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Audio Research VT 100 mk III

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aliveatfive

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Manufacturer: Audio Research Corporation
Model: VT 100 III
MSRP: $6500
Average Used Price: $3400 - $3800 (note - I anticipate this to change because the amp has just been discontinued)
Specs: 100 watts per channel (4 or 8 ohms at less than 1% THD)
Amp Auditioned On: Sequel II, Ascent i, Summit


I have to begin by stating my prejudice: the first time I heard Sequel IIs they were being driven by ARC Classic 60 tubes. I thought the sound was unbelievably good - almost the best I've ever heard.

Several years and trades of equipment later, I was finally able to afford and buy the components of my dream. It didn't take long to realize that in my room this combination did not work well. Sixty watts of ARC tubes was not enough for the Sequels. After another spell of trading and saving, I was able to buy a dealer demo ARC VT 100 III.

Though this amp clearly sounded better that the Classic 60, it left quite a bit to be desired. The upper midrange, lower treble region was exaggerated. Being particularly sensitive to this band of frequencies, I found the amp kind of hard to listen to. I friend of mine had a VT 100 II that he loved. We decided to do a comparison of the 2 amps. An invited guest was one of Stereophile's writers (who must remain unnamed). We all agreed - the more moderate upper mids of the II were preferable to the etched upper mids of the III. BTW, the comparison was done on Alon (now Nola) speakers, but what I heard on my MLs was clearly heard on his Alons.

About this time I acquired a pair of Ascent is. I guess I owned the amp for about 8 months at the time, and I was considering trading it for something else. When the Ascents had broken in, I was pretty happy with the sound. The amp improved with time. Now, string sections of symphony orchestras were sounding like real music. There was a sense of depth and space that I'd not heard in my system. For a tube amp, the bottom end was very nicely done. Vocals were realistic, also.

Around this time I had the opportunity to talk to a repair tech who had a great deal of experience working on ARC products. He told me that in his opinion, the VT 100 III required a huge amount of time to thoroughly blossom. He said one year or more was not uncommon.

Cut to the present. I am now the proud owner of a pair of ML Summits. I still have the ARC VT 100 III. I find this amp (completely broken-in) to be a very good pairing with the speaker. If you are looking for a tube-sounding system, don't use this amp. But if neutrality in components is what you are seeking, you will get it here with a healthy dose of musicality.

Coda: The amp has just been discontinued by ARC. It will probably be available on Audiogon at a good price. Its replacement (if any) has not been announced yet.
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twich54

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Pre-amp info needed as well

a-live-at-five, It's a quarter of eight here, good review! One bit of advice for all who post their reviews.... be sure to include at least your pre-amp being used in conjunction with your amp since it is the piece of equipment that provides your systems "signature". I know your an ARC guy (good man!!), are you using a REF 2 or 3 ??
 

aliveatfive

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The last ARC pre that I used was an LS 22. I thought that it did not do justice to the rest of my components. I was able to get a good trade on a dealer demo Balanced Audio VK 50 SE. I subsequently had it updated to a VK 51 SE by the factory. I've heard some very nice things about the REF 3 and I'd like to give it a try in my system at some point. BTW, I like the BAT unit a lot.
 

stesom

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The last ARC pre that I used was an LS 22. I thought that it did not do justice to the rest of my components. I was able to get a good trade on a dealer demo Balanced Audio VK 50 SE. I subsequently had it updated to a VK 51 SE by the factory. I've heard some very nice things about the REF 3 and I'd like to give it a try in my system at some point. BTW, I like the BAT unit a lot.
I have an LS-26 in my system now and it is working great. I am going to bring home a ref-3 to see if its worth it. Still working on a new amp which will be Audio research or ATMA-SPHERE I like the whole OTL thing. Great to know that the Summits are happy with a 100 watts tube, since I have 400 SS now....Steve
 

aliveatfive

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I have an LS-26 in my system now and it is working great. I am going to bring home a ref-3 to see if its worth it. Still working on a new amp which will be Audio research or ATMA-SPHERE I like the whole OTL thing. Great to know that the Summits are happy with a 100 watts tube, since I have 400 SS now....Steve
You gotta hear the REF 110. It puts the older amp to shame.
 

stesom

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You gotta hear the REF 110. It puts the older amp to shame.
I just brought home the Ref-3 and my world has been changed beyond any of my expectations and its only got two hours on it so it can only get better. Anyway I agree with going all Ref so I will be auditionong the Ref-110 as soon as funds build back up. Adding the PH-7 and the REF-3 together this was quite an upgrade spree......OK Joey your turn :D
 

nsgarch

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Cut to the present. I am now the proud owner of a pair of ML Summits. I still have the ARC VT 100 III. I find this amp (completely broken-in) to be a very good pairing with the speaker. If you are looking for a tube-sounding system, don't use this amp. But if neutrality in components is what you are seeking, you will get it here with a healthy dose of musicality.
Of course with the Summits, it's only driving the panels.
 

DrJRapp

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Of course with the Summits, it's only driving the panels.
Yes, and no. It still provides the signal for the lf amps. As such, the speaker will reflect the overall tonal qualities of the amp driving it, even though power for the woofers isn't a factor because of the built in ICE modules.
 

Minorl

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Stesom; What made you decide to go from the Audio Research LS 26 to the Ref 3? Was something missing in your system's sound or presentation? I was told that the LS 26 was slightly below the Ref 3 in sound but not much. Well, I have an AR SP 11 and have been desiring a pre-amp at or better with remote control. It turned out that my dealer in San Diego allowed me to try an SP 16 but it wasn't close to my then top-of-the line SP 11, then I took it back after a week and tried an LS 17 in the $400,000 room, with top-of-the line Boulder pre-amp ($40,000) and Boulder amps ($80,000) and Wilson $62,000 speakers and a Wadia CD player. They stopped selling Martin Logans so, I couldn't listen to them there. Well' my music through the system was amazing. Then we inserted the LS 17 and it actually sounded terrible. No way was I taking that home. we then inserted a Ref 3 that they had and it was incredibly close to the $40,000 Boulder pre-amp. So, I took it home for a week's try out. My SP 11 sounded actually close, so I purchased new tubes and have yet to finish burning them in. If my SP 11 is close to the Ref 3 then, I can't see a justifyable reason to buy it, but it sounds really wonderful in my system and I can tell you that I don't want to leave the room. I'm leaning towards the Ref 3, even though it is a large chunk of change. Just wanted your opinion. Thanks,

Enjoy,
 

aliveatfive

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Stesom; What made you decide to go from the Audio Research LS 26 to the Ref 3? Was something missing in your system's sound or presentation? I was told that the LS 26 was slightly below the Ref 3 in sound but not much. Well, I have an AR SP 11 and have been desiring a pre-amp at or better with remote control. It turned out that my dealer in San Diego allowed me to try an SP 16 but it wasn't close to my then top-of-the line SP 11, then I took it back after a week and tried an LS 17 in the $400,000 room, with top-of-the line Boulder pre-amp ($40,000) and Boulder amps ($80,000) and Wilson $62,000 speakers and a Wadia CD player. They stopped selling Martin Logans so, I couldn't listen to them there. Well' my music through the system was amazing. Then we inserted the LS 17 and it actually sounded terrible. No way was I taking that home. we then inserted a Ref 3 that they had and it was incredibly close to the $40,000 Boulder pre-amp. So, I took it home for a week's try out. My SP 11 sounded actually close, so I purchased new tubes and have yet to finish burning them in. If my SP 11 is close to the Ref 3 then, I can't see a justifyable reason to buy it, but it sounds really wonderful in my system and I can tell you that I don't want to leave the room. I'm leaning towards the Ref 3, even though it is a large chunk of change. Just wanted your opinion. Thanks,

Enjoy,
Since I started this thread, I'll reply. I also own a Ref 3 (which has just been replaced by the Ref 5.) My Ref replaced a BAT 51SE which is also a 10 grand preamp. The latest series of Ref preamps have gotten quieter and quieter. There is a sense of non-intervention on the music on the part of the preamp. I find this preamp to be so totally neutral, it is hard to detect it in the amplification chain. I have heard the earlier series of ARC preamps (I've owned quite a few) and this is by far the best of them in my system. A one-time experience with one of these will not do justice to it. Live with one for a couple of weeks (make sure it is broken in) and you will certainly hear the difference.
 
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Minorl

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Thanks for the advice and assessment. I am auditioning a Demo model REF 3 now and I have just finished burning in my new tubes in my SP 11. in some cases, it is really difficult to hear differences and in others the stage is more open, lows are tighter and smoother and vocals are real. The quiet is noticeable also. I'm trying to justify the expenditure, but I find myself still listening hours later without being tired. I'm about 90% there with the REF 3. I hate to let my retubed SP 11 go because it really is a beautifully sounding pre-amp. But, no question the REF 3 is better, it is not that much better, the SP11 was the top-of-the line at one time for AR and retubed it sounds wonderful. But, I love female vocals and strings and the REF 3 is warm and open.

Boy, this is fun.
 

twich54

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I'm doing my best not to be influenced by all this "Ref" talk ! LOL ! I'm starring at a great deal on a demo'ed Ref3 (full factory warranty) but obviously i'd need to move my LS-26.

The sad truth is the difference is mighty close to what it was when I was initially looking at both new !
 

ktchnman

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Are you still using your SP-11? I have an SP 11 Mk-II, with a Cary 200.2 Amp and an ARC Reference CD-8, driving a new pr. of Theos.
 

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