Solid State to replace Audio Research REF110?


Hello,

My power amp REF110 blew resistors and damage PCB (it is the second time), in the pass my VT100 MKIII also damage the PCB had to replace it.
I like REF110 sound but I think I should move to a more reliable solid state power amp.

Which power amplifier do you recommend to substitute Audio Research REF110 without have to regret every day?

Many thanks for the advice.
jglpubli
I would recommend researching the following depending on your speakers impedance and recommended amplification/power.

First Watt SIT-1 Monoblocks
Wells Audio Innamorata Amplifiers
Pass Labs XA.5 Series
Merrill Audio Veritas Twin or Monoblocks
That's a tough one, if your a tube fan, as I am and probably you are too. I find it very hard to find a SS amp that has the speed matched to transparency and lack of grain you seem to get with tubes.

In my limited experience you need to go Class A in SS to get these charectaristics and I have always been a Pass fan, so I would say one of the Pass Class A amps or monoblocks, that meets your speakers power requirements. The only other SS amps that have really done it for me, are integrated amps, the Lavardin IT and Dartzeel integrated. Both had a lovely fast detailed sound without harshness.
Pass Labs.
Had the same problem with my ARC gear. Right now I'm using Ayre and would definitely recommend it. Pass is also good, but they don't sound anything like ARC.
Your problems are not due to having a tube amp but rather to having an Audio Research tube amp. If you do a little reading on the Agon forums, you will find many, many accounts similar to yours---a burst of sparks (if not actual flames) and a burned up resistor perhaps causing damage to the circuit board, all requiring an expensive trip back to the factory. In many of these accounts, this was the second or third time the customer had the problem.

For the life of me, I just don't see why anyone would put up with this. Other designs using the same output tubes are capable of far greater reliability and when an output tube does fail the only damage is a blown fuse that is easily replaced without the amp ever leaving home.

One example of a very good sounding tube amp that should be more reliable is the Emotive Audio Vita, which I happen to own. I have had zero problems during the 3 years I have owned the Vitas, but perhaps more importantly if I should have a catastrophic tube failure it should only pop a fuse, not take out other components. Plus there is no circuit board to be damaged. There are certainly many other good sounding yet reliable tube amps, but I mention the Emotive Vitas because Jonathan Valin of TAS had a pair in his system and said they were very similar in sound to the ARC 610T which was his reference at the time (this was around 2010). He also said the Vitas were the best medium power amps he had heard.

So don't give up on tubes. You just need to try a different brand.
As a former ARC owner, I'd try to find a mint pair of BEL 1001 monoblocks (no longer in production - Mr. Brown deceased).

Also great SS: Ayre, Pass, Krell, Spectral, BAT.

Owned ARC tubes for many years and had only one, non catastrophic, non-tube failure. Arc is great.

I did try a friend's passive pre-amp which caused all 8 6550 tubes to glow a bright blue (scary!).

I wonder how many ARC "failures" were due to using with other-than-ARC pre-amps?
I agree…don't give up on tubes, but go to a different brand that is more reliable and will not blow up on you. I have used Quicksilver amps (no PCBs) since 2006 and have had zero problems with the exception of a bad tube here or there. I had one tube in my Mini-Mites decide to put on a fireworks show, and the amp was absolutely fine, not even a blown fuse. I have also had a JJ arc on me multiple times with M60s, and again, amp was bulletproof.
"I wonder how many ARC "failures" were due to using with other-than-ARC pre-amps?"

Well that seems to makes sense. It does say on the first page of ARC's tube amp owners manuals that: ARC tube amps must be used with ARC preamps or damage will occur. I guess they put it in bold print for a reason.
Might want to check out Octave amps if you stay with tubes. I owned a V70se and traded up to the V110 integrated. I've had several tubes go bad including arc over and the protection circuit works. No damage. They also have a soft start feature to extend tube life.
Does using an ARC power amp with another brand preamp void the warranty?
You did not mention a price point you wanted to stay within; so I will assume you are looking in the price range of the REF 110. I went from the REF 110 to a Krell 402E, but it sounds every bit the SS amp that it is. It is very articulate, great dynamics, and very extended in its high and low frequencies. I'm not sure that is the sound you may be looking for. However, I also have a VAC 160 Sigma, at 85-90 watts, it controls my W/P 8 (dips @ 2 ohms) easily. Other SS suggestions: Bells, Modwright, and Ayre. If you can help it, don't give up on tubes. There are many reliable tube amps that can serve your purposes.
JRDG 625. Great amp with sweetness and mojo. Read TAS reviews. Beautifully made and beautiful sound.
12-08-13: Zd542
It does say on the first page of ARC's tube amp owners manuals that: ARC tube amps must be used with ARC preamps or damage will occur. I guess they put it in bold print for a reason.
Interesting. I'm thinking that the reason for that statement, and for some of the problems that have been reported, might be the effect that Ralph (Atmasphere) described in his two posts starting here, which relates to interactions that may occur between amplifiers having very extended low frequency bandwidth and preamps having less than ideal stability in their power supplies. I note that the specified 3db bandwidth of the Ref 110 extends to a very low 0.6 Hz. I note also that Ralph mentions ARC specifically in his second post, although that experience occurred many moons ago.

Another possibility, of course, might be that ARC is anticipating that some users will not follow the proper turn-on and turn-off sequences (amp on last and off first), which might result in the amp having to process large transients that may be generated by some preamps at turn-on or turn-off.

Regards,
-- Al
I would not jump the ship with tube amps. Like Bojack,I have been using QS products for years and never a problem.
SST Ambrosia should do a good job for you
I am a loyal ARC tube gear owner. This includes 4 and a half pre/linestages and 3 amps. Other than an occasional blown bias resister, never experienced the kind of problems described above. Admittedly, I always paired an ARC pre/linestage with the ARC amps I owned, but I don't recall reading the alert mentioned above about pairing an ARC pre/linestage with an ARC amp. I'll check the manual. If I see it, I'll report back.
Onhwy61: The manual for my VT-100 III said that using an aftermarket power cord would void the warranty.
Not sure if this is still ARC policy.
There are lots of great reliable tube amps out there. In the past 10 or so years I've had Berning, Atma=sphere, Lectron, RAM, Joule and VAC. I've never had a catastrophic failure. One time, one of the big Russian MIG tubes "ran away" on my Joule which was scary but after shutting it down and replacing the output tube, the amp was unscathed. I must say that some of the ARC amp layouts I've seen w the tubes installed horizontally, and stacked one over the other, seem to me to be "asking" for problems w heat-related failures. As far as a manufacturer that says their amps are not warrantied unless you use their pre-amp, I say fuggedabowdit. I say-let 'em sell integrateds.
I have wondered why reviewers don't comment more often about reliability problems with ARC amps. My guess is that they don't have the amps long enough to experience the melt down problems with output tubes that are past their prime.

And I want to emphasize that (1) the problem is not that ARC amps break down so frequently, it's that when they do occur the breakdowns cause damage that the average user can't fix, and (2) the ARC reliability issues are only with power amps--I have never heard of any problems with their preamps.
Sorry, the SST recommended should have been Ampzilla 2000
Gary (Hifigeek) -- if you catch this thread, would you please weigh in on your anecdotal experiences involving ARC tube amp repairs.
Again, I would recommend researching the following depending on your speakers impedance and recommended amplification/power, and of course, your wallet.

First Watt SIT-1 Monoblocks
Wells Audio Innamorata Amplifiers
Pass Labs XA.5 Series
Merrill Audio Veritas Twin or Monoblocks
Berning Quadrature: very reliable, maintenance free.
I hate to ask a question when I have no experience with the components, but if you like the ARC sound, and want to try a solid state amp, have you listened to any of the current ARC solid state amps in the DS series?

As for ARC reliability, I have owned three of their tube components, two preamps and one amp, and never experienced a problem.
Thanks for the answers.

I pair the REF110 with an audio research REF 3, I have owned this unit from 2005 without problems, after 9 years with audio research tube power amps I have suffered 3 crashes: in 2005 with a VT100 MKIII, in 2008 with this REF110 and now with the same unit (and the same left channel which PCB was replaced in 2008).
In the 2 first failures I could change the PCB applying warranty, now I will have repair it. I think I will have to replace 2 resistors and 1 tube socket.

My speakers are Proac D38, 4 ohm, 90 db sensitivity.
 
Jglpublic, I do not doubt that you experienced these unfortunate problems. I strongly suggest that you call Kal at ARC and share your problems. I believe that ARC will stand behind its products. Let us know how you make out.
Maybe it's just me, but if I had three very expensive amps from the same company require expensive repair as a consequence of an unavoidable and unpredictable aging process (output tube failures, like light bulb failures, are inevitable), I'd think long and hard before I bought another. Especially after reading about how non-user friendly tube replacement and re-biasing can be. Just my $0.02.
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I traded my Ref 110 for a Pass Labs XA60.5
Then, because I wanted more power, a X350.5.
I am very pleased with this swap.
Now I have no worries about tubes and save a lot of headaches, time, and money.
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I must say, I find these concerns re ARC reliability and matching Pre amps, a concern. I have just bought a Ref 75 and am matching it with what is effectively, a Music First Baby reference, though it is a clone. I have to say I am very happy with the result. The dealer bought a Ref 3 ARC pre when he set up the amp and on a very brief audition, I preferered my passive Pre.

I used the Passive because HiFi+ back a few years ago, liked the Ref 75 with Music First, but as someone has said, reviewrs do'nt keep amps long enough to judge reliabilty.
Look at Herron amps and pre amps. I have had my M1 amps for close to 6 years and have never found a other amp to replace them. Always on. Always just right. And I have had 3-4 other amps just to compare but keep the Herrons.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I had not ever had any problems with any of my Audio Research gear - power amps included.
Also, AR has excellent customer service!
Ditto what Mikewerner says.
Mike Werner, how would you know that ARC has great customer service if you've never had any ARC problems?
Kevin ... Mike no doubt will answer for himself, but I can and will respond since I have owned ARC gear for many years and have *NEVER* had a serious problem. It is my experience that ARC has always been extremely responsive in responding to any technical issues and concerns that I had.

For example ... when my VS-115 blew some bias resisters, Kal (the ARC customer service rep) put me in contact with a local authorized tech who made house calls!! The first repair was under warranty and ARC honored it even though I couldn't find the receipt. Reason - because Kal knew me and remembered that he sold me the amp through an authorized dealer.

Kal or Len (his predecessor) patiently explained differences in various ARC equipment when I was interested in upgrading. This occurred with respect to every piece of equipment I own. In addition, Kal kept me apprised of when the factory was ready to update my Ref 5 to the "SE" version and efficiently got my unit through the factory.

Kal and Len were always helpful in answering technical questions about hooking up my equipment. Take a look at my posts about an impedance loading issue affecting my Ref 3 and 5. I had to buy a custom buffer from a gent by the name of Tom Tutay. Look up his name and you will see what happened.

Most recently, and then I'm done, Kal spent inordinate amounts of time with me when I was trying to understand impedance matching my amp and speakers. No need to rehash all of that again. Suffice to say, Kal was always extremely patient.

ARC has been around for over 40 years. Until just a few years ago, it was owned by the late William Z. Johnson who was a considered to be a pioneer and legend in the audio business. I won't tell you that every piece of ARC gear made was a winner over the last 40+ years, but way more often than not, ARC gear was at the very top of the audio food chain.

Not to say that there aren't many other fine brands. There are. But hopefully Kevin, you are a believer.

Cheers,

Bruce
Bifwynne, you clearly like your ARC gear and the helpful service over the phone, and that's great. Nothing wrong with a happy customer. However, your note actually proves the point made earlier about the reliability problems with ARC power amps. From your own experience, you know that a bad tube can burn up a resistor which requires either a trip to the factory or a visit from a service tech. Also, you imply this happened more than once.

Now, you may appreciate the friendly folks at ARC when you inquire about a breakdown, but I ask you: wouldn't it be even better not to have to call the service dept in the first place? Just speaking for myself, I would rather know that if one of my output tubes failed all I will have to do is replace a fuse and put a new set of tubes in, set the bias and then be good for many more years. Great sound and reliable performance. That's what I want from my gear.
Fair comment Salelectric. Perhaps Ralph (Atmasphere), a manufacturer, or Gary (Hifigeek), an ARC authorized tech, will weigh in.

Don't hold me to this, but I seem to recall that Kal or Len once explained that ARC deliberately chose not to use fuses or auto bias circuits because the components were artifacts that could potentially degrade the sonics. To the best of my knowledge, I am not aware that ARC used such compenents in tube amps over the last "n" number of years.

I would be quite surprised to hear that the reason ARC didn't use those components was to save money. My goodness, the VS-115 retails for $7,500 and the Ref 150 retails for $13K. I'm sure that the cost savings, if any, would be chump change.

Anyway, I don't work for ARC, nor do I own stock in its parent company. But I do like the company and the people.

Cheers,

Bruce
I have owned a number of ARC amps but all solid state. Having said that one amp that has not been mentioned which may be worth considering is the Modwright KWA150SE. I own one and it is a terrific amp which has many tube like characteristics (good ones), will drive anything and is extremely well made and reliable. I compares very favorably with any of the ARC amps I have owned--much more organic, dimensional and musically involving. Perhaps worth a look/listen.
Thanks for your response Bruce! It was very informative.
Very good points Salectric!
Don't hold me to this, but I seem to recall that Kal or Len once explained that ARC deliberately chose not to use fuses or auto bias circuits because the components were artifacts that could potentially degrade the sonics. To the best of my knowledge, I am not aware that ARC used such compenents in tube amps over the last "n" number of years.
This is true not only limited to audio. Great example is automobiles. If you want performance, SOMETIMES you have to sacrifice convenience. It's a personal decision if worth the extra effort.

To a smaller degree, choosing between a SS or tube amp is another example.
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Yeah, I have a BMW motorcar.
I'm glad that the service department never answers their calls.
Who needs them, anyway?
My car runs GREAT!
I have never heard such nonsense as from salectric.
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Yeah, I have a BMW motorcar. I'm glad that the service department never answers their calls.
Who needs them, anyway?
My car runs GREAT!
I have never heard such nonsense as from kevinkwan
12-12-13: Mikewerner
Yeah, I have a BMW motorcar. I'm glad that the service department never answers their calls.
Who needs them, anyway?
My car runs GREAT!
I have never heard such nonsense as from salectric
There will always be Honda and Porsche drivers. Both have a marketplace and nothing wrong with neither. Sometimes there's a steep price to pay for performance.

Another great example in audio is CAT. Ken Stevens builds them like race cars. A owner described his amp as a popcorn popper but he will never sell due to the sound.
I believe Salectric's point is very valid. Many tube amplifiers are available
that when a tube fails it blows a fuse and that's it. This is much simpler and
less expensive than having to replace a resistor (s) or in some cases a
circuit board. I don't understand how using a resistor rather than a fuse
offers any sonic advantage. Replacing the fuse is so much easier and
requires no soldering or trip/shipping to a technician.
Charles,
ARC tube amps are tough on tubes and they do not last 2000 hrs in my experience. After 750 hrs the bias needs to be carefully followed and kept close to ARC specs or the tube and it's resistor will fry. Also ARC tube amps are not friendly to NOS tube rolling. High cost matched ARC tubes frequently monitored and changed out earlier than what most consider normal tube life will keep your circuits and sonics intact. Stable AC is a must. Most of the ARC tube amp problems can be traced to one of these issues.
Djcxxx .... huh???
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Djcxx, that was my experience also.
Tubes are a hassle!
They sound good, but I'm now happy with solid state now and have not looked back.
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Ayre V-5xe or Pass Labs X250.5 seem good alternatives.
I have read Pass Labs has some trouble with heat???
Any comment about these amps?
Many thanks in advance.
Pass Labs XA30.5 has also very good reviews. I do not know if enough power for 90db 4ohm Proac D38.
Ayre - great sound, great customer support