Heads Up: ARC is introducing the new SP-20 in Fall

An excerpt from ARCDB web site:

"Tube stereo preamplifier.

"As a result of the ever-increasing demand for a full-function preamplifier with a level of performance substantially above that of the SP17, we are pleased to introduce the striking new SP20 vacuum-tube preamplifier. Influenced by some of our classic groundbreaking SP preamplifiers but with performance that is only achievable by our best LS- and PH-series designs, the SP20 offers inspirational performance combined with real value. ..."

MSRP is $9000 -- a veritable bargain. ;-(
It will not handle low output MC cartridges, only medium output.

If you want to use truely low output MC catridges the only ARC product is the reference phono stage.

ARC can not make low noise phono stages. If they were any good at design they could at least try.

What's up with that! For record playback move on!
My ARC Ref Phono 2SE is super quiet, even for low output carts. Its as quiet as my solid state Rowland Cadence. Not sure about ARC's other phono stages, but the Ref's are fantastic!
Don .... with respect, give me a break. I own an ARC PH-8 phono stage which also has 58 db of gain. The PH-8 can handle cartridges with output as low as .5 mV, such as my Lyra Kleos. I think many members would agree that the Lyra Delos and Kleos are pretty fine cartridges. So I don't think I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel on the vinyl side of my rig.

Btw, I've had conversations with Peter Ledermann of Sound-Smith about his low output MI cartridges such as the Paua and Sussaro (.3 mV output). The output of those cartridges is obviously too low for my phono pre, but Peter said he might be able to custom build some of his cartridges to squeeze more output as a special order item.



There are many fine LOMC cartridges lower than .5mV, (to many to name) that you can not use!

Why limit yourself?

FYI the old ARC SP9's, SP10, SP11,and SP14 all could handle cartridges down to .2mV.
No problem using a .23mV Kansui with a PH-6. The PH-6 has far more gain versus any of the older SP preamps you mention.

If the SP series will handle .2mV then any of the modern ARC phono preamps, i.e. PH-5, PH-6, PH-7, PH-8, etc., will work fine.

I know I have owned the SP-10, SP-14, PH-5, PH-6. The PH series are much, much better with LOMC(.2mV) versus any of the SP series. The SP-20 will have similar gain to the PH-6.
You ARC people crack me up. I get it and I respect you but damn. ARC has to be the most prolific model developer ever. They certainly know how to maintain their customers interest.
Hey, don't forget the SP15. It also handles low output MC cartridges just fine and sounds great with NOS tubes.
Vic ... when I reach my biblical 120, I plan to take my ARC gear with me. ;>')
Bifwynne, atta boy!
I'm surprised no one says anything about the price. I guess in today's market you have to be rich to own ARC gear. I can't afford any of their new gear. I do own ARC gear but I purchased it used. It still wasn't cheap but I figure it should hold it's value pretty good so it's still a good buy used.
Taters, my OP responds to your point: "MSRP is $9000 -- a veritable bargain. ;-( "

I agree with your comment that ARC gear isn't cheap. And like you, I purchase gear that is either preowned or "refurbed" (i.e., gear that ARC used as a show or dealer demo).

I usually pay about 60-65% of MSRP. My "new" Ref 150 is a preowned unit that only had about 1000 hours on it. That's great because the prior owner broke the Ref 150 in for me. ;-)

It is always interesting to me when people complain about the prices of components. Most times, they don't know too much about how things are designed (R&D), components are procurred, or construction. Not to mention the company's overhead. However, you are correct, even though I am an Engineer and know how these things work, I still see prices that are stupidly high. My logic is, just don't buy it if I think it is too high. Same for cars, clothes, and just about anything else. Why worry about it and stress myself out? Just walk away with a smile. I like the quality of Audio Research's equipment. They know their stuff. So, right now the REF 250 amps are out of my price range. But the day is young. One never knows do one? as the saying goes. But the real question should be, are you getting what you pay for? An object, equipment, car, house, art, etc. is worth exactly what a person is willing to pay for it. So, all thing considering, like Overhead, design/R&D costs, construction costs, estimated number of units to sell, etc. a company will set their price point and run with it. It's kind of funny how you really don't see people compaining about car prices. They think a Mercedes is actually worth what the dealer is asking. I see no difference between that and a "high end" piece of audio equipment. Sometimes you do get what you pay for. Sometimes. Audio Research = quality audio equipment.

08-28-13: Minorl
"But the real question should be, are you getting what you pay for? An object, equipment, car, house, art, etc. is worth exactly what a person is willing to pay for it."

Great point Minorl - there is a price point for everyone, that's why there are so many models in a line and so much innovation. Newer, bigger, heavier and lots of marketing doesn't always mean better, or better for me! The good news in our hobby is diminishing returns sets in fairly quick.
Minori, I know it's not worth 9k because the moment you buy it and open up the box it's worth 40 percent less. Is a Mercedes worth 40% less? Is a Rolex watch worth 40% less? In fact If you buy a Rolex used you could probably get what you paid for it. High-end audio is way overpriced when you buy new. If you buy it used it's a decent value.
Tater ... what I am about to say is a "chicken and egg" observation. As I said above, I usually buy pre-owned or refurbed gear for the reasons you just posted. Also, because I won't pay full retail -- it's too darn expensive. Not that 60+% of retail is cheap. But somebody is buying new or else folks like me wouldn't be in the secondary market.

I can only surmise the folks who buy new are either extremely well-heeled for financially irresponsible. Now here's a curiosity Q. I just picked up an ARC Ref 150 that's about 2 years old with only 1100 hours of time logged on it. Why would someone flip a Ref 150 in such a short period of time?? I've even seen cases where people are flipping expensive gear within a year, sometimes less.

In the case of my Ref 150, I know the story. I bought the Ref from an ARC dealer who sold the amp to his customer 2 years ago. The same customer traded the Ref 150 with the same dealer for new ARC Ref 250s. I guess there's pockets of major bucks out there that supporting a very expensive hobby.

I'm doing ok so far, thank G-d, but I'm not a card carrying member of the well-heeled club. It's taken me years of trading/exchanging gear to get where I'm holding. I've made some mistakes, but have been able to recoup most of money at small loss because of the way I buy.

But to your point -- is expensive gear like ARC products worth it? I think so. Some members posted above that reputable companies like ARC drop a lot of cash into R&D, build quality and QC into their gear. I believe that to be the case, especially since significant hours of skilled labor are also required for assembly. I also find that that comment credible when I open up a component to install the tubes and I see just incredible build quality and artfully selected colored wires.

Last point -- some people like boats, others expensive cars and so forth. For me, escaping into my sound room and listening to beautiful music takes me to a much more serene and peaceful place. Enough said.

Cheers and have a nice Labor Day wekend,

Someone's gotta buy this stuff first, right, else no used discounts?

See, there IS a unique and rightful place for rich audiophiles in this world after all, to buy fist and help out all us poorer folk. Kinda like an audiofile welfare system.....
Taters: Thanks for the input, but there is really no way can you buy a Rolex for full retail and sell it immediately afterwards for the same price. Every store has large mark ups on price. some more so than others. Also, Rolex's aren't as collectible as some of the other "high end" watches. They are nice, but really aren't close to being the best. You are paying more for the name. The really question on watches is who made the caliber? However, many high end audio equipment manufactures establish the sales price for all their authorized dealers so that there isn't any competition between dealers. My favorite shop in San Diego, Stereo Design will not sell items via phone or internet new unless you first come into the store. So, most times unless the item is discontinued, you will not be able to negotiate a lower price from authorized dealers legally. Noticed I said "Legally". I have noticed that watch dealers have more leeway on prices. What I don't understand is why manufactures will sometimes not allow warranties to be passed on to another buyer for the used equipment if the equipment was purchased new from an authorized dealer buy the original purchaser. If it was purchased grey market, I can understand this logic. But, if person A, purchased it new from an authorized dealer and it is still under warranty and I buy it from person A, why won't the warranty transfer to me with the remaining time on the warranty? I can't figure this one out.

anyway, If you think Audio Research is priced high, check out Boulder. Wow!

Minori,I think it's all overpriced!
Bifwynne, I'm a poor audiophile. When you get tired of the Ref-150 let me know and I'll give you half of retail.Thanks.
Minor1: With all due respect concerning your pricing justification I wonder how many times one can reinvent the wheel. The SP 20 has limited options. High end autos have options galore. There is nothing "revolutionary or new" about the SP20. There are fewer options with 58 db of gain. The lower output MC cartridges would need a SUT. I suppose the labor costs to rerun the numbers requires triple billing. Board, chassis, and associated parts are fraction of the 9 grand. ARC and the rest of the high end companies continue to manipulate the price. The sales market continues to get smaller chasing after the 1%. I think most of us know how equipment is designed and priced. I'm just a little sickened by it.
Minor1: With all due respect concerning your pricing justification I wonder how many times one can reinvent the wheel. The SP 20 has limited options. High end autos have options galore. There is nothing "revolutionary or new" about the SP20. There are fewer options with 58 db of gain. The lower output MC cartridges would need a SUT. I suppose the labor costs to rerun the numbers requires triple billing. Board, chassis, and associated parts are fraction of the 9 grand. ARC and the rest of the high end companies continue to manipulate the price. The sales market continues to get smaller chasing after the 1%. I think most of us know how equipment is designed and priced. I'm just a little sickened by it.
Audio Research is great stuff. Even their lest expensive models are very good. If one can afford it, I can can think of worse ways to spend ones money. if something cost a lot of money, it needs to deliver the goods. ARC does.

Boulder, not as sure about that.
AND.......ARC's gears are designed and assembled in the USA unlike some others that are designed in the USA, Canada, France, England and assembled in China.

SO.... we could all petitioned ARC to keep R&D in the USA and have their gear assembled in China, sending more jobs away. If this is what you want, raise your hand folks!!

My 2cents.
If they start producing their gear in China the ARC crowd will not buy it. They might find a whole new market but after being in the game for 40 years I doubt they want to start over with a new clientele.
ARC is a gold standard for good tube sound. As long as their less expensive models at least stay within reach of many, I will likely remain a fan.
Here's a ballpark guess of hard costs that go into manufacturing a Ref 150 which has a MSRP of $13K. I admit having no actual data to which to base my guest-I-mate, just experience as an accountant. If the Ref retails for $13K, I guess dealer cost is between 50% and 60%. For discussion purposes, let's just say 60%, which would leave about $5K mark-up ($13K, less $8K cost). (I'm rounding numbers).

I think a dealer needs that much mark-up to cover all of his costs, especially his investment in display equipment. Keep in mind that retail customers aren't standing in line to buy Ref 150s or any other expensive piece of gear. Sh*t, Vandy Model 7s retail for $45+K a pair. How many Model 7s walk out of John Rutan's shop a week??

Ok, if we can agree that dealer cost is in the neighborhood of $8K, I guess that ARC's cost is 50% to 60% percent of that amount, say something between $4K and $5K. The rest is margin, which ARC needs to make a buck and cover its overhead which includes R&D and QC.

For example, I understand that Bill Gehl is a full time QC employee who is ARC's chief "listener." I recall reading that Bill listens to every unit, either newly minted or repaired, before it leaves ARC's facility. So far, every QC checklist card that come with an ARC unit I bought had Bill's initials showing that the unit passed the last and most important test - listening. I also recall reading read that Bill has sent units back to the line even though the tech's signed off that a unit operated according to spec.

Does it surprise me that ARC might drop $4 or $5 grand into unit build. No. Don't know how many labor hours are needed for soldering, circuit board assembly, and construction. But I bet fully loaded labor costs (base rate plus usual employee benefits) are not cheap.

Further, mostly all of the Ref 150's outsourced parts, like trannies and passive, are built right here in the USA and are da*n expensive. I wonder out loud how much the new Teflon coupling caps cost, or the new power and output trannies???

So ... bottom line, my wild as*ed guess is that it costs ARC about 4 to 5 grand of hard material, labor and overhead costs to push a Ref 150 out the back door. I surmise that roughly the same manufacturing cost/MSRP ratio holds for the SP-20.

Bif's analysis sounds reasonable to me.
Me too.
I respectfully disagree. If the unit retails for 13k there cost is 25% of retail. Otherwise there cost is 3250.00.
The cost to build an amp or preamp at ARC is nearly irrelevant. Well, the only relevance is that it must be worth it for them to make the investment to design and build them plus support their dealer network. The price is market driven. Take my trusty old SP-15 preamp, for example. It cost $5500 in 1990. Accounting for inflation, that is $10,000 today. Pretty close in cost to todays preamps. Interesting how, unlike TVs and appliances, high end luxury items seem to keep pace with the Cost of Living Index.
Oh, I don't know Tonywinsc, go the a really high end appliance dealer and check out what the prices are for the very best. They aren't close to the stuff sold by Best Buy. Find the short list of the very best TVs made. You will be surprised at the costs. Economics is economics. R&D, Engineering, Construction, parts, Labor, overhead and also what market the equipment is geared for are all a part of the price.

ARC starts with margin expectations like any company still in business. Sometimes that expectation is too high and the pipeline either doesn't get filled or clogs up. That's the danger with the high end electronic bus. you can only introduce a product once, it's not like the CPG business where you can drop price to move product and still stay credible.
Electronics retail/cost is about 5/1. 13k/5 = $2,700 ARC cost to build.
Al and Taters, of course I have no hard data and you may be 100% correct. Just a knee jerk reaction, your estimates seem kinda low. Perhaps some former industry folks might weigh in. I wouldn't expect folks on the manufacturing side to respond. There are limits to one's curiosity.
Another new ARC product that will be discounted 30% on release and sell for 20% of MSRP within 3 years.
A dinosaur manufacturer that hasn't been relevant for 10 years.
Judy, .... I respectfully disagree with just about everything you just posted, especially ARC being a dinosaur manufacturer that has not been relevant for the last 10 years. If I were to counterpoint every one of your contentions, my response would drag on much longer than I have the patience to write. ARC is a respected manufacturer that is consistently pushing the edge of the SOTA envelope with new and innovative products of the highest quality. I think you should retract your post.
Actually, ARC has come out with their best products the last 5 years. I'm glad rich people buy their gear new so in 2 or 3 years I might have a chance to own it at 40% off retail.
Audio Research products are world class and based on the
projected "inspirational performance"standard as
stated by Audio Research, the SP-20 sounds like a real
bargain at $9,000. But even so, before I put any money down
I would like to have it for a weekend on a trial basis
(preferably one that has been broke in) for the purpose of
testing and evaluating. I would also ask myself what other
quality preamplifier could this be compared to and then
weigh the results based on cost versus performance.
Phd .... thank you for an intelligent response.
World class?
No class?
not laughing
LLL (laughing last laugh) :)
Wc65 Mustang, You obviously think ARC stuff is a joke. I'm wondering what gear you consider world class?
Wc65Mustang, If you don't have anything positive to add about
Audio Research then don't say anything because I think you are
on the wrong thread, LOL. I happen to consider Audio Research
gear very high end and it is built to military specs. More
importantly it sounds excellent. Very cool stuff, yea very
I think, it is - like everything - a personal decision. There is a Fangroup for everything and we all know the situation being in a Demo, when it is over and you analyze what the Audiophiles say about, it is like 5 Audiophiles, 6 Opinions. Fact is, AR is very long in business and they made endless units, good for Dealers, good for them, they always have something to offer. I am confident they have made some world class units in history, or Reference units but at the moment I don't know which ones. The Word "reference" can be confusing, there is no Standard for it, Reference for whom or what? For the Manufacturer? For the Customer? Reference superior to former References?
The word Reference or next SP Model will be handled individually. Each his own. All I can say is my expectation and that is very simple:
I'll have to be transported into that recording session, I have the illusion of being a part of it, a kind of communication with the Session. You know, the time jump....Unfortunately I never got that impression listening with AR gear. But I will visit their demos the next 20 years, I am always ready to learn :-)
Syntax, I'll ask you the same question I asked Mr. Mustang. If you don't think Arc makes great reference gear than tell me who does. I'm not saying ARC gear is the best there is. I just want to know what you think is great gear.
Taters, I would love to hear an answer to the question you put forth but I just don't think your going to get a response because they have their own agenda, whatever that might be.
ARC is now an Italian company, certainly a player on the world stage, innovative performance -well, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Introducing a new product every 6 months keeps the brand in the discussion. Incorporating the 6h30 tube into their circuits did improve the performance.

Aesthetix, Atma-sphere (my preference), Allnic, Balanced Audio, VTL, and Manley are American owned and manufactured that compete head to head with Arc. Choose your flavor.

My agenda is I am mad as hell about the cost. The market continues to get smaller and smaller. I do not consider any of these products a value. Like Tater I utilize the used market. Music is not a luxury it's a necessity.
My goodness folks. My OP was just an fyi to our community that ARC is coming out with a new preamp that has phono capabilities. I like my ARC gear. Others have their own favorites. Gazinct ga haid (go in health). That's why there's chocolate and vanilla.

Now ... if you want to start a fun audio war, let's jump start the thread about best speaker. But not here please.
Bifwynne, Is that Yiddish?