Music reference/ audio research / vpi

Looking for suggestions. Have a Music reference rm-200, and an audio research LS 16. Also have a VPI classic 4/proteus transfiguration. Wondering how the RM – 200 would match up with an audio research ref 6, an audio research ref 3 phono, And maybe Ariel acoustic 7t, or Devore gibbon X? Looking for suggestions. Live in the sticks with very little opportunity to audition much of anything!  While I love my audio research, sometimes I wish there was just a bit more tubey richness.  The Gibbons are supposed to have a more organic sound I’m told…? The phono three should be more compatible with the transfiguration…My phono 5 is not compatible…Trying to develop a plan and go at this one piece at a time… Also wonder about the vac 300.1…? Would think the ref phono three should be my next purchase…?
Definitely get rid of the Ls16.  There are a multitude of tube preamps that are much better.
Do you think a ref 5se or 6 would match up nicely with the rm 200 or vac 300.1? I read that the rm 200 plays well with the Devore stuff. But I need a well matched pre and phono stage...listen to some chamber music and jazz but mostly stuff like fairport convention, Neil young, doc Watson,...
I've not heard the RM200, but have read it doesn't sound like a traditional tube amp and is almost solid state sounding in some respects.   

I've owned a VAC Phi 200 which is KT88 based, like the 300.1.  I didn't find VAC's KT88 sound as rich... it's quite good, but not as rich as other tube amps I've owned.

I currently own both the Music Reference RM9 MKII with RAM EL34's and a VAC 30/30 MKIII Signature with VAC 300B's.   Both amps are wonderful examples of classic tubes amp sound, with the RM9 providing healthy doses of rich midrange sweetness... whereas the VAC 30/30 is more more balanced through out the frequency spectrum, with excellent midrange, non-fatiguing airy highs and well defined, crisp bass.  I can recommend both of these amps if you are looking for classic sound.  

Shindo is also supposed to pair wonderfully with Devore speakers.  I'd also consider Living Voice, Verity and the Harbeth 40 series.

There's pair of Harbeth M-40.1's listed for only $6,700, which is an outstanding deal.   I've owned this speaker twice and plan on keeping my current pair for life.

Normally it's best to put the horse before the wagon. I.E. Speakers first.
Axpona is coming up, a good source to hear many products.
Nearby dealers or Audio clubs is another source for hearing potential products.
Sometimes a manufacturer can put you in touch with someone in your area to demo their product for you.
Get the speakers you like then build the system to make them shine.
Or you can try to push a rope. LOL
 Thank you for your responses pdreher and jadedavid. pd, excellent points bringing up harbeth and the music reference rm-9. I have not listened to an rm-9 in years but that is the sound that got me hooked!  And I bet the Harbeth would be awesome as well. Maybe the audio research pre-amp would match up nicely in the mix as well?

jadedavid is, of course, correct. Speakers first. Just really want to get a phono stage more compatible with my front end going.  Thank you both!
I've not owned an Audio Research preamp, so I couldn't tell you if it would be compatible with the RM9.  I use an Aesthetix Calypso Signature and love it.  You can buy the standard Calypso used for around $2,500. 
@fanotunes, I too had the ARC LS-16/RM-200 combination (though my RM-200 is a Mk.2), and replaced the ARC with an EAR 868L. Muchas betta. The EAR is a real tube pre-amp ;-).
Thank you for the feedback! I have made a move on the harbeth 40.1’s mentioned earlier. Will get those home and have a listen to those for a bit before I make a move on a preamp. I think they will help with the more relaxed organic sound as I am looking for. I wonder if it’s better to stick with a more neutral pre-amp and then affect the sound with the amp or vice a versa. If I go with a more neutral pre-, I can then hear more of what the components up and down stream are doing? Though, I have read good things about the Ear and will have to read up on the aesthetix since have not heard of it before. Thank you for the suggestions.
Congrats. Your RM with the 40's should be a stellar combo.
I have had an Aesthetix Calypso and enjoyed it until a friend asked me if the residual noise from it bothered me? I didn't understand his question until he brought over his pre to replace it for an audition. Then I heard what he was referring to. Once heard it is easy to pick out and I was no longer able to keep it in my system and immediately replaced it.  I'm not sure if this is present in the signature models but it has been repeatedly heard in several std models. I have been questioned about the tubes that I was using. I have a VERY large collection of tubes and changing the tubes did not correct the problem.
While your results may be different, I would encourage an in home audition before purchasing one. I feel that for the same money there are much better pre's out there.
Keep us posted on your thought on the 40's.
I guess you picked up the nice pair of 40.1's recently listed for $6,700?  If so, you got a great deal on those puppies!  I think you will be amazed how organic and natural they sound.  I've heard other's refer to Harbeth's 40 series as their "desert island" speaker... as in if they had to pick one speaker to have if stranded on a desert island for life, the big Harbeth's are what they'd choose.

I'd stick with a neutral preamp and experiment with other tube amps over time to figure out what suits you... or even better, keep your RM 200 and buy a second more tubey sounding amp to have as a alternative when the mood strikes you to change things up.  This is what I do.  There are many great tube amps in the $2,000 to $4,000 range, including the two that I currently own. 

Thank you, pdreher. for your suggestions/feed back. Swapping out the KT-88’s might be an option too? And still thinking the Audio research reference 5SE or 6, with a reference phono 3 would be a nice preamp for me here.  I may have to wait for the prices on those come down a bit though! Regards!
I'd use RAM KT88's and maybe play with some NOS signal tubes, then upgrade your preamp to something from CAT, Aesthetix or go up the Audio Research food chain. 

Well, bought the Harbeth's and then promptly left for 3 weeks on the road...sheesh! Couldn't wait to get home and have a listen. Still moving them around in the room a bit but....WOW! so much more open, organic, sense of ease....did I say wow? WOW! :)

PD, do you have a suggestion on signal tubes and a source for same?

The signal tubes for the RM-200 need to be very carefully matched and balanced for the circuit. Roger is the only one who can get it perfect so you should consider RAM tubes as your source.

I work with Roger and am currently using his personal RM-200 with a set of his ESLs. So I know how difficult it is for him to match up those driver tubes and the results of using tubes from other vendors. As reputable as these vendors are, they can't get it as close as Roger can. You would have a lot better experience in my opinion swapping out the KT-88s for 6550s, GEs in particular.
For premium tubes, I recommend you call Andy at Vintage Tube Services 616.454.3467.

He's probably the most knowledgeable and trusted retailer of premium quality tubes.   My only word of caution is that he is a one man show, so it can take several weeks to get your tubes, but you won't be disappointed.

How big is your room and how far out do you have the speakers from the front wall?  My room is 16' wide x 26' long, with the speakers on the short wall, 4' off the front wall to the speaker grill and approximately 7' apart, both angled in to the listener seat, approximately 8'6" from the front of the speakers.  

If you don't have room treatments, I'd address that before you upgrade any tubes or buy a different preamp.   I highly recommend GIK Acoustics... good products, good advice, reasonable prices and excellent service.

my room is approx. 14 x 20.  speakers are on the short wall. approx. 2.5 feet from back of the speaker to the back wall. approx 9 feet center to center apart. and seating position is approx 14 feet away. have some toe in but not pointed right at the listening position. just got them up and running and will move them around a bit yet for sure. definitely need some room treatment...curtains for example...not sure how much of that I will do as it is my living room. though, I have no wife to answer to... definitely need to make phono stage next thing I address. transfiguration proteus is low output moving coil and my current phono stage is not sufficiently compatible. but I could tinker with some tubes...

addressing clio09's note...I have played with kt-88s from upscale audio. but, ultimately, have migrated back toward RAM tubes which, to me, sound as good, seem to last longer and are more reliable. I am a big fan of Roger. Will never forget how he took the time to walk me thru testing my then recently purchased used amp. I had him on the phone, the amp flipped up-side-down on the kitchen counter and my multi-meter in the cool! and I lived!

Roger did a good job repairing, refurbishing and retubing my RM9.   His RAM tubes are a strong value (my RM9 MKII is fully tubed with RAM), but if I were looking for premium NOS tubes, I'd go to VTS or Brent Jessee.  I've purchased tubes from Upscale, but have had some bad experiences... so I will not buy from them again.

Regarding placement of your 40.1's, I recommend you pull them off the front wall more (45" to 50") and try putting them 7' to 8' apart (center to center), then move your listening chair in considerably, as I think 14' is way too far away.  The more you can move them away from the walls, the better off you will be.
As an FYI, based on what Roger has told me, 6BQ7 tubes haven't been manufactured for a while, so technically they are all NOS. While they are branded as RAM tubes, the stock Roger has are RCA, GE, or Sylvania,

I think I remember Roger saying at an in-store seminar at Brooks Berdan’s shop in the early 1990’s that, though people believe tube brands all have their own distinctive, unique sound characteristics (Telefunken, Amperex, Mullard, etc.), the "sound" of a tube is actually the consequence of it’s electronic performance, nothing more. Two tubes from different makers that measure basically the same will sound basically the same. In other words, there is no mystery involved in what makes a tube provide a certain quality of sound. Yes, different brands were build to somewhat different specs and with somewhat different materials, but it is their measurable behavior that is responsible for their sound quality. Tim de Paravicini (EAR-Yoshino) told me the British tube companies would trade tubes with each other when they ran low of a given model, putting their own brand name on the other maker’s tubes and selling them as their own. Tim said he favours old Mullards because they were the best made tubes.

I imagine there are plenty of Audiogoners who disagree. I know this sounds just like Julian Hirsch and Peter Aczel (after his epiphany) on the sound of amplifiers, but there is a difference. Roger is not a meters-only kind of old-school EE designer, he uses his very good ears to design very good sounding amps (and now direct-drive ESL speakers---the output of an amp’s tubes---no output transformer---are connected to the ESL stators---no input transformer). He also now makes low-wattage single-ended amps, as well as push-pull.

 Just to clarify… Grill of speakers is about 48 inches off the front wall.  Center of grill is about 40 inches off the side wall. Speakers do seem a bit far apart, and my seating position is a bit far away. But the speaker sound awesome and I really don’t want them in my face.  Listening to Joni Mitchell right now. Sounds like she’s in the room with me! I need to ask for her autograph! :-) 
@bdp24 - Roger designs his circuits with various tubes in mind. It's the interaction of the tube within that circuit that allows for his design to achieve the flattest frequency response and lowest distortion possible. So from his design perspective, the same tube from different manufacturers, but with the same electrical characteristics, and properly tested will interact with the circuit in the same manner.
There are those that can hear a difference in wires and there are those that can hear a difference in tubes (of the same type).
Congrats to those that can't because you will save a bunch of money that could be used to buy more music.
 @bdp24 asking for a friend with a RM-200 on the way....15 A IEC power cord ? recommended sanely priced cord?
@tomic601, a cheap pc to try, just to see if it makes any audible difference, is the 10g MagicPower pc by Signal Cable, only 69 bucks for 3’. If your pal detects an improvement, he can then experiment with (perhaps more expensive) others. I use a Shunyata Copperhead (bought used for about a hundred more), which would no doubt amuse Roger Modjeski (he doesn’t "believe" in such nonsense ;-) .
i do the same picking up high quality castoffs for $100-$120 after a $750 MIT disaster cable.....ha