The audio research arc line- from top to bottom.

I have been searching for a balanced tube preamp for some time, recently started to look at the arc line.
I understand that the ref-5 is the best at the moment. I am curious what is second best? Is it the ls-26? Or the ref2 mkII?
Where do the others fall.
LS 26 without a doubt.
The second best pre-amp int the world
Would others agree that the ls-26 beats the ref3?
Sorry, but the REF3 is better than the LS26. I never before would have said that with conviction, but Audiogon member Theo has a LS26 and he borrowed, from a dealer, the REF3. I went over, (THANKS again Ted!) and took quite a few of my demo CDs to listen to. We spent about 3 hours listening. I was WOWED to say the least. The LS26 is a great preamp, but the REF3 is in a different league.

I heard more bloom and air around the instruments and a much wider and deeper soundstage. Better and lower bass response and more edge detail in the upper frequencies.

I haven't heard the REF5, but Theo has and said that it is even better than the REF3.
In addition to what MoFi mentioned about the short time I had with the REF3 I will add that my LS-26 did improve performance with the 6H30-DR tubes from BAT. These have brought the LS-26 to it's peak performance. However even at the peak performance the LS-26 is still not a REF3. And as mentioned as well the 5 exceeeds the 3 in every dimension. So based upon personnal experience to answer your question, a firm no, the 26 doesn't out perform the 3.
And with all the extra circuitry in the 3 compared to the 26 it is my understanding that most of it is dedicated to the power supply. It seems contradictory that more circuitry is required to make itself disappear from the signal path. Oh and your welcome Brad.
Agree with everything that has been said. I owned the LS-26 before upgrading to the Ref3. The LS-26 is a great amp and probably the best value in the ARC preamp line but the Ref3 betters it by a considerable margin. And now with many used Ref3s avail (because of the launch of the Ref5) I would go for a Ref3. The only other thing I would mention is the new SP17 which probably equals the LS-17 but also has a phono stage incl in case that interests you. Tone Audio recently reviewed it favorably.

The stock ARC tubes in my LS-26 now have around 2500 hours. A few questions for LS-26 owners:

These tubes are rated to 5000 hours--will they really go that far or should I consider replacing them soon? The unit sounds as good as the day I bought it FWIW.

When I get to replacing them I'd be interested in going with an upgraded set of tubes to get the most out of my preamp.

Can you tell us about your experience going from the standard 6H30's to the tubes you got from BAT, which they are calling the 6H30P on the website not the 6H30-DR? In what ways and to what degree did the sound improve? How much did these cost compared to the stock tubes?

Thanks for your help with this.

Also, I've never heard anyone claim the LS-26 is superior to the REF 3 and wouldn't expect it to be at their relative price points. While I have never heard the REF 3 I can say that the LS-26 is a very fine linestage. Not only does it sound incredible but it is solidly built and ergonomically well designed. A really beautiful piece of gear that I will keep for a long while.
I have read that the 6H30 tube will actually last around 10,000 hours. I know that ARC says 5000, but I think that ARC wants owners to always have the best sound, so they recommend a replacement more often.

The "DR" version of the 6H30 gives me more depth and width to the soundstage, better bass control, with a smidgen more deep bass. It also gives a better definition to the highs, with a smoother midrange.

I know at one time BAT only used the "DR" version, but I think that supply might be gone. The 6H30 tubes that I have seen come as a 6H30P, a 6H30P-I and the 6H30P-DR. The normal 6H30 tubes are around $30-$60 and the "DR" tube are anywhere from $160 to $400. I have also read that pre 1983 or so "DR" tubes are the ones to buy.

You might give Viktor at BAT a call or e-mail and ask him for sure.

Here is a link to some more info:
BAT no longer includes the DR tubes in their products, even the REX pre-amp, but you can buy those tubes from the going market price....
What about the preamps that came before ls-26???
Are the ls-25, ls-22, ls-17, ls-16 close to the ls-26?????
What will give the biggest bang for the buck?
The LS-16MKII is one of the worst preamps I have ever heard.
"The LS-16MKII is one of the worst preamps I have ever heard."

I totally and completey disagree! The LS16MKII is a marvelous sounding preamp. Very open and dynamic with excellent control. No, it doesn't sound as good as a LS26, but it comes pretty damn close.
Can any old ones be modified so they can compete with the ls-26????
Or what else is available that isn't as pricy as the ls-26?
>>11-07-09: Efner
LS 26 without a doubt.
The second best pre-amp int the world<<

That's really funny.

You gotta have a sense of humor in this hobby.
are you considering buying only new or are you willing to buy used? You can buy used LS-17 or LS-26 and get GNSC mods ( which are specialized in ARC mods. They have a number of people including the founder who worked at ARC for 10+ yrs and are very familiar with ARC designs and how they can be bolstered. In fact they do mods for a whole range of current and older ARC preamps. Go through their website and read what mods they offer and customer testimonials and when you decide which amp you want to hone in on, call Steve Huntley and walk through it with him. Excellent guy and excellent advice. I have no affiliation. I considered going that route but ended just getting a new REF 3 from my LS-26. I am now considering modding my REF3. Hope this helps.
While I agree that calling the LS-26 the 2nd best preamp in the world is a gross exageration (and yes as i said I owned one and now have the Ref3), what's also funny is that you are an Atma and not an ARC dealer and it's hilarious how quick you are to disparage positive remarks about ARC products without disclosing that you are a dealer of a competing product. Like I said a "bucket of laughs."
When I discuss products in my line, there is always a disclosure. Check my posting history.

There is no reason to do it here.

You have a bucket but it is not filled with laughs.

Follow me?
Of course I disagree with you Mofi on every count. I found the 16 to be very un-dynamic with no bass and a shrill upper mid.
Help me understand, Is it you personal opinion that my statement was inaccurate? I'm basing my statement on the opinions of some of the best recording engineers in the world. I hardly find their opinions laughable.
I didn't mean to sound harsh.
But there are many who feel that the ref 3 is the best they've heard,and that the LS26 is a very close second.
I was not talking about your comments about lines you carry but rather your negative inferences concerning products that compete with lines you carry. I hardly think you would have called Efner's statement laughable if he had stated that an Atmasphere preamp was the second best in the world (as ridiculous as any "best" statement about any product is). The fact that you do not think it necessary to disclose that you are a dealer of a competing line of a product you are disparaging speaks volumes.

As for my bucket, it's filled with the same thing your peddling. Maybe now that I have explained my reasoning which was clearly too hard for you to understand maybe you can follow me. Not sure though, it is perhaps too complicated.
What is the order of the preamps from best to 2nd best and so forth.
Are the increments large after the ls-26 or should I say after the ref 3 ?
Buckets of rain,
Buckets of tears,
Audiofeil has got those buckets coming out of his ears...
Poets and losers unite.

Both are losers.

And one ear is the biggest of them all.
Pedrillo...sorry didn't mean to sidetrack your original thread. I am done. I hope you get additional answers concerning your question on ARC preamps.
I had for a short time, an Audio Research Sp-10 (a"classic"??) and sold it as soon as I heard an Audio Research SP-15 in my system. ( I now use the SP-15)
If I was gonna buy a new used preamp... I would be looking at only the Audio Research Ref-3, or the ls26. The prior Ref2 mk2, and the LS25mk2 are not in the running.
Many other manufaturers have pres that are good or great, but the AR stuff floats my boat.

I don't understand why Audiofeil have to disclose he's a dealer when he's expressing his opinion in an audio forum? He's one voice so you can take or leave his opinion. You should trust your own ears in your purchase decisions.
Knghifi, you are right but Feil is sanctimonious and never has anything negative to say about his products or anything good to say about products he doesn't or can't sell.

He loves to "reveal" people who have affiliations with manufacturers, even when they are providing information to consumers.
Unless you are set on a REF 5, I would investigate the REF 3. It is very good. Also, an SP15 or SP11 with new tubes would make you smile.

Another long time Audio Research user and fan here. I always lusted for an SP15 in black but settled on the SP14! Wanted to buy a Ref 2 but settled for a LS25 MKII which was a great unit. If I were buying right now and in your position the Ref 3 is the way to go. The LS26 is still more of a sideways jump rather than forward.It's always made a difference sonically when discussing Audio Research preamps and their power supplies. That's what made the SP15 so sought after. Just my 2 cents!
Not to hijack the thread, but I was a long time ARC user also, but also used other brands. I most recently owned a Ref3/Ref110 combo for a couple of years. I was very surprised when I tried a Shindo Auriges L which, for only $2995, pretty well outclassed my Ref 3. So I would just recommend you seek one of those out before spending much more. I moved up to the Masseto, and well, that is the same price as the Ref 5, so if you are spending that kind of money, you should check it out also.