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Very nice review.
Two questions though.
Upon initial listening, I was really taken by how quiet this amp is ... I mean QUIET!! Not digital quiet, that kind of quiet just sounds totally artificial to me. What I mean is ... its a natural quietness unlike any tube amp I've ever heard.What the heck does that mean?
Second, don't you hate it when you make a mistake in the title and can't edit?
Oregonpap ... Thanks for the initial impressions. I'm sure it's all uphill from here. You may not hear the real benefit until 600 hours have passed. Please keep the reports coming in.
Just had retinal surgery ... again. I am out of commission for a coupe of weeks. So, in the meantime, I will follow your post.
P.S. send a Help message to A'gon staff. They can fix your title.
Digital quiet ... When CD first came out in the early 80's, I was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon. I bought one of those Phillips top loaders for $150.00. Yep, I was taken by the silence between notes and no surface noise just like everyone else. Then I started noticing the artificiality of the silence. It had no ambiance like in real life. In fact, on orchestral music, it sounded to me that changes in the volume of the orchestra was nothing more than a recording engineer with his hand on the gain dial moving it up and down. The early Telarc recordings were among the worst in this area. To be sure, digital has come a long way over the years. It was that artificial silence that I was alluding to in my initial post. Hope this makes a little more sense now.
Thanks for the heads up. I'll get it fixed post haste.
The only show I'm aware of is the one in Newport Beach -
May 29 to 31. Its about 2 hours south of me down the I-
405, truly the highway from Hell. I go every year with my
Golden Eared buddy Robert and we spend the weekend
wandering around greeting old friends and asking the
audio demo-captains in the various rooms to take
Patricia Barber off of the turntable and play one of our
great thrift store record finds. Last year it was a Ravel
string quartet on the Angel label recorded back in the
early 60s (blue label). Truly mind blowing. In the best
ARC room (Optimal Enchantment), Randy was kind enough to
put the record on ... and there wasn't a sound from
anyone for the entire 20 minute side. That quartet was in
the room in full three dimensional relief. IMHO, that was
the best sound at the show and to date, the best
reproduced music/sound I've ever heard. Everyone had to
see the cover. We LOVE doing that. Folks in this hobby
really need to know that there is great music out there
beyond the 45-rpm audiophile stuff. You know, like
natural sounding recordings without all of the added
The Newport show won't disrupt anything ... so I'd say go
ahead and send your amp in. I'm sure digging mine.
It was the Newport show two years ago. The speakers were
the big Vandersteen speakers. Don't remember the model.
It was magic. Last year, with the exact same equipment,
except the ARC REF-250's were swapped for Vandersteen's
new amps, the magic simply wasn't there. Very good
indeed, but no magic. Sorry 'bout that.
Nice to see another Sue Raney fan posting here. Yes,
that's the one I have ... "Sue Raney sings the music
of Johnny Mandel with the Bob Florence Trio."
Discovery Records - DS-875. It keeps getting better as
the system evolves. I saw Sue Raney in a live concert at
our local Civic Arts Plaza a few years ago. She
autographed one of her CDs for me. Man, that woman has
pipes. By the way, Salectric, if you like Sue Raney,
you'll also like Irene Kral. Look for her album
"Kral Space" on Catalyst Records - CAT 7623.
Recorded June, 1977, Alan Broadbent-piano, Fred Atwood-
Bass, Nick Ceroli-Drums, Emil Richards -Vibes &
Percussion. Wow, check it out ... I found one on Ebay for
Don't know if you're aware of the Super Sax albums, but
this one has some really good Sue Raney solos on it:
List on the REF-75-SE is 10k. Gulp! Send her in. *lol*
Oregonpapa, Nice to hear that Sue Raney is still performing. I only heard her live one time which was around 1990 at a small club outside DC called Cate's. (Alas Cate's is no more.) I have a number of Sue's LPs but my very favorite recording is a VCR tape of a TV broadcast of her singing a single song, an electrifying performance of "Dreamsville" at some event honoring Henry Mancini. That must have been in the early 1990s. That is easily my favorite performance of Dreamsville. Just thinking of it sends a chill up my spine.
Thanks for the Irene Kral recommendation. I hadn't heard of her before.
Oregonpapa, thanks for a great review. I intend to search out some of your references.
Last year in the spring I was listening to my system when i took a walk outside to the poolside deck. The pool was not yet opened and covered and served host to a myriad of frogs species. At this time the frogs were providing a symphony of the likes i have never heard, wonderful! My wife recorded it on her phone as her ring tone. Anyway, when the frogs paused, which they did in complete unison, I heard that natural silence, which included crickets. Thanks Wolf for the memory.
Think of digital silence in an analogous sense as a blackout, absence of light or any indication that it exists, like you were born totally blind like walking into a room at night without any windows. Natural silence would be as Wolf says hearing the distant crikets or at least, What is that? A realization that there is more ambience and background info than total absence of. It's those subtle details and by another name it might be defined as continuous resolution. Early digital was just that.
You've nailed it. Here's what I suspect. A lot of the times we are communicating with younger folks who were born after the digital revolution took place. Its understandable that they don't get it. Nothing against them at all. Hey, my grand kids think I'm completely crazy. I mean, why in the world would "Gramps" want to record his favorite records onto cassette tapes to play in his car when he has perfectly good MP3's available to him? hahaha ... their loss, is all I can say. And by the way, my car has a Mark Levinson sound system in it ... and with my analog recordings its pretty damned amazing.
To Salectric ... and anyone else who is interested:
Got up this morning and had the amp warmed up by 8am. Its at 25 hours from new now, and has kind of hit a plateau. Not surprising. My experience in breaking in the new ARC gear is that at times, for a few moments only, it can even take a backward step. But then ... there is a jump to a new level of refinement.
On the records. I'm really enjoying this thread because its turned into not only an amp review, but a review of some of my very favorite music. I love getting audiophiles away from the audiophile recordings, much of which has great sound, but not much in the way of soul. So, I'm going to continue to make such recommendations ... take them for what they're worth to you. Keep in mind that I'm an older guy, much older than most of you folks posting on this site. To give you an idea ... some of my mono Bruebeck albums, I bought in high school. I used to hang out at the Lighthouse Jazz Club in Hermosa Beach back in '55 & "56 while in the 11th & 12th grade. Yes ... I can still hear. *lol*
So, speaking of mono records ... The first record I put on to accompany my first cup of Guatemala's finest this morning was: Doris Day's "Day By Day." This never came out in stereo, but its the kind of mono record that get's you to thinking: "Hey, who needs stereo?" Like most young men at the time of Doris' peak in the movies, I literally fell in love with her. She was America's sweetheart at the time. She was known by most as a movie actress, but she was a terrific big band singer back in the '40's. Her voice is as sweet as her looks. The nice thing about a great piece of gear like the ARC-REF-75-SE, is that it allows us to get much closer to the performer. With vocals it gets us up close to the actual personality of the performer. This morning, I fell in love with Doris Day all over again. Add this to your mono collection ... you won't be sorry. She sounds like her face. I mean, who wouldn't want to invite her into their room. Take a look:
And then, after Doris Day ...
I put on Jo Stafford's "Ballad of The Blues." Here's another one of the 1940's big band greats. Yeah, I know, White girls can't sing the blues ... riiight. This album has so much going on within it ... its a great one to use when evaluating your new upgrades. On one cut, there is a traditional jazz band playing way back in the right rear of the sound stage. The original REF-75 brought them out pretty well. Prior to that, they were pretty diffuse. Well, the SE version brings the band into their own. Listening around Jo Stafford's voice, I could really enjoy what this band was doing and could follow every musical line. There is another cut called "John Henry." For impact, someone strikes an anvil. Well, with every amp I've had in the past, I THOUGHT it was an anvil. With the SE, I can clearly hear that its the percussionist striking a chime. He's dampening it somehow so that there isn't a decay like a chime would do, but so that it comes across like an anvil would ... deader than a chime. Maybe he's touching the bottom of the chime with his fingers or something. Any percussionists in the room? Maybe they could tell us. Anyway, that kind of tells you how defined this new amp is. I work on the weekends, so I had to tear away from the audio system. More listening tonight. Stay tuned.
On the Jo Stafford album: Try to get the six-eye stereo version. This is what you're looking for:
Happy listening ...
Thanks, Taters ... Yes, that's it ... The Vandersteen 7's. Driven with all of the best ARC gear, I have never heard such realism from any audio system. That string quartet was right there in the room. Front to back, side to side, you could just sense the musicians moving about. But then ... 30k for a line stage, 30k for a phono stage, 150k for the turntable, 10k for the cartridge, 30k for the amps .. and I think the Vandersteens are over 50k ... it had better sound spectacular. And it did. Here's the good news: The state of the art in this hobby seems to filter down to the manufacturer's lower level products. The REF-75-SE a case in point. Not that 10k is chump change by any means. But hey, ARC's integrated amp is no slouch either. Other builders do the same as well. A friend of mine just bought one of Rogue's latest pieces ... and he's delighted. And Atmosphere's little 60 watt mono amps have a mid-range to die for. Had them in the system for over two years on a long term loan from a friend. Beautiful little amps.
03-29-15: Abrew19Whew! Now I can sleep at night. Probably with KT170s.
Got 600 hours on my Ref250. Plan to get SE upgrade when tube needs replacing for a mere $9000. Tubes probably need another replacing around SE MKII is out for another mere $9000. Perfect timing!
I had a long talk with Kalvin over at AR about the upgrades to the Ref 75, and the Ref 150 (which I own). He has heard dramatic improvements in the SE upgrades to both units. Although a bit skeptical I decided to bite the bullet and my Ref 150 arrived at AR last Friday. I should have it back in 2-3 weeks and will report what I hear.
Every other year I will upgrade my Amp + Pre Amp + Dac and spend 20k-30k for upgrades alone . If I purchase new ones I will end up spending another 20-30K. I am forced to upgrade as every upgrade brings 50% improvement in sound. I heard they are coming with new technology next year , implants in inner year which will give 50% improvement and on and on...
I upset with this whole industry. When they upgrade, they should tell us what they are upgrading so that we can decide. Not just tell you will hear serous improvements in sound. When I have spend 25k on Amps and 9k on upgrading I want to know what they are upgrading.
03-29-15: JanebThat's ok too. I drive a car now and NOT ride a horse, haven't use ATM for 10+ years ... when time comes, I'll either upgrade or buy a new one. LOL!!! Keep up the good work ARC!
Every other year I will upgrade my Amp + Pre Amp + Dac and spend 20k-30k for upgrades alone . If I purchase new ones I will end up spending another 20-30K.and who's fault is that?
I am forced to upgrade as every upgrade brings 50% improvement in sound.Who is forcing you to upgrade? Where do you live? North Korea?
I upset with this whole industry. When they upgrade, they should tell us what they are upgrading so that we can decide. Not just tell you will hear serous improvements in sound. When I have spend 25k on Amps and 9k on upgrading I want to know what they are upgrading.This is true with all commodities. For example Apple releases a new iPhone every few years and I only upgrade when there's a feature I want. I upgraded from 4S to 6 Plus for larger screen, LTE ...
My source told me to simply ignore the trolls and Negative Nancys posting in this thread, but I just couldn't resist. Sour grapes, anyone? :>)
Herb1 ... Good choice. Please post here when you get them back. I've "heard" that the first pair of REF-250s that were sent in for the upgrade were completed and sounded "amazing." Hopefully, all of the guys getting their amps back will post the results here.
I think Taters hit the nail on the head. I prefer Pass Labs' product cycle approach. They are very deliberate in their R&D and only release a new product that is fully mature and will be viable for at least a handful of years (i.e. more than 3 ;-)).
And then they only introduce new models or improvements when they have something truly significant to share that will move the game forward in a meaningful way. They don't play games with their loyal customers.
P.S., sorry for diverting this thread and taking attention away from what I know is a very fine product. Actually this is a very fine review of the Ref 75 SE, if a wee bit over the top with some of the noted audiophile ostentatiousness. I apologize for letting my inner troll take over too much, but I couldn't resist poking a little fun. No real harm intended, Oregonpapa! :)
Herb ... add me to the list. Upgrade-itis hit me. I'm shipping my Ref 150 to ARC tonight for the SE upgrade.
There are so many other bottlenecks in my system (e.g., room, speakers, quality of source material, etc), I wonder out loud if this is a good use of money.
Oh well ... at least the SE kit comes with new tubes. That stands for something I suppose.
I don't know about you Abrew but to me an ostentatious audiophile is one that would pay large for something because it is expensive without regard for how it sounds, how pretentious is that? I noted none of that in the review but an enthusiasm for the improvements over the REF 75, a fine amplifier for sure, and an honest attempt to convey that to all that would read it. Particularly using music examples which gives index points on perceived differences. I suppose language in describing what we hear can come off that way at times, i.e. the late Harry Pearson at times, but I didn't detect that here. Of course YMMV, have a nice day!
Here's what I don't get about the prices of some tube amps (note my 3 year old
factory upgraded kt150 loaded Jolida 502p is my current hifi fave that is still a
great deal bought new)...I bought a class A single ended hand wired Burriss
Royal Bluesman guitar head with tube rectification, el84s and 12ax7s, spring
reverb tank, made in USA blah blah that lists for about $1100 bucks (bought for
500 used). You can pay maybe $2300 for a high powered 4 channel hand made
in USA (only noted to compare to USA hifi amps) Mesa Boogie head that is a very
sophisticated monster, and that's pretty expensive relative to what's out there in
the guitar amp world...I've read the glowing reviews of the ARC REF 75 and
thought..."I want one...maybe"...why does it cost 10 grand? Because
that's what people will pay for it. Does it sound better than my el-cheapo Jolida?
Doubtful, although this opinion is based simply on listening to one in a shop, not
in my rig. I don't really get it, but am comforted by the fact that I can find things
for WAY less dough that work really well, and fit in the real world of what things
I won't be going for the upgrade, a year ago I would have, probably!. That's retirement for you, it certainly changes your perspective, quickly. My pension will keep me pretty well and comfortably. Well apart from last months bout of gallstone pancreatitis, that nearly finished me off.
Luckily I am pretty happy with the rig, which just leaves replacements of worn out kit from time to time.
It struck me that many of us are the left overs of the high water mark of "HiFi" in the 70's and 80's and are facing retirement and reduced finances. Perhaps the industry is going to have to face that new paradigm. Many of us don't have the readies for big purchases anymore. Sorry to be gloomy.
David 12, makes a good point. The baby boomers are at retirement age and most are not going to make big purchases anymore. The generation after the baby boomers have no Interest in high-end. They didn't grow up with it. I have no Idea what these high-end companies are going to do. They definitely have a serious problem. I could see them going on for about 10 more years the way they are doing business now. If they want to survive they are going to have to change. If not throw in the towel.
Whilst I would agree that the price point for upgrading the REF75 within CUSA is almost compelling, for owners of an REF150 and in particular REF250's perhaps the exponential cost of upgrading may require a little more consideration.
It also remains to be seen whether the SE upgrade pricing structure elsewhere in the world will be reflective of market currency rates, as for instance, should it prove to be £5000 / EUR 5000 and £9000 / EUR 9000 respectively, then even more of a serious consideration for some.
There is also a point with regard to the 1 year warranty as mentioned in the recent announcement, which as per par for the ARC Crazy Golf course is not exactly definative in the detail as to whether this purely covers the specific element parts of the ES upgrade alone, or an additional 1 year warranty on the amplifier as a whole ?
For the time being, I think that I shall remain on the fence with this one.