IF its leaning a bit towards the analytical currently, ARC should be a very good choice to nudge it properly in the right direction.
I use an arc sp16 with the same amps and it is a match made made in heaven, hard to beat IMHO. Other recent ARC pre-amps I have heard ( I think I heave heard the ref 3)sound similarly good and can likely only be even better in terms of frequency extension, dynamic headroom, etc. But frankly the sp16 is hard to fault on its own as well. Does require period tube replacement, 6 total, one premium tube with very low noise levels for the phono section specifically.
The ARC is fine. I also would recommend any of the Shindo Amps. Very smooth balanced sound. It will transform your system
Well I'm going to go ahead and disagree with the first two responses. I've owned a few ARC preamps, including the Ref 3. If you are looking for a more musical, less analytical sound, the ARC sound is not for you. ARC represents the more modern, transparent, articulate tube sound, not the older, warm and musical tube sound.
If you are seeking more musical sound, I would suggest that you look towards conrad johnson, Cary, Shindo.
With no price guideline, I would steer you toward two very good preamps, the first would be the Lamm LL2 Deluxe which is line level no remote, the most honest preamp I have ever owned and if your budget is less, sell your AR phonostage and buy the Audible Illusios three B with the John Curl phono boards,if you are like me and vinyl is your first choice. You don't list the cartridge on your system so give that a little consideration as well.
BAT preamps are definitely not analytical. Maybe not as lush as Cary, but add a good amount of the tube "magic"
Canary is another worth looking at in that price range
very nice system you own. I would consult both Pass Labs & ARC to determine if the 2 brands are sonic matches.
Providing they are sonic matches- I would not hesitate buying the ARC Reference5 / 5SE model. It is so much better than the REF3. Certainly a keeper for the long term.
Which cables/cords are you using/planning to use?
This is the most crucial factor- keep me posted!
Appreciate the feedback. I'll look into the other preamps.
Mapman - When you say you use the sp16 with the same amps, are you referring to the Bel Canto's or Pass Labs?
I'd also look at the Allnic line up.
Tough to answer as none of us know how you hear music and sound. But in the spirit of your question and objective I'd give Shindo serious consideration more so than ARC. You'll need to pay attention to the tube preamp's output impedance however to match your SS amplifier input impedance.
I actually think ARC would be a great place to start. Shindo, CJ, etc. are great pres, but given your current system as your sonic reference they may make a fairly drastic change that might risk going too far in the other direction. My guess is adding an ARC pre may add a nice dose of musicality that may have you rethinking the amp purchase, which could end up saving you $$$ in both equipment expense and your electric bill. I've heard the Bel Canto amps sounding awfully good in several different systems. I think VAC is another good pre to consider but would likely sound perhaps a touch softer, lush, or more "tubey" than ARC, which may or may not be a good thing.
My only caution is that there have been some reports of some ARC preamps possibly being damaged by being paired with certain non-ARC amps (can't remember specifics but it was a thread here within the past year or so). Just something to explore further if you go this route.
My last thought is that I don't see a power conditioner listed in your equipment list. If you don't have one that could also yield significant improvements in removing grunge that could be affecting the overall musicality of your system, especially since you're running "digital" amps that tend to benefit from power conditioning. I'll also throw in a strong recommendation for dedicated lines. It never ends. Best of luck and please keep us posted in whatever you decide.
"Mapman - When you say you use the sp16 with the same amps, are you referring to the Bel Canto's or Pass Labs?"
Bel Canto. Check my system link.
Teh Ref1000m has input stage specifically designed to handle a tube pre-amp. That was one of my considerations for buying it.
I would wonder if your goal is to move away from a more "analytical" sound if a move from BC to Pass would move things further in the wrong direction?
My move to BC from other SS amps prior (both used with same ARC tube pre-amp) was in accordance with that same goal. The ARC/BC combo provides a very good balance between being musical and being detailed I would say. Analytical is not a term I would use to describe it. If it were me, I would try that first before committing to an amp change, given your goals.
In any case its always best to make one change at a time and then give it time to soak in before deciding whether to move on or not.
An used MP-1 is a tube preamp that has the detail that you are looking for, lacks the analytical quality and yet is very revealing, and is balanced which works nicely with the Parasound.
It gets the detail by having a direct-coupled output. It also plays bass better for the same reason. Of the preamps mentioned this far its also the only one that actually supports the balanced line system (I can expound on that if anyone is interested).
An old customer of ours is selling one. I can put you in touch with him, PM if interested.
I agree with the ARC assessment by Jmcgrogan2, as I have owned and or auditioned many ARC preamps and warm and full is not their sound in my experience. Big, open, dimensional, fast, but articulate and to the lean side, and less palpable are words that come to mind. I liked the Aesthetix Calypso better, and felt it to have great texture, warmth, great detail, but not as much as the ARC or as much space, but better body and fuller bass. Try both with your amp and system, then you will know.
Is it better bass though?
My bass currently since moving to ARC sp16 is very clean and sounds just right. It sounded lean in comparison to most everything else I've used beforehand in comparison at first mostly because it is more clean and articulate. I struggle to get equally good bass results elsewhere.
I think what is best is part a system/room synergy thing and part user preference.
ARC set up well is a good place to look for full, good clean bass. Might not be everyone's cup of tea though. Few things are.
I think VAC is another good pre to consider but would likely sound perhaps a touch softer, lush, or more "tubey" than ARC, which may or may not be a good thing.
While I do agree that VAC is a touch softer, lush and more "tubey" than ARC, it is nowhere near soft or lush like CJ or Cary. That is like saying that 55 degrees is a touch warmer than 50 degrees. While this is a true statement, I don't think that anyone would consider either temperature to be warm.
VAC is one of my favorites, it is very revealing and transparent, almost as much so as the ARC line. Though VAC doesn't have quite the hardness, thinness, or glassiness of the ARC gear. In other words, that touch softer is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
Neither ARC nor VAC should ever be confused with a soft, lush, tubey sound, both are on the transparent side of the fence, though ARC is more extreme towards that end than VAC, IMHO.
I've heard VAC amplification and recall it as a reference sound for me that helped shape where I am today, which is ARC tube pre-amp + Class D power amplification. Fewer tubes, more power and drive for speakers that benefit, very efficient and resulting sound is in line with that VAC reference standard I recall. ARC provides the detail and clarity and good Class D (Bel Canto ref1000m) provides a touch of softness along with enough power and drive for most anything. I run everything from smaller Triangle and Dynaudio monitors to large OHM floorstanders off this combo. Each has a unique sound in ways but all share a common balance between being both detailed and musical. Couldn't be happier.
I equate the resulting sound and bass in particular through my larger OHM full range speakers, as lean and mean, like a MMA fighter in peak condition, say Georges St-Pierre. I would not want it any fuller or fatter and struggle to get bass anywhere else sounding that good, ie just right and not obscuring any of the rest.
Mapman, "fuller bass" meaning appropriate bass. Bass which allows the weight of each upright bass note to sound like individual notes with their own weight, and dynamic "pop" as opposed to an overly ripe bass where the notes are smeared together or overly lean when the notes are all fast, lean, but generic and not offering any weight variation with individual notes. With upright bass, electric bass, cellos, drum sets, this is audible with good reproduction. This is also the ability to sustain notes which should be sustained, but letting go of the notes as well when appropriate. Plasmatech
In my opinion, fuller bass support from a tube preamp that one guy can get another guy may not get by varying degrees depending on the synergy with the other components and the end-resulting speakers. There are so many variables involved that you are simply experimenting with a preamp and will not know the results until you connect the preamp to your system. Everything matters, sources and preamp and amp and speakers. I have never heard an ARC preamp but I have seen the reports of them providing the modern tube sound which is supposed to be less of a tube sound, not lush, and less full sounding (but musical). My preamp is a Joule Electra LA150 II.
Thanks to everyone for the feedback. It sounds like the ref3 may not be what I'm looking for. With that said, in addition to checking some of the recommended pre's, I'll be auditioning the ref 5SE. It's more than I'd like to spend but from what I've read, may be exactly what I'm looking for. As I mentioned, my system is a TAD analytical. I don't want to push it too far in the opposite direction.
For those that asked about other aspects of my system, my conditioner is a PS Audio PPP, my cart is a Lyra Kleos, and my interconnects are AQ Niagara's.
Well it sounds as if you are smitten with ARC, nothing wrong with that. If it still turns out to be a bit too analytical, you could always switch to warmer cartridge and/or cables.
Or swap out the preamp further down the line... Since the amplifier is balanced I would look for a balanced preamp as well.
A lot of the Parasound amplifiers have a 33K input impedance, which is at the bottom limit of what is recommended for the ARC preamps.