Has anyone compared Ayre K-1xe to ARC Ref 3 or VTL

I have an Ayre K-1xe preamp with phono stage - which I love.

But I have since acquired an Aesthetix Io Signature, so I no longer use the Ayre's built-in phono stage, which occupies one of the Ayre's 3 balanced XLR inputs. The Io sounds noticeably better through the balanced XLR connections than the single ended connections.

More recently I acquired an Exemplar Denon 5910 with balanced XLR outs only. I also have an Ayre C-5xe, which also sounds much better through the balanced XLR connections than the single ended connections.

I asked Ayre to remove the phono card and return its associated balanced XLR input to line stage. Ayre refuses to remove phono cards from its preamps. So now I have to choose between compromising the sound of vinyl or digital through the C-5xe.

All of this sets the stage for me to sell the K-1xe. I'm considering replacing it with an ARC Ref 3 or a VTL 7.5. I would welcome thoughts from those with experience with these 3 preamps.


I have heard all three, The 7.5 on loan in my system, and owned the K-1XE. These two are very close. I slightly prefered the little sweetness of the VTL in my system. (but not enough to switch from the K-1XE) However my wife and most of my friends liked the overall presentation of the Ayre better. IMO the 7.5 and Ayre are on an equal playing field.
The Ref3 I have only heard in my friends system. Many times, but never at my place. It is alot better than the LS25 MKII he had before it. I am not the biggest fan of ARC gear. But his system sounds good with the Ref3 in it. I am sure others will add more than I can.
If the K-1XE is really good in your system. Why not sell it and take the money and buy another one used? You can then run all three balanced. No money lost and your problem will be solved.
Wht not check out an Aesthetix Callisto sig.?

I recently got a VTL 6.5 (considering the 7.5)...tried the ARC ref 3 and K1xe prior to getting the vtl...there is slight possibility that the forthcoming Ayre KX-R pre amp might be end target...but I do enjoy the detail/musicality of the vtl...seems like a very good match...the ARC wasn't as good at low end...

Hi all,

Thanks for the your info and suggestions.

Re Calliston Signature -- this would be the best in my opinion, but only accepts 2 balanced inputs. They rarely come up on Audiogon and even more rarely have the remote control which I can't do without and I can't afford a new one.

Waiting to listen to the new Ayre KX-R may be a wise choice. But the configuration of the Ref 3 would be excellent in my system.

Was a little late this weekend on some Ref 3 opportunities on Audiogon. Still keeping open mind on Ayre, ARC & VTL.


I have played with those components...ended up with VTL...next would be the K1xe...last would be the Ref...but guess it depends upon which version of the Ref 3 you are playing with...the one I borrowed I think was recent...but not sure....and of course I have one eye on the upcoming KX-R from Ayre...
hi ed, a while back i posted a long review of the vtl 6.5 pre vs the ref 3. i agree with hikejohn above regarding the ref 3 at the low end. i have auditioned the vtl 7.5 mk 2 only briefly, but enough to know it is of a higher level than the vtl 6.5 which i felt was overall superior to the ref 3. the k1xe is also excellent. note - if you are missing resolution on the low end with cd's it is from the c5xe, excellent all around but weakest at the bottom in terms of articulation. cheers. marc
I had an Ayre C5XE and a K3 preamp and actually preferred the single ended connections to the balanced. I did an A/B with the same type interconnects (AQ Chetahs).
Hikejohn, Soundisntmusic & Kevinmcd, thanks for your responses. They give me a lot to think about.

Soundisntmusic, the Virtual Dynamics Revelation 2.0 balanced IC really brought out the base with the C-5xe. I'm running it single-ended right now with a Stealth Indra and it is base-shy compared to the balanced VD Revelation 2.0.

The VTL 6.5/7.5 vs the ARC Ref 3 have certainly generated a lot of opposing opinions. Those who prefer the VTL and those who prefer the Ref 3 seem to be roughly evenly divided.

It will be interesting to hear the new Ayre KX-R.

Best for a Happy and prosperous New Year.

hi ed,
although there is no rhyme or reason in terms of equating price with quality in high end audio, synergy issues aside, if you find that the ref 3 stacks up very closely to the vtl 7.5 mk 2 after a controlled side by side audition of good lenght, i would be quite astonished. the vtl 7.5 mk 2 is really in a very different league pricewise.

since you mention the c-5xe run single ended is bass shy, then i hope you give it full opportunity via bal with excellent cables when you audition preamps. if you audition the vtl 6.5 with the ayre cdp, use the cdp2 connection, the path is different from the cd1, more direct. similarly, when auditioning the ref 3, also try the sdp via the monitor, which has less electronics in the pathway. more open overall, though a bit raw at the top, depending on IC and PCs.

i am unfamiliar with the VD rev 2 bal ICs, other than what i have read. i form no solid opinions on what i havent auditioned.

cheers and happy new year. marc
My experience with the C-5xe found it exhibited less smearing and improved mid bass when run with balanced cables into a true balanced line stage. Overall, an improvement in clarity. I experimented with identical RCA and XLR ICs and the difference was easy to hear. Maybe Serquei can re-terminate that Indra ;->

If you haven't seen it already, you might check MarcM's Soundstage comparo of the Ref3 and VTL TL 7.5 series 1 - he used both with a couple different Lamm amps. It looks like VTL has changed the voltage gain on the series 2, so maybe now it could fit with your 1.2s. While you're looking, I'll suggest considering the 2 box Atma-Sphere MP-1 linestage - with or without its optional phono section (which I'm willing to bet will turn the ear of more than a few IO owners. :-)

Is your tone arm cable terminated w/ XLR fittings?

Regards and happy new year,
My experience is that the Ref 3 is not in the same league as the VTL 7.5 mkII (never listened to the 1st version)...but it is the best pre that ARC has made....but be careful which version you get....apparently they have made running changes/improvements...had friend who got one on audiogon...but his judgement was that it was not as good as the "current" version....whatever that might mean from the factory....but I suspect that many companies make running changes...