A question that defines the problem of shopping...

Hi all, I have been using an AR VSi 55 for about 15 years.  My other components are Penaudio Charisma/Chara and a new REL sub.  Rega CD & DAC and a Bluesound for streaming. Cables are all in the $200-$700 range.  I’m thinking I would like to maybe upgrade my integrated amp. I have no stores within 200 miles of my house. How do I even begin looking around for a new integrated that will be a real upgrade from my AR? Of course any suggestions would be great.  Alan
Seek out dealers manufacturers that offer home trial. You just be out shipping. 

I'll leave it others to chime in with suggestions.
I haven't auditioned a single piece of gear in the last 15 years, at least. I do pretty good just reading reviews. https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367 Its now at the point where almost everything in my system was bought sight unheard. Only the power cords and conditioner were bought after comparing at home. Everything else was entirely by review. Its important to note that not a one of these buys has disappointed. Quite the opposite. Every single one has outperformed expectations. 

How is this possible? I have a system. Take my time, read everything I can find, starting with reviews. Eventually the field is narrowed to where its worth searching around reading all the user comments on forums like this one. Finally it is down to just one or two. At that point depending on what it is I will if possible call and talk to the designer. 

In regards to that you are in luck. We are in the same market for the same integrated, the hard work is done and my choices are down to Raven and Decware. Saving up for a Reflection MkII. Although from everything I gather a Blackhawk or Osprey will be a big enough improvement over anything like what we have now. The Reflection MkII is more of a statement piece, the last amp I will ever buy. No doubt about that whatsoever. 

Decware I'm a little less certain. But have yet to talk with Steve or Dave. 

Anyway either one of these will be sure to please. Raven has a lot less of a wait time and 45 day return window. Which I doubt very much you will be using. So there you go. 
MC go with Raven or LTA, I bought a Decware amp and did not like it. Too wimpy and high maintenance (too many tubes to take care of) sent it back. Decware is not worth it. Your Moabs deserve better. Try LTA it is the real deal!

I agree 100% with millercarbon's approach to buying gear.  There are not a lot of brick and mortar stores around anymore.  And as I have gotten older, I am uncomfortable sitting in someone's showroom for hours and hours to educate my ears and then walk out, thanking the salesperson for his/her time, ... but not buying anything. 

If you check my posts, you will see that I am a longstanding ARC fan, ... mainly because when I was a kid, ARC was the brand to get.  So when I jumped into the audio waters in my later years, I stayed with ARC gear.  That said, I stipulate upfront that there many, many fine brands of gear on the market today and that there are many good brands to choose from.

I do not know what your budget is. However, if you like your ARC VSi 55, then why not pick up another ARC integrated amp?  I think the ARC VSi75 is still in production.  According to the ARCDB website (www.arcdb.com) , the VSi75 MSRP is (was) $8K, but maybe you can pick up a preowned unit for less.

The ARCDB website says that the VSi75 was issued in 2013.  I have no clue if ARC will replace it in the near future.  But, ... following millercarbon's advice, if you like your VSi55, why not do some research on the VSi75. 

BTW, the VSi75 was issued with KT-120 tubes, which in my experience were a big improvement over the 6550 tubes that the VSi55 uses.  I do not know if ARC approved the use of KT-120 or KT-150 tubes in the VSi55.  I understand that the VSi55 was issued with 6550 tubes.  But if KT-120 or KT-150 tubes are approved for the VSi55, you may be quite surprised by the SQ improvement all around.  Check with ARC customer service if these tubes can be dropped into the VSi55.  

As regards KT-150 tubes, per the ARC website, you may find interesting that:

The VSi75 was released with KT120 output tubes. A running production change was made switching to the KT150 output tube and lowering the main board to accommodate the height of the taller KT150s in the tube cage. For customers using the VSi75 without the tube cage, no change is necessary to use the KT150 output tube.
In my experience, KT-150 tubes made a really big SQ improvement over KT-120 tubes and most definitely over 6550 tubes.  Another advantage is that you can use an ARC amp with KT-150 tubes to heat your room!  :)

Good luck!

One thing about Decware, you get what you pay for. Wimpy doesn't come to mind, ART does.. the M60s. I had a pair.. Very simple design.
They will really sing, BUT, where's the BASS. They require a well designed speaker... For and IA, That Ravin is a looker, and the sub out something that sets it apart. Bass duty reduction with a flip of the switch.. I really like that...BUT sub out... great idea... Decware has some cool stuff though...Very a la carte, company.. LONG wait times. though..

yes indeed, store demos are hard to make happen

so dangerous to go out into public or retail spaces

the point made about arc tube amps is a good one - i too have been an arc guy for 15-20 years now, even though i dabble with other amps

arc tube amps since the late 90’s have a special sound, signficantly more extended on both ends of the frequency spectrum than most typical tube amps that roll off treble and bass ... the tradeoff is that arc also leans out the midrange, so there is somewhat less tubey glow and fuzzy-blanket sounding midrange of most other tube amps - so if you really like the tonal balance of your vsi55, pls do consider a more modern arc tube amp for a similar flavor, just more modernized (e.g., even more transparent presentation)
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