Which ARC ref linestage to try: Ref3, Ref5, Ref5SE? HATE forward sounding systems



I presently am driving a PS Audio 300 class D amp with a CJ premiere 16LS2 and really really like the sound. I have always preferred solid state fed by a nice tube amp. One of the things that are remarkable (to my ears anyway) is that my system not only excels with well recorded material…poor quality recordings sound great too. I can listen indefinitely without fatigue.

Obviously, I like fuller, lush sound (which some might criticize as too euphonic (I make no apologies, that’s what I like)). I DESPISE forward sounding, edgy, systems. With the advancements made, I’m thinking detail and warmth are not mutually exclusive and that ARC may have pulled off the balance with one of these? I like big, deep, recessed soundstages.


This is my hobby so sometimes I like to change things up. I would like to try one of the ARC refs as I’m hoping they can deliver what I like but maybe with some improvements (e.g maybe more natural/real sounding?) I have read all the reviews and many comparisons multiple times. I know that the 5se allegedly blows away the 5 etc. blah blah. I don’t care how impressive something sounds initially…I need long term satisfaction. I gotta think that these refs have different sound signatures, right?

I am asking owners and people with first hand experience to provide feedback re. which of these is least forward and analytical and might give me what I already have…but with additional detail, realism, etc.?

P.S. To proactively address the obvious…. Why not just try a newer CJ? I’m not a fan of the newer CJ single triode linestages ONLY because of the single triode design (I had an ET3 and really liked the sound…however, the single triode is driven very hard in that design…and it ate tubes (they became noisy quickly and regularly)). The more rugged tubes didn’t sound as good to me so, don’t want to go there again.



I have owned ARC Reference 5SE for about 5 years and a Reference 6SE for the last two. Nether of these could be remotely called forward. They are detailed and natural… drawing the listener in.  But given what you are looking for, I would stick with ConnieJ.


How often would the tubes go out? Any chance it was a particular unit? 

I must to differ to @bobbydd for his comparison to the REF2.


@ghdprentice no, unfortunately it was not just the unit… it was sort of a known thing…to the point that (for lack of better term) a cottage industry developed for CJ owners looking for more rugged 6922s to avoid this issue. FWIW, Kevin D. Crusaded about this for a bit. CJ seemed to think they could hand-pick Electro Harmonics 6922s to avoid…but it is always just a matter of time …that tube was driven way too hard. Reportedly some AI preamps share this challenge.

That being said…when the tube was still quiet…they sounded GLORIOUS! If not for this issue, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Unfortunately, I can’t afford their new ref (dual triode, I believe) for $28,000!

Love CJ…maybe one of the vintage GATs are what I should be looking at…but the prices are pretty high on those still (rightfully so, in my opinion).


@nmolnar I was thinking of including the LSs in my query…absolutely should. Was there anything that stood out with the ls28/se or 27(se) etc. versus others you’ve heard?

BIG CORRECTION related too). I owned the ls25mk 2…not the 27 as I wrote…big difference, I’m sure. No idea why I typed 27. As far as I know…I have nothing against the LS27.  Embarrassed 😞.

Please, feel free to mention an LS if you think it will meet my needs.



I had previously owned several ARC Pre-amps/line stages including an SP-3, LS-3, LS-17SE and now the LS-28 for the last 5 1/2 years. The LS-28 is paired with an ARC VT-80SE amp and I’m seriously impressed. It is head and shoulders above any of the earlier LS series and is close to the REF 6 in its sonic quality It has great imaging with a deep sound stage and matches with the VT-80SE very well, which you would expect. The LS-28 has a very balanced sound with no harshness and lots of detail. There are many reviews of it online which go into greater detail on the LS-28 but think it would work for you. I suggest you audition one and judge for yourself if it meets your needs.