How's the Audio Research Ref Phono 2 Working Out?

Audio Research Ref 2 owners, now that you've been using the Ref 2 for a good while what are your latest thoughts on its performance. How good is it really compared to your earlier top-end phonos?
I'm curious about this myself. I have now (and in the past) had equipment from Audio Research and Pass Labs. I have the Ref 3 preamp and Ref 8 CD player and I have been using the Xono phonostage for 6 years. Has anyone compared Xono to the Ref 2?
This is the fifth ARC phono stage I've owned, and by far the best. Detail, depth, width are all superior to previous models. And totally noiseless in itself.

Ref Phono 2 review
Nice review Tim.

Sounds tempting. I am puzzled at you loading at 47k thou. I would have thought loading an ARC at 47k would have might it too airy and bright.

How did it sound lower compared to the 47k?
I actually borrowed the Ref Phono 2 from my local dealer this weekend (this is the second time I have auditioned it in home) and spent almost two full days listening. I also brought home the Ref 5 PreAmp to see how the two AR pieces sounded in my rig at home.

I still like the Ref Phono 2 more overall than the internal phono in my Hovland HP-100. However, I did notice one item this time that I missed on the first go round. If I had one complaint on the sound of the Phono 2, I would say that it is a little 'loose' in the lower region. I didn't really notice it too much until I pulled-out my copy of Nirvana's 'Never Mind'. To me, in my rig and room, the drum whacks and lower guitar bass tended to be just a little less than fully taunt. I think that the Hovland's Phono is a little tighter down there although it is not a 'big' sounding as the Ref nor does it project as much total energy (or what I call 'grunt')... I have a good feeling that this effect is very dependent upon the speaker(s) used and the room setup. (I used Magnepan 3.6's with SS amplification and 1988 KHorns with VTL tube monoblocks). Perhaps a minor quibble overall, but again we are talking about AR's Ref product and it is not exactly inexpensive at $12k. Would it keep me from making a purchase; not 100% sure on that yet but I will take a closer look now at some of the other leading 'reference' phonos...

As to the Ref 5 Preamp, I was less impressed with it's performance overall in my rig. I actually preferred the Ref 2 Phono/Hovland combo more than the complete AR set used together. In my rig, using both AR pieces gave me a little too much of the AR 'house' sound I believe. I'm not knocking the Ref 5 it's a very fine piece, it just doesn't provide the right overall balance for me in my rig.

Ah, the trial and tribulations of finding the RIGHT phono; it's not that easy to do... :)
I've had the Ref 2 phono for 9 months and I am very happy. Quiet, big wide deep sound stage.

I had moved from an Ayre P5x to an Einstein balanced Turntables Choice to the Ref 2 phono. All are fully balanced. The Arye is a great value but the Einstein clearly had more detail as one would hope for the price difference. The Ref 2 phono has even more detail and a slightly better sound stage vs the excellent Einstein.

Add in two inputs, remote control of loading ect. and the Ref 2 is a winner for me.

BTW, before the Ref 2 phono purchase, I was gathering info on the Atmosphere and Doshi offerings.

Also keep in mind that the ARC house sound works very well with the Vandersteens that I have.


What are your thoughts on the bass performance of the Ref Phono 2? Any quibbles there? Do you run the Ref single ended or balanced?
Stickman, I am happy with the bass performance. But as you know nothing is perfect, even at this price point and I think well beyond.

I run it balanced and I am confident that using the single ended outputs would degrade performance vs balanced.

The change I made 9 months ago included the Ref5 pre and I thought the combination of the Ref5/Ref2 phono was a little better in the bass overall than the Ref3/Einstein balanced phono. My impression was that the Einstein bass performance was solid but I never thought it was an over achiever that way either.

I hope to try another cartdrige sometime this fall. I would find it interesting to learn of TT/arm/cart combinations that others like with the Ref 2 phono.

But for me, I have stopped looking at phonostages.

Prior to getting the Anniversary preamplifier I told everyone that the Ref2 phono was the biggest jump I have ever had in my system.

If you have the right system and cables for it, it will help you to forget about the "vinyl sound" and focus on the grace and symbiosis of music. I listen to a lot of chamber music and with the Ref2 in my system I "feel" better when one musician is waiting for his term to chain in the music. When a note is ending the decay seems to be preparing the entrance of next instrument while everyone holds.
Sorry I do not know how to explain it in terms of bass, treble, noise or distortion.
Even melodic lines in strange jazz music - e. g. the Black Saint label - seem easier to follow.
Anyone owners got any updates?

I heard one a few weeks back and it was superb. Highly transparent, extended but very smooth. Soundtaging and seperation of instruments and studio effects is spooky good. Columbia eq made those earlt Dylan mono's sing.
Bass did not quite have enough impact and weight for me. However I have been told that the bottom registers fill out more between 300 & 500 hours.