VAC Ren II, VAC Phi, or ARC Ref 3?

Finally, the two cold solder joints in one of my Rowland 7M amplifiers have been fixed. Just a simple 2 minutes soldering job at home, thanks to a kind live phone consult by Jeff himself. Now the system is back purring like a kitten.
Great say you, but. . . the problem is that now I have fallen totally prey to Upgraditis Furiosa, the most pernicious and 'wife threatening' form of Audiophilia Nervosa.
I listen mostly to classical--lots of chamber, vocal, Early Music, Baroque, Romantic, some large orchestra, lots of cello and other strings--on a system that I have lovingly put together over the last 20 years: EAD T1000, AT&T glass C-core glass wire, EAD D7000 Mk. 3, AudioQuest Quartz RCA, Audio Research LS2B, Gutwire XLR, Jeff Rowland 7M monoblocks, Cardas Golden Ref PCs on 7M, Cardas Golden Ref speakerwires, MagnePan 3A speakers.
The sound is sweet, lush, with a large if slightly unfocused soundstage, sometimes slightly veiled, somewhat soft at the bottom, can sound glorious in the midrange, good if not spectacular at the top. Much better at small ensembles than at full orchestra, where the sound stage can collapse and full strings and brass often display signs of brittleness and two-dimensionality. But, so much for self-criticism. Now what to do?
I intend to migrate towards a fully balanced system, with redbook and SACD capability and a tube linestage. I will start upgrading at the source and linestage points. The source will be an Esoteric X-01 or an upcoming APL NWO-1. But in this thread I'd like to discuss options for a new linestage. My requirements are an open and detailed, sweet sound, accurate with minimal coloration, with very good but not necessarily overwhelming macro-dynamics, an excellent three-dimensional and accurate soundstage, superior microdynamics and subtle nuance. The linestage must sound great out of the box--after breakin of course: not only after going through many cycles of NOS tubes musical chairs. All of this from a company with a stellar track record and reputation in quality, dependability and pre/post sale support. I listened to the VTL 7.5 and found it to be too soft. The BAT VK51SE sounded too dark. Then I listened at length to the VAC Ren II, which seems to embody all of my requirements. I have not heard the VAC Phi as yet, but it is in the running by inference. Nor I have listened to the ARC Ref 3, although I intend to: Ref 3 is in the running by reputation.
Suggestions? Opinions? It's your turn guys and girls!
Supratek. You'll never look back.
I love the VAC you listened to, but i think the ARC is the better of the two. I would also look into the Lamm L2 reference and the new audio frontiers Absolut. Out of all of the I would pick the new audio frontiers and never ever look back. i heard it sitting next to the VTL and the VTL sounded like a best buy reciever in comparison. It is a little known brand but the customer service is great (willing to fix any problem any time no questions asked) and it is cheaper. you could put the extra $ toward the top of the line esoteric 4 box cd setup, which i heard is just rediculous. anyway, there is a demo one on the go right now 4 grand (the pre i mean not the digital). It is worth it to go out of your way to check this thing out,
Good suggestion. Unfortunately Supratek is tweak heaven. It is a very 'delicate' machine with moderate reliability. It is also made at the antipodes by a one-man company. I want to get out of a new linestage the same 13 years of uninterrupted reliability I have received from my aging ARC LS2 B. Thank you for your input.
>> It is a very 'delicate' machine with moderate reliability.<<

Delicate machine, perhaps. Moderate reliability, dead wrong.
Good luck however in your quest.
I had a VAC Ren II (but not the sigature version). Superb piece. Does everything well. Perhaps just the tiniest little bit warm and veiled when compared with the Aesthetix Janus I replaced it with, but also a bit more holographic. I could happily live with either. Kevin Hayes's customer service is second to none and build quality is excellent.
Thank you Matt, Lamm is a single ended design, as such it does not meet one of my reqs. I know Audio Frontiers of Hamilton, Ontario. I never liked its sound. Also the company has had its financial ups/downs.
But I'd be interested in more detailed impressions of ARC Ref 3 vs VAC. What do you like in Ref 3 better than in the VAC? Thanks, Guido
Guidocorona: I can certainly relate to the issue of you wanting reliability but this comes with a lot of product lines these days so I would not worry too much here. You have listed a number of very highly rated models. I have not heard any of them but I have got to believe they are all magnitudes beyond the LS2 in pure musicality.

Rather than focus so much on what is too dark, too soft, etc., focus on the musicality. I am not going to comment on the LS2 as I have bashed this enough here already. But simply put, you have lived a long time with a product that has a very subtractive nature in many ways. Give some of these products more time. Maybe they are too soft or dark only because the LS2 is overly bright and fatiguing relative to many other pieces? It is almost like you need to "recalibrate" your ears and take notice of the multitude of refinements of these other products and not pay so much attention to simply the tonality.

There are layers and layers of harmonic overtones, decays, portrayal of space, etc., etc., that you have simply been missing all these years. The LS5, BAT 31SE and now Callisto have done this like few other products I have heard. I have to believe the 51SE, VAC and VTL have similar qualities.

As I have changed to the BAT and then Aesthetix products, I find it impossible to return to ARC products because for me now, they are simply too fatiguing. There's just too much of a "in your face" presentation with these products. And this is coming from an owner of many ARC products over the course of 15 years. Maybe the Ref3 is a different animal.

One very important note here. When you bring home a product like the ones you mentioned, you MUST also borrow a top-notch XLR cable from this to the amps. This is THE most critical cable in a system with such a line stage. I have found it to either make or break the magical qualities in the music that I have worked so hard to achieve myself.

Thank you Bsal, I would consider Aesthetix were it not for the fact that you really need to love rolling tubes to bring out its potential. Your comment about the VACs great holographic imaging is bang on in my view. That's exactly my experience.
Thank you John, although my mention of VTL 7.5 and BAT VK51SE was cursory, my auditioning was very detailed and based on a set of my own classic CDs--not test disks containing meaningless sonic fireworks, but albums old and new, representative of the music I typically enjoy.
My criteria had all to do with musicality. After all I have been in the world of music for the last 45 years in one form or another: student, singer/performer, composer and musicologist in my college days, audiophile. The VTL was in fact very musical, strings were truly lovely, but it had the tendency of deemphasizing transients, as such, a Steinway piano ended up sounding like a Bluthner with a blanket thrown on top: that's not of my liking. The problem with musicality of the BAT VK51SE is that. . . I could not hear any of it. Transients were well defined, but the sound was cold, dark, it lacked completely the glow and emotion that I associate with what I deem musical. Paradoxically, I found the Boulder 1010 I auditioned during the same session musically more satisfying than the BAT. On the other hand, I am more than willing to give VTL 7.5 and BAT VK51SE another chance, just in case my memory of them were flawed.
Without doubt, the hands down winner is the ARC Ref 3 (which BTW I do own). I have owned pretty much all of the above mentioned preamps but keep coming back to ARC. I owned its predecessor, the Ref 2 Mk ll which I thought was the absolute best and could not be improved upon. Along comes the Ref 3 and it smokes the Ref 2. There is a certain sonic signature about this preamp that just makes my ears stand up and take notice.

Having said all of this, I am auditioning the Lamm L2 in my system tomorrow. Like you I am not terribly keen about only SE inputs as well as no remote and dual mono volume controls. Nonetheless this is a magnificent preamp and I want to hear it in my room with my ML 2.1's. It will be a true a/b vs the ARC. Stay tuned.

The Vac Phi is also terrific BTW.
Wow, you have some serious work ahead of you. With the requirement of a truly balanced design and your focus on 3-dimensional qualities, extended and open top end, the field of products is truly small. I would like so much to hear the VAC as I suspect it is about the only thing to give the Callisto a run for the show without going to the next insane (Boulder) price point.

Please don't discount the Aesthetix Callisto because of your concern of the effort needed to get NOS tubes to sound its best. Even with stock Sovtek tubes, it still mightily outperformed the Calypso with premium tubes and the BAT by an equal margin. I followed Albert Porter's postings here on what tubes worked and my experiences when I tried the same were right on with his. His efforts and willingness to share saved me a ton of time and no doubt money as well. In a week's time you could locate all the tubes to replace the stock tubes and then not think about it.

JD (Jadem6 who owns the Calypso) and I both feel that the magic with the Callisto has got to be much to do with it's separate tube power supply. And we were both so focused on this that it took us a awhile to notice how superbly the Callisto renders and controls the bass that is so untypical of a tube preamp. The two chassis implementation can be a hassle, but then the VAC Renaissance is as well. The Calypso and thus the Janus would clearly not meet your needs here.

It will be interesting to hear the reports on your listening sessions and ultimately your feelings on the Ref3 as well.

John, you are putting evil thoughts in my perverted audiophilic mind! Now I will have to go and listen to the mighty Callisto as well. That's . . . not nice!
By the way, the Boulder 1010 is in the same general price vicinity. Once you go to the Boulder 2000 series. . . prices become absolutely stratospheric.
Thank you Oneobgin, please tell us more about how the Ref 3 and the Phi differ, and how does the Ref 3 excell?
I am also looking forward to your findings on the Lamm.
Listen to a c-j ACT2!

Good Luck!*>)
As a Phi 2.0 owner I would say it fits your requirements. There is the ultimate test of synergy with the rest of your equipment. As a Phi 220 amp owner, the Phi 2.0 was a logical choice and exceeded my expectations, bettering the linestage section of my EMM DCC2.

The Phi 2.0 is incredibly quiet- the noise floor is lower than that of the DCC2. It has the drive. bass, and dynamics of the best solid state with the sheer musicalnesss of tubes.

The Phi 2.0 will drive any known amp regardless of load. It can easily handle power amps with an input impedance of below 10K ohms so it is very flexible in that regard. It is essentially a low powered Class A1 fully balanced Triode amplifier.

The user interface is wonderful. The only disadvantage next to the Ref3 is lack of an easy to read numeric volume readout. Kevin chose not to implement his volume control with a digital readout.

Build quality and curb appeal goes to the Phi series hands down. It is absolutely stunning and pcitures do not do it justice.

When you buy a VAC piece you are also investing in Kevin's and Co fanatical attention to detail and "perfection". His customer service and the VAC product reilability are second to none.

ARC IMO introduces new components and Mark II/III versions way too quickly. I think OB already sent his Ref 3 in for a "running" prodcution change. It's only been out a few months. A guess some would consider that a good thing- in some ways it is.

The Ref3 will also offer more balanced inputs, although the Phi 2.0 can be ordered with a second set of balanced inputs using a modified connector.

The Phi 2.0 will also come with a world class phono stage for MM and MC cartridges. You can use two arms at the same time and select the cartridge with the flip of a switch. Kevin feels his phono stage will compete with ANY separate phine stage on the market- bar none.

The etched glass with the glowing VAC logo also wins me over every time I sit down to listen.

Good luck!

Sorry for typos. I'm in a rush!
Thank you Kw6. Listening to a CJ ACT2 will be an interesting, if somewhat academic exercise. Unfortunately ACT2 does not meet one of my basic reqs: to be a fully balanced design.
I think that being that lots of your equipment already has 3 letter designations EAD, ATT ,RCA etc. that you probably be very happy with any of the options you listed as they all contain only 3 letters also...although Phi might be kind of hard to pronounce.

Your speakers...well...they contain the number 3 so I think you are ok there.

the Rowland gear should be the first to go...good call on your part...6 letters...way too many.

now wire it all up with MIT and you're set!

just my 3c


Ellery, 3C contains 2 letters. Shame on you!
I feel it is time to chime in. I just played around with the tubes in my VTL 7.5. I am actually at a point of loss for now. I changed the 12AU7s for the 12AX7s. Stock Sovteks for both pairs. The 12AX7s give much more gain & better bass & more extended highs than the 12AU7s that I received originally. I purchased the preamp from a gentleman who replaced his ARC Ref 3 with the VTL & had both for sale. He felt the VTL was better than the ARC. He has sold the ARC as well just before he sold the VTL. He had both for sale as he switched to the ASR Basis Emmiter II integrated.

I also heard there was a major update to the ARC Ref 3 since it came out. So I don't know which version he originally had.
It even gets more confusing. I have now too much gain & am missing the warmth of the 12AU7s. I was recommended by VTL to switch back to 12AU7s. Depending on the source will decide which tubes you need. Mine is currently the EMM gear, which is very high output.

Luckily the VTL uses only 2 tubes. The addition of balanced is a very significant benefit & should not be ignored.

On to speaking with the tube rollers out there. They all say it is crazy to spend so much on great equipment & not get NOS tubes. It is like putting small tires on a Porsche. So I am about to purchase some NOS tubes for about $250 or so. Not alot compared to the VTL 7.5. Time will tell. Not even sure if I should buy a few types of tubes for the sake of experimentation.

The sum of my story is the VTL is a little soft w. 12AU7s. Extended at both ends w. the 12AX7s. Both Sovteks (stock inexpensive tubes). Just too much gain w. the 12AX7s. The VTL you heard may have been with a 12AU7s accounting for the softness. For sure it is very very dynamic w. the 12AX7. In the end what is your source will really determine a lot more about the preamps system compatability & what tubes you use.

REmember with only 2 tubes, it makes no sense not to roll tubes. I can understand that have a preamp with a lot of tubes it would be a pain. I am not willing to roll tubes on my amps at this time (maybe the input tubes).

Hope I helped.
Good to know that you have decided to broaden your product auditioning. Will you have room for a second power supply in the future? 8-)
John, I am not quite sure. Currently my amps and linestage rest on a 6 foot long and almost 2 inch thick low bench of solid pitch-pine.
I might have just enough clearance to place a Callisto and its PS side by side, but I would need to stack any two power supplies on top of each other. Is that at all possible/advisable?
Most of the preamps mentioned are state of the art and it will come down to a personal choice, and as previously mentioned, system synergy. While I love the Phi 2.0 I don't think I can it is the "best" preamp out there- we all have our own likes and dislikes. The AR Ref3 and VTL 7.5 were on my short list. The reason I went with the Phi 2.0 was for the system synergy with my Phi 220 monos- luckily it all worked out in the end.

With that said, the VAC Phi series is definitely my choice for the current state of the art in tube amplification- in my system it has no compromises that detract from being truly engaged in the music.

You may want to do a bit of research on the characteristics of the tubes used in the designs you are investigating. Here's what I can offer:

The VAC Ren's use 8416 & 12AX7's, while the ARC & SE-series BAT's use the 6H30.

There was only one manufacturer of the NOS 8416's, though Kevin Hayes told me he has access to a reliable stock of over 9,000 of them. So, though you will always be able to get replacement tubes, you'll only be able to tube-roll the 12AX7's.

The 8416 is essentially an updated version of a 6922 with a higher heater voltage, so it has the sonic benefits of what we typically consider the classic tube character as well as excellent dynamics.

The modern, hi-voltage 6H30's in the ARC Ref models and ‘SE’-series BAT’s, while providing the dynamics of a solid-state preamp, seem to also have the reputation as the least 'tubey' sounding of any valve-based preamp. And there is NO tube-rolling possible with a 6H30 - if you don't like the character you get out of the box, too bad.

In my case, the more comments I read about the sonic character of the ARC Ref2MkII & LS-25MkII, BAT VK-51SE and other 6H30-based pre's, the less I wanted them. Why have a tube pre if it doesn't sound like it has tubes? That's what all those nice solid-state pre's are there for.

This will - of course - ultimately come down to individual personal preference and system synergy, and the Ref3 may very well be a totally different animal compared to its predecessors, so I can't help you there.
I echo Frank's (FSARC) comments exactly. I can't add anything to his description. He and I have the PHI 2.0 and the VAC 220 Beam Power amplifiers. It is the best of tubes and solid state rolled into one. It isn't a reproduction of the recording you're listening to, you are listening to the musicians in your room. It is amazing. I too am impressed with the build quality, the customer service and especially how incredible my music sounds. For me the voicing of human voicing with Kevin's equipment is dead on. I just wish more dealers had his stuff on display to demo because he would be selling boat loads of his PHI line. I thank my friend everyday for opening my eyes to the world of his equipment. I had listened to the VTL's, my old neighbor's Manley Reference 250's; the Audio Research 600's and enjoyed them, but not enough to sell my solid state until I heard the VAC PHI. I bought it based on Kevin's feeling it was his best effort to date. You'll wait for it to be built, he doesn't whip them out, but perfection takes time and is worth the wait.
FSARC, you are making it darn difficult for me to say no to Phi!
No digital readout? No prob, won't use it anyway.
I won't be using LPs, but I understand that part of the tubes in the phono stage are shared with the linestage, so I'm glad the phono is there. Compatibility down the chain is also very important. My amps have input impedance of 22K ohms, which would cause the Phi to purr along like a Cheshire cat.
Have you had the opportunity of comparing it to its Ren II smaller brother? Ren II is a pre I already love: huge soundstage, holographic, detailed, sweet, musical yet never syrupy.
Kevin's stellar reputation in service is also a plus.
Oh yes, have you ever tried to roll tubes? Or is it even advisable on the Phi?
Very intriguing info Bhauser! I have heard three pres with 6H30 this far:
. Bat Vk51SE -- too dark for me. Sound it cold, uninvolving.
. ARC LS25 II -- Unemotional, bland, uninvolving.
. ARC Ref 2 Mk. 2 -- interesting by only half a cigar. Much more dynamic than LS2 II with much larger soundstage. Once I heard it driven by ARC CD3 Mk. 2 and driving Rowland 302. Found it to be bloomy in a funny way with almost a silvery sheen at the top. On the same system a Boulder 1012 was much more convincing.. Another time it was still driven by CD3 Mk. 2, but it was driving ARC VT200 into Magnepan 3.6. Sounded much better, but the huge soundstage was still slightly unfocused.
. Ref 3 -- not heard yet, but I understand some of the 6H30P tubes have been swapped for 6550 in the new revision. Has ARC fallen out of love with 6H30? OneObGin will let us know more as they break in. I need to give this newest baby at least the benefit of doubt.

Could share any info or personal experiences about the sonic differences between Phi and Ren II?

Keep these post coming my friends. This has been wonderful so far!
Thanks Hifimaniac, what's the waiting time on a new Phi? As I asked Frank, would you be able to offer some comparison with Ren II?
DGAD, Id be very interested in hearing any findings of your 7.5 after you apply NOS tubes.
Sorry john, but I have taken the liberty of copy/pasting here some of the very insightful comments you just posted on the LS25 vs Calypso thread. They are most useful in the context of this very high end linestage thread:

". . . Two years later, enter the Aesthetix Callisto Signature. It's a very different experience here. Never had I heard a line stage impress me so greatly across the board. I remembered how the 31SE did the bass. The Callisto takes this to another level. And unlike the BAT, the Callisto renders a mulitude of low-level detail in the highest frequencies. The LS5 never came close to this. And the LS25 did not steal the show vs. the LS5 in this regard either. The Callisto and Calypso are very very similar except for one most important attribute: portrayal of space. I am so impressed when I hear the neutrality and resolution of the Calypso at a local audiophile's (Jadem6) home. But a changeover to the Callisto and that awesome 3-dimensionality is there like you hear from a real performance. The stage exceeds far beyond the boundaries, images are not 1-foot wide - they are so lifelike. A return back to the Calypso and that awesome openness is significantly diminshed. This is one area where I would have trouble going for the Calypso. Even with the BAT's soft top end and lower level resolution, it was far more lifelike in its portrayal of the harmonics, decays, images and space and this alone brought on the emotional connection. The LS5 did the same for me but not at well as the BAT or Callisto."

Thank you again John for your patience!
22K ohm would be nothing for the 2.0 Kevin told me it would drive a 600ohm load with no problems. If case you want them, the 2.0 does not offer a balance control nor a phase swtich. Design wise, the 2.0 does not invert polarity at the inputs or outputs.

I'm sorry I can't offer any comparisons to the Ren II or the ARC Ref 3. The wait time is painfully long. I ordered mine in early April and received it mid July. I just spoke to Kevin the other day and they are pretty busy- which is a good thing. I think sometimes if you get your order in during a build "run", you may have a substantially less wait time.

Kevin is very pround of his products and will not rush them until they met VAC's exacting standards. I'm not sure if you are aware of this- VAC does all the chassis work in house- right down to the smallest knobs. Pretty impressive.
I believe it was the VAC Ren II and the VAC PHI 110 stereo amp I first listened to when I heard the VAC equipment at the friend who lead me to the PHI series. Email me direct and I will give you my friend's email to write. Scott will gladly email you back and give you great insight into VAC equipment as he has owned many pieces over the past 12 years. He borrowed my PHI in his system to compare the difference and he said the PHI 2.0 blew away his VAC pre which at that time was (I believe) the Renaissance II. He couldn't swing the PHI 2.0, so he sold his PHI 110 stereo amp and his preamp and bought the PHI Beta integrated which has the same preamp as the PHI 2.0 and the same 110 watts/channel as his PHI 110 stereo amp. Kevin thinks this is a fantastic compromise to getting as close to the PHI pre and 110 separates. I have heard it and it is superb.
From the 2.0 manual-

"The Phi Preamplifier is the world's finest audio preamplifier and an absolutely unique component. Its unusual topology, premium parts, and flexibility make it a pleasure to hear and operate. The line stage is, in effect, a small Class A1 power amplifier, capable of driving loads as low as a few hundred ohms. This is a stark contrast to normal preamplifiers, which claim a low output impedance but completely collapse when asked to deliver current.

The Phi circuit is loafing with a normal load in the 10,000 to 200,000 ohm range, delivering an effortless, musical performance. There is no loop feedback and no coupling capacitors in the line section. All active elements are triode tubes, the purest, most linear amplifying devices yet invented. Output matching is accomplished by way of superb output transformers. As a side benefit, different output grounding configurations are possible, optimizing performance into either balanced or single-ended loads, and allowing ground loops to be broken.

The optional phono stage uses triode tubes operating without loop feedback. Gain is moderately high, with a very low noise floor. Low output MC cartridges are accommodated by means of high quality matching transformers, which contribute voltage gain without noise,
resulting in detail that emerges from a remarkably dark and neutral background.

Remote volume control is implemented via a motorized mechanical device. This provides two major advantages. First, the control is completely intuitive to use. Second, we avoid the sound degradation attendant with VCAs, transistor switches, and switched resistor arrays.

The main chassis is machined from thick aluminum. The separate power supply allows e.m.f. fields, switching transients, and mechanical vibration to be isolated from the audio circuits. The high voltage supply dual choke pi filtering for extremely low noise.

The Phi 2.0 is designed not to the latest fad but to substance, for the highest possible sound quality. Time spent familiarizing yourself with this manual will be well rewarded."
Just to weigh in with my 2 cents or less, I recently had an opportunity to spend about two hours at a high-end dealer in Milwaukee while on a business trip. Ultrafidelis, I beleive was the place. Very nice guys and very accomodating. I heard, at length, a system consisting of the ARC Ref-3, The new M300 monoblocks, the Vandersteen 5As and a Linn Unidisc 1.1 at the front end. Here's the grain of salt, while slightly familiar with the sound of the Linn front end, I had no previous experience with the other parts of the system.
My tastes run toward the warm, tube side of neutral. I found the above system to be extremely detailed. It was incredibly precise, dynamic and tonally balanced. What was missing for me was a sense of involvement, an emersion, if you will, in the liquid harmonies of which some gear is capable. I was actually sort of struck by a lack of depth and blending of harmonies. I could clearly hear every note, every transiant, every detail of the performance, but it did not draw me in.
In contrast, I very recently obtained a Primaluna Prologue 1 integrated for a secondary system. While not the final word in detail by any stretch, the warmth and liquidity are there in a way I couldn't experience with the ARC equipment. IMHO, the newer tube gear from ARC comes a bit too close to the sound of very neutral solid state gear. I know this doesn't make sense and is totally subjective, but I guess I just like thermal noise!

Oh oh Guido, you're really putting me on the spot with my love connection to the Callisto. I was just teasing you about the 2nd P.S. I use one and this works beautifully. And no, you can not stack any of these pieces because of the heat they generate.

Before I consider a 2nd P.S. for either the Callisto or the Io, I am awaiting the arrival of Michael Elliot's Aria WV preamp (phono stage included). How this all turns out will determine where I go with the Aesthetix pieces. And before I could relax entirely and be content with either for the long haul, I would be going nuts to hear the top VAC. I would love to scale down from 4 chassis to the two of the Aria or Phi.

There has been much praise of the VAC here that it is a must that you find a way to hear this in your system. If only we were close by we could have some fun trying out all sorts of combinations with the VAC and Aesthetix and the Ref3.

Hifimaniac brings up a really good point about the VAC Beta integrated as possibly being the ideal solution for a penultimate VAC system.

I get wood just thinking about it.
Guidocorona- In your first post you say you are considering the VAC Ren II, and also the VAC Phi 2.0.

I'm curious to know why you have not mentioned the VAC Ren Signature preamp MK II? Since you are not concerned with phono stage, the signature MK II lists at $13,000, while the Phi 2.0, which doesn't come without phono stage, lists for 15,000.

One thing I like about the Signature MK II, beside the lower cost, it's all point to point wired. The Phi series components use circut boards. Something to consider.

Perhaps you have heard the Signature MK II and feel its not worth the money?
Interesting thread

Glad to participate

let me preface by saying that the VAC is not only excellent but a work of art to behold. As well Kevin Hayes has some of the best tubes to buy.

Now having gotten that out of the way, yes ARC has made a rolling line change on the Ref3 and I did the upgrade this week. It adds 4 bypass caps and changes the output tube to the 6550C.

Earlier today an Audiogon member brought his Lamm L2 to my house to a/b in my system vs the ARC Ref3. Much to my amazement as well as his the Ref3 toasted the Lamm L2 in every possible way. Needless to say I was shocked. To me there has always been a synergy between the manufacturer of both amps and preamps.I had been waiting anxiously to hear the L2 expecting to hear big things. What a disappointment. The L2 was lean, bright and fatiguing compared to the ARC Ref 3. I was shocked. My recommendation is to have a serious listen to the Ref 3. Again it is the synergy of the system that makes it work. Bear in mind to all that Vladimir is aware of theshortcomings of the L2 and is working on his L3 which I understand will be available later this year.
Thank you all for your comments. Most enlightening! Hifimaniac, I have just sent you a PM.
Hi All,
I am the very happy owner of an ARC Ref3. My amp is a Boulder 2060, running Dynaudio Temptations , with Valhaal cabling. Prio to this pre, I had an EMM Switchman, and the CTC Blowtorch. Each pre has it's advantages and disadvantages. The Blowtorch has superb imaging and soundstaging. It's also somewhat hard-edged, but at the time I had different speakers. The Switchman is very detailed, but has a "digital" sound, bright, edgy and difficult to listen to. The ARC has been a revelation. Imaging, staging, excellent bass and midrange. So musical! My phono is an Aesthetix Io, which mixes very well with the other pieces.
As aleays, synergy, room interaction, blah, blah, but I am now extremely happy with my setup. I'm NOT happy to hear that there's already an upgrade. I will check that out with my dealer.

David Sha[piro
Thank you Deshapiro, your input is very welcome. Considering your findings on Switchman and Blowtorch and my own musical taste, I consider myself fully forewarned! Here are some further questions for you:
a. What is the input impedance of the Boulder 2060? Ref 3's outputs 600 Ohms which -- as I understand -- needs to be matched with amps with upwards of 20K Ohms input impedance. But the proof remains always only in the pudding!
b. Have you had the opportunity of auditioning/comparing any of the other linestages discussed here (VAC Ren II, VAC Phi, Aesthetix Callisto)? What were the sonic differences with Ref 3?

By the way, it looks like the upgrade to Ref 3 is not terribly extensive: just several tubes and the addition of bypass capacitors. Perhaps OneObGin can tell us how much ARC charges for the upgrade?
Thank you once more Oneobgin for your insight. Will the new Lamm be a fully balanced design or will Vladimir continue his single ended tradition?
By the way, how much does ARC charge for the Ref 3 upgrade?

Jsen, unfortunately I have not heard the Ren Sig.
It is my understanding that it has a marvellous slightly softer sound. According to VAC it is currently largely replaced by the Phi, but is still available to audiophiles who prefer its special musicality. Have you compared it to the Phi and Ren II (non Sig) before purchasing it?
Hi Guido, the PHI 2.0 does come with a MC and MM phono section standard on the unit and it is superb. I sold my beloved Vendetta Research and Krell KPE Reference preamps once I heard Kevin's phono stage. Kevin told me he is an analog fan! Also, to my knowledge, the PHI is all point to point soldering, no boards. This is why it takes so long for Kevin to produce it. I could have bought either unit, the Ren. Sig was $17K w/phono, but Kevin told me he felt the PHI was even better in many ways, so I believed him. My additional two cents on the PHI 2.0.
Hifimaniac- All of the Phi series components use circuit boards. Kevin tells me the 2.0 pre uses a special ceramic material that's not used on any of the other Phi products. Even the tube sockets are directly soldered to the circut board. I'm sure they are well designed.

Guidocorona~ I'm kind of in the same boat as you, I have not been able to do a head to head with the VAC products. I just find the Sig MK II very attractive, and I'll have to hear it before buying anything else. I won't be needing the phone stage, so again the Sig MK II looks attractive to me compared to the Phi 2.0. The Sig MkII has 4 less tubes to worry about.
Good point Jsen. There is a slight price advantage in the Ren Sig over the Phi. Furthermore there are less tubes than in the Phi. The opposite side of the coin is that Kevin deems the Phi 2.0 to be VAC's current preamplification flagship. What to choose? I am starting to think that if the mountain truly refuses to go to poor Mohammed. . . I may just have to go toVAC's shop to listen to them all before deciding.
Hmmm..........I see the price advantage in the Phi 2.0

-Latest circuit design-sonically better than the Ren.Sig II.
-IMO- the Phi blows it away in the looks dept.
-Built-in state of the art phono stage that is a $4000 option for the Ren Sig II.
-I wouldn't worry about the tubes. Kevin said I can leave my 2.0 on 24/7 and get a least two years of tube life.
-Better resale on Phi 2.0 The Ren Sig II is really not in production anymore, but available by special order.
-Price difference is only $2K.
-Now if you come across a used mint Ren Sig II at a substantially lower price then I would agree it is the better value.
David, I differ with your finding, based upon several years of experience owning a Blowtorch. It has never been hard edged, simply ruthlessly revealing yet musical as it gets. You owned Avalon Osiris speakers when you had the Blowtorch for a few months, as well as either Pass X600s or Krell 750s, not sure what the rest of your system was. I won't dispute what you may have heard, but any edginess cannot be attributed to the Blowtorch. I have heard the Blowtorch vs. IIRC the Switchman, and the differences were apparent, especially in terms of dynamics, imaging and staging, and treble.

Brian, the CTC site has no info about Blotorch I could find. Your web site did not show any info on it I could find either. Are there specs anywhere on the Blotorch?
Hi Brian,
I really liked my Blowtorch. My comment was more in the vein of recognizing system synergy. As my taste has evolved, I like the combo of a strong SS amp and a tube preamp. If the Blowtorch came with a remote control, I'd probably still own it :).

A Blowtorch with remote would be like a Ferrari Enzo with automatic :-)

Guidocorona: no formal specs published, but some info is in the review by Wayne Donnelly published in Fi and available online here.

113 dB S/N ratio
100 dB crosstalk @ 50 kHz
Gain 8 dB single ended, 14 dB balanced
350 kHz open loop bandwidth
Spectral analysis 2nd and 3rd order only at less than .01% IM at 3V output
Output impedance w/o buffer 1 Kohm

Acceptable performance :-)

By the way, the optional Vendetta phono stage sports an S/N ratio of merely 85 dB...

Deshapiro, is the Blowtorch a differential balanced design or is it single ended?