ARC amp differences.


I got a chance to listen to some Adonis Faber Serifinos the other day and absolutely loved them. They were detailed, but also musical. It was paired with a ARC VT-80. 

I was actually thinking that maybe I go up a notch and look at the ARC reference 80s but it was not available for demo. They did have the ARC 160s.

would it be to assume ithat if I like the 160s with the Serifinos then I would also like the 80s? If I like the 160s jugs that kind of power just overkill. My listening space is 20x14 and I will rarely try and super loud. 


if anyone has other tube amp recommendations pls feel free. I am looking for that slightly warm of neutral sound that holds the detail. 



Save your money and buy Prima Luna if you must have tubes! ARC is over-rated and over-priced! If it breaks good luck with repairs before the next decade!

I have Sonus Faber Amati Tradition speakers and have powered them with the Reference 160s and Reference 160m monoblocks. I also auditioned the Serfino. They sound great, really a perfect match. I have also heard the Vsi 70 and the VT80. My listening room is quite a bit larger, which is why the Amati are the right choice for me.

The Reference 80s would be a great choice although I would not consider the Ref 160s overkill. The architecture of the two amps is identical, the 80 just having less power. They have exactly the same sonic character. I run my Ref 160 in the triode mode, so they actually only put out 70wpc. The difference is subtitle but very important. They are more musical in the triode mode. The reference 80s also has a triode mode, it puts out 33wpc in that mode.

I guess, if you can afford it I highly recommend the REF 160s. But you are unlikely to be disappointed with either. I listen at relatively low volumes as well. But they can be cranked without compression or distortion. 

Also, if you go this route I highly recommend Transparent wires except for the amp… I went AudioQuest Hurricane on that (big improvement). While I slowly migrated to my system (see under my virtual systems) to this combination over forty years without knowing this. The Audio Research / Sonus Faber / Transparent combination is a known incredibly synergistic combination, that really captures the gestalt of music as well as the details. I get lost in it about three hours a day and need to drag myself away.

Jasonbourne obviously has a beef with ARC. I've never had any issues whatsoever.  Primaluna is not in the same league as ARC. And yes I've owned both. 

I recently heard the Sonus Faber Lilium speakers driven by McIntosh MC451 hybrid dual mono amps and MSB streamer/ DAC/preamp and it sounded, in a word, divine.

Oops, a clarification… the only non-Transparent wires I have is the Audio Quest Hurricane power cord on my amp. All others are Tranparent… cables, interconnects and power cords. I fiddled with different power cords for a year on my amp until I found the AudioQuest. It is perfect.

Have the Arc 160S. Love it.  I would check with Arc or a dealer and ask that question.  I will tell you that overall the ARC sound is warmer in general.  I listened to a lot of amps for over a year before I decided on ARC and have never looked back. Rarely do you need to listen to more than 10 watts but I can’t speak for your room acoustics. 

good luck and let us know how you make out!!

Thabks. Super helpful information. I think the pairing is just amazing so just need to pick the right model. 

ARC 160s and Serafino’s are a great match. I preferred that amp over they Gryphon Diablo 300. I also had an REF 75SE for a while which was my first taste.

BTW - I’ve had nothing but stellar response from Audio Research for all services.


I’m now running the ARC REF 6SE into the 160s with a pair of Sonus Faber Maxima Amators. I’ll let you know how they are compared to the Serafino’s.


good luck….!



You can google Audio Research, then look for ARC data base and you can easily research all models. Helped me with my ARC purchase.

Is it possible to get the SF speakers and the ARC 80S to your own room for a demo for a few days?  This way you can be sure.  Most dealers will work with you like this. I have a great dealer and I can bring items home to try anytime I like.  I have ARC LS27, ARC Ref 3 Phono, ARC 150SE with Sonus Faber Olympica II all put together with Transparent cables.  It is a true match made in heaven!

ARC service is great don’t be afraid of that. Besides they are very reliable, if you can even with a small room try to get the 160s you can always run them in triode mode, more power not necessary means you will listen louder but you will have more control of your speakers and sound will be sweater. 

My 2 cents, good luck 

Let me re-emphasize that the slam against ARC service is way off the mark. I have an older ARC amp and preamp. The service is so responsive and reasonably priced that I don't re-tube and re-bias the amp myself. I just have them do it. They are great.

I sent my pre-amp for service (noisy volume control), and after it came back I decided to be clever and do some soldering.  I damaged it. I sent it back. I told them it was my fault plus it was obvious. They repaired my flub under warranty. This is a 30-year old preamp.

The great service is a reason to consider ARC if you are looking at tubes, not a reason to avoid them.

I also have the 160s and am using it with Joseph Audio Perspectives. My space is similar in size and am completely happy with this combination. I considered the JA Pearls, but with my room size (and a downstairs neighbor) they were too much speaker for the room. 

@ghdprentice has done a lot of research and testing and has been more than generous in sharing it with those using ARC gear. As an alternative option, I just tested a Furtech Project V1 with my 160s and was impressed within the first 2 minutes at the increased sound stage and detail. I already have one V1 for my Furtech Pure Power 6 distributor, but am going to order a second as it made such a material difference. 

Finally, don't think that the stock cords are substandard in any way. I lived with mine for over a year while I focused on other changes and thankfully these are upgrades you can do step by step. 

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@ghdprentice: Sllightly off-topic, but I may have the opportunity to pick up either a Ref 75 or a VSi75SE at an attractive price. In your opinion, speaking from the perspective of sonics only, (I know we're comparing an integrated & a power amp), is there enough of a difference to warrant a multikilobuck price difference? I have a Harbeth-based system and am also considering Hegel and Levinson integrateds in the $10K price range.


OK, now that is a hard one.

I guess, if it takes the VSI75SE to get you into a ARC preamp and amp… then I would go that way. Audio Research stuff is really complimentary to other ARC equipment. So, if you were thinking Audio Research Ref 5 preamp and REF 75 amp… yes… that will sound significantly better than the VsI75SE. But if you have something else… go with the VSI.

Audio Research has an incredible natural sound… with the gestalt… the macro and micro details in perfect proportion to real music. The very best sound comes from every piece being cut from the same cloth. So all ARC is best.

A great strategy would be to go with the VsI75 for now and enjoy it for a few years until you can move up to the Reference level.


OK, thanks, that’s good feedback. FWIW, I’m an old Quad hobbyist / tube roller, spent years restoring pristine vintage ESL-57s & Quad 2 monoblocks, but had to sell them when I moved to an electrostatic-unfriendly part of the world. I’d love to have an exclusively ARC signal path, but there’s simply no room here for two large tube components. Which is one reason I’m looking at SS boxes like the Hegel H590/600 & ML 5805 -- size & weight are an issue. The VsI75SE, a 40-pound, physically small integrated, was pretty attractive -- esp given Harbeth’s reputation for being "Quad-like" (yeah, I know, I know!). But with you confirming that it’s not in a class with the Reference series, maybe it’s out of the running. FWIW, I was also considering PrimaLuna, HiFi Rose, and McIntosh integrateds, but as terrific as they’re said to be, I don’t get the impression that they’re in the same sonic league with ARC, ML, and Hegel. Too bad, b/c from a connectivity/functionality standpoint, they’d make life a lot simpler. Jeez, the VSi doesn’t even have a sub out or HT bypass!  The thing is, this time around, I’m willing to do whatever's necessary to get the best sonics -- so long as my new system physically fits into the room!  I'm so sick of my current silicon Class D amps.


Perhaps I have not communicated that well. I would not say the Vsi 75 is at all of a different class from the reference, they have very much the same sound… most of it. As you move up the differences are subtitle versus a different company who’s sound is very different.

I recently spent time with a $10K Luxman integrated , $10K Pass Integrated, and the $6K ARC I-50 (?). The Luxman was cold and detailed without rhythm and pace (musicality), the Pass was powerful with good rhythm and pace, the Audio Research… well, my eyes closed and I fell into the music… I would take the ARC I-50 over any Luxman and most Pass at several times the price.

So I want to be very careful at what I am communicating. The differences between companies is far greater than levels within one… in general. I would take a level down or two in ARC over the others any day.

Well, thanks for the clarification -- that does make a difference.   From what I've heard, the VSi75 is significantly more "ARC" than the "entry level"  I/50.  So again, your first-hand experience and educated comments are very helpful.  What model speakers were you listening through, btw? 

At this point, I'm still torn about not being able to compare Levinson or Hegel to ARC in person.  It would require a full-day air flight from here for me to hear any of those three.


Thanks all, this has been super helpful. I may be able to get listening in my house, but I have not asked. I think that gets easier if I own the speakers first. I still want to heat the CJ 120. Not sure if anyone has heard that pairing as well?


Right now, I am running bookshelf Electra Amriors with an MC275 and a C22. The speakers are what I want to replace, but I am confident I need to replace the C22 if not the MC275. OF course, I do not want to do this all at once, so I am trying to figure out what I can keep for now. My guess is If I end up going to ARC route, I could find a used ARC LS28SE keep the MC275, and get the Serifinos. Then over time move to a new amp and also decide if the pre is good enough. The C22 is cloudy and not very good with the Serifinos.



@mbarmash Is it possible that your C22 is just ready for new tubes?  They can degrade so slowly over time you don't notice it.

I was just reading a comment that Alan Shaw (Harbeth) recommends that his speakers be used with SS ampllification. Interesting, if true.

I'm not sure why jasonbourne is so exercised about ARC. Maybe it's because he can't get a set of  Ref 160 monoblocks in his Mini Cooper :)

Tube gear is fussy- like a Ferrari is fussy. You have to pay to play. My experience with ARC has been very satisfying. Both with their gear and their service department. 

While I agree tube gear is a little bit “fussy”… I would like to add a bit of nuance to that.

The reason is that tube gear has that reputation… but high quality equipment like Audio Research will occasionally require re-tubing an very, very occasionally have a badly behaved tube.

So, I ran my Ref 5SE phonostage for ten years and never needed to touch it. I used it about an hour a day. Which while working was about all one can do. I have run my full system of tubed equipment for three or four years with one tube that started to whistle… it was simple to swap tubes and find the culprit, in ten minutes. That is it.

For a few decades I was put off by this reputation (for power amps)… and it was a real mistake. It is important to realize that on average they are not unreliable at all. I’m guessing I put 15,000+ component hours on my tube gear with one whistling tube. Auto-biasing in contemporary equipment and slow startup circuits for tubes makes them no-touch for long periods of time.