For ARC lovers, Problems?

I had a ref 6 which I liked a lot and had no problems with. I upgraded to the ref 10 which sounded appreciably better but I ended up with a number of problems that I could no longer tolerate. I have a new pre which is very good but is not nearly as exciting as the audio research sound.
From your experience with Audio Research is this a good idea going back to the ref 6 with the hope of upgrading it to the SE? Or will I regret it due to reliability issues? There are pages on Audiogon concerning ARC reliability issues and I don't want to jump feet first into another expensive audio quicksand.
Any opinions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you.

What kind of problems did you have with the Ref 10?  
Couldn't the factory rectify the problem?
Tubes would continually blow. I had an authorized dealer fix it and the factory as well. I finally had to give up. I must say it was a glorious sounding piece of equipment. I miss it but I only had it half the time. 
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I haven't had reliability issues with ARC equipment even after many decades of ownership. It sounds like you purchased your ARC gear used, so perhaps that's part of the problem.
For a great sounding and reliable tube preamp try listening to Nagra Classic or Luxman (CL-38 or CL-1000)

I used to own Audio Research and now own Luxman

I have owned ARC gear for over 30 years and have not had any reliability issues. Some years ago I had a 6550 go that took out a resistor, but that is about it. I have had absolutely no problems with my Ref 5se going through tubes. My Ref 2se either. The Ref 10 was probably just a fluke. Maybe a poor batch of tubes or something. Was the Ref 10 sent in for service to the ARC factory? They are usually very thorough.

 I have had other gear in my system from time to time but always went back to ARC. There is just nothing that compares to the sound of their preamps.  I would go for the Ref 6se if you can. Long term I doubt you will be satisfied with something else.

I have been using ARC products for over 30 years and had almost no problems, and great service the one time I had to return a piece for repair (which was due to an error on my part).
@roxy1927, you mentioned that tubes continually blew.  What repairs were done by the authorized rep?

In my opinion, to make a blanket determination that Audio Research products are not reliable is simply not accurate.  You will see some Audio Research haters on the internet, and some may have legitimate concerns/complaints.  The vast majority I've seen however, were just haters.

I've had over the decades many Audio Research products and many others by other manufacturers.  I currently own the REF 10 and I can tell you that there are not many that are even close to the sound quality of the REF 10.

I don't know where you bought your REF 10, or if it was used, abused, etc.  But, in my opinion, I would send it back to Audio Research or a better Authorized Rep repair center and get them to really go over it and repair it.  In good conscience, you can't sell your REF 10 until you get it repaired correctly anyway, so what do you have to lose?

Also, for the naysayers and haters, as an Electrical/Electronics Engineer, I can tell you that @##$$$ happens.  parts break, things fail.  Doesn't mean the manufacture is terrible. Just like with cars, sometimes a part passes inspection and fails anyway.  Get it fixed.  you don't have to buy a brand new car because a part failed. replace the part.

Now, if the manufacturer gave me trouble repairing an item, then I would reconsider dealing with that manufacturer in the future.  But, an Authorized Rep repair center is not the manufacturer.  

I've had one problem with an Audio Research product.  on one of my REF 250 amps a tube blew spectacularly. It took out other components (not just a resistor) and cost me around $2000 or so to repair.  Turns out that I had tried to save money by purchasing (matched tubes) from a well known tube supplier and well guess what?  They didn't pass Audio Research requirements.  When I took the amps to George Meyer AV in Los Angeles, (nearby to me) for repair.  They are an Authorized Audio Research repair facility by-the-way, the repaired the unit, measured all the tubes on both amps and gave me the technical sheets on each and it showed clearly that the "matched tubes" were close to what was required.  They were, in fact well out of Audio Research required specifications. 

About half the price of purchasing from Audio Research, but lesson learned.  Won't do that again.  At least if I had purchased the tubes from Audio Research, they would have repaired the amp for free because their supplied tubes would have caused the failure.

Replaced all the tubes on both amps (after the repair) with Audio Research supplied tubes and haven't had any issues for quite some time.

Now maybe for low level tubes, purchasing from another supplier may work, but for power tubes? won't go down that road again.  However, my point is, did I blame Audio Research?  no!

After repair by a repair show that knows their stuff, did I have any further problems?  no!

How many of us have taken a car to a service center or independent repair center only keep having problems because it turns out the service center or independent repair center didn't know what they were doing?  Was it the manufacturers fault?  not really.

Audio Research make high end, excellent equipment and keeps people working and receiving paychecks in these troubling times. 

Keep that REF 10 and get it repaired properly.  you would be hard pressed to find another pre-amp that is better.  They are out their, but very rare.  Plus, as I mentioned, you have to get it repaired properly to sell it anyway.  So, do it right.

I too have a Ref 6 and love it. I bought it new from an authorized dealer. Same with my Ref 150SE. I have owned ARC gear for over 12 years with a VS110 prior to the new amp and preamp.
No such problems. The VS110 was known for blowing resistors but they were easy to have repaired.
I believe ARC’s customer service went downhill once sold. Now that it is back in previous ownership’s hands, Trent Suggs of TWS, things are likely to get better.
If I did not own ARC, I would likely go with VAC instead. I don’t agree with ebm that VAC has better sound. Different, not better. The current ARC sound is very  neutral and yet precise and liquid. I have listened to VAC and it is a bit warmer, a bit less precise. "Precise" is not a common audio term. By it, I mean more like state of the art solid state in terms of detail and deep powerful bass and yet not dry or high-fi-ish. Better company, yes when McIntosh owned ARC. Now? Remains to be seen.
The matched tubes were NOT close to Audio Research technical requirements.  


By-the-way, for the record, I like VAC, D'Agostino, Triangle Art and Atmosphere products also.  amoung others.

the fun part would be to do A/B comparisons of each pre-amp in the same system or better yet, in your home system.  matching the levels and switching only that component.  nothing else.



Mixed bad on AR stuff. Told a buddy to brick his ~12 yr old CD player that needed repair.
What is the new pre you're using as a replacement for the ARC?
(Sorry if i missed that in the chain)
I can tell you that audio research gear made prior to 2000 is a very awesome product and the company founder was still directly involved at that time. The sound and build quality is better than the new arc stuff.
Ive been struggling with an ARC problem for over a year. A brand new set of ARC tubes keeps blowing one at a time, and the tube power supply has had issues too.

ARC has been gracious about taking care of it, but its been on multiple trips to the factory.

Never had a problem before, but since it started with the last retube, its been a constant issue. 

I purchased a Pass Labs amp in its place, but I so miss the ARC amp.
I own several ARC pieces, and just recently sold a REF40.  The main stuff is all current REF SE series, except for the 160S.  Now, the 160S uses fuses to protect the resistors/tubes (I think), and I have blown two fuses over the last year, for reasons unknown.  I don’t ever listen above 90 dB, and rarely above 81-82.  Service has been great both times, and it’s a cheap, easy swap.  And they get credit for having tube health indicators now, without which I never would have known of the [inaudible] problem.  Nonetheless, those were annoying episodes.  OP, the REF 6SE has been a rock solid, very high performer.  
i offer my own experience as a data point

i currently own the following arc gear:

ref 3 linestage
vt100-2 amp
ref 75se amp
ref 110 amp
vt 60 amp
100.2 ss amp
v70 amp (2 of them)

in the past, i have also owned

ref 2-2 linestage
vt100-3 amp
ls26 linestage
ph 3 se phono stage
vt 50 amp
vs 110 amp
vsi 60 int amp
ca 50 int amp

tubes have worn out and been replaced, i have sent some units back to factory for upgrades and checks after long idle/storage times

but i have never had single malfunction, i have owned arc gear since 1990

this is not say that their most recent designs hasn’t gotten more complex and there might well be some issues... just that it hasn’t happened to me once, after 31 years owning multiple multiple pieces
From the original post:

"From your experience with Audio Research is this a good idea going back to the ref 6 with the hope of upgrading it to the SE?"

Does anyone know if ARC is still doing upgrades?  I was put on the list to upgrade my LS28 to LS28SE when they announced the upgrade program last June.  I inquired about it in December and was told that my upgrade would likely be scheduled for the first or second week of January.  I inquired again this month and have gotten no response.  I called and the greeting says to send an email if you have questions about service which, of course, I already had.

If anyone has any information about the upgrade program that they would like to share I would certainly appreciate hearing it. 
I've had little trouble with six ARC pieces owned over more than 40 years.
In that time all my pre- and phono amps had been ARC until I wanted to upgrade my phono- last year and found  almost no ARCs now run true balanced.  I bought the van den Hul Grail SB and love it.

I also run a Ref 6.  No plan to upgrade.

I still also use an SP10, way ahead of its time and perhaps their most iconic pre-amp.
(I meant mixed bag, not bad above)

Only thing I've heard that's close to your issue is that they've made the decision to stop offering upgrades to their Ref Phono 2 to SE now that the Ref Phono3 SE is out. 
I'm mostly a CJ guy and never have this kind of problem with them. For instance you can upgrade to Teflon caps forever on older units from what I've seen. 

I'm very glad that a lot of people on this thread have had no reliability problems, but if you do I you'll see what the others are talking about. 
OP, it would still be helpful to know what you replaced your ARC with to understand why your unhappy at this point. 
JRW 1971
You mentioned your fuses blew twice on the 160S and the 160 was sent in for service and all was taken care of. I thought the new fuse arrangement on the latest series of ARC amps, like you have, wouldn’t require service if one of the fuses used to protect the amp blew , (when there is a tube failure.) Just replace the open fuse, and your good to go.......apparently not, unless I misunderstood your comments above....
ALL manufacturers have issues occasionally, just like all auto manufacturers or anyone who makes complicated products.

For example, EVERY Phase Linear amp I ever sold failed soon after purchase.  Same with almost all Nakamichi products, which tended to fail after about a week or two, and Crown was not much better.

It happens.  The very first ARC D-150 shipped to my shop arrived DOA.  I had to pay shipping back, by the way...Bill ran a tight ship when it came to money!

My suggestion is to ask ARC WHY, after their factory service, the product keeps failing.  If they have a reasonable answer, fix that issue.  If not, they are a pretty good company, and you may have purchased a lemon.  See your dealer and they will work something out with ARC if they are any kind of dealer at all.

Good luck!

I sold Audio Research stuff for 30 yrs. Never had an underlying problem as you are describing.
One thing that comes to mind is to measure the voltage coming out of your socket receptacle the unit is plugged into.
See if it is truly 120 or something different.
My sister's new boyfriend is getting rid of his 6-series BWM because of the cost of maintenance (I did the same with my 528e, for the same reason). I couldn't help but relate that to the cost of owning ARC electronics.

ARC enthusiasts, please don't over-react. I hold Bill Johnson in very high regard (not just as a designer/manufacturer of hi-fi products, but as a human being. I consider myself fortunate in merely having being in his presence on a number of occasions), but low-cost maintenance is not a hallmark---generally speaking---of ARC products.

One must factor in the cost of maintenance when evaluating the price-to-performance value of hi-fi products. The rub is, the sound of ARC products is seductive enough to lead some consumers to ignore that fact. Which is---imo---fine. I myself have owned seven pieces of ARC over the past 48 years (omg, I'm old ;-), one currently.

God bless you, William Z. Johnson.

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"Does anyone know if ARC is still doing upgrades?  I was put on the list to upgrade my LS28 to LS28SE when they announced the upgrade program last June.  I inquired about it in December and was told that my upgrade would likely be scheduled for the first or second week of January.  I inquired again this month and have gotten no response.  I called and the greeting says to send an email if you have questions about service which, of course, I already had.

If anyone has any information about the upgrade program that they would like to share I would certainly appreciate hearing it."

I wrote the above back in February and I owe Audio Research an update.  I finally decided to call again and speak to an actual person rather than follow the instructions to send an email.  When I did speak to someone in service I was told to expect an email in a couple of weeks about sending my LS28 in and, in fact, got that email considerably quicker than that.  The bottom line is my pre was upgraded to an SE in short order at the announced price and the upgrade was definitely worth it.

Have since had a great time doing a shootout between the LS28SE, a PS Audio BHK Signature preamp and a Bakert Labs Rhumba Extreme 1.3.  Great fun.

Kudos to ARC.
i agree w @bdp24

arc gear, esp. power amps, have a non trivial cost of operation over time

tubes cost money, and arc amps need very well sorted and matched tubes, buying tube sets from arc you pay a 'luxury tax' of sorts, just like owners of ferraris and porsches do when it time to service them ...

worth it though... the sound is truly wonderful

Have since had a great time doing a shootout between the LS28SE, a PS Audio BHK Signature preamp and a Bakert Labs Rhumba Extreme 1.3.  Great fun.

so you gonna tell us???  :)
Very interesting comparisons.  As I mentioned, I received my LS28 back from Audio Research after it was upgraded to SE and, before putting it in the system where it normally resides, decided to compare it to the BHK Signature in my other system (primary source was a VPI Prime with a Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC ☆ ES, Bob's Sky, PS Audio Stellar phono pre, BHK Signature 300 monoblock amps, Magneplanar 3.7i's).  I found that the ARC seemed to have more transient detail and, while the image width was similar, the ARC had more apparent depth.

I had read a review of the Backert Labs Rhumba Extreme 1.3 in Enjoy The Music and thought that it might get me closer to what I liked about the ARC without having to spend close to $10K.  As it turns out there is a Backert Labs dealer within driving distance of me (Dr. Vinyl -  Dr Vinyl was kind enough to loan me his Rhumba Extreme 1.3 to try out in my system.  The bottom line is that I bought a Rhumba Extreme 1.3.  In my system, the Rhumba Extreme presented a soundstage that was similar to the LS28SE spatially.  And like the LS28SE, the Extreme seemed more detailed with a deeper soundstage.  Even more striking, though, was how quiet the Extreme was in my system and, probably related, how the Extreme seemed to offer more dynamic contrast between loud and soft passage in the music.

The outcome of these comparisons is that I purchased a Backert Labs Rhumba Extreme 1.3 from Dr. VInyl and have been enjoying it greatly.  Bottom line, though, is all three are really good preamps, and it may come down to the system and individual preferences.  Which is another way of saying, YMMV.
you did you due diligence.  You actually were able to compare in your system three pretty nice pre-amps.  That is great.  You were hearing only the swapped component in the same system, in the same room.  It doesn't get better than that.

I'm glad you are happy.  That is cool.

"sigh! spell check. Your due diligence."

That probably epitomizes "due diligence"!