Which ARC ref linestage to try: Ref3, Ref5, Ref5SE? HATE forward sounding systems



I presently am driving a PS Audio 300 class D amp with a CJ premiere 16LS2 and really really like the sound. I have always preferred solid state fed by a nice tube amp. One of the things that are remarkable (to my ears anyway) is that my system not only excels with well recorded material…poor quality recordings sound great too. I can listen indefinitely without fatigue.

Obviously, I like fuller, lush sound (which some might criticize as too euphonic (I make no apologies, that’s what I like)). I DESPISE forward sounding, edgy, systems. With the advancements made, I’m thinking detail and warmth are not mutually exclusive and that ARC may have pulled off the balance with one of these? I like big, deep, recessed soundstages.


This is my hobby so sometimes I like to change things up. I would like to try one of the ARC refs as I’m hoping they can deliver what I like but maybe with some improvements (e.g maybe more natural/real sounding?) I have read all the reviews and many comparisons multiple times. I know that the 5se allegedly blows away the 5 etc. blah blah. I don’t care how impressive something sounds initially…I need long term satisfaction. I gotta think that these refs have different sound signatures, right?

I am asking owners and people with first hand experience to provide feedback re. which of these is least forward and analytical and might give me what I already have…but with additional detail, realism, etc.?

P.S. To proactively address the obvious…. Why not just try a newer CJ? I’m not a fan of the newer CJ single triode linestages ONLY because of the single triode design (I had an ET3 and really liked the sound…however, the single triode is driven very hard in that design…and it ate tubes (they became noisy quickly and regularly)). The more rugged tubes didn’t sound as good to me so, don’t want to go there again.



My advice is to ask your ARC dealer to let you audition an Ref 5 SE and a LS28 at home. I find things sound a lot different at my home than they did in the store. 

I have an old ARC SP15. I can't switch because it has exactly the roomy detail I prefer, and the phono stage is outstanding. I have considered adding a REF5SE because I like it's detail, but to get the most out of it I need to spend uncomfortably to upgrade to a set of Wilsons.

I find that the ARC stuff is more or less "neutral" which I think is great as I love the "original intent" of the artist's recording. Listening to the Stones Black and Blue album on an ARC system was an a-ha moment for me. Somehow the Stones managed to get one of the best studio mixes ever on that record. 

Anyhow, the point I'm trying to make is try them out at your place first. You won't second guess or regret it later. 

I agree totally with @yesiam_a_pirate --great username, by the way.  ARRRHH!  You might enjoy the Gasparilla Festival in Tampa...

ALWAYS demo any new-to-you major purchase IN YOUR ROOM.  

As a former dealer, I can tell you that this is the ONLY way to make sure YOU like the product in your system.  Price and reviews are helpful, but YOUR ROOM is the final decision-making variable.

By the way, if you are going all ARC, I might suggest asking your dealer to bring out a pair of Magnepan speakers to demo.  You MIGHT be surprised...and if not, at least you gave them a listen.


I want to thank everyone. This was a very productive thread for me (and others, I hope) even though…

…since I have so much PS Audio Equipment, It probably makes sense that I should try the PSA BHK before I go down the ARC road. However, with this crazy hobby I’m sure I will still go down the ARC road. There’s something about their (average) house sound that I really like. Maybe by then the 5SE or the Ref 6s will be a real bargain used.

I read and looked into ALL suggestions, learned a ton, and met some new friends here. Hopefully, this thread will be useful to others in the future too.


Thank You!


P.S. Of Course, by all means feel free to continue posts if productive to someone.


I had the LS-27, loved it. But as I upgraded other components, I noticed that the soundstage did not have the depth. I upgraded to the REF 6 which produced the results I wanted. I am running Wilson MAXX speakers and Rowland SS amps. I just replaced all my tubes in the REF 6, it was a little over 4000 hours. The power tube they recommend replacing every 2000 hours. I did try the BHK amp, but it did not have the ability to push the Wilson Sasha’s that I had at the time - I lost A LOT of punch - that is when I found the Rowlands. I did compare the LS-27 to the Rogue RP-5 before I purchased it, I thought the ARC was SLIGHTLY better (I purchased the LS-27 used). I have really liked dealing with ARC - they answer the phone and help with your questions (as does PS Audio and Rowland).

One drawback to my system is that poorly recorded music is going to sound poorly recorded, that was not as much of a factor when I had the LS-27.  Some of the newer music is really compressed, that is not very nice to listen to (Pink's album before the latest one was unlistenable).  But Dylan's latest bootleg series from Time Out of Mind is simply spectacular.   

The ARC line stages have fewer tubes, so re-tubing will be a lot less expensive.  (It cost about $600 for me to re-tube my REF 6).

I have to believe that you will be happy with any of the ARC Preamps.



The Ref 3 seems to fit your preferences better than the later ones.  As you mentioned, the "supertube" models are more neutral and less euphonic than the earlier ones, so you might even look at a Ref 2 MkI.

I would not describe any of the Ref preamps as forward, but they do get more neutral as you get into the newer models.

I'm currently running the 6SE and it is the best line stage I have heard, and very neutral with just a touch of warmth.  It (and the earlier models) is very dimensional.