Audio Research Preamps, what are your experiences?

Discussion in 'High-End Separates from Years Past' started by Blue Shadow, Dec 29, 2018.

  1. Blue Shadow

    Blue Shadow I gotta get me a new title Subscriber

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    I lusted for an Audio Research SP-3 since I picked up a flyer for the unit when it was available new in one form or another. It went through a few changes producing 5 different versions over the decades, the last the SP-3C the rebuilt unit from sending one into Audio Research for a complete restoration. The different versions can be investigated at the arcdb.ws site: http://arcdb.ws/SP3/SP3.html

    I picked one up in about 1981 for a fair price and enjoyed it for a few years until the volume control kept losing a channel. I ordered the replacement pot from ARC and was completely successful in replacing the two capacitors that came with the stepped Alps volume control and unsuccessful in properly wiring the volume control since I knew nothing about how stuff worked and the instructions from ARC were not informative enough for me back then.

    Years later, ruffscruff (R.I.P.) on the asylum had a website that praised the unit and had pictures of his 3 and 3C which allowed me to see how to properly wire the volume control. The unit was back in service and sounded great. I've used it off and on over the years but usually use my brother's Audio Research SP-9 II. Additionally, Tom Clone, you remember him, he would come over listen to the gear I have and then go buy something very similar. This led him to acquire an SP-3A-1 and an SP-9 III that has some aftermarket upgrades. Bot better models that what I had and they did sound a bit better. Nothing earthshaking, though. Since then I have recapped and refreshed his SP-3 and have a thread on that on AK.

    When we did a listening session of preamps, an interesting thing was the difference they all exhibited, Crown DL-2 so clean sounding and some other non-ARC preamps and how the ARC preamps had the same Family sound. The two closest in sound of the few we tried.

    The SP-3A that I have has the full bloom sound of a tube unit. Using good tubes on the first position in the phono stage and first position in the line stage is recommended and I'm now more able to do that than in the past when I had a new set of Sylvanias in it from the local parts supply house. Can't find that anymore. Anyway, when comparing the -3 to the -9 II it was apparent they were from the same company. The 3 had more tube sound with a bit higher noise as expected from the eight 12AX7 tubes. The 9 MkII, a hybrid preamp uses one tube in phono and one in line both being 6922/6DJ8 and other than cleaner it is missing some of that tube richness I enjoy in my system. That bloom goes well with the cleanliness of the ss power amp and this is how I generally like to use tubes, in the preamp where tube replacement is infrequent vs. in the power amp where the output tubes wear out more quickly and cost a lot more (for regular prices, not vintage NOS tubes).

    It was surprising how close the -3 and -9 II were and I would be happy with either of them. The -3 is near original with a few RCA jacks replaced but not a wholesale replacement of caps and carbon comp resistors. Maybe some changes there will help the unit. I know that replacing the coupling caps, two pair in the -3, one in the tone engaged output and one in the tone defeat output can make nice improvements. We put Clarity MR caps in Tom's tone bypassed output. He now wants them installed in the tone engaged outputs.

    The tone controls of the -3 are very nice. I especially like the sonic improvement of using just a touch of the loudness, adjustable like on a Yamaha and others, the slight amount being a small bump top and bottom and probably correct for normal listening.

    Since I like the Luxman LRS gear, I found my first piece of it at a great price, the 5F70 tone control unit. I've recently been swapping gear, I have put the SP-9 in the system and have the tone control unit engaged since the -9 does not have tone controls. A bit of bass boost and a touch of high end makes the system sound a good bit better using the Dahlquist DQ-10s, sans sub at this time. More changes to come but I'm liking what I'm hearing.

    Anyone else able to talk about the sound of the Audio Research preamps? I know Jim (ehoove) has a nice description of the benefits of going to a successively newer decade of ARC preamps, he stated he has had three over the years. The ones I discussed are a few generations and dozens of changes to the models between them as well as a failed attempt to move to SS from tube with the SP-4/5 debacle.
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2018
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  2. a_retent

    a_retent Daddy's little shadow Subscriber

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    My first ARC pre was an LS-3 without bal output or remote. It was connected to a gen1 Emotiva xpa-2 pwr amp for a short period of time as the Emotiva showed it's shortcomings right away. The next amp was a ARC D400mkII which is still in summer rotation for my current set up. I contacted Audio Research about bal output upgrade and was told they no longer do either upgrades for the LS-3 but still repair them. For a SS pre I was quite happy with the build quality and as for sound it's a very quiet unit with great instrument placement/separation, what a sleeper unit. It also doesn't come off sounding like a SS pre but more smoother sounding like a tube unit. Cambridge Audio azur 640p is what was used for the phono stage, it was okay but certainly not to ARC level of performance and rather limited in sound quality. I had that unit in place for a couple of years until an ARC SP-15 showed up for sale. My kid absconded the LS-3 to replace a Carver C-1 pre he was using in his system, his phono stage is a Jolida JD9 with RCA command 5751 tubes, quite impressive sounding unit. I'm sure I'll probably never see that LS-3 again.

    The SP-15 is a hybrid unit with a tubed phono stage, again doesn't have a clinically accurate SS sound. It is dead quiet and has surprized the hell out of a few people after a needle set down on an album lead-in and nothing is heard until the song begins at a moderately comfortable listening level.
    Normal reaction is priceless. :biggrin:
    Instrument placement/space, soundstage, imaging and all that aural delightfulness is awesome. The signal then gets delivered to a pair of ARC vm220 monoblocks then onto some magnepan 1.6s.

    The unit came with a set of weak sovtek tubes in the phono stage which were replaced with a set of 1963 (?) Bugle Boy tubes, certainly improved the vinyl listening experience. Unfortunately I live VERY close to an AM (sports talk) radio station and experience RF issuses. I was looking into replacing the SP-15 with an LS-27 tube pre but based on my RF problems not sure if that's a wise idea, however, I would like to hear one some day hooked up to my ARC tube monoblocks just to hear an entirely tubed pre-amp and amped ARC system. I can't afford the Reference equipment so this has to do for my needs, besides, I waited a long time to get where my equipment is now.

    I'm certain there are many other pre/pwr amps available that are better but I'm quite happy with my Minnesota made products. ARC is a 20 min. drive from my house and Magnepan is less than 4 miles.

    Oh and BTW, the last 4 letters in Minnesota are... wait for it...

    SOTA.

    I know, I crack me up! :rflmao:
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2018
  3. Blue Shadow

    Blue Shadow I gotta get me a new title Subscriber

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    Seems to work, Magnepan is in MinneSOTA, too
     
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  4. Hobie1dog

    Hobie1dog Super Member

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    Had a SP6-C but all the caps went bad and they were supposedly only available from ARC, so I took a loss on it as they wanted $55.00 for each of the 5 capacitors, Ebay 'd it.
     
  5. ehoove

    ehoove Old & New - Carpe Diem Staff Member Super Mod Subscriber

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    I sold my ARC LS15 Preamplifier (4 6922 tubes) to move to a LS16MkII (2 6H30 Tubes) which is the current tube used by ARC. The differences to me were greater dynamics, quieter background and a wider deeper sound stage. The top end has greater speed and spatial detail, and the bass has more definition and more low end control. I have owned 3 ARC Preamplifiers and have enjoyed each of them. The fact that they offer 2 sets of balanced outputs is a huge bonus since I use two crossovers with balanced inputs 26ft from the preamplifier in my main rig.
    Regards,
    Jim
     
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  6. trinhsman

    trinhsman AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Owned an SP3A in my youth. One of the few things I sold that I truly regret selling.
     

     

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  7. bob06

    bob06 Addicted Member

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    I've been looking into buying a new pre and have been looking at the ARC's. There are a hundred different models. It seems like every week they come out with new model. Been doing my homework on them before pulling trigger.
     
  8. Blue Shadow

    Blue Shadow I gotta get me a new title Subscriber

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    Well if you are looking for a new Audo Research preamp, that seems true, new one on a regular basis. Different model lines, too.

    When the SP-9 was current there was also the 2x priced SP-14 and the 2x priced again SP-15 with two chassis. Each better than the last. The article that waxed poetic about the nine did even moreso for the 14 and damn near ran out of superlatives when they had to write a few more paragraphs on the 15.

    The SP-9 is the most common ARC preamp out there and had only 3 iterations with the III being too expensive to change to from a I that it makes sense to sell the I and buy the III if that is what one wants. Each iteration was a nice improvement.
     
  9. GuyK

    GuyK Addicted Member

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    I currently have an SP-6, and thoroughly enjoy it. Phono section is excellent! It needed some work a couple years ago, but it's 40 years old. I'm certain I could move up from it, but I'm not in any hurry to do so.

    The only other ARC pre I've spent any amount of time with was an SP-11, and that entire system sounded out of this world good.
     
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  10. bob06

    bob06 Addicted Member

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    Just bought my first ARC. The LS16 MKII. In excellent condition with original box, remote and manual. Should have it the beginning of the week. It has great reviews so hope it works for me. :dunno:
     
  11. Blue Shadow

    Blue Shadow I gotta get me a new title Subscriber

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    Looking forward to your comments about its sound vs. what you are using right now. Post back and maybe do a separate thead to discuss the sound of the current preamp and maybe that one can discuss that brand.
     
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  12. E-Stat

    E-Stat AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Long term fan here. It was 1974 when I heard a revelatory system for me consisting of Magnepan Tympani IIIs tri-amped with Audio Research SP-3a, two D-76s an EC-3 crossover with Crown DC300A on woofers. That system was so far and away better than anything else I had previously heard. I was using an H-K Citation 11 at the time and was able to borrow the SP-3 over a weekend to hear in my system. I can still recall how more natural sounding the shakers that open Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” sounded.

    My friend HP introduced me to the SP-6B following the early debacle with SS. I purchased one myself in ‘81 but was a C model by that time. Suffered an early cap failure due to supplier and was promptly updated by ARC to C-1 status with a slightly different arrangement. I paired that with a Threshold Stasis driving Acoustats until ‘98 when I replaced it with a used SP-9 MKII. It was a better match in terms of gain since I was using a mid output Shinon Red MC cartridge at the time and offered more transparency and was quieter. It’s only failing was that of tonal balance - was a bit thin in the lower midranage. About a year later, I send it to the factory for the MKIII update. That improved transparency further, gave it more dynamic punch and filled out the lower midrange.

    In 2001, I bought a Gamut CD-1 following an audition at Sea Cliff. I soon learned that it had oodles of gain and really didn’t need an active. I built a couple different attenuators boxes and found they increased image width. A quick look at the measurements in Stereophile reveal why - channel separation was fine for cartridges, but compromised digital sources.

    In 2014, I replaced it with an SP20 that I use today. It carries on with the highish gain-two stage design philosophy that works well with MC cartridges obviating the need for a SUT. What it brings to the table is wider soundstage, greater still transparency and improved dynamics at the low end of the spectrum. Mine is used in balanced operation for which it was optimized. It is dead quiet on the lowest level passages. I really enjoy having a full function remote including phono loading.

    I’ve found my life partner in a wonderful sounding one box preamp. Have about 1800 hours on the 6H30s. This I know because another useful feature is a tube hour meter. :)
     
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  13. onemug

    onemug AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    My bar for preamps has been set by a CJ ART-3 for about 10 yrs. A few yrs ago a friend offered me his AR LS-7 out of his personal collection when I needed a pre for my office...if I didn't like it, send it back. I still have it. He modded it with some custom capacitors so I don't know how much better it is than a stock one...I guessing a lot.

    Listening to it now driving some SET 300b mono's. Also have used it with a Pass XA30.5. Seems to bring out the best of whatever I pair it with.
     

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