Help me choose an Audio Research preamp/line stage (Please?)

Setup: This will be feeding an ARC VS110 which will drive a pair of Vandersteen Quatro loudspeakers.

Sound preferences: Clean and high resolution, but skewing toward tube tonality and away from solid state tonality

Budget: $2,500, but possible to stretch to $3,500 if really necessary

Options: The following are currently available on hifishark, and have piqued my interest:


The SP-6 and SP-8 seem like the best value, delivering quality 80's ARC tube sound, without the cost and bulk of the SP-10 double chassis.

The SP-9 comes up often, and is inexpensive, but seems to have mixed reviews. I'm dubious about the sound quality.

The SP-10 and SP-11 are the clear kings and queens. I could have either for ~$3,500. Besides the cost, I am concerned about the double chassis. It would be awkward to fit into my current setup, though not impossible. In theory I could get a Reference 2, but it would be closer to $4,000, and would really be stretching my budget.

The LS-25 seems to be very well regarded, especially the Mk. 2 which eliminates half the tubes. I'm a bit concerned that it would sound too "solid state" for me, and also it's currently only available with a black faceplate, which I strongly don't prefer. However, it is the most modern option, and offers balanced connections.

Notable exceptions include the LS-5, which, despite being universally praised, is currently unavailable on the market. Similarly, the LS-16 is currently unavailable.


Please help me narrow down my options!


I’m actually coming from a Schiit Freya+, with a Pangea Signature cord. I have Sylvania chrome sides from the mid 50’s snd RCA milspec from 1948.

I’m upgrading to ARC because I’m driving Vandersteen Quatro speakers, and ARC is one of a couple brands specifically recommended by Vandersteen. Also, I once owned some ARC equipment and liked it.

Oh, also, I’m capable of replacing capacitors, resistors, plugs, etc myself, so I’m not worried about reliability issues. If a unit needs work, I can do that.

@_rossbower You do have to be careful with the regulators in the SP10 and SP11. They are easily damaged and prone to oscillation.

I have a SP9mkll and have done a little tube rolling and a few other things.  It is still my go to after all these years. 
All the best.