I'm looking to upgrade my LS-15 to one of the following linestages:

LS-5 Mk III, LS-16 Mk I, LS-25 Mk I, Reference One, Reference Two Mk I

How do you compare those against each other? Please share your experience if you owned any of them...

I like the sound of 6922 tubes... How does it compare to the sound of 6H30 in the more recent LS-16 Mk II, LS-25 Mk II, Reference Two Mk II?

My system as follows:

Wadia 830
Sonus Faber Cremona
MIT Shotgun S3 IC & SC

I listen mostly to Classical Baroque and Jazz instrumental & vocals

Thanks for your advices!
to tube or supertube.......that is the question...

and also how much you want to spend.......
Hmmm, there are still rampant rumours of an impending LS26. . . perhaps at CES? If the pricing of the Ref 3 is any indication, an LS26 may be priced very similarly to the current LS25 Mk. 2, which when new is priced similarly to a used Ref 2 Mk. 2.
Sound of 6H30 versus 6922? It's all in the design and implementation. I deeply dislike the BAT VK51SE, but love the ARC Ref 3. . . and they are both based on 6H30 tubes.
The sonic qualities of the Ref3 seem to be causing much drooling in the audio world. However: 1. I can't afford one and 2. it is way over the top in flexibility and features.
The maximum number of inputs I would ever likely need would be 2 with 1 set of outputs, ok maybe 2 one RCA and 1 XLR. Let's hope they come out with a simpler, kinder (in the pocketbook) version with similar sound quality. If the LS26 fits this bill I could be very interested.
I owned an ls25 mk1 for awhile and thoroughly enjoyed it. I tried a ref1 and couldn't get it out of my system fast enough. Everyone rave's about the ls5 as I'm sure you're aware (I've never heard one), but it has no remote and is all xlr input/outputs. Always wanted to try the ls25 mk2 (never heard a 6h30 based pre), but after exhaustive research (and too many people saying 6h30 is more ss sounding), went with the Aesthetix Calypso and could never go back to the ls25 mk1. I do believe that I'm going to own this Calypso for many, many years. But again, I did enjoy the ls25 mk1 while it was in my system. FWIW, hope this helps...
I am usually very reluctant to give recommendations on audio gear since perceived performance is so dependent on listener preferences, associated gear and listening environment. However, the LS25 MKI, with NOS 6922 (6H23), is a very musical and transparent performer. Coupled with the ARC VT100 mkII the LS25 MKI produces a huge, coherent and transparent 3D soundstage, with excellent dynamics and articulation. At about $2000 used, it is hard to beat.
The LS16 is not going to do much over what you have right now.

I have said so much on this site on the LS5 so I will simply say that with the VT130 for which I also owned and ran with, the LS5 was an awesome match....especially with the VT130 loaded up with KT88's. The LS5 does come with an optional remote for volume and this works mighty fine.

As for the LS5 having only balanced ins/outs, since your VT130 only has balanced inputs, this is not an issue. And just about every source out there today has XLR outputs....some of which are truly balanced. I liked the LS5's all-balanced topology since it did not have all those klugey circuits to convert to/from single-ended which results in sonic degradation.

If you are seeking something in the $1800-2300 range, the LS5 II/III has no peers IMO. The Ref1 is way over priced and for all the LS5 owners I knew that also auditioned the Ref1, we all kept our LS5 II's and III's.

I did not hear the Ref 2 Mk I but this was the last ARC line stage to use the 6922 and this just may be worth hunting down. And then look into dropping Mullard 6922 tubes in this. Wow, could be mighty good! Whatever you do, if you end up with a 6922 tube-based model, donate the Sovtek tubes to charity. They put a most un-natural bite and fatigue to the sound. And no amount of circuit design or correction can resolve this whether it is an ARC, CAT, Aesthetix, etc., product.

Thanks to all for your feedback

Based on your recommendations I'm narrowing down to LS5 Mk III, LS25 Mk I and Ref Two Mk I

I'm looking for 240V unit... but does anyone have experience in modifying a US unit from 110V to 240V?
I recently purchased one which came with reference level modification from the Great Northern Sounds (GNSC). It also came with a quad of Siemens Falcon 6922s recommanded by Steve Huntley of GNSC. (The previous owner went all out with the mods) The LS-25 replaced the LS-2B Mk II that had been in my system for almost 8 years. In short, I was very impressed with the overall improvement. (I did not know my Thiel 3.6 was capable to produce that kind of bass and soundstage, and I had them for 10 years) The other day, we did a shootout between my modded LS-25 and a Sonic Frontier Line 3 SE. Everyone preferred the Line 3 slightly over the modded LS-25. But when I took out the Siemens and inserted a quad of Amperex white label USN-CEP 7308s, it was like we were listening to a different linestage! All 4 votes went to the LS-25 with Amperex tubes. The Amperex simply embarrased the Siemens! (I had tested those tubes on my TV7D/U tube tester when I first received the unit, so I know they are still OK)

Regarding the GNSC mod, I have been wanting to do a shootout with a stock LS-25 MkI to see how good the GNSC mods are. I sent out an invitation on Audio Asylum but got no response. I guess there aren't too many of them out here in the San Francisco Bay Area...

My next challange will be against a Ref 2 Mk I and a Ref 2 Mk II.

As for modifying ARC products from 110V to 240V, I have heard that it is a closely guarded secret and that ARC does not like to do that. Do a search on here and AA, I think there was a thread a few weeks ago discussing about that.

Joel_hifi, I strongly suggest that you talk to Leonard at ARC about any 110V to 22V modifications. As ARC would perform any such mods, they are the prime source of info on it, if the mod were possible at all. Phone ARC at: 763. 577. 9700
A few years ago, I sold my LS5 II to an A'gon member in the UK. Initially he investigated having such a unit modified through ARC but ARC told him he had to go through the UK distributor for such rework. The resultant cost was approaching a ridiculous $1k through the distributor as everyone always wants a large piece of the pie. Rather than play this game, he asked me if we could do this in the US before I shipped it. And with me being only minutes from the ARC facility, we did just that. The cost was $225 to purchase and have a different (220V) power transformer installed at the ARC factory. And it was done that day. Nice and easy.

So as I understand it, ARC is very good when the business is USA to USA. But outside of the USA, you're pretty much stuck with dealing with the overseas distributor.

And yes, Leonard is very helpful and friendly with such issues.

I have to second the GNSC mods. A few years back I seriously considered replacing my SP9 MkII with an LS25 and spent some time listening to a loaner LS25. However, after talking with Steve Huntley, I decided to go with the Ref mod on my SP9 MkII preamp and am so glad I did. The improvements were substantial and obvious.

Steve does excellent work as many posts here and on AA will attest to. You just might want to give him a call before you dump the LS15. Definitely worth a phone call.

check out http://www.greatnorthernsound.com
The thing about after market mods is that you will never be able to recover the cost that goes into the mods. So before you decide to do it, make sure that you are going to like th changes and that you are planning to keep the unit for a long time. The GNSC reference level mod for the LS-25 costs around $2000, and maybe another $200 for the quad of Siemens 6922s. The unit I got was modded 18 months ago and I only paid $400 dollars over what the stock LS-25 MkI are going for on the used market. And this was through a dealer too!

Just posted wanted add:


Thanks for your advices!
By the way, there are a few of these on eBay. You might want to check them out. I was doing a search on eBay yesterday to check out what the going prices are for an ARC LS-1 that I am planning on selling and found a Ref 1 and an LS-5 Mk II there.

By the way, I think the general consensus is that the LS-5 Mk II is better than Mk III?

"By the way, I think the general consensus is that the LS-5 Mk II is better than Mk III?"

"Better" is always a tough term here as it provides little if any objective value.

There is one A'gon member (name escapes me) who prefers the II. But myself and two local (Minneapolis) previous owners of the LS5 disagree. In 1997, I went to my ARC dealer with my LS5 II to compare to the III. The III had a far more tonally coherent presentation. There was also more resolution in the mids and lower trebles with the III. The 3-dimensionality characteristics were otherwise identical. Had this not been the case, I would have eliminated the III from the running as this was what got me addicted to the LS5 in the first place back in 1995. I would have gone for the III but the $1500 upgrade cost was simply not a good value at the time. The amp used was a VT100. I do not remember the source or speakers.

When I took my II to a local audiophile's home to hear the III again, the same results: we both prefered the III. In time the II can be a little fatiguing due to an unnatural overshoot in the trebles. The amp then was also the VT100 driven my Theta DAC - speakers were Wilson WP. This system had phenomenol resolution and imaging.

And a few years later, another local audiophile who was selling a III, brought it to my home. Same results. After listening to the III, the II is tough to go back to because of the treble fatigue. The II however rendered a little more low-end extension/presence than the III. Whether or not this was accurate, who knows. Without being able to directly jump from one to the other in the same system, these differences would likely not be detected. The amp was the VT130 driving Magnepan 3.3.

He also brought over his LS15 and both LS5's smoked this instantly. The LS15 was eliminated in a matter of seconds for its dull portrayal of space and decays.

The one benefit of the II is that it has 30db of gain vs the III being configured as 12 or 18db. The latter requires a change of 8 resistors. If you use a phono source and your phono stage is not so high in gain, the extra gain of the II can be beneficial.

Hope this helps.