Does the ARC Ref5 sound better than Ref2/3 ?


I had an ARC Ref2MkII for a couple of years and loved it.
Nevertheless: ARC announced the Ref3, and finally the Ref5.
An the press was ranking the Ref3 much above the Ref2, and the Ref5 much above the Ref3. (I will not consider the Anniversary Edition due to the huge price difference).

So I decided to test the Ref5 vs my Ref2MkII.

To give you a rough feeling about the environment I used for testing: I have a dedicated listening room sized approx 400sft (36sqm). I only play CDs, using an Oracle Drive and a Jadis Tube D/A converter. My speakers are french Triangle, model Magellan Grant Concert, and two matching subwoofers from Triangle, model Meteor0.4
(The reason for the two subwoofers is that the Magellan have incedible good mids and highs, but the bass is - for my personal taste - a bit weak. But with the subwoofers - being adjustable in crossover frequency and volume, having a separate power amp, being directly connected to the main out on the preamp - the combination a absolutly great).
My power amps are (old but still ok) ARC VT150 monos.
I use to play mostly on mid volume. I hear many styles of music: classics, rock, some pop, a bit jazz, sometimes more modern staff.

So enough of the environment, back to the preamp comparison.

I share with you my experience in chronological order.
(One remark: my Ref2 has roughly 400 hours tube time, and the Ref is a prowned one with approx 300 hours).

The very first impression of the Ref5 was simply disappointing. It sounded as if all the deep bass frequences were gone. The "high" bass was there (and did sound excellent, by the way).
This fact struck me so much that I could nit concentrate on the sound quality, because I was simply missing an important part of the music!

The solution was quite simple: I increased the output of the subwoofers (since I have two of them I use an untypical high crossover frequency of 100 Hz) - anf here
it was back again!

So NOW I could start comparing the sound quality.

My next impression was that the Ref5 was - hard to describe - a bit more diffucult to love at the start.
The sound seems to be more fare away from the listener,
not so involving. In fact this is finally positive, a more open soundstage.

When switching back to the Ref2, it seems to overstress the low-end bass in comparison, and somehow the mod/voice area.

When hearing both of them only in a short test, the Ref2 seems to be more appealing, easier to grasp.

When listening longer, the Ref5 shows all it advantages: a larger soundstage, broader and deeper, a finer charactarization of the single instruments, a more balanced sound profile (no part of the music seems to dominate), even more dynamic (although the Ref2 is not bad in that respect). And the bass is more precise (you can "see" the drums more than with the Ref2), and even in the low bass the separation is better (e.g. playing the deepest tones on a piono - this tends to sound like thunder, not like single tones. This is much better with the Ref5).

So to put it in nutshell: if you like the ARC style and the Ref1 or Ref2 - you will finally love the Ref5 even more.
(Only one drawback: if you love deep, full bass and cannot adjust your speakers or anything else: be sure to test the Ref5 before upgrading).

My dealer said the mainly is in line with the experience from other customers. The Ref3 is said to be somewhere in between in all repects.

I hope this experience is helpful to share - any omments welcome!
ozatschek
You might want to repost about the Ref 5's bass after 600 hours. It will continue to improve.
Hi Aldavis: thanks, sounds promising. A know that ARC themselves claim that it might take up to 600 hours to totally burn in the Ref5 - I was not aware that this can help the bass as well. I will repost then.
I'm assured the improvements in the REF 5 MKII will be more immediately apparent.
Is there already a Ref5-MkII? Or is this a statement for the future?
Actually it was just my twisted sense of humour.
i have read some posts that says that REF5 is made more simply than ref3. Fewer parts etc and that it should cost less than ref3 even if it sounds better and that to the benefit of the audio world. On the other hand a local agent says it has newer technology that cost more to produce.
Any comments?
Ulf, Some manufacturers tend to overbuild the first model and then continue to try and improve, fine tune the next product. Sometimes that means using fewer parts. Sometimes it means changing parts. All of this takes a lot of time to do, i.e. man hours. You listen to the product, remove or change a part.etc. and listen again. You might have to do this a few hundred times, spending 100's of hours in the process to voice the new product and get it just right. In order to recoup the time spent, the price of the product may go up. This is not at all unusual.
I owned the REF3 for a few years , and heard the REF5 a few times . I thought the 5 was a full step better .
Hifigeak1

My friend, a skilled tecnician, had inspected both ref3 and ref 5 and he says that the simplification on ref5 against ref3 is rather big. That should lead to lower production costs perhaps even out the cost of many hours fine tuning a new product.
It would be a good thing if a fine company like ARC would say: We have made a better product and sells it for less!!
07-25-11: Ulf
Hifigeak1

My friend, a skilled tecnician, had inspected both ref3 and ref 5 and he says that the simplification on ref5 against ref3 is rather big. That should lead to lower production costs perhaps even out the cost of many hours fine tuning a new product.
It would be a good thing if a fine company like ARC would say: We have made a better product and sells it for less!!
Ulf (System | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
Good thing for who? It is priced at what the market is willing to pay. ARC is a PRIVATE company and the goal of a PRIVATE company is profits so they can stay in business.
.
I think the Ref3 is an incredible preamp. I've had it for about four or five years now. I refuse to even listen to the Ref5 until I can afford to buy one. I don't need the aggravation of lusting for something that I can't afford. So, if I don't hear it, I won't know what I'm missing. The Ref3 has answered all of my preamp prayers.
.
There are at least 3 versions of the ref 3.
First batch with a different set of (inferior) tubes.
Then- I think the most common- with the present set of tubes.
The the last batch was a Lim Ed with some changes and very good sound. Some of my audiophile friends made a shootout with this REF3LE and a REF5 and the sound was very very similar.
Markwatkiss, that might have to wait till the Ref 6.
Ulf, you are correct about the production progress of the REF3. The last 25 were badged Limited Edition. It's unclear as to how many of those 25 ended up at Dealers in North America and how many went to Europe and Asia.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of those LE and you are also correct about some of the parts used in the LE version making their way into the new REF5 design when launched into production.

The sonic attributes and similarities of the LE vs REF5 aside, the LE will become a collector's item to the likes of the SP10 and REF40.
If you can not afford a REF40 get an LE...... If/when you can find one.