I brought my dartzeel (for which I am a dealer)over to my customers house. He had the levinson 32, 33H and Sonus faber Stradaveri's. In comparison to the dartzeel, I would not say that the 33H is cold and clinical. I would say it had an electronic glaze, was veiled, 2 dimensional, far less natural and closed in as compared to the dartzeel.
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I have to disagree on your comment of amps having the least influence on the sound. As someone once said, the preamp is the heart of your system and the amp is your brain. The amp and speaker synergy is just as important as the impedance matching of your amp and preamp. You can have a bad matching amp for your speakers and your system will sound bad no matter how good your preamp is. That's why we call it a "system".
I noticed that you have the Usher speakers. You might consider the new Belles Monoblocks ( picture on the web site ). http://www.powermodules.com
The reviewer from Soundstage was raving about the Belles Combo when he heard from a local dealer in TX. http://www.soundstage.com/revequip/lector_cdp7t_mkiii.htm
I don't want to be categorical, but I think the amp/speaker interface is far more important than the preamp, not that preamps are not important - they are, but the power/current/and ability to drive a speakers impedance is critical, most noticeably in the ability to produce deep bass where impedance dips in some speakers will make some amps compeltely incapable of producing satisfyin bass. I would think that the amps mentioned could drive most any speaker - so not a problem. But driving a 10Kohm amp input impedance is a problem with most (not all) tube preamps. It would not suprise me if the ARC is not getting the best from your Pass, but I'm not sure what the ARC's output impedance is. WHat does ARC say about driving the Pass?
ARC recommended the same 20k for my old ARC pre-amp which had a 600 ohm output (I assume the same output as the Ref 3). Ran it with an old Threshold with a high input impedence and another anp with a 10k input impedence. The mismatch (I'm told - I've never actually heard the result of a mis-match) causes a rolloff in the highs which will be precieved as such and a consequential softening of the bass (FWIW the sound of 'tight bass' is IMHO more of a result of
the correct presence of the high frequencies in a drum when struck or a bass when plucked).
For myself, I wouldn't be concerned with an impedence mis-match on you present system. Too bad you can't try that system with tubes - then you will have something to really be concerned with that you will actually hear and not just fret about! :-)
LOL. just how many pre's are you going to go thru before you find your soulmate ? why not give the vtl 6.5 a try, or the 7.5 mk 2. with the right PC and ICs, the synergy with the pass amps is really nice. By the way, the occassional distance i heard with the vtl 6.5 in my intense audition of the 6.5 / ref 3 a/b was COMPLETELY solved when i moved away from the cardas GR ICs to TA ultras. in the audition i used the TA ultras only on the ref 3 due to a miscommunication of advice for the vtl. had i used the TA ultras for the vtl as well, the audition would have been 4 hours rather than 4 days. i am sure many other excllnt ICs would have revealed the same results in my system. see my review \on this site. there is most likely an impedance issue with the ref 3 and pass amp. placing both in the same system may compromise the potential of each very excellent component. if your amps+speaker combo does it for you, look into the vtl pre and keep an open mid regarding ICs. speaker/amp synergy is the first priority, though i am sure there are a handful of superb amps for your speakers should you want to keep the ref 3. call up brooks berdan in pasadena for the vtl. cheers,marc