Is the Audio Ref-6SE worth 7K more than the BAT VK-80?

Greeting all,

I looking to replace an venerable Sonic Frontiers Line Stage Once Pre-Amp. I been looking hard at two products. The Audio Research Ref-6SE $17K and the newly released BAT VK-80 $10K. 

These will be mated with a Pair of EVO-400's set up as Mono-Blocks and re-tubed KT-150's I like their snap over the stock EL-34's. My tastes in Pre-Amps is it has to be good with vocals but so overly warm and syrupy. That it cannot flesh out the detail within and recording, or sacrifice tightness and punch in the bass. In short it needs to provide resolution over sweetness. The Amps drive a pair of Legacy Focus SE speakers. These things do not like anything in the signal chain that fattens the low end.

Music preference are Rock, Metal and Classical. Think: Pat Benatar, Heart, Def Leopard, Evanescence, Lacuna Coil, Metallica, Bach Organ Works, and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and you get the picture the bombastic material I like.

I enjoy how both Pre-Amps mate with my system. However, it seems that Ref-6SE dances with my setup a little better that the BAT. My crackpot theory, is its more at home with sonic character of  the KT=150's which is what their Reference 160-M/S amps use.

Nonetheless, The BAT's build quality is more impressive, and I feel I really get something for my $10K. So it seems to me that I am paying a lot for that Audio Research prestige, than quality. Not a fan of a $17k Pre-Amp that comes with a plastic remote. That to me is a major turn off. So what other chintzy things are they doing with this component, in order to increase their profit margin?

Any additional thoughts and opinions are appreciated.



Different brand has different house sound,it's different style,and usually it is talking about whether it is your tea of not.  If it is not your tea,you won't pay even it is very cheap,right?

You can ask,does VK-90 worth $5000 more of VK-80 ? as they are the same house sound. The one who buy VK-90,will also accept VK-80 if the price is so different.

That is more meaningful,right?

so there is pass labs fans,Audio research fans ( just like me),they will stick to that house sound and will compare only within that house sound.

Have I replied your question?


Sorry but not really. In my system they do sound different but are equally enjoyable. Overall, I think the AR pre sounds better. However, great sound alone is not my sole deciding factor. The concern here is not just how good the sound is. Albeit, I have to like how it sound in my system.

The answers I am looking for pertain to build quality and worthiness of the additional expense. To put it bluntly the Ref-6se appears to be a bit of a rip off. What I see inside of it does not seem on par with what the BAT is built with.

If you're looking at both purely from parts quality and quantity perspectives, then the BAT wins, hands down. As for sound, I find ARC to sound thin and sterile. I have a BAT VK-33 preamp mated to a BAT VK-225se power amp, and the combo sounds great.

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It is not chump change to me. If it did not represent a substantial effort to obtain. I would not have bothered with this post.

"rip off", oh,that is the key word,and I can understand your feeling that audio research is selling way expensive,right ? It is their business strategy which we can not change. But if REF 6 SE is ok with the sound but expensive,why don't you try  n LS28se ? which is still very very good one,and the price is less than REF 6 SE.

Do not compare the parts inside,it is not the right way to treat a amplifier,That is my suggestion. You choose sound,you like that  sound or you do not like that sound.

It is not only with audio research,it should towards any brand.

By the way,Audio research is way reliable,I am listening VT100 today for 8 hours. if you check it,it is made around 1998. There are bunch of machine online sell which is even earlier,for example VT130.  

i have almost 5k hours on a REF5se, love it. I get a chance in my travels to hear BAT gear, also very very nice. Toss up, save the $ and put tge BAT on HRS isolation ;-)

Hopefully you are enjoying the music and tge journey 

best to you


Buy the BAT-though Jay hates that gear, then when ready trade up tp the ARC

gear. Used will be a better price.

@runwell Auditioned the LS 28se, even lighter build. I found it sounded thinner, more analytical, not having the same amount of body as the BAT. To my ear, the  vocals did not have the same leve of nuance, that the VK-80. could flesh out. Not saying the 28se it not a worthy peice of techonolgy. The BAT preamp costs nearly the same and suited my tastes to greater degree. I found I had to go to the Ref 6se, in order to have something that surpases the BAT.

The gear you speak of was produced in a differnt era when AR was under different ownership. Great stuff, you have something I consider special.

Since the Italian's took it over I am not sure it subscribes to the same standard of craftmanship as it did in the late 90's. Granted what I am expressing are nits, and do not carry much weight within the grand scheme of things. I am still at a loss why the remote they offer on the Ref 6 SE is a plastic thing that is more of an after thought and not integral part of its design. You would think on a peice of this caliber they would go all out. This make we ponder if they are the same company that I remember from their heyday.

If you get the chance to audition a BAT Vk-80 and compare and contrast it to the current LS-28se. You will see my hesistancy to invest in one.

@ chorus Are we talking Jay from You Tube? Each to their own. No one has to like BAT gear in order for me to enjoy it. I am a bit of Maverick I like what I like. Do not care if others do. 

BAT is great gear and built to a very high standard. Buy the BAT and start to enjoy your music and life. 

I am really interested in BAT gear and may try it in my  second system I am putting together. I love my "house" combination of sounds which has consisted of ARC pre's, Rogue monos, and Vandersteen speakers

 However, I just started building a 2nd system for a pair of Maggie's and BAT is #1 on my list to try. Any recommendations??

Choose what you think is good, choose what you think is right. It is that simple.  

But from your month,  I hear the message that BAT is so good comparison with audio research, that is ok for you,but when you try to convince other people like me, that simply  does not work..

If you perceive a product to be a "rip off" then the product will never satisfy you regardless of its performance.  



I am a Maverick as well. If you liked the ARC house sound, then, compare a REF5SE against the REF6SE for openers. Take the winner vs B.A.T. At this preformance/price level, take the time to listen, listen, listen.

Have fun!


Happy Listening!

@walkertm I agree with plastic remotes - they do not last.  CJ makes aluminum remotes, I have two of them.

As far as sonics go your ears your money!

@walkertm I've owned both brands' preamps and currently own a BAT VK51SE, so take that into consideration...

Both have made quality gear for a long time, but IME, the ownership/service experience is far superior with BAT. I suggest that you do some research on service experience for both brands. When I did, my takeaway was that ~95% of BAT owners were happy. AR owners were a mixed bag. 

One peeve with both is what they charge for replacement tubes, a fair bit over 3rd parties. Both have rationales as to why you should buy from them directly, and I've played along, but am skeptical about it.  

In your shoes, I'd look for a used Rex. I've seen them goes for <$7500. Cheers,


In my experiences both as a tire kicker (listener) and in my own system, ARC gear sounds best when used with other ARC gear especially amp with preamp. I do not know if this is true with BAT components but it makes sense that it would. System synergy is very important to get the best SQ.

@cleeds4. Thanks for taking the time to respond and setting me straight.I am am a fan boy of ARC, and really needed to know that they have not started to chintz out o Really glad to have this pointed out to me. Thank You, THANK YOU. ARC now ships with a nice metal remote. ARC offers Ref 6 owners who received the plastic remote the new metal remote at no charge. Perhaps that tells you something about the state of ARC today

. When I refer to the Italians I am referring designer Livio Cucuzza who I believe is the Chief Design Officer at McIntosh Group that comes from the Sonus Faber arm of the group’s holdings. My wording here is very poor, so my apologies to all. This is no way should be construed that I believe Italian engineering to be sub standard. Though it certainly came off that way. Pathos and Sonus Faber make wonderful products, that are top notch in both design and quality.

The concern is when things change hands. Design goals and priorities change as well. To my point, think of early Dan D’Agostino designed Krell’s versus the Krell amps of today. I find that they are not engineered the same way, and prefer the build quality and sound of those early products.

I am very much an Audio Research fan. All of my equipment is now ARC Reference. I have spoke to Trent indirectly several times. He is going to do a great job in keeping ARC at the head of the high end pack. I would unhesitatingly recommend ARC products. I have heard many more than I own.


"In your shoes, I'd look for a used Rex. I've seen them goes for <$7500. Cheers,"


Excellent suggestion!


I haven't heard any Bat gear. However I did own a Ref 5 pre. But after hearing the LS 28se i put it in my system. Paired with the Prima Luna Evo 400 and an Audio GD 7 he mk2 for digital the sound is simply fantastic. Speakers are Kef R11 and Tyler acoustics Halo Extreme. They both sound fantastic.

Interesting question for me as well, because I was in a similar situation but with an updated SF Line 1 SE+.


I looked everywhere for its replacement including BAT and ARC, PS AUDIO, Macintosh, etc... and when it came time to pull the trigger I bought an old but extremely well cared for SF Line 3, then immediately had it updated to an SE + model.


So glad I did, because to be honest the 2 component pre is still 95% of the AR 6SE, which was the winner of all that I had tested previously. But my total cost was about 6k CDN.


If I were to buy new I would have no doubt bought the 6SE.

Try them both and choose the one that sounds best IN YOUR ROOM.  I tend to favor Audio Research, but that is just based on years of experience.

As for looking at the parts, well, Mark Levinson used to have his designers use the best parts in the world and his stuff sounded, well, let's be charitable, pretty bad, to say the least.

I agree that the design is most important, and I can promise you that neither company you mentioned uses "cheap" or "second-rate" parts.  Why would they?




I`ve own ARC preamps since 1978 to name a few the ARC3,ARC LS25 MK2 LS22 .  I decided to go all SS for a change; my ARC SS CD3 CD player I`ve had for quite some time I still owned My ARC Phono Amp the PH3 is the only tube amp I have left in my arsenal. I let go my ARC D400 power amp and replaced it with the PASS X350 Replaced my ARC LS22 preamp for the Pass XP30 after doing a bit of research I came across a writer auditioning the ARC SE6 and the pass XP30 he loved both I chose the Pass XP30 I had to make a decision my choice was based  synergy SQ although my heart has always been ARC and to this day ARC I love however, SQ is most important to me

This is a tough one for you. Obviously price is not an issue at this level.

Both of these preamps are wonderful. I have always been a fan of ARC. IMO the upper tier of ARC’s preamps have evolved cosmetically. If you don’t think those cosmetics matter than your fooling yourself. Now the BAT is a phenomenal build. ( again cosmetics) Full circle they both are great. Your dilemma now is your system. 
If possible you need to try them in your system. They are just going to sound very different. Good luck very exciting 

I have not owned ARC product so I can't speak from that perspective.  But I do own a BAT VK-33SE preamp (direct predecessor to the VK-80 preamp) and can attest that the build quality is superb, as is the sound quality.  I recently purchased the new BAT VK-90T power amp.  It too is phenomenal build and sound quality.  BAT gear works very well with BAT gear.  But my guess is that a BAT preamp will sound wonderful with your Prima Luna power amps.  Contact Upscale Audio, they sell both brands and can provide good advice on the synergy of the two brands working together.  Best to you in your journey.  Happy Thanksgiving.

I bought a BAT pre-amp just a 5 months ago - new.  Within five hours of use the glass in front broke and it took the dealer over three months to get the part replaced from Music Direct (owns BAT I hear) and also the right screwdriver to open the casing and replace the glass. I like the sound of tube amps myself, but everyone has their own pro forma.  It’s often a personal choice.


I’ve owned BAT preamps and can attest to their superb quality. I’d never purchase a $17k preamp and never buy into the hype of overpriced audio gear. Learn when great sound is good enough. Don’t chase your own tail in the pursuit of overpriced gear. 

I have owned several Audio Research preamps including the Reference 5SE and currently the Reference 6SE. No hype and not overpriced… priced in line with performance. 

My two cents ;  I'm listening to ARC Ref 6 (not yet been wiling to pay the price to update to SE) feeding ARC Ref 75SE amp running 4 KT 150s.  My Ref 6 came with a heavy solid aluminum remote.  Can't imagine the Ref 6SE having a plastic remote but I cannot say for sure.  The thick plastic top on the Ref 6 is quite sturdy, provides excellent heat dissipation and I love looking at the tubes and the very pleasing layout of the internal parts.  I have heard that the 6SE has an even thicker plastic top.  A couple years ago I stopped being able to listen to my system because the music kept distracting me.  So while some extra cash would encourage some upgrades, basically I am quite satisfied where I am now.  I see that the Ref 6 is showing up used or as new dealer stock being sold off for around 10K, then the upgrade to 6SE is 3K so one could end up with a Ref 6SE for 14K.

There is nothing overly sweet or syrupy from my system, maybe slightly warm, and with great tight bass punch.  I had wanted and got naturalness with nothing added, nothing taken away by the electronics (in so far as possible).  This is what I have.  The only drawback is that I am at the mercy of the quality of the source material as what goes in from my front end is what I get.  My system does not mask or improve poor recordings.  (Though, oddly, I have never heard youtubes being so listenable as now.)  The sound I get is unquestionably resolving and detailed without sweetness - and natural rather than noticeably

I listen to classic & progressive rock, small group jazz both vocal & instrumental, classical (prefer chamber music), some electronica, some world music - India, Indonesia, eastern Europe, middle Eastern - and all kinds of eclectic stuff depending on my mood.  I listen for realism and emotional response.  For me, at least for now, ARC does the job.  (Of course front end and wires also matter.)

Unfortunately I am not familiar with BAT, it was too long ago that I demoed some of their gear for me to make any comment.  Best advice is always to listen to your options - preferably in your system in your room - because everyone has different tastes in sound reproduction, different ears, different cerebral decoding and different opinions of what is good or better . . . on not. 


@vinocour +1 Good summary. You have a great system… very synegistic electronics.

The Reference 6 is a world class preamp. The 6SE does sound better, but it is really a question of how much money you have and associated equipment, it is not a night and day difference..


The supplier of metal remotes to Audio Research suddenly discontinued them… so for a time the Ref series came only with plastic, but the Trent the new owner assured new metal remotes would be built and supplied to current owners. I believe they are now becoming available.


Just in case anyone thinks the plastic top is somehow an attempt to save money… it is not, was designed because it sounded better than the metal one. The way to create great audio products is to evaluate every aspect of the design.