Audio research ref 6SE vs world

Which tube or SS line stage do you like as much or more and why? Any cheaper options that you actually preferred?
I find ARC sounds a but more SS than I like from a tube preamp.  I don't want something warm a gooey.  I prefer a middle ground.  That is my personal taste.  If I was going to get something that sounded like an ARC, I would probably get a new Pass which has left behind a bit of its historical warmth and not deal with the inconvenience and maintenance.  

I know you are looking at balanced stuff with XLRs and my system and amp preference is single ended, lower watt tube stuff so my preference in preamps is single ended at them moment.  

I personally really like AVM but I am a broken record with that.  The PA 8.3 is also not going to save you money vs. the ARC but will be a hair warmer and the card based, modular system offers a ton of flexibility, variable output and tone controls if you are into that sort of thing making it really easy to match with a lot of amps.    

Check out the Zesto Leto Ultra II.  I listened to the older model and it was phenomenal with their mono-amps.  I believe it was driving Magico S1s at the time (not MKiis) along with Scansonic's big array speaker.  Really nice sounding system.  

You could also check out Octave Audio.  Again, not sure it is going to save you money vs. the ARC but really awesome equipment.  I like the outboard power supply approach that they take.  

There are a million other options if you want tubes.  
The challenging this is finding a balanced tube pre that has some recognition so you can sell if you don't like (and its not ARC and VAC).
Do you think maybe pass pre prior gen would give more of that tube sound? Theres a local guy with XP30.
I'll look into the other options you mentioned.
Makes perfect sense.  
It’s funny.  When I think of VAC, I was thinking of higher priced units.  I have a customer who has the VAC Master preamp and it is insanely good but is much more at $28K.  He was joking that he was going to have his coffin fitted with room for that preamp.  At least I think he was joking.  
VAC would be my first choice.  Completely forgot about it.  The Signature MKiia SE would be an incredible option.  A hair more than the ARC but incredible unit.  
At a lower price, possibly the McIntosh C70?  Not quite on the same league as VAC or ARC but a hell of a nice preamp.  
You might give Don Sachs a call.  He normally uses only one balanced In/Out pair but you can opt for more instead of RCA.  For a pure tube pre it is very quiet and clean sounding not syrupy and rolled off.  I purchased one just to play with and after a few months switching it in and out of my system sold both my ref-6SE and my PS-BHK to use only the Sachs which was a particularly good match to my system... that's the key, your mileage may vary.  It's only ~$3k loaded up.
I recently replaced my Aric audio unlimited line stage with a used Pass xp-10.  I noticed more detail, but the warmth didn't change.
Aesthetix, VTL, Herron - not better, just different at he altitude of the 6. I have a REF5se.
Without having had direct experience with the preamp you’re talking about, I have thoroughly enjoyed my EAR 868 paired with my pass xa30.8.  It really brought that great amp to life.  I’m curious to know how many people think their preamp would beat it.

@redwoodaudio, isn’t it funny how Tim de Paravicini’s passing was marked with accolades from the entire hi-fi industry, yet U.S.A. audiophiles continue to ignore his excellent EAR-Yoshino pre-amps and power amps? No full page ads, no semi-annual Mk.2 or SE "upgrades", infrequent reviews, no street-level "buzz". Just superior music reproduction. How boring. ;-)

For those who don’t know: when you listen to any recent MoFi LP (those produced since the company was purchased by Music Direct), you are hearing Paravicini electronics. Not ARC, not VAC, not VTL, not Manley, not Herron, not Pass, not Ayre. EAR-Yoshino, designed and made in England by Tim de Paravicini, master engineer and designer.

Why do you suppose MoFi went to Tim when they decided to upgrade their mastering chain, rather than to any of the above? For the same reason Kavi Alexander at Water Lily did: because he's the best.

OP — are you arbitrarily using ARC REF6SE as a benchmark because you know its sound?  My big system uses that pre-amp, and I’m in love with it.  It beats what I’ve used before in that room by a wide margin, but then again everything I used before was not truly competitive.  I definitely prefer it to the McIntosh house sound.  And it can wear different hats depending on cartridge, or DAC upgrades.  But I’ve never heard VAC, or VTL, or Ayre in my room/system. I do push back gently on the idea that ARC’s high def sound brings you closer to SS.  I hear finesse, air, levitation, dimensionality+ — yes, in a very resolving package — way more than the best SS, including the Progression integrated that I use in my home office.  IOW, don’t hold it against ARC that they achieved resolution levels we don’t expect from tubes (I put VTL and VAC in the same camp). If you need gobs of grip and impact, SS is my suggestion.  But I’m presupposing by your question that you know those basics.  
Thanks everyone.
@jgoldrick That is really impressive! Makes me want pass more... the detail but that slight warmth and richness. I find pass does a 3d effect really well too and hoping the pass pre accentuates that.
@richmos Actually there is a local BAT VK-23SE  for sale but the dealer asking way too much if its a used unit. I really like the look of the BAT tube amps, especially the rex 3, looks extremely well made... but of course very pricey (and guessing not good re-sale in case I change my mind).
@tinear123 Ya that does look intriguing, I bet great value for the money, one was recently sold though and the seller said he just didn't like the sound sadly.
@Verdantaudio I spoke with Kevin if he could have a VAC sig mk2 that is in the states looked over and possibly upgraded to SE status (obviously for a fee) and he declined since I Am in canada, told me to deal with Canadian dealer. Spoke with them and they said they would not do anything for me unless I bought from them. So VAC is out for me sadly.
@tomic601  I really like the build quality of the aesthetix, seems very clean and organized. There is a local calypso for sale but of course its risky as very little re-sale ability with that.
@redwoodaudio Will look into the EAR868. What other preamps did you compare it to? Did you like compare to pass pres ?

I lucked into the EAR from a local seller who had been downsizing pretty dramatically. Was only the second preamp I heard in my system (aside from some integrateds).  Wish I had more useful comparisons.

Considering the level of gear at issue, simply check out local dealers/retailers and listen, listen, listen,  to the gear. Have fun!

Happy Listening!
I have been running AR Ref 6 for a year and love it.  Mostly on vinyl programme.
I don't find the sound over SS like.  Sure it's tight accurate and clean, but it puts across the emotion in the music big-time.  But not with the character of lo-watt SE tube amps.
I know I can go to SE for $3,000 - I bought a year too soon.  I just don't want to be without the amp for the upgrade.
Audio Research Ref 6SE vs world question  If most actually experienced the Ref 6 SE flying in a real world system to many it offers a true priceless destination. 
Best, JohnnyR

Just to shed some light.... the Unlimited ($925- discontinued) was replaced by the Unlimited II ($1,350) and was in no way designed to compete with preamps in the $5K range (Pass Labs XP-10- $5,250). Thanks, Aric
@aricaudio The Aric Audio is a great preamp.  I was in no way trying to knock it, just noting that the Pass had warmth.
@jgoldrick - No, I didn't think you were. I was just adding some perspective for any of the readers that may make a determination based on this comparison. Thanks and best wishes! Aric
The problem, if it is one, is that now at that price point, you are in the rare field.  For this type of money, I have to be able to take a unit home for an at home demonstration in my system with A/B comparisons with my existing piece.

I've established a pretty good relationship with a couple of dealers and they either hand me a demonstration unit or take my credit card information (security) and let me take it home.

I understand that some dealers don't do this, but maybe they could charge a minimal fee for this service if they are cautious?  

I've gone from Audio Research SP 9, SP9MKII, SP-11, REF 3, REF 5SE, REF 6, to REF10.  I heard the Retubed REF 3 vs the REF 5, REF 5SE and the REF 6.  Let me just say that the REF 3 still to this day holds it's own vs many of the top pre-amps today.  The difference between the REF3 and REF5 was not great enough to justify a purchase.  However, I did hear enough of a positive difference between the REF 3 and the REF 5SE.  Audio Research offered me such a deal on trade in of my REF 5SE towards a REF 6 that I simply couldn't pass it up.

Then I was thinking of upgrading the REF 6 to a REF 6SE and paying the $3000 upgrade fee.  My dealer friend offered me such a deal on his demonstration REF 10 with a really nice price on my REF 6 that I ended up with a REF 10.  Go figure.  

I stayed with Audio Research not because there aren't others that can match or beat them (hard to do), but because they make great equipment, The dealers I know carried and supported them (support is important to me).  I like the sound  and Audio Research, like Kilpsch, Martin Logan, Atmosphere and some others will support and repair even the older equipment.  I like that.

I've only heard the REF 6 vs Boulder, Ayre, luxman, McIntosh, and a few others in direct comparisons.  You really can't go wrong with Audio Research or most of the ones that others have listed previously.  Those are some nice pre-amps.

The Dan D'Agostino pre-amp is simply awesome also.  I tried to hear the Atmosphere pre-amp at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest but the person doing the demonstration simply would not shut up and play music.  We had to leave. I was very disappointed as I really wanted to hear Ralph's equipment.  

Take as much time as you can to demo the equipment in your pride point.  There really is some great equipment out there and don't fall for the solid state vs tube crap.  There are some outstanding solid state pre-amps out there.  Just as there are some outstanding tube equipment out there.

But, back to my original point, the dealer(s) should allow (via credit car, demo, etc.) potential serious buyers to do a few day demo of the equipment in their home system.  Steve at Stereo Design (before he retired) would take my credit card information and either ship the piece to me or I would drive down to San Diego and take it home  to listen.  he knew that if I really liked something, there was a good chance I would buy from him.

Randall of Optimal Enchantment is the same way.  One you establish a good relationship with him and if he has a demo unit available.   

at this level, I have not seen jaw dropping differences in sound quality of these excellent pieces.  

The REF 6, REF 6SE are really excellent.  The REF 10 on the other hand is still one of the very best I've heard.


good to hear your journey through the arc ref series linestages

i have kept my ref 3 after all these years... did not see the cost-benefit of going higher in the line, especially as it is not my only linestage, and i use it only in all balanced applications
The Reference 6se is excellent.  My go to SS pre when I really want a hard core comparison with tubes is the SST Ambrosia Preamp.  Loaded with features,  it doesn't sound like tubes, yet,  it does have a flare, a tube like quality,  smooth, detailed, excellent soundstage and loaded with world class performance in several features.  
If you like the AR Ref 6SE, I would recommend the SST Ambrosia as a comparison.  Warning, the Ambrosia needs a couple hundred hours of signal passing through it for break in if new and then just leave it on.  Beautiful pre that passes through the source quite honestly.   
I had the opportunity to spend a few hours listening to the REF6SE in a system with the Vandersteen Kento's and the Vandersteen M5-HPA monoblock amplifiers. For the first time I heard Richard's amps sound as good as the Aesthetix's amps on his speakers. This system, which also included an Ayre QX-5 DAC, made the speakers disappear and performers sound like they were in the room.

I have heard this system before the REF6SE replaced an LS-28 but it never sounded like this. The detail, the musicality and the bass were amazing. And the voices!
If you have Vandersteen speakers and Richard's amps you need to hear this preamp!
Seems like arc and vac are AMONG the best tube production linestages.

^^ fify ^^
Just heard a friend’s Allnic M3000 or something tube preamp and it was really nice!  Thing weighed over 50 lbs and had terrific bass and clarity.

Nobody mentioned Allnic yet so here you go.
I would love to know if anyone has opinions between the Allnic L3000 mk2 / L4000 and the AR REF3 preamp.
@redwoodaudio Allnic quite pricey though right? I wonder if there is something cheaper than ARC that can compete well with it sonically.

Post removed 
Post removed 

When I moved away from my integrated tube amp I ended up introducing some “life” back into my systems by moving to a Cary SLP-05 with upgrade NOS tubes.  I’ve had about a year and still very happy.