Stupidgood: Ars Sonum

There are lots of "terms of art" used by audiophools to describe sound and equipment. I propose a new one - stupidgood - a piece of equipment that blows you away, as good as it gets (more or less), and the price or the looks of it makes you incredulous as to how good the equipment is. Of course, I did not come with the term; that would by Bobby P. (Mr. von Merlin) describing the Ars Sonum integrated amplifier. I've had separates from ARC, Joule, LAMM, and CAT, and I can tell you, the Ars Sonum is stupidgood driving Merlin VSM-MXes, which can driven very easily be this little 30 watt gem.
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How does the Ars compare to your previous amps/preamps and when will you upgrade to the AA tube dac?
No not Drew, but I'll do my best Hemingway. I can't believe how good the Ars Sonum intregrated is with my Merlins speakers; stupidgood.
In my opinion, the ARS Sonum provides as much musical pleasure as any of the separates I have owned (currently Joule pre and CAT amp). Much is said about the importance of the amp/speaker compatability; the quality must in good part be a perfect marriage of the Ars capabilities with the Merlin's needs; they are optimized for each other and it sure sounds like it. I'm sure the CAT would handle a much larger array of speakers with more difficult loads and demands, part of the genius of the CAT amp is ability to be a beast (100 Watt, Class A, triode)with purity and delicacy. Overall I imagine the CAT is a better amp, one of the very best -- but if you own Merlins or other speakers that have benign impedance, relatively efficient, and don't need much damping - the ARS are a must listen. They are stupidgood because you look at them, they are "only" $4,000 and you have doubts, it can't be that good -- well it is. You can't go wrong with the combination. You may have to wait a while to get one, but it is worth the wait.

Are you a dealer or do you otherwise have any vested interest in the success of this product?

Thank you,
Bobby mentioned that there will be a write up on this fine integrated in Stereophile I believe in the October issue.
Stay tuned.
Cwlondon, no - I make my living selling newspapers. And I doubt there are any dealers (not sure about that), these are handmade, one-by-one in small quantities and you can expect a wait to get one. I think the maker does it as a labor of love, he makes his living as a doctor. I just got my Stereophile yesterday, and John Marks just about said it all. Including the fact that this is not an amp for everyone - you need the right type of speakers - easy load (8 ohms, no ugly dips), fairly efficient (87-89db or higher) -- but with the right speakers (like Merlins)this amp is great, period.
Fair enough.

By the way, I bought my first system by selling newspapers, but I suspect it was on a smaller scale than your operation.

Thank you for your reply.
Chaz801, Bobby is correct. The ARS Sonum is in the October Stereophile. John Marks did the writeup.

And, I agree, stupidgood!
What about smartbad?Can we incorporate that in the lexicon too?
I always respect Trelja's opinion. So, Joe, since you and I have and love Jadis Integrated amps, how would you compare the Ars Sonum to the Jadis DA 60 and our ex-JOR?
Yeah!! I hear it is stupid good. I only wish they would have one set up with the merlins at the Rocky mountain audio festival next month, so that I can have a listen. Bobby mentioned that it will be a joule, merlin and cardas room this time around. I really look foward to this event.
Would smartbad mean a piece of equipment the thing makes technolgical sense, "looks" well made, it is expensive, well reviewed, should sound good, but for some reason it stinks and you wonder what all the fuss is about? I won't name names, but I have also had that type of equipment.

I too am curious about the Jadis, which I was considering, but I tend to take Bobby's advice when it comes to his speakers.

There is something I really like about the idea of integrateds; when they are top flight, uncompromised (within reason). Of course, that does not mean I'm getting rid of the Joule/CAT combo any time soon.
Cwlondon, love the tape deck.
I cant conceive of an integrated amp driving my Merlins better than the Jadis, which is why I asked Trelja. 6 month wait for the Ars Sonum? I'm a bad waiter.......
I think the wait would be longer than that. I've not heard the Jadis with the Merlins, I'm sure they are superb (they sounded great at the NYC audio show with Proac, I think), but what might (speculation) make the Ars and even better match is the fact that on a parts and wiring level it is designed with the Merlins in mind, matching what you would find in the the Merlin's x-overs. I'm not sure what the impact of that might be, but the SE version of the ARS was definitely influenced by Bobby's input with ARS to optimize performance with the Merlins. I'm not sure there is a way around the wait though, the designer makes'em, no assembly line here; but there is some charm to the idea of that - as long as you have something to listen to while you wait.
Denis, I think the ARS Sonum has a lot of the things that make the Jadis so likable to us.

My ears tell me that the amp slots between the Jadis Orchestra Reference and the DA30. I would probably choose it over a JOR, but a DA30 against it. The DA50S being another step up. Of course, the DA30/DA50S cost a lot more. None of them can compete with the DA60 and DA88S, where you gain the ability to really get things going because of their extra power.

In my opinion, the ARS Sonum is running a better tube complement, with a lot more thought and care going into the choices than any of the Jadis models. But like just about everything in the market, missing out on the trump card of the better Jadis products - those transformers, and that almost impossible to find dancing on the rose colored glasses side of reality. A very sweet sound, though more warm and lush than the Jadis offerings. For me, it certainly represents an alternative product to consider. All in all, highly recommended!

DISCLAIMER - I am the US/Canada distributor for Opera Audio/Consonance products. Factor that into the above opinion, if applicable.
Trelja, have you tried any tube swapping with the ARS. I'm thinking of the little tubes (6922 and 5814/12au7s), I will leave the EL34s alone.
Pubul57, no I have not. I have not bought or played with an ARS. My experiences are only related to my own listening impressions, and speaking to Bobby and the designer.

Based on the sound I hear, and the impressions of the owner, I am more or less comfortable with his choice of tubes. That being said, it's always worth swapping tubes if for no other reason than to satisfy the need to see if one is maximizing the performance of any component in their own system, though it's going to cost a bit of money to roll the small tubes in this application.
I had to run home and try it. I replaced the Tesla 6922 (driver stage) with an Amperex White Label PQ (USA) and in my opinion an improvement. Seems better at microdynamics and presence -or put another way, it sounds beautiful. I'm going to settle on this for a few days, get to know the sound and then try some RCA Clear Top 12au7 in place of the pair of Phillips 5814 - not expecting as much of a difference there but will see. I can't see playing around with the JJ EL34Ls - the measurement and testing is so tight I don't think messing with them will help.
Tell your wife how "Stupidgood" she looks today and she if she gets it.
i caution you in one respect. although the capacitors are burned in for hundreds of hours before they get mounted on the boards, they have not played any music. secondly, there are so many new parts, power cord and tubes that making any effort to tube roll before you have...500 hours on the unit is imho, fruitless.
the unit gets clearer, more pristine and expansive sounding as it breaks in. the tube you prefer now, to the jj e88cc may be too much or too additive in the long run.
give it a chance to sound as it can and then try rolling a few.
Sherod, the wife liked it, but she said I better never say it in public.
Just to throw in my two cents. I've been running the Filarmonia with my VSM-MX's, (soon to get the 'e upgrade), for about a year and a half now and it's a brilliant match. It's a really special amp with the Merlin's. Buy one, forget about it and when it shows up it will be like a surprise and you won't agonize over the wait.

Highly recommended and well worth the wait.
Myself and one other here on A'gon are probably the only two who didn't have to wait since we bought ours slightly used(in my case, 70 hours).
I've stopped agonizing over aquiring the hard-to find Wytech Opal preamp and Brazillian Model 88 mono's that I dreamt about all day and night.
"I've stopped agonizing..." That very much describes how I'm feeling. I won't say the Ars is better than the Joule/CAT, and that pairing will certainly be better for a broader array of speaker options, but I'm just as happy listening to the Ars Sonum with the Merlins as with them and that is close enough for me. I've stopped agonizing about speakers when I bought the Merlins (Merlin owners will knowwhat I mean), I think of the Ars Sonum in much the same way. No thinking about the pre/amp combo, the interconnect, or power cord for that matter. And when the unit is fully broken in I'll roll some NOS in the 6922 slot (I think this is the only tube that makes sense playing with on this unit) and we are talking one [1] tube to play with - makes it affordable to try an Amperex,Mullard,Siemens, and Mullard - and no worrying about matching pairs. No matter how bad you feel waiting for this gem to be made for you - you'll think it all worthwhile once you have it - at least with the Merlins.
It was nice to see it listed in S'phile as Class "A" which includes a $26k+ competitor.
I'm selling the CAT. My listing should be up shortly.
Finally broke down did ya?
The need is gone. And the CAT is too good, and too big to be ignored. The Joule is staying though as I try some SS amps - just got the Pass Aleph J.
It looks like you're an amp junkie.
I'm afraid I have to nominate the First Watt (Pass) Aleph J for inclusion in the stupidgood list - apparently Stereophile got it right a few years back in their review of the Pass Aleph 3. This too is a "low" power, 30 Watt, Class A amp, and it is also single-ended - I don't know if this is the only single-ended SS on the market (is the XA series single-ended?). It works beautifully with the Merlins and with an incredible 242kohm input impedance it is super friendly for use with tube preamplifiers and it is optimized for stable 8-16 ohm speaker impedance (e.g., Merlins). If 30 watts is enough power for your speakers and room, this amp is a gem - unfortunately they stopped making them, but you have to believe Nelson Pass is cooking up something in his kitchen - literally. But moving forward, I'll only comment on the Ars so as not to divert the thread for those who have the Ars or are thinking about getting one.
There is an ARS SONUM up for sale at the moment. If you don't want to wait months to get one....
Does anyone know if it is updated?
Man, I wanted the silver faceplate, but could only get gold.
But that gold matches the Merlin brass rods so nicely. As far as I know, the SE version in the lastest version; some modification made in the course of Bobby's discussion with Ricardo.
If it's at least this years production, it's current.
Pub(and other owner's)
What kind of isolation arer you using for the amp?
No sophiscated isolation, I have a two shelves (Maple Wood) on a rack with a sandwich between them of cork and rubber (like the Mapleshade stuff). I also use Herbie tube damppers on the small tubes, but frankly, I can hear the difference. If there is ever a MKII, I would not send it back unless there was a one month turnaround, but this thing is so good, I'm not worrying about - really (well, maybe I would worry a little bit). By the way, I was worried about it not being loud enough at 30 watts, well, watts ain't watts (these are Class A and tubes)this integrated has plenty of power for my music and my room (12x19). If you had a very large room that needed a lot more power, you would probably have the mistaken assumption that the Merlins were too small - looks can be deceiving.
Ok. I have regained my sanity - I'm not selling the CAT JL2. I was so in love with the Ars Sonum, so overwhlemd by how good it is and enjoyed it so much I thought I would just get rid of the CAT. I was wrong. Not about the Ars Sonum, I love it, it is stupidgood, and it is getting better as it breaks in. I was wrong about the CAT - I realize I can't get rid of her (not an it). I started getting calls for the amp, and I started sweating and feeling anxious, I realized that getting rid of the CAT would leave me feeling great regrets and feeling stupid. Ulitmately, I think the Joule/CAT combo is the best I've heard and it can do things that the Ars cannot do at only 30 watts, etc. But the testament to the Ars is that it made me even think about getting rid of the CAT - it is that good with these speakers. If I had the Ars first I don't think I would upgrade, especially when price and value is taken into consideration. What I will say is you could easily live with the Ars if you could not afford Joule/CAT/Atmasphere, and you might even prefer it on some kind of music (small scale, acoutic, etc). I love both. I'm keeping both - and that's my story.
How are those ARS-Sonums treating you guys? Any updated thoughts? I just sent my deposit in a few weeks ago. Now, some how I need to forget about it for 6 months or so.
The Ars remains an outstanding pre/amp when matched with the Merlins and competes very well with well thought of separates. I don't really have any new thoughts, it continues to be an excellent piece and if you stay with Merlins it could be your endgame for electronics, unless you simply like experimenting, and most of us do. That does not mean there is nothing better in absolute terms, but at $4000 it is stupidgood and will fully satisfy the music lover. It will be well worth the wait if it gets you off the merri-go-round, and it just might.
I have had mine now for over a year and have not even thought of replacing it. It is driving the Merlin VSM-MX.
That's about the best compliment that I can pay to this integrated amp as I used to switch equipment out every few months for years.
And just to give a little more weight to the assessment, I've been using a CAT JL2, and I believe David had been using a Joule VZN 100 - both outstanding amps, and especially so with the Merlins -- in that company, the Ars is a viable option (with the Merlins) to these great separates.
I love the concept of "Smartbad". I'm afraid that, for me, most high end audio equipment falls into that category. I think there are a lot of well intentioned, but ultimately off the mark, manufacturers and retailers.

I've not heard the sonum, but I own or have owned CAT and Joule stuff and those manufacturers get it. If an audiophile who likes that stuff endorses the ars sonum, it makes me interested in hearing it. YMMV, IMHO, etc. Jeff
Jeff, I think there is a lot of Smartbad equipment out there that I have heard over the years, but I won't name names since others may own the equipment and be perfectly happy with it. It is more fun for me to talk about the equipment that has satisfied me and pass on the good word. I agree with you 100% about Joule and CAT (and I suspect Atmasphere too)and the Ars Sonum is in that class as a small 30 watt integrated. I've enjoyed all these amps with the Merlin VSM-MXs which I am unlikely to ever replace unless they are upgraded in the future. With the Merlins, the Ars are magnificent, careful system matching with other speakers is necessary (also true with the Joules). Unlike the CATs, they will not work with everything out there - I've not yet heard a better amp than the CAT.
Thanks for adding your input guys.

I'm tired of changing seperates every 6 months and just want to get back to listening to music and not thinking about the equipment. The ARS seems like the right piece to accomplish that goal. The Merlin TSM's, which I recently purchased, are the first speakers that I've owned that truly made me forget about a physical speaker and allowed me to just enjoy the music. It sounds like adding in the ARS is going to be just the right match to take me to the next level.

I can't wait to hear the ARS/TSM combination.
Santacore, that will be a music lovers combo that you should enjoy for a long, long time.
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