What is Audio Researches best preamp period

Tube or solid state from the oldest to the newest ref ser ,what is the best one they made or make.
i had the ls-12. it was their last solid state unit and didnt get alot of press...

whether it was their best, i dont know.. i can say that it is one of the most neutral pre's that i heard to date and was killer when run fully balanced...

i regret selling that piece to this day...
SP10 Mark II, killer phono stage.
I like the ARC Ref 2, the model prior to ARC's decision to go the specialty Russian tube route (that have no substitutes).

The Ref 2 uses eight 6922's in the main unit and 5AR4, 6L6GC, and 6922 in the power supply. A world class preamp by any standard.

The ability to run NOS tubes makes this the last ARC Ref that can be fully tuned up to match your equipment, room and personal taste.
I second Albertporter's opinion.... I have a Ref 2 mk1 and it has lots of bloom..........
I agree with Narrod from what I have been exposed to but, I still wouldn't think of trading my Aesthetix Calypso or Rhea in for a single piece of ARC ever made. No way, no how. Cheers!
so what is the differ albert from ref 2 and mk1 or mk2 and what mk1 or mk2 did they change tubes,and are you saying if it is the model with russian tubes you cant tube roll,and how do you tell what model to get
Agree with R_f_Sayles. I owned the Calypso/Rhea combination before my current Supratek Grange. There is no ARC that can stand toe to toe with that Aesthetix combo and the Grange smokes anything ARC ever made.
please only give me ark responce,dont care if something else sounds better,,,i need ark info..thanks
Whatever you say boss. It's your coin.

have you auditoned all the preamps that ARC has made in its storied history?

I tend to dismiss sweeping generalizations.
I've owned 2 and after comparing them to other competitive products it is 2 too many. "Storied history"? That's funny.
Seriously though, you don't want to A/B an ARC with my Grange; the Supratek is a man among boys in that game.
This may cause some controversy,yet to be honest let me explain.I have owned the SP-8,SP-10,SP-11,and the SP-15.I had the SP-15 upgraded(literally rebuilt)by Great Northern Sound,and BY far IT IS THE BEST OF THE LOT.BEST FREQ EXTREMES,OF THE LOT,AS WELL AS BEST SENSE OF QUIET.LOW MAINTENANCE,DUE TO 3 TUBES IN PHONO(TUBE ROLLING IS EFFECTIVE HERE).There is NO sense of whiteness,claimed by some,though the mod cost bucks.I t has incredible inner detail,and a huge soundstage, and most important to me--Correct timbres.I have compared it to a CJ ART,as well as the Lamm and it was a dead heat,except for the A.R. having more bass slam.What can I say.Sometimes it pays to keep,and modify existing stuff.

Best regards.
NOT the LS2B
Had it for three year. Bright as hell. Could have used it as a dentist drill.

What were the 2 ARC preamps that you owned?
The ship is off course here. Email me if you want to discuss further.

Your response (or lack thereof) speaks for itself
My friend, I asked you to email me outside of the thread. Our little reparte' was deviating from the originator's topic. I'd be more than glad to discuss my experiences with you. Relax.
I could be wrong but I think Albert was just giving the stengths vs weakness of the dif. models. As I remember he is a Calypso owner,unless that has changed. I have a problem with a thread starter chastising those whom don't answer the question the way he would like it to be done. 'Better to read them all and ignore what isn't pertinent.
Bbaxley2: What are you specifically looking for here that is lacking in the LS3? Anyone's "best" is always a subjective rating.

I too don't put much weight on a sweeping generality about all the products of a company. Wc65mustang: Why not share with us the two ARC models you owned? Were any of these by any chance: SP-14, SP-15, LS1, LS2, LS3, LS15, LS16, LS22? Any of these models I would avoid due to their (in my view) analytical presentation.

I currently run with the Callisto-Sig/Io combination and this clearly excels over the LS5/PH2 and BAT 31SE/P10 that preceeded it, but I would not describe the Aesthetix gear as smoking the ARC or BAT. The Aesthetix jupiter series simply portrays 3-dimensionality like no other products I have yet heard.

Since I have not heard the Ref2 or Ref3 with or without the Ref Phono, I will keep my comments to the models I know. As many people here know, I have tauted the LS5 (the III being my favorite due to tonal coherency over the II) as a wonderful line stage - I owned the LS5 for 7+ years. I have yet to hear anything else that comes close in the $1800-2300 range. Great great bloom, dynamic contrasts but the typical "out in the room" ARC presentation.

The SP-10 has a killer phono stage? Oh yes, but very noisy. I owned this for 8 years before the LS5 and only then did I realize how terrible the line stage was in the SP-10. This product really only makes sense for the phono die hard. And even then, I would consider using its tape outputs to drive a more refined (read: modern) line stage. This into the LS5 might be awesome....but kinda pricey.

If I was to stay with the ARC line, I too would look for models that did not use the 6H30 russian supertube. I had these in the BAT 31SE which I liked a lot, but there was no opportunity to customize the sound as Albert points out. It is amazing how you can tune the tonality and dimensionality of your system by trying various Telefunken, Mullard, Siemens and now the EI tubes.

So my vote goes for the LS5 if you're on a "budget". If you can afford more, it sounds like Albert's recommendation would be the next step or maybe the LS25 MK I as a third option as it too does not use the 6H30.

Avguygeorge, correct, I am Aesthetix Callisto and Io but was trying to give an ARC opinion based on some I have owned (SP10 SP11 and Ref 2 Mk2).

The new Russian tubes I am referring to are replacements for the earlier 6922 but are not interchangeable. Anyone looking for ARC that has NOS equivalent just check to see if it has the line up I listed:
The Ref 2 uses eight 6922's in the main unit and 5AR4, 6L6GC, and 6922 in the power supply.

I would normally do a web search to clarify exact model numbers but I board a plane for Denver AudioFest very shortly.
Keis, I completely agree. The LS2B is, perhaps, the worst preamp I have ever heard. Painfully bright.
Just to show you how useless all our opinions are. I wanted something different than my Hovland, which I switched to after owning a ARC 5 for a few years.
My local dealer for Musical Surrounding's various lines, let me borrow a Calypso/Rhea for 10 days. I also brought in a REF 3/PH5 and went back and forth. Either would make me happy but, I preferred the ARC combo. Dead quiet with terrific bass authority. The real surprise, at least for me, was the PH5. What a unbelievable product for the price. I wouldn't say it was better than the RHEA but, absolutly it's equal.
is it so that the differ between the ref1 and ref 2 is a ht bypass?
also not interested in phono ,only cd playback ,,redbook
LS5mkII. Period.
I have to disagree with you. I loved my ARC LS5mkII, and it is maybe the best of the older models. Not having owned every one, or heard every one I couldn't possible say. I do know that it was left far behind with the REF 3.
First of all, to maintain the integrity of this thread:

I have owned an ARC SP9 and an ARC SP11, having fallen in love with a friends SP6C.

I would not say that the SP11 is overly warm, tubey or full of bloom, but it is a great preamp, a pleasure to own and I cant imagine trading it for any tweaky voodoo amp that would "destroy it" "BLOW it away" etc.

I have been tempted to audition an SP10 following steady rumours of the killer phono stage, but I really dont have the time for vinyl these days.

wc65 mustang

A R E Y O U A D E A L E R? By any chance?

As discussed in another thread recently, it really is a bummer when people jump in, OFF TOPIC, and try to jam product down this community's throat.

At least what used to be a community.


posting for years

thinking of signing off

Here is a great website for ARC material:

Nah. I just dismissed the Ref3 after 2 weeks in the system. Same way I dismissed the LS5mkIII/Ref1/Ref2. To my ears they simply don't have the bloom the L5mkII has. Maybe it's because I'm driving two ARC SS amps (D-400mkII). It started with the LS5mkIII when they changed out the 6922 input stage tubes for JFETs. The Ref1/Ref2 were very similar circuits to the LS5mkIII. The Ref3 has a new basic circuit that to my ears sounds closer to the Ref2. Very clean and very good but not in a way that made me want to swap out my LS5mkII. But I definitely can see the appeal of all the Ref series pres. They are certainly outstanding and I'm glad you're enjoying yours. Although I can't imagine anyone NOT enjoying one of them.
Well tempers go here and there, ARC is not on my list anymore after hearing others either,, I did own the LS3 and a 7, one tube one solid state, both built very well and well just not the most emotional sounding or musical in a sense, but to be fair these models are only the mid grade, kinda dry to be honest, would I buy again?? Not sure but if it made magic in a given system sure, but I find the ARC sound to finicky and yes in my opinion a somewhat "House sound", really have found much more universally friendly preamps myself and even at far less money, but the big names will alway raise a fuss in the audiophile community, basically if we all believed that a Mark levinson amp is the end all be all for every situation and price then it would be a perfect world, so expand the horizons and use your experiance to tilt the tone of the system the way you want it. Go for ARC if you are simply happy with the unit you have and want to get more of it out of a model up the food chain, nothing wrong with it.
Why does it have to be ARC?? That doesn't make any sense.

I have owned several ARC preamps including: SP6C, SP9 MKI, SP9 MKII, SP14, LS2B MKI and LS2B MKII. I currently own the LS25 MKI, which I am using with NOS 6H23 6922. With better tubes the LS25 MKI (sans the 6H30, and FET input) is an extremely musical performer. With the NOS 6H23 it equals the LS25 MKII in bass articulation and extension and exceeds it in terms of liquidity and musicality. The LS25 MKI can be purchased for under $2000 used. It is highly recommended.


I never experienced that "brightness" in the LS2B alluded to above. The MKII version was significantly more natural sounding than the MKI. I used the LS2B MKI/II mainly with an ARC D115 MKII, which had a rich (not overly warm) tonal balance. I used the previous preamps with an ARC D76A (which had the classic tube sound) as well as the D115 MKII.
I have an Arc LS 5 MK II wonderful piece, very engaging
I owned an LS 2 Mk II I could never get things right with it- Jafox here steered me clear of it's brightness
and turned me on to the LS 5 (thanks again) I have heard a few people tamed the LS 2 to some degree with certain tubes (do a search here)

The LS5 is the best bargain in the Arc line, it is all balanced inputs (but you can use cheater plugs) In the direct comparisons I did wit the LS 25 and ref1 the beefier power supply of the LS 5 clearly outshinned them
Hi Tom, good to hear you're still enjoying the LS5. It is indeed a unit that we hold onto for a long time as it takes a serious expenditure to get the next level of refinements in a line stage.

Just for clarification here, I don't think I ever felt the LS2 was bright....not any more so than the typical "in your face, way out into the room" presentation of much of the ARC line. Tonally the LS2 was fine when I heard it. But simply, it was hands down the most unmusical line stage I had auditioned up to that time (1995) when I bought the LS5II. Coming off the SP-10, with all of it's little problems, the LS2 was on the opposite end of the field in terms of enjoying the music; the ambient information was all but gone. And I never understood the sillyness of putting XLR connections on a product that was single-ended. The extra input and output stages to accomplish pseudo-balanced signals only gets in the way of the music.

OK so I guess wc65mustang IS a dealer?!

I, too, would be interested in more, on topic, opinions of ARC gear.

Did you audition the LS2B MKI or MKII version?
Also, replacing the stock 6922 in the LS2B MKII with better Mullard or Amperex tubes made a significant change for the better in terms of naturalness (ie less mechanical) musicality, etc.
GMorris: I heard the LS2 vs. the LS5 at an ARC dealer in SaltLakeCity. This was right after a weekend home trial of the SonicFrontiers SFL-2 over that year's Memorial Day weekend. I remember this time well as I was having a most difficult time finding a musical replacement of the SP-10 that I sold before I found a replacement. That was not very bright!

I quickly found the SFL-2 to not be musical at all so I went back to SLC to borrow the LS2. Afterall, both of these got the highly coveted Stereophile Class A rating. Well the LS2 was the same lack of musicality as the SFL-2. This was near the end of the LS2's production and the LS5 had already gone to a MK II status, so I gotta believe the LS2 I heard at the dealer was also a MK II. But I can't be sure.

The LS5 was also Class A rated but it was so far ahead of the SFL-2 and LS2, how they could be grouped together was beyond me. And the LS3 was also Class A rated. From that event forward, I realized how worthless these ratings had become.

The LS5II I got had 10 Sovtek 6922 tubes. I soon replaced these with the batch of RAM low-noise tubes I had been using with the SP-10. There was clearly an improvement, but not really all that significant. And even today, as I swap out Mullard, Siemens, Telefunken and Amperex tubes in my Aesthetix gear, these all have a more refined sound over the Sovtek, but the Aesthetix with the Sovtek tubes, as was the case of the LS5 with Sovtek tubes, sound pretty darn good. I gotta believe that no matter what you do with the one tube in the LS2, you are pretty much against the wall on performance. This unit needs a whole more help in the 3-dimensionality dept. than simply a tube swap.


Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.

Our divergent opinions again underscore how the perception of a component’s performance is dependent on the associated equipment and personal preference. The LS2B MKII mated well with the ARC D115MKII and also the VT100 MKII. My speakers at the time were the MG 3A followed by the MG 3.5s. The ribbon tweeters would have ruthlessly revealed any perceived brightness. Admittedly, LP piano recordings could sound mechanical (e.g. too pronounced leading edge) if the VTA was not properly adjusted. I agree that the LS5 MKII is a better preamp than the LS2B MKII (greater transparency, more natural and richer tonal balance, etc). However, the LS2B MKII is a much better performer than you have suggested. I maintain that in the right system it can be very satisfying and musical.

Having said all of that, I still prefer the LS25 MKI with NOS 6922 to both the LS2B and the LS5 MKII
Well I am going to disagree with all of you.

I have owned a lot of ARC gear over the years including the Ref 600 Mk lll mono amps which I used with the Ref 2 Mk 2 preamp. I never thought they could ever make a better preamp. Well they did and I own it. It is their new Reference 3 whch IMO is simply the best preamp I have ever heard. It is simply magical in my system. Recently ARC did a rolling line change on the Ref 3 where they added 4 bypass caps and changed the output tube back to the 6550C. This added a more distinct bottom end to the sound and tightened up the upper end

Here are some link to photos of my Ref 3 as well as my system



No one was claiming that the LS5 MKII or the LS25 MK1 were the best ARC preamps. We were making recomendations based on affordability. $10,000 for a preamp is not cheap.

I can assure you that many posters on this thread are already aware of the REF3.
To Oneobgyn's defense....... He was only answering the poster's original question that so many of you have not......

The original question is: WHAT IS AUDIO RESEARCH'S BEST PREAMP PERIOD. I don't believe the original poster mentioned a price range...........

As a reminder, the posting says AUDIO RESEARCH........
I was merely answering the question asked at the start of the thread. The Ref3 BTW has the same MSRP as the Ref 2 Mk ll which many on this thread really liked.
boy its hard for members to stay on track,so far a have gathered,ls25 mk1, ls5 mk1, ref 2 mk1,should be in line to what im going to do research,noone talked much about ref 1 preamp,can i get some feed back one it?
Again, for me the answer is very simple..hands down the Ref3 is the best preamp ARC has ever made....period

I will also add my $0.02 that the Ref IMO is probably one of the top 3 preamps available in the market today. In order to stay on topic I won't post what the other 2 are but those interested can send me an e-mail for the answer.

FWIW Marc Mickelson from http://www.soundstage.com will be doing a review on the Ref 3 in the next several months
BTW, for those interested here is a great link put up over the years by Manfred Persson in Texas on the history of all of the ARC products with full description.

Manfred is often the one to reveal upcoming ARC gear before anyone else knows about it as he did with the Ref 610T, the Ref3, Ref210T.

I was the one who told him about the new CD7 which he just put up


For the record, I have auditioned the REF3. It is indeed special: resolution, bloom, soundstaging, control and musicality in spades.
LS 5mk2, ref. mod by Gnsc, imho. I preferred it to a Ref 2mk2 by a wide margin, in my set-up. Never heard Ref 3. My second pre, Supratek Cortese, doesn't sound "better"(?), just a bit different.


you are onto what I call the great mystique in audiophilia. Whenever I audition a new piece of gear and am taken by its sound, I always stop and ask myself whether what I heard sounded better or did it just sound different. If only the latter, I do not buy it.
I haven't had the pleasure of auditioning the Ref3 in my system, nor would I be able to spring for a $10,000+ preamp
I'd spend the next big chunk on speakers first and a loricraft record cleaner for my vinyl end

But I did audition the LS 25 MK II, and the Ref I and found them lacking to the LS 5 MK II which I still think is the best bargain in the Arc line as far as musicality goes

The Ls 2 MK ii may have been Stereophile top rating at one time but it never blended well in my system. I tube rolled Mullards, Telefunken, Amperex and couldn't tame it. I tried various interconnects to my Arc D200 (solid state) In another sytem it may have worked, and it was the weak link in my system, but once I bought the LS5 it was a herculinian leap and with selling my LS2 for a good price at the time I only shelled out a thousand more
With deference to the above opinions I will still offer that the SP-10 marks the pinnacle of ARCs preamps. It is the last pure ARC design to rectify the power supply with tubes, something now being quasi-revived by various companies such as Asthetix. I don't believe Jadis ever lost the faith in that either. The problem is SO MANY TUBES!. Without the proper complement the magic is easily lost. The SP-10 requires 15 tubes all told but if they're all dialed in the phonostage is incomparable and the line stage almost as seductive. Big "if" however. The SP-10 cured me of tube rolling and convinced me that reliability and liveability have as much to do with "perfection" as sonic absolutes. Unless, of course...