Should I Sell My ARC REF 6 and Get A Pass Labs XP-32

So here's the question.  I love my ARC REF 6.  It's a great piece of equipment.  But  lately, I have been thinking that maybe I should switch from tubes to a Pass Labs XP-32, as I don't want to worry about replacing tubes in the future (like 5-10 years from now -- I know that there is plenty of stock now and I have a spare set anyway) as I approach retirement age.  Of course, other than buying a Pass Labs XP-32 and putting it into my system to see how it sounds, I am at the mercy of professional reviewers. The rest of my system: I have a Pass Labs 250.8 (so I think that there would be great synergy with the XP-32), MSB Discrete DAC with Premier Power Base and Wilson Sabrina X speakers, and a full loom of Shunyata cables.  Will the XP-32 be an improvement over the REF 6 for my system?  Should I sell the REF 6 and get an XP-32?


Can you buy XP-32 before selling Ref 6? If one thing given in this scenario is impeccable synergy between Pass Labs components. If your goal is to not deal with tubes, you’re on a right path by pursuing XP-32. I have owned several ARC components in the past including Ref 6 and I don’t miss them at all. 4 plus years of SS electronics, so glad I made move from ARC. 

@lalitk, I suppose that I can.  I just wonder if the change is worth it sonically, as I have only heard great things about the XP-32 but haven’t heard it anywhere, especially in my system, obviously.  Of course, the REF 6 always gets great reviews and it was a step up from my DAC to amp setup and a big step up from the VAC Renaissance V that Itried, as well as the ARC LS28SE.  What did you replace your REF 6 with?


I switched to Accuphase E-650. Like you I made my progression from LS28SE to Ref 6 as well but It wasn’t a giant leap from LS28SE as I was expecting. That’s when I start exploring other options and went through few auditions that included Luxman, DartZeel, T+A, Esoteric before choosing Accuphase. Having owned Leben and Shindo components in the past, Accuphase turned out to be the next best thing with Class A watts purity and warmth of tubes.

Personally, I would not.


I have been a Pass fan for frothy years. First moving from Pass preamps, which have never been nearly as good as their amps, to Audio Research. Then moving to Audio Research.


Pass makes great equipment. But most folks move towards more natural and musical gear over time. So, away from solid state and towards tubed gear… so, towards Audio Research, Conrad Johnson… etc. 


But, it is completely a matter of taste. I would audition first. The Ref 6 is a world class preamp.

@ghdprentice, thanks.  I agree that the REF 6 is world class, definitely nothing wrong with it for me. But how about head to head?  I've heard great things about the XP-32 as being even better than the REF 6, especially when paired with Pass Labs amps . . .  Hence the dilemma!

Perhaps some simple reasoning.  “I love my ARC REF 6.  It's a great piece of equipment..”

you have achieved something many of us strive for!

A piece of equipment that in the context of your system, you LOVE! But like many relationships, there’s the “grass is always greener” syndrome. “I love my wife but….” lol. You may be looking for an excuse justifying what may turn into a dalliance. You are worried about changing tubes in five or ten years? AND, you admit to having replacements on hand! Yeeeow!

What about capicitors etc? I suppose you could try the Pass Labs unit before dumping your current “love” but you intimate it may be a one or the other situation. A real dilemma. I’ve faced the audiophile’s wandering ear problem. Maybe we, in this hobby, are destined to forever wander…unfulfilled! 

@johnlnyc, LOL! so true.  Always looking for better.  I like the way my system is right now, but I want a deeper soundstage.  It may be a function of the size of my dedicated room (11x11x11), but I would like one more preamp upgrade before I retire or semi-retire and get flack for spending so much money on components, LOL!  And if I get a new preamp, it's going to be solid state.  The XP-32 seems to fit the bill and there is the fact that it is paired with a Pass Labs 250.8, so it seems like the obvious choice.  the only question is whether it will be a step up and it looks like the only way I will figure it out is by getting one and putting it into the system for a while and selling the one that isn't better.  in an ideal world, someone would have had both and can articulate the pros and cons of the switch . . .

Listen to Ayre and Luxman before making the transition.   I find them excellent counter points to Pass, especially if coming from tubes.


There is no substitute for trying a component in your system. I just glanced at used market…there appears to be couple of listings under 12K here at Audiogon. Go for it! 

I had the ARC Ref 6 in my systems for almost a month, courtesy of my buddy who let me audition it on its own and against my XP22. The amps are X260.8 mono blocks.

The Ref 6 is an amazing preamp. It throws a big, holographic soundstage with images that are slightly larger than life (this is both a Pro and a Con). Great combo with Pass amps. Natural sound, really nice.
With the XP22 in place of Ref 6, I get a more realistic presentation with soundstage nearly as big as Ref 6 but with images that are more lifelike. Better bass speed and definition (Ref 6 is a bit sloppy and wooly in the bass). Mids are, believe or not, slightly clearer with the XP22 and the highs are a bit sweeter/more extended. Volume control on XP22 with the X260.8 is more granular than on the higher gain Ref 6. With ARC you get bigger jumps in volume with each click. The XP22 has blacker, quieter background than the Ref 6.
I spent a good amount of time evaluating the Ref and comparing it to my XP22 to reveal these differences. Both preamps are excellent. In the end, I thought I would miss the Ref 6 but I really don’t.

To conclude, if I was to make the move up the preamp ladder, the XP32 would be at the top of my list.

@audphile1, thank you so much.  That is exactly the type of input I am looking for.  I understand that the XP-32 is also quite a step up from the XP22 as well.  It sounds like the differences were rather subtle, since you say that you spent a good amount of time comparing them in order to discern the differences.  I am wondering if even jumping to the XP32 will be more than a subtle change.  I originally was using my MSB DAC as a volume control.  The ARC LS28SE was lent to me by a dealer and I thought that there was very little if any discernible difference between it and the MSB.  Then I tried a VAC Renaissance Mk V, and slightly better than the ARC but again, not worth it.  Then I tried the ARC REF 6 and it was a definite improvement over the LS28SE and the VAC.  Sounds like I really need to just bite the bullet, put it in my system and sell the one I like less.  What are you using for speakers?

I tried this about a year or so ago. I traded my REF5SE in on an Ayre KX5-Twenty as I wanted to get away from the tube heat. Within 120 days I sold the Ayre and now have a LS28SE and am much happier. I never have heard any PASS gear except at Rocky Mtn Audio Fest so not a fair assessment. Although I may consider PASS should I look at new Amps. I guess my point is make sure you’re gonna be happy before you jump.

So... I have had the 250.8 for 3 years and like it. I have an XP10 mated to it and have had Focal 1038BE, Sopra 2, Harbeth 30's, Harbeth HLS5SH Super, Sabrina (not the X) most recently the Sasha 2. I then bought an ARC RE75SE- and love it. I loved it enough that I bought the ARC REG150SE- incredible amp. Then, because the ARC was an eye opener, I bought the ARC LS28- which blew away the Pass XP10 (the combo of the 150 SE and the LS28 was crazy good). The Pass set up is still very. very good- my take on the ARC though is that it's much faster, open, airy, bigger soundstage and dynamic- which you probably wouldn't expect from tubes- but- it is better than the Pass in my system. Good enough that my LS28 is with Kalvin at ARC  being upgraded to an LS28SE. I have three set's of spare tubes for the REF75SE and the 150 SE and will probably buy another set each for "back stock".  I kept the Pass 250.8 and the xp10 because they're really, really good and they're solid state. But, they'll sit on the sidelines while the ARC cranks the system and I'll use the Pass from time to time or in another system. I wouldn't rush to switch to the XP32, the ARC gear is really, really good and in my system it betters the Pass gear. 

I agree w Audphile1 on how the XP22 presents a realistic soundstage and incredible dynamics. I have mine paired w your same amp X250.8 and Sabrina X ‘s and the bass speed and volume control is sublime. 
I can only imagine how good the XP32 would sound. 


I’m going to say yes only if you sell me your Ref 6 for an absurdly low price.  Otherwise, you can buy another set of tubes now and throw them in a drawer until you need them.  

All the best.

@curiousjim, LOL!  Yeah I bought my REF 6 (not SE) with a full set of replacement tubes.

@sleeeepguy thanks for your input, especially since you and I have similar systems. The combo of the 250.8 and the Sabrina X's and the ARC REF 6 has been great for me.  I guess ultimately, I just have to put it in the system and see what my ears think!

@speedthrills, thanks for your input too!  Although the XP10 is way down the food chain from the XP32 and is probably not a fair comparison.  However, based on my own experience, I can tell you that the jump up to the REF 6 from the LS28SE was a big one for me. As usual, as you climb the latter, you typically get more of everything.  So if I ultimately go for the XP32, you should get my REF 6 with the spare tube set and sell your LS28SE! :)

@moto_man my speakers are Wilson Audio Sabrina. You can see my system with pictures in my profile.
One other finding worth mentioning…the preamp section of my Bricasti M3 DAC is very good. Yet the XP22 beat it in soundstage and musicality/engagement factor and it sounds more natural top to bottom. Running the DAC direct into amps was all about transparency and detail. But it was flat with less body and not as engaging compared to running the preamp. There’s synergy with running all Pass Labs amplification.

Also, I changed the Sovtek 6550 power tube to EH and that cleared things up a bit but I still preferred the XP22.

Hope this helps.

I’ve had the XP20 and I currently have ARC SS gear, the LS10 and D240.

The XP20 was honestly a straight gain tool no features to speak of, ultimately I sold it and moved to the musicality of the ARC set.

You may find you like both because they do different things to their music signal. Try to demo the XP32 without selling your ARC gear.

Good luck with your tests.


@OP. Given the way geopolitics are evolving, I would be concerned about the availability of 6H30 tubes. For what it's worth, I recently did an extensive A/B comparison of an AR Reference 2 Phonostage v a Pass XP 27. The Ref 2 was good - especially on simple material where it had that slightly larger than life presentation that I often hear in tube gear. But on anything more complex, the XP 27 was better - more detail, more refined tonally, and more dynamic.

That's a limited comparison in terms of the preamps, but it does give a bit of insight into as the AR Preamps and Pass Pres have a fairly consistent design philosophy, respectively. I have an XP32 and it's an excellent preamp and, obviously, works very well with the Pass power amps.


WOW - And there’s me thinking I had ’Valve (tube to you guys) Anxiety’! You’re worried about replacing them every 5→10 YEARS?!?!? I wish! Sounds like (no pun) you hardly ever switch you system on! I have a Ref 3, which I believe uses the same tube complement, and, using ARC recommended replacement period of 4000hrs for best SQ (although recently a correspondence from ARC said 2000hrs is best!!) I need to replace my set every TWO YEARS!! That costs me MORE than it does to run my car! 6H30 EH are c£70 each at the moment here in the UK, which is why I bought from VivaTubes over there at $60 each, and 6550WA’s are also becomming scarse and rapidly going up in price, mainly due to the ’Russian Problem’!

Back to your dilemma - due to my continued valve anxiety, I too am considering a change to an XP-20, even though I love the sound of the Ref 3 into my Threshold Stasis S300 II, and maybe a good or better match with an XP-20, into my Maggie 1.7i’s. But I cannot hear an XP-20 first, as I cannot buy an XP-20/22 before I sell the Ref 3 due to being a cash strapped pensioner. So I have a very similar situation to you, except I use my system a LOT more than you seem to do in that tiny tiny room of yours.

Good luck, and please repport back once you’ve listened to the XP-32.

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As @lalitk suggested, the only way to know for sure is to buy the Pass and compare with Ref 6 in your system. I’ve gone almost all-VAC here (across 2 systems), and STILL have trouble letting go of my Ref 6. I’ll post it for sale, then almost immediately regret that and take it down lol. It also feels like the current market is somewhat soft on Ref 6 - the 6SE goes for a lot more, and 5SE goes for not much less, which makes NO sense. A 6 is far closer to 6SE than 5SE, and it’s still upgradeable by ARC!

Agree, the Renaissance V simply wasn’t enough to compete. Even versus Master (at 2x cost), the Ref 6 gets some licks in - its rendition of bass frequencies is just perfect. The VAC preamps have more midrange clarity and "sparkle" (for lack of a better term), but versus a solid-state preamp, Ref 6 should find advantage in its (slight) fullness and sweetness there.

I still have no great anxiety about tube supply...and I'm in my 40s, and my main amps use 16x of KT88 plus 8x of 6SN7. Anyways, don’t sell the Ref 6 first!

Is moving from the ARC Ref 6 pre to the Pass Labs pre is a lateral move?  Like choosing between chocolate or strawberry at Baskin and Robins.  If so, it's a lot of trouble and money for a lateral move.  Yes, the two have differences but does one really outshine the other?  Think about moving up to a Gelato- or in Audio terms the next level up in preamps if wanting to make a change.

Or does the XP-32 already correlate to an ARC Ref 10 in sound quality? 

My Pass XP22 was my first foray into a dedicated pre-amp, and a big reason I chose it was for it's neutrality based on all my research. Everything is subjective, of course, to some neutrality is boring or lacks excitement. To me, as I was getting into my journey I appreciated the detail, transparency, and neutrality as it allowed me to hear all the changes to the system I was making. And at this level, it really comes down to personal preference as nothing listed above is 'bad'.


I do want to try a tube preamp given how many positive comments there are just to see the difference, but for now, the XP22 is not going anywhere.

@tonywinga I’d say moving in any direction between Ref 6 and XP22 is essentially a lateral move but it will come down to personal sonic preference, tube maintenance aside. 
Since the XP32 is a step up from XP22, going there from Ref 6 should be an upgrade. I’d be shocked if this would be a lateral move. 

@welcher interesting as I haven’t seen this comparison before but it reflects exactly what I observed comparing Ref 6 and XP22. When I mentioned bass speed and definition and clarity, this is pretty much it with the XP vs Ref with Ref being slightly softer. 

Pass preamps file miserably to measure up against their amplifiers. I had both the xp-20 and 30 and they were anemic, sterile, and lifeless when paired with my Pass XA 60.8's.

Yea, that is my experience with an XP-10.   I purchased it to go with my 250.8 and I was really disappointed in the overall sound of the two together.   I then replaced the XP-10 with a Hegel preamp and liked the sound quality much better.   I then replaced the Hegel with a SimAudio 740P and it made beautiful magic with my 250.8.   I've since moved on from my 250.8 but the 740P still remains :)

I will definitely try to upgrade the speakers first. You have a great system and I am a big fan of Wilson Audio. Sabrina’s are good but if you can step up with the Sasha’s your system will improve way more than the pre amp for sure. I own the Sasha DAW and they are amazing. They are a lot right now in the used market since dealers are dumping their inventories to get the new Sasha V 


Looks like I created a monster all those years ago!  ROTFLMAO.



Sold my Cary SLP O5 SE (with upgrades) and NOS Sylvania 6sn7s and purchase an XP-32 for a the same reason. Using it with a T+A a3000hv. Great combo for my Thiel 3.7s. No regrets. The XP32 is very tube sounding, very quiet and has a fantastic sound stage in both width and depth.  As for the comments about older Pass preamp models, they my have been anemic or sterile sounding but the XP 32 is definitely not.  

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@daveteauk, just to clarify, my valve anxiety is based on the availability of replacement tube sets 5-10 years down the road.  I already have a full replacement set that came with my ARC.  But in an ideal world, my preamp should be good for a long time.  I probably listen about an average of an hour or two a day and maybe 3 hours on the weekends.  The power tube should last about 2000 hours and the other tubes about 4,000 hours, I think.

@dave777tx, my Wilson dealer, Salon Audio in Miami, thought that the Sabrina X's would be a better fit in my small room than the Sasha DAW's, although I am not really down with spending $25K+ on some speakers . . . But of course, selling the Sabrina's makes it more like a $13K outlay.

It is definitely interesting how peoples' opinion diverges though.  Many people think that the XP-32 is very "tube-like" which is what attracted me to it over the ARC REF 6 as the "long-term,"  i.e., until I croak, preamp.  Others love the ARC REF 6 sound.  The bottom line seems to be that there is no way to know how it sounds with your system and room acoustics without actually putting it in.  I have noticed that despite the clear opinions of various people, When I make changes to my system, they are not "night and day" but subtle improvements -- audible for sure, but still subtle.  For me, and maybe this makes sense, I like the idea of not worrying about tube replacement and availability in the long run.  For example, in addition to long term availability, how do you even know that a tube or tubes need to be replaced in the ARC REF 6, without a tube tester or a catastrophic failure? The Pass XP-32 does not have those questions.

The other thing that is very important to me is soundstage.  I like a three dimensional soundstage (who doesn't) and my current setup has more soundstage width and placement of instruments but not as much depth.  That may be speakers or preamp or both, but my Holy Grail, like many here, is that depth of soundstage like "you are there."  I originally listened in the 70's to a system with Mark Levinson amp and preamp and stacked Quad ESL speakers and it sounded like the band was playing right in front of me -- although I am open to the possibility that was the weed that I had smoked that contributed to that, LOL!  Many people's take about the XP-32 as increasing "realism" and depth, which is another reason I have been focused on the XP-32.  

Obviously, yes. With this current market it simply makes no sense investing into high dollar AR gear.

However, good luck finding a buyer whose willing to pay you what it’s worth. It’s a shame what’s happened to AR. But PL gear will be selling for top used $ when PL is long gone. You do understand that right?


Your other option is to simply say to heck with all that’s happening and simply enjoy your gear while you have it, and deal with its market value at a later time. That too has a consequence, which I suspect may be the reason behind considering selling the AR now? Or perhaps not. Best of luck to you!


?   You mean because ARC was bought by a well intended, highly leveraged person and had to sell it to a great deep pockets owner?


If so, none of that is a reason not to buy or not to sell.

@ghdprentice, you’re absolutely correct. The current market state of ARC is. Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rug and haven’t observed all of these ARC related threads due to a tanking ARC market. Or perhaps, we can agree to disagree?

As a buyer, I would be skeptical too given recent re-structuring. Next few months would be interesting at ARC, we will get to see how they respond to back log of repairs and instill confidence among potential buyers by resuming production and hopefully introduce new models.



Yes, we completely disagree. Audio Research is in absolutely no danger of going out of business.

I have corresponded with Trent Suggs shorty after he bought ARC and while owner. And I have a friend that recently spent over an hour with Valerio Cora, the new owner. Audio Research is in no jeapordy of going out of business, what so ever. It is a completely viable ongoing business. The difficulty arose from the fact that Trent bought the company with borrowed money and a cash flow problem with the tube costs and interest rates rising.

In fact, two friends of mine purchased ARC components while they were in receivership.

If there is some discount because of this event… great opportunity to buy. Even if the company went out of business… there is so much ARC stuff out there, some former employees would set up a company to support the existing stuff. Like Threshold an other iconic companies.

But, ARC is going no where, but on to greater things.

@moto_man looking at a picture of your system, I’d like to mention few things that can improve the depth of soundstage as well as overall presentation…

1. The speakers are too close to the front wall. If possible, move them so that they are at least 3ft from the front wall.

2. Spread the speakers apart some more, about 92” between center of tweeters

3. Try playing with toe in. What works for me in my room with the Sabrinas is the toe in that results in speaker axis crossing about 1ft behind my head

4. Add some room treatments - bass traps and first reflection points at a minimum.

5. Your listening position should be at least 1.1 to 1.2 times the distance to the speakers. 

Most of the above tweaks, except the room treatments, are free and definitely worth trying.

One other thing and this doesn’t impact the sound at all, but looking at the amp, assuming it’s powered on in that picture, the bias meter sits too low (should be touching the letter P)…but that’s just my OCD talking. You can adjust it. 


FWIW, I had a REF 5SE and then REF 6 paired with a REF 75SE amp for a few years. The synergy was excellent (obviously) and my system was great. However, a couple of years ago, I moved to Classé's new Delta series (Delta pre and monos) and never looked back. More details, more speed but without the downsides sometimes associated with SS. I thought I would miss the tube sound (although ARC's sound is very neutral not tubey). The move to Classé has been an improvement across the board (class A for first 35W). ARC have great gear butI cannot find anything I miss from my previous system and management of tubes is over. My 2 cents.