Is Audio Research becoming a “lifestyle” brand?

Brian Beck

Well-Known Member
Sep 15, 2013
45
14
240
USA
#1
I have been an ARC fan since the mid seventies when I bought an SP-3 and D75A. I’ve had numerous ARC models since then and I still have 6 pieces (a few are silent “museum” pieces).

I was a little concerned when Bill Johnson sold ARC to an Italian investment group, and it is now of course part of the McIntosh group (oh, the horrors :)). I admired Bill’s clever circuit design and his insistence on listening tests. Bill designed and built industrial-grade instruments (in the best sense of the term “industrial”) that measured well, but also played music extremely well, with a admirably consistent sonic track record. There were very few “bad” sounding ARC products. Bill didn’t hold back on using the best parts where required. I also love the older styling that is unabashed American industrial chic. To me the D-150 is gorgeous, and better looking than the new REF160. Maybe that’s just me. The new owners seem to have decided to redesign the look of the products to be more “lifestyle”-oriented (I hate that shallow marketing term). They even applied the name “Galileo” to some products as if that would confer some Italian style to ARC products. Kinda cynical if you ask me. So much for big American muscle.

The following is only my speculation and may not be factual: Since Bill’s departure and eventual passing, the electrical design team at ARC had been technicians who had worked for Bill and most of their new products were tweaked evolutions of Bill’s existing designs. I don’t know who designs them now - McIntosh engineers maybe? But I can guess this much: ARC’s stated emphasis on reducing costs is visible in newer products in a couple of ways. FETs have replaced tubes in many front-end stages. These are often hidden from view under the chassis with only tubes visible on top - so you might think that these are tube-only amps with very simple circuits, when they may not be. FETs are much cheaper than tubes and don’t require heaters and high-voltage supplies. I’m not saying FETs are bad. There are many FETs designs that sound great, including ARC products. But I think cost-cutting was a big factor too.

Probably the most expensive parts in tube amps are the output transformers and the power transformers. To a first-order, transformer cost is proportional to weight. Heavier transformers can carry more power without distortion, but they require more copper windings and more steel core material. It seems to me that ARC may have reduced the relative sizes of transformers in recent years. Compare, for example, the output transformer sizes in the REF250SE to the old D-250. Both put out 250 watts per channel. Heck, compare them to an ancient D75A! At least the REF250SE still has the recent version of classic ARC styling. Compare total weights of old products to newer ones based on relative power levels. Transformer technology has not advanced that much, so that doesn't account for it. My guess is that lowering cost does.

I suspect that ARC is trying to carefully walk the line between cutting costs while maintaining sound quality as much as possible. And all the while injecting Italian style. A reasonable business thing to do. It is also reasonable for consumers to keep manufacturers accountable.

Having said all of that, the few times I have heard the more recent crop of ARC products, I have been impressed by their sound quality. But I wouldn't dismiss their older products as being outdated either, even back into the eighties, just because they’re not the newest “thing” anymore.

So count me as still an ARC fanboy, just a bit more cautious. It will be interesting to see how the parent company continues to evolve and distinguish the ARC and McIntosh brands. Mac builds some decent stuff, but they never had an audiophile pretense. They were what doctors and lawyers bought. Pretty blue meters and black glass panels are almost a parody now that Mac has become a full-on lifestyle brand. ARC was always audiophile-respected and a serious all-out attempt at the state of the art. Will ARC become just another life-style brand? We’ll see. I surely hope not.
 

asiufy

Industry Expert/VIP Donor
Jul 8, 2011
3,636
615
485
San Diego, CA
almaaudio.com
#2
No chance of that happening. They're interested in creating great quality products, and everything is still developed through extensive listening tests, using a variety of speakers (cones, panels, etc)
This recent batch of products from ARC is basically the best stuff they've ever done, with much improved sonics *and* reliability.
I do like some of the old look, but I do like a lot of the new, post-Galileo look as well!
 
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joaovieira

Well-Known Member
Feb 16, 2013
254
97
260
Brazil
#3
Some are reporting that the new AR products are sounding much better
 
Likes: asiufy

mulveling

Well-Known Member
Jul 7, 2017
128
90
93
#4
I absolutely love the new look. Honestly the old look was part of what had kept me away from ARC. I now own a Ref 6, and there’s nothing lifestyle-ish about its performance. And I’ve been drooling nonstop over the new 160S since its pic was released.
 
Likes: asiufy

Brian Beck

Well-Known Member
Sep 15, 2013
45
14
240
USA
#6
About the CEO of Audio Research, from Barron’s:

“Poggi, 50, boasts over two decades in the industry, with previous stints at Harman International and the Bose Corporation.

At Bose, Poggi managed the General Motors account and also oversaw car audio at Harman, where he worked with BMW, Toyota, and Volvo. He joined the McIntosh Group after Harman was bought out by Samsung.”

Poggi is probably a great and talented guy, but you can see what kind of background the McIntosh group was looking for. This gives a clue as to brand direction. Bill Johnson these guys are not. Just wait: Audio Research car audio could be coming.
 

Golum

Well-Known Member
Jun 7, 2018
774
777
110
Lausanne, CH
#7
I also had many series of older ARC gear both preamps and amps wise and climbing the chain towards Ref6 and Ref75 whicj i have now and sonic difference with every jump was very obvious and audiable. I do believe Ward Fiebiger was genuinely uplifting the designs where Bill Johnson left them until his premature death unfortunatelly. I believe one of his last designs was actually Ref160M.
Who took over that depertment i have no idea.
Design wise brands need to move fw and this is the case with ARC where i personally love the designs from Gallileo series onwards and Livio is doing a great job IMHO.
 

Big Dog RJ

Well-Known Member
Feb 3, 2012
735
60
373
Melbourne
#10
Very interesting points and good news to learn that ARC is in capable hands... hopefully.

I've been keeping a close eye on them for quite a while since 2004/05, after around 2010 leading upto 2015 sort of lost track and got confused... at one point owned by Fine Sounds, then Mac and then I sort of lost track of them. Auditioned their new M160's driving YG Acoustics speakers, marvellous!

Used a few items from ARC, some of which I can't recall the exact model- two Ref SACD players, which started giving trouble for some reason. Not sure whether it was the fact that they were both pre-owned, had big tubes in them and resided close to the seashore/ tropics up state Queensland. The Ref75 and Ref150 drove my previous Quads very easily and were such a beautiful sound until the Quads started giving trouble (major disaster infact) and so the amplifiers went back to Qld as well.

Anyway, funny thing as members have mentioned McIntosh, I ended up full circle back to Mac. Now, using one of their SACD players, hasn't missed a beat since 2010, keeping it side by side outlasted the ARC digital gear by a mile. Soundwise, obviously the ARC was superior but I must say when the big Mac gets warmed up, things start to sound delightful!

I'm now on a quest to find another fantastic digital playback system, and one that is an all in one unit. Not too keen on separate transport and DACs simply because there are extra connections, and to me this doesn't sit favourably. The only ones I've realised that are superior in performance in every way have been separates no doubt but cost equivalent to more than what I paid as a down payment towards our house! So forget that.

I may well at one point look into ARC digital gear once again but since we're in lock down, real first hand demo's won't take place probably until mid next year. Until then the trusted Mac will have to do.

Anyone else have experienced ARC CD players that were trouble free and perhaps something to consider? Glad to hear your thoughts and points of preference as to which model and why.
Or perhaps I'll just wait and see what the team at ARC eventually offer as digital playback systems for next year.

Until then, enjoy those fine tunes,
Cheers, RJ
 

lem321

Well-Known Member
Feb 7, 2014
44
14
213
#11
I currently own an ARC Ref CD9 that has performed very well for me (previously had an ARC Ref CD7). Have had no glitches, no breakdowns and very good sound. Although vinyl is my preferred musical source, the CD9 comes very close on some recordings. However, if you're hoping to play SACDs, the current ARC CD players (CD9SE and CD6SE) are not for you. These CD players can of course also be used as DACs for streaming. I have not auditioned other brands of CD players other than an OPPO bluray player I used to have. The ARC was a substantial jump up in performance.
 
Oct 12, 2013
1,985
211
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Essex UK
#12
I had reports earlier in the year from a well trusted industry source in the UK that there were significant reliability issues arising in AR products. I cannot report any personal experience as I do not own or have owned any AR kit and I am totally agnostic on their product., But my source has always been reliable over the years I have known him.
 

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