Upgrade Quandary: Ref 75SE vs Ref 150 (non SE)


I have a ARC Ref 75 (non SE). I’m trying to decide whether to upgrade it to the 75SE through ARC or sell it here and buy an ARC 150 (non SE). For the sake of this debate, let’s assume costs are equal (I know they are not).
Here’s what I’m after
1) More control in the bass
2) More control in upper midrange (same as bass note above)
3) Not deviate too far from the other elements of sound I have.

Room: 21deep x14wide x10high
Dedicated audio

Gear:
Wilson Audio Sasha (1)
Lumin T1 source
ARC Ref 3 pre
ARC Ref 75
Transparent Ultra g5 balanced ICs and speaker cables.
Bass traps in 2 front corners, 1st, 2nd reflection diffusers.

Thanks MUCH!
P.S. No I can’t audition either amp. in my system.
P.S.S. I’ve auditioned a couple solid state amps, they don’t do it for me. Much more bass (too much) and complete control was found, but they gave up too much in too many areas, like air around the instruments and voices and bloom that I love about tube power.


jo1mtb
You obviously know the ARC sound and capabilities well... so, what's your gut telling you to do?

 If it were me I would go for the extra power of the Ref 150. You can always upgrade it to an SE some time in the future if you want. I am not sure how efficient the Sashas are but the extra power should give you a bit more control. My Sonus Faber Elipsa SE are 92db and I have a Ref 110. I preferred the extra power of my Ref 110 (with KT120 tubes) over the Ref 75.

  I would also consider upgrading your Ref 3 to a Ref 5se. The preamp can have more affect on the sound than the amp. And the Ref 5se is a huge upgrade over the Ref 3. I chose to keep my Ref 110 and upgrade my preamp a year or so ago. and again recently I decided to upgrade my phono preamp to the matching Ref Phono 2se and not upgrade my amp. Eventually I will upgrade to a Ref 150se but I feel no real urgency. At this point I am truly happy with the sound of my system.


Sound advice from david_ten and lostbears.

Happy Listening!

@david_ten Thanks for the gut-check.  My gut is telling me to go with the 75SE upgrade, see if that does it.  I'm not looking for a macro difference, just a bit more definition in the bottom octaves.  I actually am crazy about the rest of the sound, so much so I don't want to mess with it too much. 
@lostbears I'm wondering what the real difference in sound is between the 150 and the 75, both non-SE.  I know the bigger power supply (2x, I think) would be helpful.  I'm not sure the watts, alone, would bring what I want.  I can get plenty loud.  I normally have me pre [12-29].  
I've also considered the 5SE upgrade.  I've heard the 3 to 5 isn't really worth it; a bit different, not necessarily better.  I think the 75 has the same power supply as your 110.  I've asked my audio dealer to run some numbers on trading in my 75 for the 150SE.  I'm guessing, I'll need to add 7-9k in addition to the 75 trade in.  
Thanks to all of you for your comments.  

@jo1mtb Since you are looking for "more definition and control, without messing with the rest of the sound" have you considered isolation platforms for your speakers? I looked at your system pic and if it is current, it looks like you are using some type of footers (stock?).

Something like the Star Sound Technologies Sistrum platforms. I personally have not used them, but they have consistently received strong endorsements from owners (that I know) that have considerable experience with speaker performance.

It is a different direction and, likely, less of an outlay. I think Star Sound Technologies offers a full return guarantee, so it’s an easy test to conduct. If you really like the results, any subsequent amp upgrade will just add to what you’ve gained by using the platforms.

Hope that helps. Best of luck.
ARC 150 non SE and then, when the tubes are used up, replace them with KT 150s. I have gone through the Ref 110 with 6550s, Ref 110 with KT 120s, Ref 150 with KT 120s, Ref 150 with KT 150s--all with my Sashas. I have also heard the Sashas with The Ref75, 75SE, Ref 250s and Ref 250SEs.
 IMHO, the Ref 75 and 75SE will not have the sheer grunt and force of the non SE Ref 150. The added bonus is you can get to at least 85 percent of Ref 150SE just by installing the KT150s at the appropriate time. The standard Ref 150 drives the Sashas almost as well as the Ref 250s and much better than the Ref 75SE.
 Ken Kessler from HIFI News thought he had gotten everything he could out of his Alexias with the Ref 75. Then he heard the Ref 150SE and said it simply showed him things he never knew existed and that the Ref150SE was "supernatural" and "a level beyond". It replaced the Ref 75 as his reference. The difference between the Ref 75 and Ref 150 is even more pronounced with the Alexias than it is with Sashas---but it's still a huge difference with the Sashas. 

 I totally agree with gpgr4blu. You could always the Ref 150 upgraded by ARC to the SE version later if you felt the need.

The difference between the Ref 3 and Ref 5 is not that big. The difference between the Ref 5 and Ref 5se is much bigger. The difference between the Ref 3 and Ref 5se is substantial. The Ref 5se is just magical with a huge holographic soundstage. If close my eyes and I would swear there is a piano in my living room.

 I also agree that isolation is very important. When I went from a Solidsteel rack to a maple rack I could hear an audible difference. Maple sounds smoother, less mechanical at least with tube equipment. I noticed the biggest improvement with my amp. I now have a maple Zoethecus rack with the Z-slabs. Each of the shelves is layered with RF shielding. I have each piece sitting on large stainless steel cones.  The other thing that made a big difference was replacing my power cords with Shunyata Alpha HC cords. They just enhanced all the great qualities of my Ref 5se.


This hobby is never ending journey, if it was my system I would;

1. 75SE - this is a great match with your speakers and should check off your wants.

If you want to take your system to the next level over the next few years;

- ARC Ref6 - forget about the 5SE.

- Cables do matter and you already like Transparent product so you should look at putting into your system Reference MM or greater cables through out, costly but you will pleasantly hear the benefits and just works with ARC. 

- Isolation for your Pre and 75 - doing such can defiantly be heard.

Enjoy!

I would not buy a non-SE ARC amp - the sonic gains are too much. I would save up for a Ref150SE or get a Ref 75SE in the interim and see how it performs.


Seems your collective advice is as back and forth as my thoughts. 😀 I think I'm going to give the 75se a rip and invest further in isolation w ref speaker cables G5 on the horizon. I am demoing 1 pr of Grand Prix isolation feet and the make a big difference under the amp in soundstage depth and precision.
and a bit in the bass. Under the source, much inner detail comes to light.  
Thanks all!!!  

That's awesome what you are experiencing with the GP feet, it's pretty amazing by just adding isolation one can get such positive SQ.

I have owned allot of ARC components over the years including the Ref3, great pre but the Ref6 offers substantial sonic differences across the sonic spectrum and will most defiantly put a huge smile on your face. Don't dare put one in your system unless you are prepared to buy :)

If it was my system as mentioned above my next upgrade would be before I spent $$$ on G5 cables I would get a Ref6 :) - paired up with the 75SE amazing combo.

With the Ref MM cables through out paired up with the Ref6 and Ref 75se the improvements I hear; noise floor drops substantially, everything sonic wise across the spectrum is just more realistic sounding, the sound stage is more focused with performers and instruments being more stable so this provided endless goose bumps listening - the base which to me is the foundation to music is substantial providing proper control without sounding mechanical - I'm very taken back and very impressed.    

 F.Y.I. Want to hear a nice improvement - place 3 Sistrum Audio points with disc under your Ref3 -  http://www.audiopoints.com/audioPoints.php

Enjoy your journey!

Say one thing, do another, huh?  I just pulled the trigger on a very nice looking ARC Ref 150 (non SE) here.  Price seemed very good.  After I sell my Ref 75 (even below current offering asking prices here), it is going to come out $500-1k less dinero - as apposed to the $2500 to make the 75 a 75SE.  So, I figured I'd jump on this 150.  
I'll post a comparison of the 75 to the 150 in my system if anyone is interested. 
@dev I just bought two sets of the Grand Prix Audio isolation feet.  Second pair under the source Lumin added inner detail I can't un-hear. Just solid improvement all around. 

Thanks again to all for your valuable input.  

Good move jo1mtb. I look forward to your thoughts on the differences.
Congrats, dollar wise no brainer and your Sasha's will be happy - suppose next move will be SE upgrade :)
@jo1mtb :  Congratulations. Looking forward to hearing about how it all works out for you.
Alright.  The 150 arrived.
I'm hoping it might need to break in some. Right now it feels a bit like it's going through the motions.  The emotional connection to the performance I was getting through the Ref 75, just isn't there.
I know tubes need to set in. About how long does that take in your all's experience?  (All new tubes. They were all matched very well, w/in 1mv of master-slave, from TheTubeStore).
The bass does have the nth more control and it pressurizes my room a bit better on more demanding tracks.  
Right now, the plan is to let it play over night and check in again in the morning.  I'll likely let it play for a couple days before making any decisions. But, if things don't get much better (engaging emotionally), I'll be putting the 75 back in by end of weekend. 
Any advice, tips, experience.  How long should I wait to decide? 
To late to make any difference to your decision, but I would have gone for the 75SE. I listened to the 75, 110 and 150, when I originally bought my 75 and I preferred the sound quality, to either of the other two amps. They are all quite different and none are "tube like", that is warm with rolled off treble, as the epithet so often indicates. Yet the 75 had more of the rich, detailed, fast character, that the best tube amps give. I found the 150, more solid state in sound.

 I upgraded to the SE status and it is absolutely worth it, giving cleaner, tighter base, as you were seeking.

 For me, I would always go for the 75 SE, only if power output is adequate. I felt it was definitely OK, with the Wilson Sabrinas, I have'nt heard the 75 with the Sashas

Do you really like the sound of those KT 120's?
I don't know. I don't think that's it. The ref 150 had kt120s in it too. both have 120s in. Never heard the kt150s 
@david12 
I think I'm coming to the same conclusion. Anyone looking for a very nice Ref 150?  
@jo1mtb : Should have heeded the gut. : )  Deep down you knew. 
Yep... Oh well.  I got the 150 for a pretty good price... Hopefully, I can get back the same. 
I've removed my Ref 75 ad.
Then, it's good that your Ref 75 didn't sell!

Market is good for ARC. All the best.
Perhaps get the upgrade done while you have the 150?
@david_ten 
I would, but I'm not so hesitant to do anything to this 75.  
Can anyone comment; does upgrading to 75 make the amp lose any of it's sweetness, personality, and emotion (connection to the artist)?

The Ref 150 is posted back for sale on here.  It's an awesome amp, just not the right cup of tea for my system and ears. 
Personally I wouldn't give up so soon. Audiophile opinions are a dime a dozen. You bought a great amp. Give it a chance. What often happens is that when you put the old unit back in you're no longer sure which is best. Finally if you love your Ref 75 leave it as is. Recall that no system is perfect. Just take a look at the success of Audiogon. 
I suspect that the 75se has a sweeter midrange and an overall clearer presentation than the 150 due to the simpler circuit-ARC has noted that even in the context of the new line-up, there is something special about the 75se. The question is whether there is a trade-off when sacrificing power and whether optimizing speaker placement wouldn't be a much better investment of time/effort/money. I looked at the OP's system-once you reach this level of component quality the culprit/solution of less-than-thrilling sound is not a cable here and an amp swap there. 

I agree with sonicsmith, I think the 75 is in a sweet spot for ARC, who seem to produce the great, classic amps in the 50 to 100watt output window, like the D60 for example. I certainly preferred the sweetness you describe, to the sound of the Ref 150.

In answer to your question, I don't think you lose anything with the SE upgrade, just gain better grip and base in particular. My amp is staying till it gives up the ghost and if I have to change speakers, I will make sure they match the ARc's output, but my Daedalus speakers ain't going anywhere either.

If you want to get the flavour of the SE upgrade, you can by just changing the tubes, it's quite safe, I and many others did it and you save on ARC's tube prices, if you buy from say Upscale audio. The only problem is you can't put the top of the amp back on, but no problem. It will give you a large part of the SE upgrade, without the cost. ARC may huff and puff about using the tubes in the factory upgrade. They told me they might not be perfectly matched!! Silly me, I thought that's what adjustable bias was for. With the full upgrade, the amp top can fit back on.

 In truth, I am sure I would be very happy with the Ref 75 and 150. Both I expect, will be revered amps for years to come and will maintain a good resale value.

On the other hand :-)- it deserves noting that Warren Gehl of ARC uses the Ref 150se in his reference system that he uses for ARC's final check-subjective auditioning-of every piece that leaves the factory. Mikey Fremer's two episode video of his recent visit/tour of the ARC facility (available on Youtube) reveals this fact. Warren compares the sound of other amps to the Ref150se as his-pun-reference-before they go out the door.
ARC also uses Maggies, which isn't a match with the Ref75SE
Thanks to all!  
Checking back in on this.  
I listened to the Ref 150 for quite a while. Just sold it on here. It is a VERY nice amp, but to me the sweetness of the 75 it can't match.  
It beats the 75 in soundstage depth, grip, venue/ambiance, and pace. But to my ears the 75 beats it nearly everywhere else; timbre, sweetness, finer grain, acoustic bellows tube sound, emotional connection to the artist(s) - and I never feel like I'm missing the extra watts.  
Also, I just purchased a 75SE.  Should be here tomorrow.  My 75 will be going up for sale here.  
Thanks all.

Congratulations! The circle is complete!

Bliss, tomorrow on? 

Congrats! Your findings of what you feel your 75 lacked in comparison to the 150 will most defiantly change with your 75SE.

I have 75SE paired up with the REF6, marvelous combo :)  

@jo1mtb  How's it working out?
@david_ten 
i don't know yet. The 75se arrived with some damage.  I've returned it to the store to have their tech look at it. The left channel wasn't working. I hope to have it back soon.  Hoping it's simple and doesn't require a refund.  When I get it back I'll have an update 
By the way, the arc sourced kt150/ it came with worked perfectly w my non SE so I need to return thetubestore tubes for another set - witch they have been very good about (cust serv). 
Ugg. First-world problems!!  😀
That's too bad. In your case, there was actual damage and something wasn't working...don't be hard on yourself. Hope it gets sorted out. I'm sure you'd rather not have to return the amp. All the best.

There's a lot of screaming and chest thumping across forum-land for much much much less and often insubstantial issues.
Sounds like you are obsessed with ref. How about Zesto Bia. Get out of this rut and experience life which is only a metaphor for music.Put the enjoyment back in music.
It continues.  
I had to return the Ref 75SE (by the way the customer service from The Music Room who I purchased it from here on A'gon is awesome).  It had at least a fried resistor when I received it. They made it right w/ prompt and full refund. 

So, with the returning of the Ref75SE, I'm considering a Ref 150 SE that is for sale here/now.  

Has anyone compared the Ref75 to the 150SE?  

When I A/B compared in my system the Ref75 and the non SE Ref150, I fell more for the sweetness and emotional performance engagement of the 75 over the authority and soundstage of the 150.  However, I felt/and do feel that the 75 is a bit bright (like a gold gilding) on the the high highs (like symbols in rock music).  The 150 seemed to provide better control of the highs (as well as the low band)

The 150 took those edges off and made more music more enjoyable, but I lost a few degrees of in-the-room magic that the 75 provides on more close, small-scale performances.  

So, I'm wondering if the Ref 150SE provides both...???

Let the debate begin (again).  

I value your thoughts and personal experience-based opinions.

Thanks in advance!  

 I have heard the 150 and 75SE's, but not next to each other. From that, I would say that neither amp really changes it's character, or power output, though control of speakers would be better.

So I just think you get the same basic character, it just gets better. In the case of the 75, a lot of that "better", is in the base, but the overall sound improves too. So no, I don't think SE status will make the 150 more like the 75.

Update:
I received the Ref 150SE, dropped it in, and was not initially blown away. 
It has ~600 original hours.  It has always been an SE.  
I let it play for about 10 hours, still wasn't taken by it. 
I put the Ref 75 (non SE) back in.  It sounded sweeter, but thin and tinny/splashy by comparison. Put the KT150s in the 75, it sounded less sweet, less splashy, but firmer bass (which can sound like less bass), also less billowing (bellows) sound.  It gave a bit more body to the Ref 75.  
I put the Ref 150 SE back in, and realized how good it actually sounded. Plus I think it hadn't been played in awhile, so I think it's still having a bit of a re-breaking/settling in.  
Short story: Ref 150SE is now beating the Ref 75 nearly across the board.
NOTE: It was critical to have isolation under the digital source to get sweetness back from the system w/ the 150SE in.  
If anyone is interested in deeper, specific, more critical analysis as I go along, I'm happy to check back in here.  
I'll likely be playing and swapping through the weekend.  
Thanks!


jo1mtb, it's good that you are comparing different pces in your own system for your own taste.

So many factors come into play, rest of your system components, room etc. so others will differ.

Put in a Ref6 or any other component and your comments will change again, reposition of your speakers - add room acoustic panels - doing any of these what you are currently hearing will change - it's never ending.

Your comments above referring to a 75 saying;

"I felt/and do feel that the 75 is a bit bright (like a gold gilding) on the high highs (like symbols in rock music)."   non SE version

My speakers are 107 db and if such was present would be easily heard but there are no such findings - my set-up is totally different than yours but clearly shows system dependant.  

Personally what you are describing is what I here when listening to your version of speaker - the series 2 not so which is my preference.

So many factors - for sure it's a never ending journey. Personally I would have upgraded from your Ref3 to 6, there is one currently up for sale and paired it up with the 75SE - break both in and enjoy! Work on the rest of your set-up and then get a 150SE say in years time or so to compare if you find you are still missing something.

It is definitely always changing, and you cannot really tell what one tweak in one system will result in in another system.  Things are not linear. 
More listening today.  Short story: I'll be keeping the 150SE.  
I'll be giving up the nth degree of sweetness on some recordings, for sweeping improvement across most everything - in my system.