se a bit more. However, with certain fancy NOS rectifiers the 36.5 moves more towards tubey (RCA 5U4G, for example) . I don't think it will ever be considered warm though. Full? Sure. Meaty, sure again. But never syrupy.
The 36.5+ strikes the best balance that I have heard in my system yet between SS like guts - bass and dynamics, the air and shimmer of tubes and the BIG, DEEP soundstage tubes produce when done right.
I just reread your system and I will add that which ever pre you choose, Ref3 or 36.5, you are going to have one fantastic system there. I might venture to say too that your choice might rest more on your TT and cart choice than anything else.

What's your vinyl set up?
I haven't heard the LS26 but I own the 36.5 (single box) and had the Ref 3 in my system for a few days. Both are great linestages with different strengths. I'm not sure which unit I would prefer over the long haul although the Ref 3 with about 250 hours on it may have needed more time.

The Modwright excels in low level resolution/ambient detail, imaging, and refinement. It's sound can also be altered by changing the rectifier. The GZ34/5AR4 is standard but it can also take the GZ32/5V4 and
GZ37/5U4 families. Upgrading to NOS is highly recommended.

The ARC throws a bigger, more enveloping soundstage, has more bass impact and stronger macro dynamics.

This is obviously an unfair comparison as the single box 36.5 retails for $5k and the Ref 3 for $9k. However, from all reports the Dual Mono 36.5 ($9k) would have all of the advantages of both the above pieces. There's a used one being offered for sale now.
Thanks for your thorough and thoughtful analysis.
My analog front end is a TW Acustic Raven One Table, a Graham Phanton arm and a Dynavector XX2MkII cartridge. The phono pre is a Modwright SWP 9 with
NOS Mullard 5AR4 in the power supply and old Russian military 6np1's in the gain stage.
The tube changes have made the pre a bit "tubier" while preserving the resolution and staging of the stock preamplifier. Cabling is Synergistic research Tesla Accelerator.
The line stage upgrade is the final major piece...other than power cords etc.
Your input is valuable.....much appreciated.
Wow. Perfect. It's going to be even more better than I thought.
I love the TW Acustic Tables. I spent most of my time at RMAF this fall in the two rooms hosted by Jeffrey and Thomas. I plan on buying a Raven table in the next 6 months - must save some money first. Patience!

Would you agree your set up leans towards more accuracy than romance now? Do you plan on changing up your cart?

My opinion is the ARC preamps may be a bit too lean in your set up - unless you like extremely tight, really crisp sound with the sort of brilliant tonality the Ref3 is known for. I tend towards liking that myself but I have always found the Ref3 one step too far. I have heard the Sophias with ARC amps and the Ref3 several times now. The sound has been great for a portion of the time but for an equal amount of the time I found myself pushed by the lean, almost etched sound. I honestly can't say what was going on - bad recordings, wrong load - I can't remember if it was the TT or the digital that was giving me a headache but it's happened a few times.(I really like the Sophias with BAT tube amps. They add just a bit of romance to the Sophias - which seem to me to sound dry and sterile if not matched up with the right amps.)

Seeing you have already swapped rectifiers in your SWP I imagine you like a bit less of that and more heft, more bloom. The 36.5 has a bit of that but not much. It is a 6h30 pre after all - it's very neutral. Swapping out the rectifier in the 36.5 will do the same as it's done in your SWP so you know what's possible there.

Is the same thing possible with the REF3? I don't know. It'd be good to find out.


Thanks for your input
Where is the 36.5 listed?
Search AudioCircle For "miklorsmith"
Just give'em a link. $6500. No relation to the seller whatsoever. Good luck.
"Recreation of stage & space, tube glow and midrange warmth and vocal realism, and rhythmic integrity top priorities. 80% vinyl, 20% digital."

You should definitely also check out the Red Wine Audio Isabella if you are looking for the sound that you describe above.

This is my favorite preamp and I have a friend who now owns one and is also smitten over the sound. He has owned many preamps over the years, including the Modwright 36.5 - the Isabella is so far his favorite by far as well.

Happy listening

I should have noted that to roll a GZ37 or GZ32 in the single box 36.5 - unlike the Dual Mono unit - requires a moving the tube socket to line up with a DM top if you don't want to run it with the top off. Modwright will probably do this at a reasonable price.
The Modwright LS 36.5 uses only one pair of 6H30s in the signal path. However, it has both single-ended and balanced inputs. How do you do that with just one pair of tubes?
Jwarmbrand said:
This is my favorite preamp and I have a friend who now owns one and is also smitten over the sound. He has owned many preamps over the years, including the Modwright 36.5 - the Isabella is so far his favorite by far as well.

Red Wine Audio HAS to be one of your favorites since it's literally all you've deemed worthy to post about since joining Audiogon one year ago. You have one thread initiated yourself(about the Isabella) and 14 answers in other to other threads - every single one of your 14 responses over the course of a year recommends a Red Wine Audio product...without exception. You have made no posts here that do not contain some recommendation of a Red Wine Audio product...not 12 months. You must be Vinnie's biggest fan!!!! :-)

I am not questioning that Vinnie makes fine products, and that the Isabella is worth this poster's consideration, but I find your record of posts here....well, also worth consideration.


Well yes you are correct. It is true I am a big RWA fan! no doubt about it and maybe you would want me to make a disclaimer before I post that I am very smitten over my listening experience with my RWA equipment? I just want others to listen to give it a listen as well. Vinnie makes fine sounding products and has given me the best customer service and i feel good supporting RWA and most of all I enjoy listening. I do not mean for my posts to bother you.


Vinnie makes fine sounding products and has given me the best customer service and i feel good supporting RWA and most of all I enjoy listening. I do not mean for my posts to bother you.

Thanks for clarifying that, Jeff. No, your posts do not 'bother' me on face value, but I do find it noteworthy and extraordinary that in a year of posting here that is the only subject you've chosen to post about to the exclusion of the rest of the chain of components in a system, and of music itself, and, in fact, of anything else at all outside of RWA. Why it's downright odd to be that myopic about ones devotion to a company, IMO. In addition you've never asked any questions at all - only made statements of support for RWA. I just thought others reading your posts might want to take that into account and put it into perspective - they can form their own opinions, of course. Perhaps others won't feel as I do, but I'd consider your participation here to resemble that of a shill for RWA. As I said, I'm sure Vinnie's gear can speak for itself, and I'm not suggesting anyone curb their enthusiasm for anything, but, to be honest, I find your contributions highly suspect simply from your record. I've had some correspondence with Vinnie years ago and he seemed like a fine fellow with a passion for what he's doing. I, of course, don't know you from Adam, so I only have your contributions and your record here to go on. Someone else can chime in with an opinion, but those are my impressions. At the very least, I certainly consider your record of contributions here noteworthy. If you are not a shill, well, perhaps Vinnie should consider putting you on the payroll :-) I always try to get familiar with folks posting here through their previous contributions whenever considering what they have to say. There are many in the community I've come to respect from their contributions and my connections to what they have to say and recommend, their musical preferences, comments, questions, etc. It's a great feature of a forum like this to be able to look back to the archives to become familiar with where someone is coming from. Apologies, to Jdolgin for hijacking the thread, but I thought I should mention this when I looked at where you were coming from.
How about we try and keep this on topic and you guys email each other??

I guess i see where you are coming from. My excitement for my RWA system and my past posts about it sound like i am a "shill" to you because this is what ive been posting about since I joined here on Agon. Look, I don't need to be on RWA payroll because I've already been "paid" with much enjoyment from listening to my system everyday. I have no special relation with Vinnie and RWA. I paid full price and am glad to support 'em and will continue to do so. I was not asked to post anything here or anywhere. If I want to show my excitment and post about it here or anywhere else, I am allowed to do it and anyone can view my past posts and I hope they will. I'm not trying to thread-jack or start a pissing contest or anything. I saw the original post and what Jdolgin was looking for and it sounds like he would really like the sound of the RWA Isabella preamp based on his description so I posted to him about it. It is somewhere in the price range he is looking at i think so i thought he might find it a helpful recommendation and there are plenty of others out there too. if not, no problem and i meant no disrespect to him, you or anyone else.

Rydenfan - Point taken. Which tubes are you running in your 36.5? I've only tried the stock 6h30's - are your using the supertube version and if so, is it worth the high cost? I did find replacing the rectifier with an NOS Mullard gave me some added resolution, but I haven't done much back and forth there.
You must replace the stock 6H30's with the 6H30 DR's! This is a no-brainer and will make a profound impact, especially in bass.
You must replace the stock 6H30's with the 6H30 DR's! This is a no-brainer and will make a profound impact, especially in bass.

Interesting. As I understand it the DR's are the military-spec'd version of the 6H30 - can you elaborate on the differences between the stock version? Is there a difference in materials and or construction of the tube, or are they just culled from stock 6H30's using higher standards of tolerances? Which amp(s) are you using? I'm using Quicksilver 300B SET mono amps in a relatively small-midsize room in nearfield. Do you have a good resource for DR's? I know Conus sells'em.
Vett93 asked...

"The Modwright LS 36.5 uses only one pair of 6H30s in the signal path. However, it has both single-ended and balanced inputs. How do you do that with just one pair of tubes?"

Rather than using a dual differential circuit the 36.5 uses two Electraprint step down transformers to produce the balanced outputs.
Can you explain the differences between the standard dual differential ballanced circuit and the implimentation Dan
chose for the LS 36.5? Do other designers use the same approach?

"Can you explain the differences between the standard dual differential balanced circuit and the implementation Dan
chose for the LS 36.5? Do other designers use the same approach?"

Probably not well enough to do any good. LOL.

I just tried to write a nice, succinct explanation but, after rereading the several paragraphs a few times, I decided I was way out of my depth. In any case...

The 36.5 uses the Electraprint transformers as phase splitters to produce the balanced signal outputs. Using a dual differential circuit would have produced the same balanced output but then that would be a whole different beast of a pre, wouldn't it?

I'll assume Dan didn't want that for reasons of cost and complexity and purity of design etc...

But I'm guessing.

The reasons for having a transformer coupled output is pretty straight forward. You get a balanced output (for CMRR) and you get a lower output impedance for driving amps with low input impedances. Are there compromises to doing it this way? Probably, there are always compromises, but someone with more knowledge than I have needs to step in to explain what they might be.

As for others doing things this way, I assume it's the standard way to get a true balanced output from a SE circuit.

Would I could be more helpful...
We chose output transformers to create the balanced outputs (and serve the SE (RCA) outputs also), for the following reasons:

1) OPT (Output Transformers) allow us to provide a MUCH lower output impedance (100ohm), over the standard 600ohm output impedance of our SE circuit. Compare this to 1K + for most preamps. This allows for MUCH better integration with amplifiers of ANY kind, even those with 10K input impedance or lower.

2) Obviously the output transformers enable us to have differential outputs and phase switching. The same would be true had we used fully differential circuitry. The transformer provide other benefits.

3) Rather than attenuate the gain at the input of the circuit and limit bandwidth, we are able to operate the circuit at full gain and attenuate output signal via the OPT's. In this case, we chose 4:1 stepdown configuration, custom-wound for us by Electraprint Audio. In addition to attenuating signal at the output, noise is also attenuated noise by the same factor. This makes a quiet circuit even 4 times quieter.

An important clarification here. The OPT's in this circuit do not see DC voltage. The SE circuit is capacitor-coupled, hence the OPT's see purely AC signal, thus not suffering from typical bandwidth limitations inherent in many SET amplifier designs. An SET amp's OPT's block DC, thus causing typical bandwidth limitations, between 20Hz and 20Khz. The OPT's we use are flat to 60Khz and do not limit bass response to 20Hz.

So, what are the drawbacks?:

1) Lower noise floor.
2) Lower output impedance.
3) Appropriate gain levels.
4) BW from 20Hz - 60Khz.

Sorry, those aren't really drawbacks.... I don't feel there are drawbacks to this approach. Given the cost of good OPT's, it is hardly a cost-savings. I am sure that people have opinions about the use of transformers in the signal path. Bandwidth limiation is not an issue here, as it can be with SET amps. Also consider the fact that many consider transformer-based volume controls to be superior to any other form of attenuation. I would have liked to use them in the 36.5, but the impact on unit cost would have been prohibitive.

I am not trying to be sarcastic about the negative effects of transformer coupling. I simply don't see any in this design and the benefits are significant.

Our amplifier design (KWA 150) is actually transformer INPUT coupled AND fully differential. I.e. we use both a transformer and fully balanced circuitry. The reasons for this go beyond the depth of this discussion, but if I felt that transformers limited sonics, we certainly would not have used them in our amp design. One additional benefit of this approach to our amp design, is that both RCA and XLR inputs are treated as fully balanced internally, rather than forcing the amp to operate in SE mode due to RCA inputs.

I hope that this helps explain the reasons for our choice of balanced topography in the LS 36.5.

AS this thread pertains to the Red Wine design, I have not heard it and cannot comment on how our two designs compare. They are obviously very different designs. It sounds like Vinnie has done a great job and it has been well received.


Dan W.
Thanks, Dan. Regarding item #3 above, why would it limit the bandwidth if you do attention at the input?

Thanks for your explanation. I appreciate your response. I also want to share how your phono stage has increased my musical enjoyment. A masterful design.
Jax2, Thanx as I was reading along and was wondering how the Shill Plug for RWA came into play in this discussion? Good detective work on your part, and for out'g Jwarmbrand, as it was just Too Funny seeing all 14 of his tread posts being nothing but Shills! LOL
...Good detective work on your part,...

I honestly was not intending to be Columbo or anything like that. If I don't know where someone is coming from when they make claims or recommendations here I routinely take a quick peak at things they've said in the past to get some sense of where they're coming from, what their preferences are, what kind of music they listen to, etc. There are so many different varieties and flavors of preferences here and I do believe (contrary to some) that all of this stuff is entirely subjective. There is no 'right' answer, or 'best' component/system. The only thing most of us know about each other are these words on a screen. I'm not convinced as to whether or not Jwarmbrand is a shill or not, but he certainly could be Vinnie's poster boy. Whether he is or not really doesn't matter one wit to me. Based on his record of posts here I'm left with no idea where he's coming from, nor what his experience is beyond the glory of RWA and various word of mouth testimonies from so many friends who also happen to prefer RWA over the various components they've compared it to. To me this just strikes as rhetoric and I am left with no sense of who this poster is or where he's coming from (shill or not). If he does have no interest, beyond saving all of us from the mediocrity of products not conceived and built by RWA, I guess my suggestion would be that he share more of himself and his experience than does the myopic posts he's thus far made here. In doing so he might paint a clearer picture of where he's coming from and give others a sense of perspective. Some may take him more seriously with that to go on. As it is he just occurs to me, at best, like a skipping record. Just my opinion...
I can tell you with the 6h30 tube the DR is a little better but not worth $150 for 1 tube.A stock tube is only$30.
I can tell you I bought my from Cryoset after their deep cycle it is not far off to the DR at 1/5th the cost and
a very balanced character.