ARC REF 150SE vs REF 160S

I currently have a Ref 6SE and Ref 150 driving a pair of Vandersteen 5a Carbons.  Over time I have gradually worked my way up from Vandy 2s and an ARC VT100.  Keeping with that theme, I am ready for another move up.  I am torn between just upgrading the Ref150 (when ARC is able) or blowing the bank on a Ref 160S.  Both are great amps, but I am interested in opinions on the comparison.  The 160S meters don’t move me and I enjoy biasing my own power tubes.  Will the 160S change my life?
I can’t say but I will have the same preamp (I demoed a Ref 6 and was sold) driving my Vandersteen M5-HPAs which are hooked up to my 5A Carbons. If I were you I’d audition the M5-HPAs. 
I have basically done the same had Vandy 2s upgraded to Quatros and went from Rogue Cronus to Aesthetix Atlas and Pallene
when I was thinking of making the change amp or speakers I ask Richard he said if the front end is good then the biggest change is going to come from the speakers both are great amps but maybe a pair of Sevens or Ref160 monos that is how got Quatros before the Aesthetixs

Enjoy the Music
I moved from the Ref 150 to Ref 150 with KT 150s which ARC reps told me was almost as good as the Ref 150se. Then I moved up to Ref160 monos. There was a difference between my Ref 150 with KT150s and the Ref 160 monos but it was maybe 15 percent for twice the price. I assume the Ref 160s would be in the range of 10 to 12 percent better than your amp. It will be a noticeable difference but not a huge difference.
But when you move up from the fabulous Ref 150 to any amp in that power range, you reach the point of diminishing returns. 
The the price for the improvement is dear and not  mathematically proportionate to the gains.  Would I do it again? Hell yes.
@gpgr4blu  You bring up an interesting point. When was it that any gear manufacturer stated that their latest and greatest, which now costs 2-3X the last product, was in fact only 'maybe 15 percent' better? I can not recall one instance of this...
To that, there are many well known examples of gear that was replaced with the 'latest and greatest' that is in fact inferior to what it is replacing- and sometimes by several degrees!  Not once was the price lowered though with the new introduction. Pays to listen to all new gear in consideration before a purchase, and not go by the 'hype' that inevitably is attached to it, IMHO.
This thread is almost 8 months old, but I would like to respond to gpgr4blu's last post.  Gpgr4blu said that: 
I moved from the Ref 150 to Ref 150 with KT 150s which ARC reps told me was almost as good as the Ref 150se. Then I moved up to Ref160 monos. There was a difference between my Ref 150 with KT150s and the Ref 160 monos but it was maybe 15 percent for twice the price. I assume the Ref 160s would be in the range of 10 to 12 percent better than your amp.
Obviously, unless one could do an A/B comparison of the Ref 150SE to the Ref 160 in one's own home on one's own gear, and after break-in, it is difficult to speculate how much better one amp will sound over the other in a shoot-out.  

But FWIW, here's an experience I had with my Ref 150 amp that may have some bearing on gpgr4blu's comment.  Some 5 or 6 years ago, I incrementally tweaked my Ref 150 amp. First, I swapped out the stock KT-120s for 3rd party vendor KT-150s. No question, there was a noticeable incremental improvement in SQ.  Next, I sprung for the SE factory upgrade, which included ARC matched KT-150s. 

If I recall, the SE upgrade included the replacement of a bunch of passives and maybe the power supply caps too.  The SQ improvement was much more than "just incremental," ... it was significant.

So, ... going back to what gpgr4blu posted, I surmise that if I could do the Ref 150SE/Ref 160 shoot-out in my house and on my equipment, even if I stipulate that the Ref 160 sounds better than the Ref 150SE, ... I surmise the difference might be less than the 15% delta reported by gpgr4blu. 

Reason: gpgr4blue compared the Ref 150 w/KT-150 tubes (but not the SE upgrade) to the Ref 160.  Because, IMO, the SE upgrade effected a significant improvement in SQ, I surmise the improved Ref 150SE might nudge a little closer in SQ to the Ref 160. 

IME, at some point in the OJ making process, a hard squeeze only yields a small amount of juice.  

That said, I look forward to reading comments from folks who A/B'ed the Ref 150SE to the Ref 160 under controlled conditions.


You could very well be right. My Ref 150 with KT150s was one sweet little brut. I'm sure the Ref150SE was better.
 I maintain that the Ref 150 series amps from ARC are among the best bang for the buck (now used) gear in high end audio. Of course, my comments do not any account for the fact that the monos do have imaging and stereo separation that a stereo amp cannot match -but as for other aspects of sound, there are diminishing returns. That said, I do not regret the purchase of the monos.
Since initiating this discussion I ended up trading in my Ref 150 for a Ref 160S.  It’s a wonderful amp (although I could easily live without the stupid “ghost meters”).  I never did hear a 150SE In my system, but I do agree that each of the steps discussed in this thread brings about only incremental improvement.  The 160S does get the blue ribbon for sound staging, however.  Thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts!
I'd love to trade up from my REF150SE to a REF160S, but would prefer a less expensive version without the meters.


Curous if you are still happy with your 160S or have moved up to the 160M MkIIs

I have had the 75SE for a few years and have grown quite attached.  I was able to audition a 150SE for a couple weeks and while the bass was a bit cleaner and punchier, it didn't blow me away.  I also added a Shunyata Hydra Triton that also cleaned up the bass and made it punchier so didn't leave me missing the 150SE.  This make me think I will just be disappointed if I jump to a big money upgrade for the new series.  I don't think I could ever own a 150 or 150SE due to the biasing process.  I love the simplicity of the 75SE and being able to adjust as often as I want to keep them in the sweet spot and make sure I don't have a tube that can no longer stay in bias.  For this reason, I have considered the GS150.  I read somewhere that it is essentially the 150SE with a different design.  Anyone audition one of those or know anyone with one?

I still have the 160s and I don’t really have the room for a pair of mono amps.  I have, however, traded in the Vandersteens for a pair of Wilson Sasha DAWs (don’t hate me).  The Wilsons are easier to drive and they really sing with ARC, especially since adding an ARC Phono REF3SE.   Everything is great except perhaps the heat from all the tubes during the past Summer and the hand wringing over replacement tubes (now basically resolved.) surely seems like a fabulous amp.  Have any other differences stood out since your last post about the improved soundstaging?  Sometimes it takes a while for our brain and ears to fully appreciate a change.  

Why would anyone hate you??  I love my Wilson Sophia 1....had them for about 5 years.  I have been curious about Vandersteen, maybe I will try one day.  I picked up a pair of Alexia 1 a few weeks ago but my room didn't allow for them to be in the best position so have them posted for sale.  I almost got the DAW instead so now wonder if that would have been a better match for my room.  

The tube replacement is a bummer.  Keep an eye on your options and grab an extra set unless you buy from ARC and they will surely be ready to ship a set when you need them.  Seems like you have built a great system that won't need major updates for many years....enjoy!