The New Audio Research Reference 6

Audio Research unveils its latest Reference Preamp.

Audio Research Reference 6 Linestage -

Expect to see a slew of the Ref5 models hit the used market over the next year. I plan to move up to a Ref 5SE as they hit the used market.
Thanks for the update. Not really sure I like the looks?

I really miss the old ARC style with the toggles.
It kind of looks retro in a modern way if that's possible. It reminds me of a modern SP-3. I like it a lot.

From what I understand, the REF-6 gives the two chassis REF-10 a real run for its money, and is better in some ways ... and at less than half the price.

Who says trickle down doesn't work?
Mofi, I too think of the toggle switch style as THE classic ARC look. I've kept my LS-1 not just for that, but because of it's mode switch (Stereo/Reverse/Mono/Left/Right), something I wish ARC (and everyone else) would bring back.
With the Ref 5SE at $13k, I wonder what the Ref6 is going to come in at?
all aboard the ARC upgrade train...
I am sooooo behind. Still running the GNSC modded Ref 2 Mk I....

This one could cause me to jump. I'd love to know the final retail price.

REF 5SE is $13K and the GSPre is $15K, so is $17-19K possible?
No thanks, I will wait for the Reference 7SE MKIII scheduled for very near future
This new look is going to have to grow on me.
I love the look of the toggle switches of old also,
but to me, the Ref 5SE was the best looking preamp ARC ever made.

A close second is the very rare LS10

Audio Research LS10
Mitch...I never really liked the LS10. I was an ARC dealer for many years and have personally owned almost all of the ARC preamps.

I still like the toggles :-)

Bdp24...yeah, all the features on the older ARC preamps were indeed very nice.

Gundam91...if you ever want to sell your GNSC Ref2MKI, let me know. IMHO, that's the best ARC preamp ever made, (well for my tastes and listening biases anyway).
Gundam91 says "i'm soooo behind". I am soooo behind too with my REF3LE with GNSC reference mods. Although i did have a GNSC modded REF2 MKI for a while and liked it a lot, i would not trade my LE for anything. In a head to head comparison with a REF5SE i had borrowed from an ARC dealer in Montreal when it first came out, i could not bring myself to trading in my LE (with more cash) on a REF5SE for very little (if any) sonic improvement.

Geez, i am still using a pair of GNSC modded Classic 120's with balanced inputs.
Likewise, i do miss the toggle switches of old. I have owned an SP9, SP14, LS16MKI, REF2MKI, REF Phono, PH3SE, DAC2, DAC7, but can't let go of the Classics. The REF3LE is a collector's piece as only 20 or so units were made at the end of the REF3 production run and half of those were 240V units destined for the European and Asian markets. That leaves only 10 units in circulation within the US and Canada. My unit is even more special as it has the GNSC mods that brings the sonic level very close to the REF5SE. "Special" also as GNSC is now defunct.
As i am now retired and working part time in a job that does not pay very much, i just can't get on the trade in, trade up, get gear modded band wagon anymore. So i'm just holding on to my old ARC GNSC modded gear (including a REF Phono 2 not SE) that still brings me musical joy.
Mofi, the LS10 had a Jekyll-Hyde personality. When it was
good, it was one of the best preamps I'd ever heard. But it
was sooo unpredictable, on some recordings there would be so
many missing instruments and it drove me crazy. On some
recordings, it would leave out the background singers. I
got rid of it and got the Ref2 Mk2...which was an awesome
preamp. However, I could not get the LS10 out of my mind,
so I bought it again two years later. Still the same old
Jeckyll-Hyde act. I got rid of it again and got the Ref3
and have been in nirvana ever since.

But, since the LS10 was sooo good when it was good, I've
been wondering if ARC has improved on their solid state
preamp technology in the nearly 20 years since the LS10. If
so, I'd jump on one of them in a heartbeat. I never see
anything on the 'Gon about ARC solid state preamps. It
seems only the tube preamps get all the discussion. On its
best days, the LS10 was something special. It had the
blackest background I'd ever was almost scary.
Image, layering and soundstage was mind-boggling.

I think I'll buy one again and stash it if one ever appears
for sale here again.
They NEVER show up for sale here.
Mitch...the main reason you don't see many LS10s for sale
is because they weren't produced for very long. IIRC, the
LS10 was only around for a year (maybe two), then
discontinued. One of the shortest lived ARC preamps.

It wasn't very well received by the buying public or the
audio press. I don't think ARC made very many of them.

I agree with you, that it "could" sound very
good, but it was a hit and miss proposition at best.
I read one guy pan the 'look' of the Ref 6 on another forum. I mean, what are you going to do...stand around looking at it all day? I think it looks contemporary, certainly a departure from the classic ARC look. But the more important point is, underneath ARC say it is a much better circuit in every respect. That is what would perk my interest for one, though i'm more of a ss guy these days.
Melbguy ...

Oh ... SS? You went over to the dark side. Come back ... come back ... the tubes are beckoning ... beckoning ... beckoning ...
JS Audio email on debut said $14 K
@Oregonpapa, lol! I enjoyed my time with my modded Ayon CD-5s & Aesthetix Romulus. I also really like Modwright, though I seem to prefer the sound of Vitus Audio these days, though Vitus Signature series does sound tube-like in some respects.
I'll hand it to ARC. When it comes to marketing high-end audio they are one of the best. They just keep making gear better and better. I think there next move show be designing hearing aids for their aging clientele.
I never saw a manufacture like them who claim they totally redesign each new product and the state of the are is the new state of the art. What a bunch of bull. Its funny every new product by them with the same statements, oh its more musical more 3d more accurate and faster. Please
@Taters ... now that is funny!!

@Jwm ... to some extent I get your point. I have traveled the long road of ARC product development. Many times, I scratched my head thinking, ... I don't get it. For example, moving from the PH-7 phono pre to the PH-8, was for me a bust. I happened to have liked the PH-7 a little bit better.

Same with my move from the Ref 3 to the Ref 5 (not SE). The Ref 5 was supposed to be in another league. Not sure which league, but I didn't think the Ref 5 was a revolutionary upgrade over the Ref 3.

All that said, if you were to take a sonic pic of my rig today as compared to 5 years ago, I think the cumulative and steady mods have put my electronics in a different and much better place.

But I do get your point ... and frustration.

As to the Ref 6, I surmise this may be a very different piece of kit. Reason: unlike the Ref 3, the Ref 5 and the Ref 5 SE, the ARC Ref 6 uses 3 versus 2 6h30 tubes in the gain circuit, aside from other changes in the power supply and so forth.

I look forward to reading honest retail owner comments in the near future. Unfortunately, as many members have fairly quibbled, many professional reviewer comments tend to be company advertisements for new products. I remember reading an early professional review of the Ref 5 (not SE). I recall the reviewer saying something to the effect (as paraphrased) that "The King is dead. Long live the King," when he heralded the coming of the Ref 5 (not SE). BS!!


Well, a whole bunch of the Ref 6 will hit the market when the new, totally redesigned Ref 7 is out which will be amazingly eclipsed in all parameters of sonicality by the new Ref 8 which will be sold like left over lutefisk because the new Ref 9 will redefine what it is to be made of sub atomic particles which will .......................
I don't think ARC is the only company to benefit from this strategy. After all, when was the last time that you heard a company release of a new product advertisement that went like this: "Our latest preamp is unfortunately a step back from our last design and we really have no clue as to why. The parts are superior in our new model, the designers worked longer on it, the aesthetic is better and yet is sounds worse! However, please be advised that the price is at least 20% higher, because of our needs for increased profits."
Here's the thing, that exact scenario has happened on numerous occasions in this hobby. As some of us can easily attest.
Davey, your quote is hilarious!

But, I'm a huge Audio Research fan. I did purchase a Ref3 when it was new, and I'm glad I did. At $10k, I still think it was a bargain and I still enjoy it immensely 9 years later. At $14k, I cannot afford a new Ref6...but I do believe I will be able to move up to the Ref5-SE when those prices inevitably come down as the deeper pockets unload and move up to the Ref6.
i dont get everyone's complaints. every manufacturer releases new models that are supposed to be an improvement.

How inexpensive do you think the 5 SE is going to get? If you figure the Ref 6 retails for 14k. Personally I don't think it will go under 7500.00 which is still a good chunk of change.

You forgot to mention all the SE models in between.
Mitch, that's what's nice about the ever ending upwards curve of new product introductions. There will be some great gear coming on the used market and at far more palatable pricing. I picked up my ARC D70Mk2 for a literal steal after it was placed here on A'gon. The assumption being that over the many years the newer pieces are better than this old classic. However, as several other local a'philes can attest, the old girl still can beat off most newcomers. Why, because like may designers, WZ Johnson had his 'golden' era- and he had periods that were not so great. The trick is to find a piece from your favorite designer that falls into the 'golden' era. Today, I still believe that in WZJ's and ARC's case, there are numerous pieces that followed these amps that simply don't hold a candle to them....including many of the current amps from ARC! When a designer hits one out of the park, like WZJ did with the D70, M100, D115's, then it is SUPER hard to repeat!
Taters, if the 5-SE goes for $7,500...that would work for me. I have at least $5k of equity in my Ref3. $2500 to move up to the 5-SE would seem reasonable to me.
Wow! It looks to me as if Whole Foods had a load of sour grapes to get rid of.

Taters ... as one of those "aging clientele," I can assure you, I don't need hearing aids. I laughed at your comment though. You're a funny guy ... I appreciate that.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing an ARC SP-3A in a system. It was a lovely sounding piece.

I own an ARC Classic 60 that I use as a spare amp. Its very musical and enjoyable to listen to. I replaced it with the ARC-REF-75. Then I upgraded the tubes to the KT-150's. From there, I sold the REF-75 (kept the KT-150's) and replaced it with the ARC-REF-75se.

I used to own an ARC-SP-6 that I loved. I replaced it with an ARC-SP-14 ... and then replaced the SP-14 with my current ARC-REF-3.

I used to have the ARC CD-3 and went through all of the ARC tubed CD players to my current ARC-CD7se which is a killer of a CD player. The most analog sounding CD player I've heard to date. Although some think the CD-6 excels in this area.

Same thing with the Phono amps. I went though them all. Now I'm using the ARC PH-8.

All of this took years of upgrading to accomplish. With every upgrade, there was a significant improvement in MOST areas. Not one change was a setback in musicality, tonality, staging, dynamics, inner-detail or overall believability. My system just kept getting more emotionally involving over the years.

Had I not gone through the upgrade path with ARC, I'd still be listening to my SP-14 and Classic 60. Yep, they made music ... but not like the current ARC equipment I own. The difference is NIGHT and DAY.

Was the time, effort and money worth it? Hell yes ... I have thousands of records and CD's covering all genres of music .. and I want to get the best out of them. It's what I do. It's who I am.

None of you naysayers have to follow the pathway of upgrades. You can stay musically satisfied with your Fisher tube receiver, your Grado 60 headphones, your $35 Grado cartridge, your original AR turntable, your AR-3 bookshelf speakers,your Elac tape player, your Radio Shack wires and your Elvis 45's. I once thought that was great too. Then I found a pair of modified mono Dynaco III's and a modified Dynaco Pas-3 for sale in the Recycler ... and I haven't looked back since.

Very soon, I will be looking at a REF-6 sitting in the vacant space left by my trusty old, lovely sounding and VERY musical REF-3.

Peace out guys ...

ARC is banking on guys like you to support them with their continuous upgrades and new products. The only problem is the day will come when the musical chairs will stop.
Twenty years ago at CES, Ralph Karsten asked me what pre-amp I was using with his Atma-Sphere M-60's and old Quad speakers. When I told him an ARC LS-2B MkII, he said "My MP-3 is a lot more transparent". Now, you can say he would of course say that, and you may or may not agree with his assessment. If the MP-3 WAS more transparent than the LS-2B MKII, when was ARC able to surpass the MP-3 with a new pre-amp, and at what price? You would of course be correct in saying that this argument relies on the MP-3 in fact being more transparent than the LS-2B MKII, but for the sake of argument let's do so for the moment.

So, that was twenty years ago. Let's look at the difference between what owning an ARC pre-amp (twenty years ago an LS-2B MKII) and owning an Atma-Sphere pre-amp (MP-3) has involved. The MP-3 is now in Mk.3.3 designation, ARC being not the only company offering improvements to it's products over time. Ralph, however, has incorporated his improvements into the MP-3 as retrofits, not requiring the owner to sell his old pre-amp to get the new. How much has an ARC pre-amp owner had to spend, in comparison to the owner of an MP-3, to keep the sound quality of his pre-amp at a level comparable to the sound of the also improved MP-3? The LS-2B MKII owner may have gone the LS-15, then LS-16, then LS-25, then LS-26 route (ignoring for now the Reference level pre-amps), each time having to sell the old for the new, losing money each time. How much has the ARC owner spent to get from the LS-2B MKII to the LS-26? And after all that money spent, how does the LS-26 sound compared to the LS-2B MKII? ARC would have you believe that each and every new model has made the old sound now mediocre in comparison. After all the model changes, perfection should be just as close as the next new model! How does that LS-26 compare to the MP-3 Mk.3.3? And how much has the owner of the original MP-3 spent for all it's upgrades, to bring it to the current Mk.3.3 status? The answer is certainly far less than the ARC owner has spent to get from the LS-2B MKII to the LS-26. If the same reasoning is used including the Reference 1 & 2 pre-amps (which would require one to feel the MP-3 Mk.3.3 is their equal), this conclusion is even more true.

ARC owners tend to compare new, improved ARC products only to other ARC products, being ARC loyalists. Robert Levi has listened to the ARC Reference 3 side-by-side with the EAR 868, preferring the EAR. Again, you may or may not agree with his assessment. The 868 has not been changed in at least ten years, and is available used for around $3,000-$3,500. An ARC Reference 3 owner may have bought and sold any combination of LS-15, 16, 17, 25, 26, Ref 1, and/or Ref 2 to finally arrive with his current pre-amp, spending far more than $3,500 (or about twice that if an 868 is bought new) to do so. Is the price it costs to move up the ARC pre-amp line justified by the SQ one ends up with after that amount is spent? Or would a pre-amp shopper be better off going straight for a, say, EAR 868? Hey, I'm just askin'!
Well put Frank.
Mono and Stereo have two internal board, additional tubes, hard to see volume ctl...

As a 5SE owner i welcome this. a static no innovation or incremental improvement company is probably dead.

It looks to me as if Whole Foods had a load of sour grapes to get rid of.

LOL! happens here on the 'Gon every time Audio Research has an upgrade on their reference level products.

I don't want to debate sound quality. That is such a personal thing. I will say from a business perspective ARC is much smarter than Atmosphere and EAR. They have their customers on the audio treadmill. That brings in steady business for their company and their retailers.
...a static no innovation or incremental improvement company is probably dead.

BlackBerry owned the smartphone segment...rested on their laurels and didn't innovate. Their market share plummeted.
Taters sez ...

"ARC is banking on guys like you to support them with their continuous upgrades and new products. The only problem is the day will come when the musical chairs will stop."

On the contrary Taters ... guys like me are banking on ARC to continue to upgrade their equipment and advance the state of the art so that the new technology will trickle down to their more affordable products. Hopefully, when ARC's musical chairs stop, I'll be listening to Golden Harps and Angels that play alto sax like Paul Desmond.

Bdp24 ...

Hopefully, Ralph has improved his products over the years as ARC has done. Around 20 years ago, I had a pair of M-60's on loan for about two years. They belonged to a friend and in some ways he and I prefered them to my ARC Classic 60. Because of my friend, we just kept the ARC amp out of the system for the entire two years. Ralph's amps had a beautiful midrange ... and I mean beautiful. But in comparison to the ARC Classic 60, the Atmosphere M-60's lacked bass and highs. The bass wasn't even close.

At one point (also over 20 years ago) I had the opportunity to hear Ralph's most expensive preamp (I forgot the model) in the system for two evenings. It was glorious. Way more musical, transparent and realistic than my ARC SP-14. But, that was in comparison to the SP-14, not the REF-3 or the new REF-6.

At the same time, we inserted Ralph's big mono amps into the system along with his best preamp. It was amazing. That was in comparison with the Classic 60 and Ralph's M-60's. I'd like to make that same comparison with my current amp, the ARC-REF75se.

As I said, all of this was over 20 years ago. Since then, I've had nothing but ARC gear in the system. I'll say this ... from memory ... If Ralph hasn't followed the upgrade path as ARC has done, then what I'm hearing in the system now would KILL Ralph's stuff. I suspect though, that Ralph has improved right along with everyone else. Ralph knows his electronics ... and he knows music. All one has to do to understand where Ralph is coming from is to visit his room at one of the shows. Hey, anyone who uses a classic Empire turntable to demo his equipment at the shows can't be all bad. *lol*

By the way, I have two of Ralph's private recordings in my collection. You want to talk realistic sounding recordings? Realism ... In spades! Like I said, Ralph knows his stuff.

Atmosphere, EAR, ARC ... ying/yang and hooray for tubes!

Happy listening ...
Taters, yes I was on that treadmill starting with a SP-3, Dual 75 and Dual 51. Later I got a SP-6C. It ended my ARC phase when the SP-6C turned off with low voltage and turned on again as the voltage returned to normal. It emitted lots of DC that my Electron Research amp sent on to my Linn Sondak speakers and fused on the drivers. I thought Johnson should pay for the repair but he declined. I swore never again to buy ARC, but the Reference 2 had so much acclaim that I bought one. I hated it and sold it.

I have a friend who has heard the Reference 6 and says to my surprise and disbelief that it is better than my Koda K-10. The reason I doubt it is because it is a tube preamp. I find tubes too slow.
A welcome aesthetic.

I'd be interested in a comparison with the XP-30...
Yeah Oregonpapa, I could live with (and have) any ARC, Atma-Sphere, or EAR product (let's not forget Music Reference, either)---they all make great music. Cost of ownership is a separate question.

Speaking of designers who have made great recordings, have you heard any of Robert Fulton's ARK label LP's? Oh man, unbelievably good recordings of amateur Minnesota choirs, with astoundingly liquid transparency, startling immediacy, and the best inner detail and delicacy I've ever heard in reproduced music, each voice in the choir clearly audible. Maybe the best choral recordings ever made.
Bdp24 ...

Yes, I've heard of Fulton. Don't have any of his recordings, but I have a friend who, I think, has his entire catalog.

If you're still digging through thrift stores and garage sales, keep your eyes out for the "Century" label. These were recorded by a small company that recorded high school and college coral groups and orchestral music. Some of them are real knockouts.

Back to the ARC Treadmill ...
Robert Fulton was pretty close with both Bill Johnson and Jim Winey, being located close to them in Minnesota. He made fantastic speakers in the '70's (famous for his Model 80, and Model J, Gordon Holt's favorite for awhile), and is credited with introducing the first high end speaker cable, Fulton Browns. He also designed and manufactured excellent tube electronics, a real hi-fi Renaissance man.
This is WAAY off topic. Just bought a very old D120 amplifier. It does say high definition on the faceplate...what can be expected using a CJ tubed pre, Maverick CD, 1.6 maggies? I have a SS CJ, want to experiment at low $ involvement. Please don't get sick on me.
The words high definition are a ARC trademark.
The Ref Phono 2SE came out the same time as the Ref 5SE linestange in 2011.

If ARC follows form, a new Reference Phono 3 should be out very soon.
I must be an oddball. I hated the direction ARC was going with the look started with Ref 3. I liked what I saw when the GSPre was introduced. And I am glad ARC is adopting that look for the Ref 6. (Not like I am going to run out and buy one...)

Smoffatt & Mofimadness,

My previous pre was the LS-25 Mk I with GNSC ref mod. Actually I still have it. I thought that was going to be my preamp forever...Then another local audiophile put his GNSC Ref 2 on the market. Of course, I had to jump on it. Very happy with it at the moment. Maybe I'll consider the Ref 16 in 10 years. But by then, my ears might be shot.

I like the look of it.I suppose there will be a se edition,eventually
Wow, some of the discord here is amazing. AR is a company, just like Conrad Johnson, Atmosphere, etc. some companies have larger R&D departments than others. Big deal. Take for granted that some people are in the "amp of the month club" and have to buy new and "better" equipment whenever it comes out, and in my opinion, more power to them. However, no one is forcing anyone to buy anything.

If you aren't in the club I mentioned above, then you are reviewing and auditioning the equipment and have made a personal determination that it is better than what you previously owned.

Lets not forget that lots of "high end" equipment is simply not carried by many brick and mortar dealers. This means that unless you have friends with equipment or can travel distances to audition, you really can't compare with other equipment.

I have read and heard much about Atmosphere equipment, but I couldn't tell you one store that sells it. I'm absolutely sure it is top quality and sounds wonderful however. And, having some sort of relationship with dealers on a long time basis really helps. Which I have established.

but, if I didn't like the sound of the latest and greatest AR equipment over some other equipment and I was in the market to buy, I most certainly would buy the other equipment, if I could be assured that if there was a problem, that company would be around to fix it.

I would love to hear Atmosphere equipment, so don't get me wrong.

I recently purchased a demo pair of AR REF250 amps. I have mentioned many times that they were the best amps (tube or SS) that I have heard to date. It took two years for me to buy the amps. no hurry. Now they are offered in the SE version. Am I drooling over upgrading to the SE? Absolutely not.

When I upgrade (if ever) my AR REF 3 pre-amp, I will look at the REF 5SE and Atmosphere's pre-amp.

I do however, have one stipulation. I have to be able to audition that equipment in my home system. Hearing it in a store, really doesn't do it for me. If I can't audition at home, that presents a very real problem for me. For that kind of cash, I don't think that is too much to ask.

Which companies have stood the test of time and also have stood by their products?

AR can and will diagnose and fix every product they made. Same is true for Atmosphere, Pass, and many others.

Not true for some others. That is also a problem.

enjoy and be happy
I made a decision.some time ago,this 5se will do me for ever.Whether that changes several years from now.Time will tell.Id like to try a few other bits first.powercable,interconnect,speakers etc.
I am getting my new Ref5SE next week. Check with your dealers about closeout pricing.