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 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.