My Audio Research experience

To all you goners out there, here is my experience with Audio Research.

Approximately four years ago I purchased an AR Reference 75 power amp.  It was on special at the time and I bought if from a dealer in Brisbane, Australia.

I used the amp for the rear channels of my home theatre system which I only use occasionally because I travel a lot for work and I mainly listen to music.

One night I switched the amp on and a white flash and burning smell came from the amplifier and it didn’t power up.  I thought it may have been a tube, and because I had no spares, I reported the problem to my Brisbane dealer and via email to Audio Research.  A copy of the reply sent from AR on the 5th March 2016 follows:

'Thank you for choosing Audio Research and the REF75. I suspect you had an internal tube arc. The internal tube short can also take out a plate or screen resistor. So just replacing the tube will not fix this problem. The resistors also need to be replaced. You can confirm this by checking the bias for this tube. If the bias reads zero, a resistor is open.  This is an easy repair that our distributor in Australia can do.

The SE update for the REF75 comes with a complete new set of tubes including a new set of KT150s.  This is the only way it is sold. If you so choose, Our Australian distributor can also install this SE upgrade for you while the amp is in for repair.'

I then proceeded to order some more tubes to see if a replacement tube would fix the problem.

I ordered the following tubes:

2 x Electro-Harmonix 6H30Pi Gold with Matched Triodes (Balanced)

4 x KT150 Power Vacuum Tube - [Matching (10+ tubes)]

4 x KT120 Power Vacuum Tubes - [Matching (10+ tubes)]

When they arrived, I tried the new tubes but they didn’t fix the problem as the amplifier failed to switch on.  I then contacted my dealer and freighted the amplifier to Brisbane for repair.  This was done in June of last year.  I included all of the above tubes in the package in case they were needed.  I also would have liked the amp to be upgraded to SE status using the tubes supplied if possible.

In September/October last year I enquired about the status of the repair and before Christmas enquired again. After again emailing AR, I was contacted by the Australian Distributor who told me that the service agent in Brisbane had been trying to get parts for the wrong amplifier and that the amplifier would be transported to Melbourne for repair.  I asked them to get me a price for the upgrade using my tubes.

In January/February of this year, I was contacted by the Australian Distributor and had to supply proof of purchase because there was a dispute over whether the amplifier was in fact under warranty when the fault occurred.  I again asked about getting the upgrade using the supplied tubes which were still with the repair agent in Brisbane.  Eventually I was told that I could have the upgrade using AR tubes only, for the heavily discounted price of $3,000 Australian.  Nothing like gouging your customers!!!!!!  Especially when I could have bought a small car for the original cost of the amplifier in Australia.

I chose to just get the original amplifier repaired under warranty which I was told needed a new main circuit board.  This week my amplifier finally arrived back home after nearly 12 months away for a repair under warranty.  The original tubes have been put in a box with ‘Faulty Old Tubes,’ written on the box.  The tubes I sent with the amplifier have not been returned, and no replacement tubes have been included.

I am amazed that the initial fault destroyed six tubes, so I have asked how the Distributor tested the tubes to determine that they were faulty.  I am now left with an amplifier that doesn’t work and 10 expensive vacuum tubes missing somewhere in Australia.  I am also left with a conundrum, if when I finally get my tubes back and use them to ensure the amplifier works, what happens if it doesn’t.  Will AR then blame me for any fault that occurs on power up because I haven’t purchased tubes from them at their heavily marked up prices????

For me I will never touch another Audio Research product for as long as I reside on this planet.  I will be telling all my audiophile friends and putting this report on every forum that will publish it.  Best of luck for the future Audio Research and may you drown in your policy mess!!!

All I'm asking is which car would you buy next time?

Well, duh, obviously I would buy car B the next time. There is nothing more important in a car than a properly functioning CD Player/Radio!!

Alrighty then, I think that is enough with the car analogies. ;^)
This Audio Research story is all too familiar and it both angers and saddens me - sad on behalf of the purchaser and angry because occurrences like this this scare customers away from vacuum tube electronics as well as esoteric audio in general.

Remember, that during WW-II, the military used vacuum tubes for their field communications. Circuit designs can be elegant, simple, functional and reliable if the designer so chooses and there are many purveyors of vacuum tube electronics who adopt this philosophy with no sonic penalties.

Thom @ Galibier Design
thazeldean, you just lost all creditability.  Now I think ARC, the dealer, or whoever probably kept your tubes because your a whiner.

Bingo, Thom. Different designers use the same tube (and other electronic parts) in their respective circuits differently, some using parts way "over-rated" (able to handle much greater voltages than they are asked to in a particular circuit, for instance), others using parts rated just barely above what they are called upon to handle in the circuit they are in. Roger Modjeski (yes him again) of Music Reference says that while building the amps for the Beveridge ESL Loudspeaker, he learned that using parts rated twice what they need to be in a circuit is not enough of a margin, as voltage surges can and sometimes do occur. He started using parts rated five or even ten times what the circuit required, to build long, trouble-free life into an amp. He fuses each and every output tube in his power amps so that when a tube goes bad (as they all eventually do), or even a new tube has a short (not unheard of), the fuse will blow, preventing the amp from self-destructing. When that happens, you need only replace the fuse and the bad tube, not have surgery performed on your amp.

Audio Research chooses not to fuse the output tubes in their power amps, which is why when a tube goes bad in one it takes some of the amps parts (from a single resistor to a complete circuit board) along with it. ARC feels that there is a sonic penalty paid for fusing output tubes, and chooses not to. That’s their choice, and of the owners of ARC power amps. But those owners should be aware of that design element, the possible consequences resulting from it, and the likelyhood of repairs being needed every time an output tube goes bad. To me, building a power amp that way is like building a car that, when a tire blows, it takes out the cars suspension. Instead of having to replace only the tire, you must also repair the cars suspension. No thanks.