I agree with the last 3 comments. FWIW, ARC described the PH-5 as follows:
"Sonically, the PH5 surpasses the PH3SE in every way. The PH5 has wonderful clarity, making music sound more immediate and simply more there, putting the musicians in your room. Higher resolution is obvious, but so is an abiding musicality. You will hear more little details, with a newfound ability to unravel complex passages and allow simple ones to stand in bold relief. Both macro- and microdynamics are startling, breathing life into the music and making it more exciting, involving, and fun to listen to."
Mofimadness raises an interesting point about the newly minted PH-6. I've never heard it, BUT, based on some conversations a while back with either Leonard or Cal of ARC -- I can't remember who -- I recall it being said that the PH-6 is very close in sonics to the now discountinued PH-7. If this is important to you, try to audition a PH-6 and/or call ARC for their current bead. Please note that the PH-6 retails for $3500, well more than twice as much as a used PH-3 SE or PH-5.
I did a quick review of A'gon Forum comments that compared the ARC PH-3 and PH-5. I can't vouch for these views, so take it FWIW:
"I've had them all.
1. The PH-3 sounds really good.
2. The PH-3 SE sounds even better.
3. The PH-5 makes the first two sound like transistor radios." 10/19/08
In another thread, some A'goners made these comments:
" 02-27-09: xxxxxxx
Have owned ARC's PH-3SE and Ref Phono units, have heard the PH-5 and currently own a PH-7. Believe the PH-5 to be a notable improvement over the earlier PH-3SE.
xxxxxxx (Threads | Answers | This Thread)
I just got done auditioning the ARC PH3, the PH3Se and the PH5. I am buying the PH5. It was clearly better than both of the PH3 units. A used PH3SE is worth the little extra money over a used standard PH3.
The PH5 had better, (deeper and more controlled) bass. Threw a wider and deeper soundstage and seemed to integrate better with my system. Also having the remote to switch between settings, makes setup MUCH easier."
I also checked the ARC sale listings and see that a PH-3 SE is up for sale. I didn't see any other phono pre's listed, but they come up from time to time. Just based on a 10,000 foot recollection, I don't think used PH-5s sell for a heck of a lot more than used PH-3 SEs. Keep your eyes open. Check the Blue Book.
I own a PH-7 and LUV it. I think used PH-7s go for roughly the same price as a new PH-6. So, if you think you'd like to stretch your budget, give some thought to a new PH-6 or used -7.