Audio Research GSi75 Integrated Amplifier

It’s been a couple of years now since the Audio Research GS series have been introduced, and both the GS Pre and GS 150 have received multiple awards from magazines around the world (including us).

With its gorgeous, artisan style, the GSi75 shows off a welded chassis, thick front plate and the combination of new and old ARC cues. Some deeply embedded in the way Audio Research used to do things see the GSi75 as anomalous, but ARC’s Dave Gordon sets me straight, “Don’t think about the GSi75 as you do our other components. Yes this is a lifestyle piece, but it is one for someone who truly cares about sound quality.” It only takes about 2 minutes of listening to see he’s spot on.

Streaming Teenage Fanclub’s “Don’t Look Back,” with it’s layered, grungy sound and simple pop hooks gets to the heart of the matter immediately. This combination of DAC, phonostage, headphone amplifier, and 75 watt per channel power amplifier has a very spacious sound. Segueing to “The Journey” from Boston’s Don’t Look Back, the deep bass riff at the end of the track convincingly illustrates this amplifiers ability to move some air.

Having spent the better part of the year listening to the GS Pre and the GS 150, it’s intriguing that the overall voice of the GSi75 feels closer to that of the last generation REF series than the slightly mellower voice of the GS Pre/GS 150 combo. With four KT150 power tubes and a pair of 6H30s, nothing deviates from the current ARC cookbook. The power supply has a capacity of 330 joules instead of the 500 supplying the REF 75, so don’t expect quite the drive of the REF amplifier, even though both are specified to produce 75 watts per channel. At all but brain damage volume levels though, the GSi75 comes very, very close.

What, no XLR’s?

In the effort to keep things tidy, the usual balanced inputs are absent. No doubt because the phonostage and DAC are already on board, it makes sense that the options can be kept easy for other components. Other than a tuner, what else would you connect, except maybe another phonostage or a tape deck? Yet in typical Audio Research fashion there are still three single ended RCA analog inputs, to go with the single phono input.

The phonostage in the GSi75 is a marvel of compactness and again, showcases ARC’s ability to design world class products in either arena; tube or solid-state. Gordon laughs as he says, “We just didn’t have the room inside the chassis for a tube phono.”

Compact as it is, the on-board phono section still features low and high gain settings (45 and 62db) along with the ability to set phono loading at 100, 200, 500, 1000 or 47k ohms. And, it’s adjustable from the remote control. Impressive.

A powerful soul

Dropping the needle down on a fresh copy of Crowded House’s Woodface, the room is immediately filled with the big, broad, engaging soundfield that I’m used to listening to a full compliment of REF components in my larger listening room. The core competencies of ARC still come through brilliantly, with mix of dynamics, speed, transparency and an incredibly natural tonal balance.

Where all but the REF Phono 3 and REF Phono 10 phonostages ($14,000 and $30,000 respectively) offer high and low gain settings, the rest of ARC’s phonostages all have settled on a fixed gain setting of 58db, which is more than adequate for most cartridges and situations, I found the two gain settings helpful, especially with my Dynavector 17D3 and Denon DL-103r cartridges.

The onboard phonostage, is quiet and dynamic. A perfect match for the rest of the amplifier, and putting it to work with a wide variety of phono cartridges from the $100 Shure M97 all the way to the $10,000 Koetsu Jade Platinum, I never found the onboard phono to be limiting, though with the big boy cartridges, there is a slight bit of resolution and ultimate dynamic drive that is better served by the REF Phono 3. However, I suspect that most building a system around the GSi75 are going to be bridging the gap between “really good” and “sky is the limit” systems. In the context of a nice $3,000 – $15,000 turntable/arm/cartridge combo, I doubt you’ll be aching for more phono performance.

At all but maximum volume through inefficient speakers, you’ll be hard pressed to tell the GSi75 from the GS Pre and GS 150 amplifiers. Driving the Focal Sopra no.3s, which have a sensitivity of 92db/1watt, I can’t drive the amplifier into clipping, it plays plenty loud for my needs. It proves equally capable driving the Quad 2812s, which are notoriously tough, because of their heavy capacitive load. The loopy, spacy, electronic vibe of the first Neu! album is a sonic treat, with little sounds bouncing all around my listening room with the Quads, it’s almost like being in a gigantic pair of headphones.

Again, Gordon tells me “the heart of this amplifier is a REF75 circuit – same tubes and transformers with a passive preamp section, that’s why there is no preamp out. The DAC is all new and one of the best we’ve ever done. It’s what formed the heart of the DAC 9.”


Catering heavily to the new music consumer, that DAC allows you to access whatever files you have on hand; 16-bit/44khz all the way up to 2x DSD, so you won’t be left out in the cold. There are a bevy of digital inputs as well; RCA, Toslink and USB all help make the GSi75 the hub of your digital music world. Having the DAC 9 on hand for review, it was easy to compare between the two and the

GSi75 is indeed highly capable. Thanks to Roon, my digital library is a gaggle of files on a 13TB NAS drive, with no particular segregation from low to high resolution. The GSi75 sailed through playlist after playlist, consisting of every resolution possible, without so much as a pause.

Using a Mac Book Pro, dCS Paganini transport, a Meridian/Sooloos MC200 Core and an Aurender A10 allowed checking every input and all worked flawlessly. No matter what you have at your disposal, rest assured the GSi75 can handle it.


If all of this weren’t enough, the GSi75 also has a headphone jack, and again, the solution was done from the ground up. Even this aspect of the GSi75s performance was by no means an afterthought. While this reviewer is not a huge headphone listener, the quality of the sound heard through Audeze LCD-2s and the current Oppo PM-1 phones is top notch.

All but the most maniacal headphone listener will not need an outboard headphone amplifier. The GSi75 has much more sheer drive than is necessary to achieve the volume level you require, and the level of refinement is exceptional. Going through all of my favorite prog and electronica tracks made for an aural playground with the GSi75. Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu was not only a great throwback, but fully illustrated the high level of imaging prowess that placed the people speaking everywhere in the room. Big fun.

The Audeze and Oppo phones are not terribly hard to drive, but the planar magnetic phones seem to deliver a more sophisticated presentation, the better your gear is. Again the GSi75 did not disappoint in any way. Bass was always solid and full of tonal richness, with the high frequencies tight, defined and (for me, anyway) a perfect mix of extension and resolution without ever sounding strident.

Complex yet simple

The $16,000 price tag may stun a few at first, but when you realize what the team at ARC has packed inside the GSi75, and the fact that you don’t have to buy three sets of interconnects and power cords, it’s an amazing bargain – for the right customer. Because everything is inside and there is no preamp out, this is either a piece you will live with forever, or the upgrade bug will sour you. A cursory survey of a few friends with mega ARC systems reveals more than one have bought a GSi75 as the core of their second system, or vacation home system and are thrilled.

Careful inspection of the chassis, and the parts quality inside, it becomes immediately obvious that the GSi75 was built to a standard – with no compromise rather than scaled up from a price point business model. The GSi75 is Audio Research through and through.

The “ears” of Audio Research, Warren Gehl is quick to add that an integrated was part of the product mix with the G Series all along. “We wanted to see how far we could take the G Series with this concept.” It ends up being a fairly dense circuit board when you remove the bottom cover, but again, Gehl backs up their decision to use PCBs instead of point to point wiring, simply saying “We take a very logical perspective to circuit board layout and construction quality. We don’t feel our designs take a back seat sonically to an amplifier that is wired point to point.”

Quantifying the value in the GSi75 is an easy task for someone who’s been living with ARC electronics for nearly as long as they’ve been making them. Perhaps a result of getting a bit older, I’ve experienced a number of friends when listening to a large rack of gear ask the question, “can’t I just get this kind of performance in one box?” And this comment is usually followed with something like, “I want really great sound quality, I just don’t play music as loud as I used to.”

It’s like the dining room of my favorite local hotel. They’ve started offering just a spoonful sized portion of their favorite deserts. This is the essence of the Audio Research GSi75 – it’s a heaping tablespoon of a full REF stack. And for many people, that will be all you need.

The Audio Research GSi75 Integrated Amplifier

MSRP:  $16,000


Analog Source               Brinkmann Bardo Turntable/Koetsu Onyx Platinum Cart

Speakers                         Focal Sopra no. 1, Quad 2812, GamuT RS5i

Cable                               Cardas Clear

Trade Up Program at Audio Research!

For the next two weeks, Audio Research is offering a “trade up” program, with up to 75% of original MSRP on selected models.

This is a great way to get that system update you’ve been pondering, and we think this is a pretty cool way to make the process easier. How many times has the person you share your space with say “You can’t have a new toy unless you get rid of the old one?” You know what we’re talking about.

So, rather than go through the agony of Ebay or Audiogon, potential shipping damage, not getting paid, etc etc. (and don’t forget Ebay takes about 10-12% off the top anyway) why not stop down to your local Audio Research dealer and make this a painless upgrade?

Please click here for full details…

The Audio Research REF 6 Linestage

With a lineage stretching back to 1970 Audio Research, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota has built their reputation on constant, engineering based improvements to their products. Their Reference linestage preamplifier line remains a coveted commodity among ARC enthusiasts, and the Reference 6 linestage preamplifier solidly continues this tradition. Based heavily on what was learned creating the two chassis, Reference 10 flagship, makes for a major jump in performance over the outgoing REF 5/5SE, an award winning linestage in its own right.

More than a pretty face

On the outside, the REF 6 sports some eye-catching changes. ARC’s new chassis design was engineered for two reasons. First, ARC is updating the aesthetic of the Ref line. A clean, modern appearance moves away from the classic, more industrial ARC look. The visual design of the REF 6 comes straight from the desk of Livio Cucuzza and his team, the ones responsible for the trend setting aesthetic of the highly popular G-Series. Tastefully integrating style cues from the past models with a more modern look and better finish work, Audio Research components finally look as good as they sound.

ARC’s team also built in a greater level of structural rigidity intended to “assist in the dissipation of electrical and mechanical interferences.” Immediately evident is the beautifully milled faceplate, available in either an anodized back finish or the natural aluminum finish of our review sample. Substantial handles on the front of the REF 6 pay homage to past models, offering a visual contrast to the otherwise flat front. The handles also offer a practical function when moving and placing the 36.5 lb. (16.6 kg) linestage. With overall dimensions of 19” (48 cm) W x 7.8” (19.8 cm) H x 16.5” (41.9 cm) D, the hefty REF 6 requires a fair amount of real estate on the audio rack.

When placing it, headroom is another important consideration. The tube complement generates a lot of heat and adequate ventilation is necessary for the long-term health of the unit. Under the REF 6’s transparent, vented Lucite hood, the owner can witness the tidy circuitry within. The tube complement consists of six 6H30P dual triodes, plus a single 6550C and a 6H30 regulating the beefy power supply.

Control freak

As part of the newly-adopted aesthetic, an elegant simplicity drives layout of the REF 6 control panel. In addition to the large input selection and volume knobs, six dime-sized buttons manage the rest of the adjustments. Specific buttons control power-up, a choice between mono or stereo playback, phase reversal, and mute. The remaining two buttons, “menu” and “enter” bring to life the REF 6 menu options, and allow the owner to customize his or her preferences for each.

To get the most from the REF 6 tube complement, one menu option allows the user to see the number of hours on the current tubes. According to AR, new 6550WE tubes should serve their owner for about 2,000 hours, and the 6H30 tubes offer roughly twice that life span. When the tubes eventually wear out, ARC offers carefully matched replacement tubes. As there are not a lot of variations on the 6H30 tube, just giving the factory a call is the easiest way to roll. To maximize tube life, owners will delight in another REF 6 feature. The owner can set an automatic preamp shutdown to engage at a one to eight-hour interval. This feature can be disabled if you prefer fully manual control.

The REF 6 also offers the ability to assign a specific input for home theater pass-through in instances where the linestage is part of a larger home theater system. In this scenario, the REF 6’s volume control disengages when that particular source is selected, deferring to the surround sound processor’s volume controls. The ability to assign names to each of the REF 6 inputs also makes it easy to keep inputs straight on more complex systems.

ARC has always offered a very basic, plastic remote. Keeping with the aesthetic of the new design a milled aluminum remote accompanies the REF 6 and REF Phono 3. It’s a nice, but not ostentatious touch that complements the new look, and is roughly the size of the plastic remote of old. Prospective owners should note that the REF 6 sports a 20-amp IEC power socket, so if you are contemplating a power cord upgrade, plan accordingly or find a high quality adaptor, like the one from Shunyata.

Featuring four inputs, each having the option of single ended RCA or balanced XLR connectors makes the REF 6 one of the most versatile linestages going. Two sets of RCA and XLR variable outputs are joined by a fixed level, record out option – handy for those either stepping up to the tape game or digitizing some of their favorite music. 12 volt trigger and RS-232 interfaces are also available for those wanting to tie everything together, or in a custom install situation.

Music to my ears

When the power button is depressed, the REF 6 kicks into a 45-second warm-up mode, bringing the tubes up to temperature slowly, maximizing their lifespan. Mute is engaged automatically during that process, and must be un-muted before music can proceed.

Right out the gate, the REF 6 proves stunning in several ways. The immediately enveloping soundstage has musical elements bursting in all directions, projecting a seemingly limitless picture that defies speaker placement. Airy subtleties reside in the distance above, below, and behind the speakers offering a spooky level of realism, and the REF 6 is one of a very short list of special linestages that renders an incredibly real picture of the recording without crossing the line of being super sized for effect. Listening to Lucinda Williams “Can’t Let Go” places her in my listening room at a correct size, making the presentation that much more believable.

Combined, these characteristics give not only insight into the subtleties engineered into a song, but a sense of the space used to record it. At the same time, the musical picture never seems artificially inflated. Similarly, the organ notes in Johnny Cash’s treatment of “Danny Boy” found on American IV: The Man Comes Around, paint a palpable picture of the cathedral used as the recording location. Cash’s gravelly immediacy, combined with the subtle reverberation in the recording hall has me looking over my shoulder, feeling if I’ve seen a ghost.

In my reference system, the REF 6 provides a very slight degree of warmth to the musical picture alongside its ability to retrieve tiny sonic details from a recording. In my experience enjoying equipment over the years, that balance can be a tenuous one for a product designer to achieve. A convincingly realistic and detailed presentation is desirable, but that sonic goal can sometimes lean toward an overly-lush sound, or be accompanied by etch or stridency. The REF 6 never hints toward either extreme which can detract from the organic sense of the musical presentation. The REF 6 provides a relaxed and natural musical flow emitting from the speakers. It’s easy to get lost in the sanctuary of beloved recordings and forget about everything else.

Bass reproduction represents another strong suit. On tracks like Jane’s Addiction’s “Three Days” all the pluck, resonance and rumble the sound engineer captured in the bass guitar track are projected with convincing authority. However, bass in never reproduced in an overly-accentuated, or one-note way. Again, the REF 6 reveals its innate character for organic reproduction. No apparent sonic manipulation colors the window into the music.

Regardless of musical genre, the REF 6 steps up to the challenge. Listening to classical, jazz, rock, electronica, reggae, vocal performances and anything else thrown at the REF 6, it never fails to impress. When speed and agility are demanded by the music, it delivers. Similarly, when delicacy and nuance are dictated by a recording, REF 6 nails that as well. Green Day’s American Idiot projects with all the angst and attitude one could hope from the album. In contrast, chamber music reveals the subtle differences between the various stringed instruments with ease.

Simply put, the REF 6 is among the finest linestages I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in my own listening space – it’s hard to imagine expecting or wanting more from a preamplifier. It would be easy to live with this linestage for the long haul. This caliber of musical prowess doesn’t come cheap, but at $14,000 it’s not crazy money either. Most importantly, the price has only increased $1,000 over that of the outgoing REF 5SE, so that’s major progress.

Additional Listening:  Jeff Dorgay

Being a Midwestern native, I’ve always appreciated the sheer practicality of the folks at Audio Research. Unlike my days of writing about digital cameras, sometimes a year before product is available, ARC rarely puts review gear in to the review stream until they’ve delivered the goods to their loyal customers. Bravo.

Needless to say, TONE staffer Tom Caselli was one of the first guys on the list and had his a few weeks before ours arrived, and he was quick to let us know the good news. “Amazing, way better than the REF 5SE that I traded in.” Other fellow audiophiles I know that are doggedly loyal to the brand echoed the same sentiment, at a higher level of enthusiasm than normal too, so the buzz was building around here.

Having owned the REF 5 and 5SE models and going way back with numerous ARC preamplifiers over the years, the REF 6 is a wider jump up the evolutionary chain than the past few models. As Rob mentions, it draws heavily on what was learned in the development cycle of the REF 10. At some point it may just be time for a head to head comparison…

While many have been asking for said comparison with the GSPre that has been residing here for some time, that’s not a fair fight, as the GSPre includes an excellent phono stage along with a headphone amplifier. Think of the GSPre as offering about 2.5 quarts of what a gallon of the REF 6 does with the other bits thrown in. The REF 6 will more than likely appeal to a different customer a few clicks higher on the audio food chain.

On top of all the sonic improvements, ARC has drastically diminished the time to great sound with their products. They still mention in the owners manual that the REF 6 will take 5-600 hours to sound its best, but unlike past designs, this one sounds fantastic out of the box. Granted, it does improve with time, but the delta is not quite as dramatic as in past models.

Whether you use the REF 6 as a reviewer’s tool or simply to relish your music collection, make no mistake: this is a destination component. There are a few others lurking that have a different sonic flavor, reveal a bit more music, or have a few more bells and whistles, but they will cost a lot more. In terms of sheer musicality, the REF 6 is the one to beat for $13,000.

Whatever they are up to in the lab at ARC is working. The REF 6 retains all the strengths of the outgoing REF 5 series, yet is more extended and dynamic, while adding more soul and musical saturation than the past model. That’s not an easy achievement, and I always wonder how they do it.

Keeping the price at $14,000 is impressive, especially in light of the major sonic and aesthetic improvements. The tough question is “should you trade up?” This depends on you. The REF 5 or 5 SE you currently own is certainly not rubbish by any sense of the word. They are currently fetching about $9,000 on the secondary market, so if you just have to have more juice, you won’t be disappointed. The REF 6 is not an update you have to strain to hear.

These are agonizing questions you ask when staring at the ceiling at 3a.m.. Who would have ever thought 30 years ago that audio engineers in 2016 would be pulling still more performance from triode tubes to increase our musical listening pleasure? That’s pretty cool. For those of you not suffering from trade up anxiety, run don’t walk to your ARC dealer and check it out. This linestage offers so much legacy, performance and long term value, we are happy to give it one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2016. Life is short. Buy one.

The Audio Reseach REF 6

MSRP:  $14,000


Digital Sources: Mac Mini, Roon Music Service, dCS Debussy, Synology DiskStation

Amplification: Burmester 911 mk3

Preamplification: Coffman Labs G1-B

Speakers: GamuT RS3, JL Audio Dominion Subwoofers

Cables: Jena Labs

Power: Torus AVR 15 Plus, RSA Mongoose power cords

Accessories: ASC tube traps, Mapleshade Samson audio racks, Coffman Labs Equipment Footers, AudioQuest Jitterbug, Atomic Audio Labs Mac Mini stand

The Audio Research PH9

Audio Research always has something new under the hood of any new release, but their new Foundation series is a major step up aesthetically as well.

We’ve just received the entire series in for full review, but we’ve started with the PH9 phono stage. At $7,500 it will be an interesting comparison to the REF PHONO 3, also in for review (and destined to stay here after as a reference component) to see what the extra $5,500 buys you beyond a second input and balanced outputs.

Stay tuned!

The Audio Research GS 150 Power Amplifier

I probably should listen to more classical music at comfortable volume levels.

Back in 1990, when I finally got my hands on an Audio Research D-79 after wearing down a good friend to part with it, he called to inform me that I should “let it warm up slowly with some nice string quartet music.” No way. The first track played was Alice Cooper’s “Hey Stoopid,” and after a few minutes to warm up, I pushed those big meters all the way into the caution zone. Having grown up with polite little EL-34 tube amplifiers, this was a revelation. I had never heard a tube amplifier that had the drive of a big solid-state amplifier before. It was equally revelatory to my next door neighbor, who was pounding on my front door before the first chorus.

I have not grown up one bit 25 years later. At first listen, it seems like the Audio Research GS 150 that has just arrived for review has defective power output level meters.  UFO’s “Lights Out” is playing at much higher than normal conversation levels, but the needles aren’t budging. Volume indicator on the GSPre is set to 42 and we’re all thinking that at least a few watts per channel are being delivered to the Dynaudio Evidence Platinum speakers we use as a reference, but to no avail – still no movement. Raising the level to 60 finally makes for some meter movement, and the sound level is indeed rambunctious! Yet the GS150 can play much, much louder.

Going for broke, pushing the meters to swing past the 150-watt mark towards the caution level during Michael Schenker’s blistering solo, with no trace of distortion, convinces me this is indeed a very special amplifier. Call me nostalgic, but I haven’t had this much fun with an Audio Research power amplifier since the days of my D79. Whether you listen to chamber music or metal, the level of involvement that the GS150 brings to the table is precious.

ARC’s REF amplifiers are wonderful, and I’ve even owned a few of them over the years, but this new GS series of Audio Research components is unique in the sense that it blends a tiny bit of the vintage ARC sound with everything they’ve learned in 40 plus years of amplifier design. Add the super stylish Italian casework and this is the amplifier that’s going in my coffin.

Last year we bestowed an extremely complimentary review on the Audio Research GSPre, enjoying its combination of Italian style with a return to the glorious all-in-one preamplifiers of the past, featuring a full-function phono stage (and a headphone amplifier) all on one chassis. The matching GS 150 power amplifier is equally beautiful and equally capable. Perhaps even more.

A special sound, indeed

When it comes to splitting hairs, the GSPre renders music with slightly more body and slightly less resolution than the REF 5SE and REF Phono 2SE combination, albeit at a much lower price. (The REF 5SE/Phono 2SE pair will set you back close to $30k, the GSPre has a $15k price tag) The delta between the two isn’t so much less than different. Even though a BMW M4 will get you around the racetrack a little faster than a fully equipped 435i with sport suspension, the latter is a more reasonably priced car to live with every day if you can’t take advantage of its maximum performance on a regular basis. The same holds true for the GSPre.

However, the GS150 is a different animal indeed. Possessing a similar sonic signature to the GSPre, it offers all the detail and resolution that the REF power amplifiers are known for, yet that pinch of tubeyness is there and not in an overwhelming way to ever sound slow, rounded off or overly euphonic.

At $20k the GS150 is a step above the REF 150 in ARC’s product lineup and in a side-by-side comparison provides a different sound. Though the spec sheets look almost identical, these two amplifiers are different beasts indeed. They do share a fully balanced configuration, and like the REF amplifiers, the GS150 must be used with a balanced preamplifier; it will not work with a single-ended preamplifier and balanced adaptors, so take this into account before purchase.

Vivacious violins, piano perfection

The blistering, bluesy guitar of Gary Clark Jr. on his latest album Sonny Boy Slim is sublime. The texture revealed on Clark’s guitar is staggering, awash in reverb, decay and distortion along with a true sense of scale, giving the impression of a live performance. This additional dimensionality not provided by lesser amplifiers doesn’t take the illusion as far.

Listening to a wide range of music for months now reveals no limitation to the GS150’s ability, whether driving Magnepans, the new Quad 2218 ESLs or major floorstanders from ProAc, Dali, GamuT, Dynaudio and Focal. Even the diminutive ProAc Tablette Signatures deliver an otherworldly performance driven by the GS150. Regardless of speaker or cable choices, the GS150 remains perfectly stable, unaffected less than many of the other tube amplifiers we’ve used – some highly particular by the cables used.

Good as this amplifier is, you may notice its capability even more when listening to solo vocals or acoustic instruments. The tonal richness that the GS150 reveals will keep you riveted to your chair for hours on end — always the mark of a great component. Pay particular attention to the way this amplifier accelerates and stops cleanly on a piano key strike or a guitar pluck without overhang or smear, yet retaining a high amount of saturation.

Where some components, especially those with vacuum tubes under the hood, can paint a sonic picture that is a lot larger than life in all three dimensions (And lets face it, that’s why we love tubes in the first place) the GS150 always expands and contracts with the music and the production, never just giving an overblown rendition of everything. Cool as it might be a piano shouldn’t sound like it is ten feet tall. This is another way that the GS150 conveys a realistic portrayal of music.

Chock full of tubes

Where the D-79 uses between 14 and 18 tubes depending on iteration, (there were three models; A, B, and C) to produce 75 watts per channel, the GS 150 uses 4 6H30 driver tubes and four matched pairs of KT150 output tubes to produce 155 watts per channel. As you can see from our photo shoot, at the 11th hour we have acquired a D-79 for some comparison photos, but alas this warhorse is in desperate need of a power supply refresh, so we can’t give you a side-by-side comparison of the sound.  Once it returns from the shop, we will feature it in the Old School column next year and run the classic and the newest model side by side for your and our enjoyment. For now, it’s a wonderful memory to have these two in the same room together!

Let’s not forget the package

Audio Research has always made great sounding gear, but the wives of most of my friends have always seen those big boxes and said “not in my house.” But now with the Italian influence that Fine Sounds brings to the table, this amplifier is gorgeous, as is the matching preamplifier.

Looking at the chassis closely, you can see how much hand work has gone into every facet of this amplifier, from the finish on the front panel; to the delicately lettered power meters and the hand-welded chassis.

Again in the tradition of the D-79 and D-150, the GS150s front panel features three meters: the right and left meter for power output and tube biasing, with the center meter keeping track of incoming AC power. The bias adjustments are on the right and left hand side of the chassis.

Nice as the casework is on the GS150, the same level of attention has been paid to the package inside the familiar, dual box Audio Research packing that long-term aficionados have come to love. To say the tubes are well-protected is an understatement; now they are presented to the owner as a fine wine or cheese. It’s a nice touch, especially at this price level and it’s worth mentioning that the instruction manual is fantastic too. Straightforward, well illustrated and easy to read.

Product of the year, hell yeah

Is this the best power amplifier Audio Research has ever built? For me it is, but that’s being selfish. Discussing the technical features with ARC’s Dave Gordon, I jokingly said that the GS150 is like they built a bespoke amplifier for me, exactly as I would have it look and sound. In the way that Google always seems to know what you are thinking, maybe Audio Research has been probing my thoughts too. To be fair to everyone else, I can safely that the GS150 is my favorite vacuum tube power amplifier.

Buying a great power amplifier is a highly subjective undertaking, especially when a five-figure price tag is attached. If the GS150 weren’t our Product of the Year, it would certainly garner an Exceptional Value Award. If you don’t need 300 plus watts per channel and you enjoy the sheer sound that ARC’s engineers have achieved with the GS150, you’ll never need more amplifier than this. Just like fine cameras, watches or sports cars, there are a number of great vacuum tube power amplifiers available today, yet they all have somewhat different sonic personalities.

If you are an obsessed music lover, I’m guessing you have been on a quest for that “I’ll know it when I hear it” sound, perhaps for a long time. Perhaps longer than I have. If the GS150 touches the nerve that excites that center in your brain, this is an amplifier that you can enjoy for the rest of your life. It is meticulously built — inside and out — by a company with 40-plus years’ experience, execution and support behind them. Should your obsession take you elsewhere at some point, ARC products enjoy high resale prices on the secondary market, and that’s another big part of what makes this amplifier worth the price.  I am thrilled to award the GS150 power amplifier and the companion GSPre our Product of the Year award for 2015. I’m sure 30 years from now it will be held in as high esteem as it is today.

The Audio Research GS150 Amplifier

MSRP: $20,000


Analog Source            AVID Acutus Reference SP/SME V/Lyra Atlas

Digital Source             dCS Rossini DAC, Roon player

Phonostage                  ARC REF Phono 2SE, Simaudio LP810, Pass XP-25

Preamplifier                 ARC GSPre

Speakers                      GamuT RS5, Quad 2218

Power                          IsoTek Super Titan

Cable                           Cardas Clear

Guys Night Out in Atlanta!

HiFi Buys (3157 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta) will host the inaugural Guys’ Night Out event—an evening of cars, cigars, craft whiskeys, hi-fi presentations, and luxury showcases, with a focus on creating unforgettable, high-quality experiences.

Featured hi-fi brands include Audio Research Corporation, Ayre Acoustics, Brinkmann Audio, PrimaLuna, and AudioQuest. Participating luxury brands and establishments include Buckhead Cigar, Groomed Buckhead Barber, Hennessy Jaguar of Atlanta, Land Rover of Buckhead, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars of Atlanta, Hublot Watches, and Meehan’s Public House.

Guests will have the opportunity to receive a complimentary hot shave and enjoy cigars in a comfortable outdoor lounge. Delicious hors d’oeuvres, a selection of fine wine and spirits, and a sampling of local craft beers will be served.

Admission and parking are free, and, despite the event’s name, all are welcomed to attend. (HiFi Buys’ inaugural Girls’ Night Out is scheduled for later this year!)

For more information, visit or

We Visit Audio Research

My pet peeve with audio sales people and audio reviewers is that they tend to decide for the customer what they can and can’t afford.

For the most part, writing about HiFI gear or selling it isn’t a high-roller job, so it’s often easy to fall into the trap thinking the customer doesn’t have any more change in their pocket than you do.  Hence the idea of putting a five-figure value on a component in a realistic manner is often out of reach.

As their 40th year of doing business comes to a close, part of the price tag on ARC’s Reference Series of components is justified by the amount of engineering and manufacturing wherewithal that exists under their 48,000-square-foot roof.  As Dave Gordon took me on a comprehensive tour of their facility, he told me that they used to have a 60,000-square-foot facility. After they moved to the current location, the old factory was leased to Best for their online data center.  “Ironic, isn’t it?” Gordon laughs as we go through the engineering and purchasing departments out into the factory proper.

If you had to describe Audio Research in one word, it would be “precise.” Nothing in their assembly process is left to chance. All of their circuit boards are stuffed and soldered by hand, with each board compared with a reference board that is on hand.  From what I could see, they had a reference board for almost every piece of gear they have ever made, except for a couple of really old pieces.

Every final board is tested, populated with tubes that have all been burned in for 50 hours, measured and numbered.  As we go through a gigantic holding area where power tubes are being burned in, Gordon says, “This way with everything measured and marked, if you do have a tube failure, you can just tell us the number.  We can then ship out a tube with the same measurement so you don’t even have to re-bias your amp.”  We went past piles of transistors, resistors and capacitors that had not passed muster; all of the components on those circuit boards have been hand measured.  And when the component is built to the point where all it requires is a front face plate and the signature ARC rack handles, it’s tested again.

Then, upon completion, the gear is auditioned in one of the sound rooms before being packaged and placed on the shipping docks.  If you have ever owned an ARC product, you know how thorough they are, with each box being inserted into an outer box, protected by a thick inner shell of high-density styrofoam.  Again, nothing left to chance.

As we get shooed away from the listening area by Warren Gehl, the man who does the final listening on the ARC gear (something new in the sound room, that he doesn’t want the press to see…), we strolled past the area where all of the vintage gear is serviced and updated.  I also get to see row upon row of ARC’s massive parts inventory, full of electronic parts and sheet metal for all of their past and current products.  Again, everything is meticulously numbered and cataloged.  When I asked Gordon how they inventory all of these tiny parts, he said, “We do it by the pound, actually…”

There was another complete work area dedicated to amplifiers and preamplifiers of different vintages, and some going way back to almost the beginning of the company’s history underscoring the philosophy that any ARC component you purchase today, will be supported in the future.  This is why ARC components have always had such high resale value, something worth considering as you get ready to write a five figure check.

After lunch, we got to visit the sound room and listen to a full system of REF components, including the REF Phono 2 that was in my studio for this review.  Mated to a pair of Wilson speakers, they’ve assembled a highly resolving yet highly musical reference system, using an Immedia RPM turntable (the precursor to my Spiral Groove SG-2) with a TriPlanar arm and Lyra Skala cartridge.  It’s almost like being back home!

A skilled workforce and meticulous attention to detail – in essence, precision – is what makes Audio Research components some of the most coveted items in high-end audio today, a reputation well-earned by 40 years of great customer service.

Issue 44

Budget Gear:  The Ortofon MC Vivo Cartridge

By Jerold O’Brien

Journeyman Audiophile: The Musical Fidelity M6 500i Integrated Amp
By Jeff Dorgay

Tone Style

Kuma’s Corner:  Metal, Beer, Red Meat and Anger!

By Bob Gendron

Visiting the Macallan’s Distillery in Scotland

By Bailey S. Barnard

Cool Jazz Ice Cube Trays

The iCade Gaming Console

iRobot Roomba Vacuum

B&W’s Zeppelin air

And, much more…


Live Music: Bob Gendron covers Wilco

Current Releases:
Fresh Releases in the Pop/Rock World
By the TONE Staff

Audiophile Pressings
Skynyrd, Carole King, BTO and more
By Lawrence Devoe and Jeff Dorgay

Jazz and Blues
Three new releases from Esperanza Spalding, Bryan & The Gaggards and the Tord Gustavsen Quartet
By Jim Macnie


PS Audio P10 Power Plant

Dynaudio Confidence C1 mk. II speakers


Danish Modern: The Davone Ray Loudspeakers
By Steve Guttenberg

Single Box Perfection:  The ARC REF 150 Power Amplifier
By Jeff Dorgay

Myriad Options: The Monk Audio Phonostage
By Jacob Heilbrunn

A Case of Bass:  The MartinLogan Montis Speakers
By Jeff Dorgay