Audio Research Sold

The McIntosh Group has just sold Audio Research to the TWS Enterprise LLC.  It will be interesting what direction ARC will go in under it's new ownership.


Every company that’s ever produced a product for sale has had hit or misses. At the end of the day, it’s about what one like or dislikes. I do have McIntosh and Audio Research products. I love the McIntosh Current tuners and there old MC2105 solid state from 1977-78 but I do love the Audio Research amplifier and preamplifier if it is tube. Example; I do own an Audio Research Reference 250SE Monoblock amplifiers and a McIntosh MR85 Tuner. Some companies do things better than others.

Every company that’s ever produced a product for sale has had hit or misses.
No, many companies never succeed in making a "hit". But perhaps we are talking past each other. I am talking about iconic stand-the-test-of-time products. 
There are countless companies that have risen to the top and then disappeared or lost all of their reputation due to changes of ownership or the death of the founder. In fact, it is the natural course of things and the exceptions are few and far between. 
I think this is a now a pivotal moment for ARC. IMHO, the loss of Ward Fiebiger was huge and since his death, the product launches have been more about style rather than innovation. Saying that "amplifier design is limited to only so many circuit designs and is not rocket science" ignores the fact that incremental changes in parts quality continue to occur. With each change in parts, there is an art to coaxing out the best possible sound. It takes a very rare corporate identity or corporate leader to make that pursuit the absolute number one priority. 
ARC's prices have always been high but not at the crazy high level of some other product lines. If it is true that ARC has not been very profitable lately, it would be understandable given the level of hand assembly and QC right here in the USA by mostly long-standing employees. 


We repair and upgrade both ARC and Mc based on 40+ years of experience. Since Mc has gone to hybrids and multilayer circuit boards, they have become less reliable and much more difficult to repair. For example, in recent integrateds and amps using the VT 120-150 series valves, if the valve fails it can often put a pulse through the driver that is 5x more voltage than it can handle causing it to fail. It can get worse with multi-layer boards. Hence a costly repair replacing the driver and adding a protection diode if the customer wishes. Sometimes the board traces melt in addition. Then the real fun starts....

MC could but do not protect the SS drivers with a $0.05 diode per valve- simple, no? - bad engineering design leaving out this textbook protection.

Just my $0.05.
Is this true of current era ARC such as my Ref 150 SE too? IIRC, an arcing tube will take out one resistor that is fairly easy to replace. It is also my understanding that ARC refuses to resort to fail-safe protection based on their belief that all such devices degrade sound quality. From what I can see when I remove the cover to check bias, the circuit boards are high quality single layer and the circuit is fairly simple and the paths are short-so much so that getting access to the bias pots is not easy due to the tubes being so close. 
I already addressed the questionable path McIntosh has taken above. Your comments don't surprise me in the least. I am cautiously optimistic that the new ownership will be a good thing for the future of ARC. 
I am a former bicycle racer that still eats and breathes all things cycling. For every Pinarello remaining at the forefront of engineering innovation, there are four Masi's that have completely sold out their once iconic status for the sake of mass-marketing and peddling mediocrity, 
To those who listed my post in their comments:

When I visited the AR manufacturing line in the 1970's, what I saw was a group of nice ladies (mostly) going through what Mr. Johnson told me were the "best" components from each manufacturer. They measured them (supposedly the manufacturer or someone in the supply line had done this already to make sure AR only received the "best of the best" parts) and then discarded (returned) a number of them for not being up to AR standards.

So, despite pre-qualification of the individual parts, AR people were even MORE stringent than their suppliers in picking the individual parts that went into each item they produced.

From a business standpoint, this is obviously expensive--labor, returns, specifying only the "best" (by measurement) parts even be sent to them.  Thus, the $595.00 (then $650.00 and then $695.00) SP-3 pre-amps did not fail EVER under my watch.  I personally installed A-1 kits sent from the factory to many of them as the upgrades became available and none of them ever failed either.

Since this was a comparatively low-volume operation--back then, Lyric Hi Fi in NYC was their biggest dealer.  Mr. Johnson, or it might have been Wendell, told me they sold about 13 of their SP-3 pre-amps/month.  We sold about 2 in my small shop.  Given that there were fewer than 30 dealers in those days, it would not have been that hard to control total quality using such techniques.  Only 1 product from Audio Research ever arrived DOA at my shop, whereas most products from places like Nakamichi, a good product, and Phase Linear, an interesting product line, usually failed within a few weeks of purchase and had to be returned for repair.

SO, hopefully there will be a nice set of products coming out from them soon, and yes, changing a component or two in the signal path DOES change the "sound" as noted above.  This, I suppose, is why the dedication in the early days to only using the "best of the best" parts was Mr. Johnson's way of making sure each of his items were produced exactly as he designed them. 

Designs change, and components change, but as I posted, there are only so many paths to glory in tube-based consumer audio.  And yes, there were some items from them that were not as well done as others.  We can only hope that all their future products will be as good as they can be once again.  And, it remains a business, so must be profitable at the end of the day to endure, right?