Time to upgrade the pre-amp.

I am currently running and ARC SP-16l into an Art Audio PX-25 power amp which feeds a pair of Blumenhofer Genuin FS2s (94db). I listen to mostly vinyl atm, and I have an external phono stage (Icon PS1 mkii). I think at this point, the pre-amp is the weak link.

Although I am not wedded to buying another ARC preamp, I am leaning in that direction due to company reputation, longevity, accessibility of local dealers (Northern NJ) and resale value, though I am definitely looking for that full mid-range and "musicality" typically associated with all tube architectures.

I have an opportunity to buy an SP-11 for $4,000, and from what I am seeing, if I wait, I may be able to get an SP-10 in that same range. However, for ~$2,000 more, I could likely get a Ref 5SE, which would be the top of the budget, but has in addition to any sonic advantages, a remote and tube hour tracker.

My questions are: (1) is it worth holding out for the newer Ref series (~10 yrs old at this point) vs the SP10/11 which are 40 years old at this point; and (2) if it comes between the SP10 and SP11, What I have read here is that the SP10 is all tube, but while that unit’s phono stage is particularly strong, the rest of the line inputs are not up to the SP-11. If it turns out that they are close, I would likely choose the SP10 between those two.

Very interested in how folks think about this.


I am of the mind that if a system is passive friendly, and I think that the OPs, like mine is, then a very good passive linestage is hard to beat. I have plenty of gain from both digital and analog sources. I understand that an analog front end can be challenging, but with my SS Carmen II (2.2 mV) into an SPL Phonos using the 50db of MM gain, I have plenty of volume.

I know some think only active preamps can give the body and slam to the music they prefer. But I contend that in the right system, this is not so. I suggest anyone interested in a good passive give Hattor Audio a look.



I’ve had an ARC SP6B since 1981, and most of the repairs needed on it were for cold or cracked solder joints. Nothing serious. I imagine the same would be true for an SP10 or 11. But my preamp has needed repairs once every 5 years or so since 2000.

This is the first time I am thinking about the gain from the preamp. So e.g. I see the Ref 6SE as having 6DB gain from its single-ended outputs vs 75db for the SP-11. @verdantaudio @ozzy62 is that more in line with what I should be looking for?

Specs for the PX25 are:

Power Output: 6 wpc
THD: less than 1%
S/N Ratio: >85 dB
Output Impedance taps: 4 and 8 Ohm
Input Sensitivity : 400mV
Input Impedance: 180 kOhm
Frequency Response: 10 Hz to 20 kHz +/- 0.5 dB

What am I trying to match in a pre-amp?

Lower the better. 6dB is good.  You aren’t going to find many preamps in the market that are going to be active and have lower gain.