Opinions on Audio Research Ref 5SE vs. Modwright 36.5DM

I am interested in both of these pre’s as a possible replacement to a BENT silver TVC running into active ADAM speakers. These two pre’s seem like two natural contenders despite the price difference but I cannot find much discussion on the net from users who have heard or owned both and can offer an informed opinion on the relative merits of each.


Has anybody on the ‘gon had the good fortune to compare these two and able to offer an opinion? Any issues with impedance matching etc?


Thanks all,

Mondie (Simon)

nobody :(  I thought the Gon would be full of opinions on these two American heavyweights.
Could be that folks haven't compared the 2 which is what your question asks
Now that the Ref 6 is out and the 5 SE's are being discounted it's a tougher decision I suspect. I have the standalone 36.5 and with the tubes and other tweaks I have done to it I am floored by it. It sounded very good with the stock tubes and fuses but now it's been transformed. Honestly not in any hurry to send it back to Dan for the DM upgrade but I'm sure eventually I will. In my case it probably makes sense to upgrade my Pass X250 to the .8 series first. 

Not heard the Ref 5SE but I'm sure it's awesome. Many I read claim the standalone 36.5 is better than the Ref 3 but I've never had the pleasure to compare the two but I'm sure just as many preferred the Ref 3. Both of these models you are considering are reference pieces and probably not much out there that much better regardless of price. Don't think anyone is going to be able to give you an accurate accesment even if they have compared the two because it needs to be done on your system in your room. One might sound better on system A but not be great on System B. 

I'll admit I'm a little biased towards the MW and if you look at the power supply on the DM it's pretty substantial. The metal work on the MW's are top notch, not that the ARC Reference pieces aren't nice as well. 

If if you have multiple balanced comments then I tip the scale to the ARC. My only complaint on the MW is only one balanced input. Not a problem for me at the time but maybe if I upgrade my phono preamp it will be. 

You really need to try both of them in your system if possible. Find a dealer close by and see what they'll do for you. If no MW dealer near then Dan will sale to you direct and I'm sure he'll let you send it back if you don't like it. Good luck.
Meant multiple balanced "components" then I tip the scale to ARC.
Fantastic reply thanks adg. I am in the UK so don't have the same access to units for audition as you might enjoy in the US, I will certainly not have the option of a comparo in my own home. With ARC's relentless model cycle the 5SE is now only 15% more than a 36.5dm hence why I asked the question. I guess  a year ago these two were not seen as the close competition they are now as used buys.

Agree with your comments on the DM power supply, it is quiet the beast. I like some of the ARC's features more (full balanced, remote and display) but its SQ that matters and I need to try and put these to the side.

truth is I probably cannot go wrong :)

If you have time I would like to hear about your tweaks, or have you posted elsewhere on that?


I have spent some time w/ the ARC Ref5 SE and it is nothing less than outstanding. Mates well w/ other tubed amps or SS power amps.
Transparent XL reference or OPUS cabling is the best for this model.

Have not seen nor heard a MW 36.5 model for comparison.
Hope this helps on 1/2 of your query. Happy Listening!
I switched out all the stock tubes which are Sovtek's. Replaced with NOS Mullard GZ34 and EH 6H30 PI from Cryoset Certified. Both sets of tubes really opened it up; sounds less SS. Also using Herbie Tube dampers on all valves. Replaced the stock fuse with a SR Black fuse which again opened things up; a lot more air and speed. Per Dan's suggestion when I bought it I bought the Daedalus DiDs from him and bought a WyWires Silver Juice II PC. The end results are astonishing to say the least. No doubt between a stock unit there is no comparison. Sounds silly to say this, but I bet it would give a stock DM a run for its money so obviously the same could be done to the DM which would be interesting to try. The non DM is a beast and I bet it alone gets real close to the Ref 5SE... I'm sure it's not but a lot less money. Either of these preamps are great preamps so it probably ends up on cost and availability. Good luck.
Thanks Jalant and adg. I am still trying to understand whether I have a good impedance match between either of these amps and my active speakers (10k ohms). However you have certainly helped the MW become my front runner at this point and fortunately I can home demo to confirm that she sings in my system

mondie  " ... I am still trying to understand whether I have a good impedance match between either of these amps and my active speakers (10k ohms)."

ARC says the Ref 5SE should see a minimum load of 20K ohms.

mondie - why not send Dan Wright an email later next week (believe he is at the audio show in Chicago this weekend) contact info is on the Modwright website and ask him directly. Dan is easy to speak with and doesn't give you any BS. (just a happy customer)

Although I don't have this particular MW preamp I do have the LS100 and will echo adg101's comments about swapping in NOS rectifier, and in my case either NOS 6SN7s or Black Treasure CV181s. Wonderful equipment
The ARC Ref 5SE will have better resale value over the MW unit. You could recoup your money if you decided that it wasn't for you and then buy the MW unit.
I think the 5SE is off my contender list as the input impedance match is bad. Dan has posted on these pages in the past that his 36.5's output is transformer coupled so good for loads down to 10k and below so I am comfortable with that.

Guess I need get a home demo organised. Anything else that is in the price range and capabilities of these two I should also be considering?

I think the 5SE is off my contender list as the input impedance match is bad. Dan has posted on these pages in the past that his 36.5's output is transformer coupled so good for loads down to 10k and below so I am comfortable with that.

I don't believe 36.5 is transformer coupled.   The only MW transformer coupled offerings are Elsye Dac and Sony HAP-Z1ES.

Checkout VAC SigMKIIa SE and above or Atmasphere MP-1 if looking for transformer coupled preamps.

 I'm not sure I can directly answer your question, but I was recently mulling over the Ref 3 and MD 36.5 and I live in the UK. I was able to compare the stock 36.5 with the ARC Ref 3, not side by side, but pretty close in time and I preferred the 36.5.

I tried out and bought the 36.5 from Jack at BD-Audio, who is the Modwright importer and I can't see myself changing it. At the same time I was able to listen to the 2 box 36.5 and the improvement in clarity and dynamics were clear in the first few bars of music. I couldn't afford the space for two boxes, or the extra cost though.

 If you are really interested to repair, try out the 36.5 and then the ARC 5SE, there are a number of good dealers. I would recommend Trevor at Guilford Audio and Oxford Audio Consultants, both are very helpful, but it depends where you live. Best of luck

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Hi Simon, what is it that you don't like with Bent Silver TVC?

I started with AR Ref 5SE, then went to Bent Audio copper slagleformer, then eventually upgraded to Bent Audio silver slagleformer (fully balanced). If you have 10k load, Ref 5SE is not recommended.  I have 15k load which caused low and high freq roll off with the Ref 5SE.

The silver slagleformer preamp is an exceptional preamp. I suggest you reconsider the need to upgrade.

I have used Bent TVC's in my system since 2004 and I guess curiosity has got the better of me after so long. I want to live with a top end valve pre for a few months and see if I am missing out on anything. After I started this thread I stumbled across a long thread started by a friend back in Australia who also runs active ADAM's. He has tested quite a few top pres including Octave, Audio Note, Lindemann and quite a few others. Thread is here if interested:


He wants a 5SE after hearing it in his system numerous times,he has found it to be the best of the lot and works wonderfully with the ADAM's. I have found 2 reviews of the 5SE where its measured output impedance is less than spec at 330/450 se/bal so that gets the impedance ration to >20x fwiw. His experience and the conversations we have had since have led me to buying an ARC Ref Anniversary today so I will soon find out for myself.

Either the ARC proves a winner or the Bent continues its reign well into the second decade :)


I believe your Bent TVC is the one using S&B TX-102 transformers. Mine is the recent model using autoformers built by Dave Slagle. They are different and I don't have any experience with the TX-102 version.

Anyway, congrats on your purchase but please wait for at least 600 hours (teflon capacitors break-in period) before any making comparison.