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 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.

I have quattros and while the ARC stuff is definitely good it all suffers from use of global negative feedback. Also amps and preamps eeds to match well. I tried an ARC ref 3 in my system when I had Rogue m180s and it sounded awful; tinny and thin. I spoke with Johnny at audio connection and he said of course it did because the amp and preamp were a poor match. Admittedly, by using all ARC gear you won't have that particular problem but I'd also say you'll be leaving something on the table. I did a fairly exhaustive search on preamps and landed on a ModWright ls100. It's 6sn7 based which I really like as it has that tube feel but isn't syrupy or rolled off. It's crisp and clean and an excellent preamp with no global feedback. I paid 2500ish used. I then concentrated on amplifiers. Zero global feedback was the goal. Vandersteen makes their own now but they were cost prohibitive. Johnny steered me away from ARC as he really felt the zero feedback was key. I found a used pair of Atma-Sphere Ma-1s. Holy crap. The change was not subtle. This system with zero negative feedback sounds almost as good as the system Johnny has with a Ref6se, the Vandersteen amps and Kentos. My feeling is the difference is the speakers, not the electronics. 

I know there's a lot of cache in having ARC gear but for me, particularly given the cost, it's not the stuff. 

I have heard that Vandersteen's like no negative feedback. I was considering Rogue Audio for a time in part because I believe they are very conservative with negative feedback.

@dmaddox77 I had a brand new LS-28 that I broke in, then sold it and bought a used REF6.  It was better, but less so than I thought it would, or should be (~10-15%?).  I then had my REF6 upgraded to a REF6SE and it is no doubt better better, but again, like about ~10%.  The word was, the LS-28SE was about equal to a REF6.  I haven't heard one, or a comparison, but I can imagine it's true.  If it is true, then definitely a LS28SE over a REF5 or REF5SE.