Amplifier considerations, PrmaLuna EVO 400 versus ARC Reference 160 S. Is ARC worth it?

Greetings all. I own a pair of PrimaLuna EVO 400’s paired with an a first generation ARC Ref 6 and Ref 3 Phono. This was done because I could not afford a pair of 160 M’s and wanted something to tie me over until I could afford them or another option came along. I have been taking a hard look at the Reference 160 S, However, the performance of the EVO 400 is so damn good. I am not sure I would gain anything. In fact, I would lose a lot of customizability and am not a fan of how the ARC amps are built with mounting the sockets for those big ass kT-150 onto the circuit board.

Here is an overview of how I set up the EVO 400’s. They are set up as Mono-bocks. and retubed with KT-150s. The preamp section are retubed with BLACK SABLE JJ ECC82 / 12AU7. A less colored and cleaner sounding tube over the stock Chinese made one. With this configuration I get a sonic signature that has a bit of bite on the top and tight controlled bass that is snappy and authoritative. Specifications change from 140 watts to 192 watts. The music I listen to is a lot of Classical, Gothic Metal, Rock, Jazz, Blues, Pop, and EDM. A lot of my favorite recording are bass heavy with heavy dynamics. Speaker used are 4 Ohm - 95 db efficient - with a frequency response of 18HZ-30KHZ.

The 160s I am considering is $24K has power rating of 140 watts. It is a cleaner sounding amp that does not have much voicing. Offering a more accurate presentation, with more inner detail. That may prove to have better sysnergy with the ARC gear I already own. Also, the case work and overall appearance of the product is top notch. Hence the interest in it.,

Contrasted to PL what I lose is... some musicality, the EVO 400 has more richness in the mids and vocals are more pronounced and have a greater sense of presence within the listening room. Again, the tube sockets are bolted onto the chassis. They do not use a cooling assist fan. I have the advantage of a Monoblock solution, that is easier to handle weight wise and offers better isolation of the signal between the two channels.

Where the PL Cheaps out, is the finish and the balanced inputs. I am not a fan of the battleship grey paint and hodgepodge just slapped together Chi-Fi look that the components have. Nor do I like the cheap ass balanced connectors they use. There is a big difference in quality between them and the ones on my Ref 6.

Any thoughts or opinions are welcome.

Many thanks for your time and trouble.


@ tablejockey If the blunt expression of my feeling on the PL fit and finish offends, my apologies. It is a given the PL product is more budget conscience. Sadly, your post does not offer much that is of use or has much thought behind it. Setting the PL build compromises and looks aside. It is still every bit a premium product performance wise. I think asking about a 24K upgrade is still worth exploring, to blindly waste money on something because it is considered more upscale? I consider dopey, especially if you already have the pleasant surprise of owning a product that gives the same level of performance for little over half the asking price. Spending more does not mean you get more. So, I see this as a fair question to ask.

Amplifier considerations, PrmaLuna EVO 400 versus ARC Reference 160 S. Is ARC worth it?

for me personally, absolutely, in my system, with my history

you don't say much about the rest of your setup... so no one can really tell you

The only way you can tell is to take each home, at the same time and do an A/B comparison in your home with your system.

component and music memory is extremely faulty.

I know there are some dealers that will either let you take a unit home for an in-home demo or take your credit card information so that you can take it home.

Also, make sure you are listening at the same DB levels.  Many people even audiophiles mistake volume differences with better or worse.

So, for example if I want to think about upgrading an amp or pre-amp, I will "borrow" a new (new or used) device under consideration.  Take it home.  Listen to my music at the level I like with my original piece.  Digital works best for this example.  Then, I insert a test CD and play a test tone and measure the sound level with a sound level meter.  There are some inexpensive ones out there and also some apps you can download.

I then remove the original piece, insert the new device, changing absolutely nothing else.  nothing.  Play the test tone again and adjust the listening level to match the original. 

Then listen.  Now what differences do you hear?  That's the ticket.

Most times with high end equipment, it is not jaw dropping differences, but the question is, are the differences enough to "justify" an upgrade?

That is the fun part.


I am a big fan of Audio Research. I have an all ARC Reference system and have had 160 monoblocks for well over a year and a 160s for three. There is a lot of synergy with all ARC. You seem to be familiar with the the sonic characteristics. Personally I would not put the PL amp and ARC in the same class. The ARC is far more refined and tuned to reproduce natural music, in all aspects. You have to choose if that is what you want, well, that you value.


The ARC gear presents music with stunning fidelity to the real experience (not exaggerated charactertures), conveying the full rhythm and pace. My speakers are 90db efficient and I operate my ARC amps in triode mode (so, 70wpc)… they will play louder without distortion than I would have thought possible (or desirable in my large room), in the mid 90db range. Typically I listen in the 70db range as it gives me all I need. Occasionally I will listen in the 80’s.

The difference between the mono blocks and stereo version is interesting, and a bit subtle in audition… but very noticeable in ownership. The monos have a wider and deeper sound stage with images set in a larger sound stage… but the individual instruments have a bit less power and immediacy. So, it sounds like, since you like some metal, pop and rock. The stereo version sounds more up your alley… as it will sound like it has more power.

I used to own massive solid state amps. The quest for massive power was always on my mind. But when I switched from solid state to tube amps, that quest for power went away. They have very different strengths and weaknesses. SS tend to sound much better with more power, tubed are far less effected. I mention this as something to think about. I don’t know what it means.


Anyway, after a number of years and thousands of hours with my ARC REF 160 amps… I appreciate them more each day, and particularly paired with the other equipment. You can see my system under my UserID.