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I can't comment on the two specific pieces of equipment you mention, but I can comment on ARC vs Pass. Both are quite good but they are different flavors. Personally I prefer Pass (I own Pass gear). I was once upon a time heavy into tubes and I generally preferred CJ to ARC (I once owned an ARC amp for a very short time).
So so generall my impression is that ARC is a little sharper than is Pass. But if you want tubes, I kid you not, I prefer Rogue to either CJ or ARC (I sold my JC Premier gear and went to Rogue)
I am assuming, because this is in the Analog forum, you are referring to the Audio Research Reference Phono 2 SE and not the Ref 5 SE preamp. I just auditioned both the Ref 2 SE and the XP-25 phono preamps in my system in the past month and decided I liked the Ref Phono 2 SE better in my system. The sense of space the Audio Research unit provides is pretty extraordinary and has been one of the most satisfying upgrades I have done. The Pass was tonally excellent and had particularly great bass definition but the image size it created was smaller and the image had less depth-- again in my room with my system. In my unscientific opinion, the Ref Phono sounded better in my system because I have an Esoteric C-03 as my preamp and I have consistently liked over the years systems which have either a tube preamp or a tube phono preamp but not both. The same has been my experience with solid state units-- one is good , two is too many. So if you have a tube preamp, I think the Pass unit may be your ticket to bliss. If you have a solid state preamp as I do, I would recommend your first audition be of the Ref Phono. Hope this was helpful.
It was not a direct comparison of the Ref 2SE and the XP25, but early last year we did a phono shootout involving the Ref 2SE and the dual Xono, among other phonos. As the name implies, the dual Xono setup utilized 2 sets of Xono, but used only a single channel in each set. Every area, especially the effortless presentation, got improved considerably compared to a single set of Xono. The cartridge used was an Ortofon SPU, which had a low output of about 0.2mv.
To me that was a tie between the Ref 2SE and dual Xono. The Ref 2SE had the traditional ARC characters, high resolution and awesome dynamics. But I also felt it was slightly on the cool side of neutral, and lacks some of the tube warmth, as well as body and bass authority, when compared to the Aesthetix IO Eclipse.
The dual Xono, while also having a dark background and awesome dynamics, sounded slightly softer than the Ref 2SE. To me, the Xono still had a touch of the SS sound, and also slightly on the cool side of neutral, so it may not be the cup of tea for someone who prefers the classic tube sound!