Audio Research versus McIntosh tube amps: anyone experience or compare both?

As stated in the title of this thread, considering both brands.  I'm looking for a new or near new tube amp to run my Joseph Audio Pulsar's.  Have been using a Pass XA25, which sounds a little lean with this speaker.  Looking for a touch of tube warmth and bloom, but still good detail.

Considering a new McIntosh 275 MkVI or possibly a preowned ARC Reference 75SE.  New ARC costs more than I want to spend ($6K range or less).  Preamp is ARC Ref 2 MKII BTW.

Would appreciate any insight for those who have experienced both.  Thanks!


You have very nice systems.

Before trading amps, have you tried moving the speakers closer to the back wall / corners to reinforce the bass?


The ARC and Mac amps are very different. The Mac’s are heavy bass / midrange with a notable lack of detail / treble, and the ARC amp is detailed, with good midrange bloom and realistic bass as is only achieved by a really good tube amp. Especially given all the ARC equipment you own, you must try a ARC amp. I used Pass amps for decades. The first time I put an ARC amp in my system that was the end of my history with solid state amps and Pass (as great as they are). While the bass slam is attenuated, the bass becomes nuanced and realistic. There was no going back for me.

ARC and Mac amplifiers have completely different sounds. You need to hear them for yourself.

I agree with @cleeds 

In particular, how they handle  the upper midrange and treble is very different, and also different for vintage AR vs. current.

I'd suggest Ayre and Luxman to be on your short list, as well as Parasound.

I haven't listened to ARC amplifiers. I prevously used McIntosh MC275 MK VI and it lacked details and bass. It was weak. If you want dynamic, you won't have it. If you simply want tube warmth, it may work. Good luck!

@ghdprentice  hit the nail on the head. Currently I'm using a REF75SE and absolutely love it. ARC just gets everything right top to bottom. Preamp is Ref6.  

@bobbydd - I’m with Mazian’s comment above. As you mentioned warmth, I recommend the Conrad Johnson Classic 120. That amp uses EL34 tubes and brings a wonderful warmth to the music. I alternate it with an Audio Hungary power amp. The preamp is a Linear Tube Audio Microzotl, which has a tube tone, wonderful soundstage and imaging, with some solid state detail. 

The above components, at least for me, have delivered what I was looking for - which it sounds like what you are also looking for - tube warmth with solid state details. Highly recommended combinations. 

Because the 3 little bones in your ear (ossicles) are different in every human what you hear is unique to you and as such you must have an in-home test of both amps to get your ears happy.

That being said, (I'm biased) the ARC Ref 75SE is a fantastic amp that will play well with your Ref 2,  It's a neutrally voiced amp that adds very little tonal expression to the signal you feed it. The amp has a wispy airy soundstage and has well controlled bass. It's faithful to the artists recording, and to my ears well recorded music sounds live and deep through ARC gear. 

The Mc is altogether different. It's voiced to be warm and "Tubey" sounding which is great for some tracks but in my biased opinion is adding too much to the original signal. It's pretty, even sexy. It has good resale value. It just colors outside the lines too much for me and it's irritating to have a track that's supposed to be bright and sparkly sound blanketed. 

I know this will tick off some people but the Mc is considered a "Mid Fi" product. 

The 75SE is one of the sweetest ARC amps. Detailed, superb soundstage, excellent instrument timbre, and easy to check and adjust bias. Agree it will pair perfectly with your Ref2MkII.  I did not have much success pairing Mac amp with ARC preamp despite "adequate" impedence matching. 

Ever thought about biamping. Maybe see if pairing your existing solid state monos and a 275 for McIntosh or better from audio research since you have their preamp for the mid range and tweeters. You have a nice size room and maybe it's underpowered. Lots of windows which you know about and maybe it's fine. I am in love with your rack.

I'm using a McIntosh MC 901 and find it works out really well . I'm exploring replacing all of the smaller tubes with NOS telefunkens. Replaced a few of the small tubes with good results and I need to complete the transition. I like the independent control of the drivers and I didn't want to deal with complexities of crossover components so that's why I got the 901. 

The ARC has often been referred to as a reference level component. No doubt  it's of the highest quality. Mcintosh is also used by many reviewers and audiophiles as a reference. Both companies (and others) have historically produced the best of the best. I think you have a fun time ahead ! Judge only with your ears and your system. Which one gives you what it is you think you're missing ? Oh how I envy your days ahead. Nice cabin view between those Joseph's.

  "Just one more thing" to the Pirate . . . McIntosh,  mid-fi ? Thanks for the chuckle!


I don't like it when people make a post that doesn't really answer the question asked, and I will start by admitting no McIntosh experience. I am, however, recently back and forth between a Ref 75 and the XA-25, and I actually find the XA to have more midrange warmth than the Ref 75. I really like them both a lot - Ref 75 edges out the Pass on soundstage, and Pass seems just a bit warmer/fuller in the midrange.

At least to my ears , if you are looking for more warmth in an amplifier as you suggest - I don't think that the Ref 75 will scratch that itch over the XA-25.

I at one point I had both a Ref 75SE and Pass xa25 in my system. I concur with @chcook's statement " I actually find the XA to have more midrange warmth than the Ref 75. I really like them both a lot - Ref 75 edges out the Pass on soundstage, and Pass seems just a bit warmer/fuller in the midrange." I will add that I thought the Ref75SE had a little blacker background.

Let me add this: my system photos feature a few of an ARC amplifier - a vintage VT100 purchased from a friend last year.  It’s been hot rodded with new caps plus kt 120’s and sounds very good in my set up - better than I had expected!  But it has two issues: a fan which I dislike ( audible) and it’s a PIA to bias (never mind the cost of replacing 16 tubes …).  Hence my thinking a more modern, easier to deal with tubed unit might do the trick.

Anything preowned would of necessity be bought without an audition in my set up and thus it’s a bit of a guessing game.

Other suggestions welcome and thank you!


Pick up an ARC D-79A or D-79B.  Even used, a lot of people think it was the very best amp ARC ever produced.  

"Pick up" was used figuratively.   

I have an audiophile friend who switched from pass lab XA160.8 to ARC ref250. Paired with ARC ref10 pre amp he and I just love how they sound with Magico S3. If you like details and “fast” response with a little tube bloom then ARC is one of the very few maker who can make this balance meticulously. Macintosh IMHO is more “classic” tube sound : “musical” (=slow transient response so not too much details ) but each to their own. 
disclaimer : current user ( and big fan)of ARC ref10 / ref 160 mono mk2 , I had used CJ / Counterpoint / Jadis / Mac / Kondo / Manley in the last 25 years and these are the best tube pairs I had ever used. 

Maybe try an ARC VS110 or VS115. Not an ARC reference level amp, but might have that warmth you are looking for while still retaining that ARC sound. Uses 8 6550 tubes and easy to bias. I also agree with the Ayre recommendation. I moved from the VS110 to a Theta Dreadnaught II (which like Ayre is a zero feedback Charlie Hansen design) and the bass drive is fantastic with very detailed mids. The Theta also has 225 watts/450 watts into 8/4 ohms vs the ARC rated at 110 watts. Both the VS110 and the Theta are available for around $2,500. 

Used ARC REF150se sometimes trade for $6,000 or less, if you need more watts.  I own one.  Great amp.  I think undervalued on the used market, but that's the market.

Are the fans audible in the newer bigger ARC amps like the 150?

Also, is the biasing procedure complex?


Convenience has value IMO.

I have mine on low (3 available speeds) and can't hear them.  Things seem to stay cool enough.  Might need a higher speed if your room is hot, but them you wouldn't want the amp on for super long anyway. 

Biasing is pretty easy.  I think the VT100 is known to be one or the worst ARC amp to bias.

It's a pretty great amp.  I considered replacing it with a REF160S, but they are quite heavy (close to 100 lbs?) and I suspected the 160S will be replaced or augmented with a new amp that uses the KT170 tubes.  I think I am correct about this, as the 320M became the new 330M with KT170 tubes.

The contemporary Audio Research Reference and VT amps have audio biasing and soft start. So, no fiddling is ever needed.

I agree with Docknow. The Audio Research Ref 150 was the best value in audio I have ever had.  Great bass, sweet but detailed midrange and accurate highs. I recommend finding a used one. I currently have the Ref 160 Mk 2 mono amps which are 15% better at 9 times the cost. In the past, i also had the Ref 110 which was not nearly as good as the Ref 150. Docknow refers to the 150Se which is slightly better than the Ref 150. They are both tremendous values.

@bobbydd since you asked a leading question, you will get answers which are obviously this or that. What you are looking for is a great sounding tube amp which has the bloom but not slow or colored. Check out Rogue Audio Stereo 100. It has everything that the Pass does well + warmth and naturalness, without any voicing. Both ARC & Mac are voiced. Rogue Stereo 100 and Apollo Monoblocks sound natural and unvoiced. They both have a triode/ultralinear switch. I always preferred the triode mode. Natural, harmonic, and transparent. Here is a review comparing Rogue Stereo 100 and Pass XA25


If you decide to try a more modern ARC, don’t get distracted by the other amps, like the REF 150. The REF 75SE would be all you need. It checks all your boxes for simple, fewer tubes and easy to bias from the faceplate. The 150 you have to remove the cage, and get your volt meter out with the probes on the board. It may not sound like that much from simply describing in a post but as a former owner of both amps it gets really old, FAST! Being able to turn the knobs on the 75 and stick the little tool in the hole is so convenient to give you the peace of mind that things are in good shape. I put the REF75SE up against a solid state Mc, the MC462 and it provided the same output and better/more musical sound. I haven’t ever heard a Mc tube amp but as others have stated, you are already an ARC fan so you owe it to yourself to try a 75SE. Get one at a good price and you can always resell if you want but I suspect you won’t sell it until you are ready to move up the ARC line to their newer auto-bias models. Have fun!!!!

I am actually somewhat surprised that you didn't like the Pass/Pulsar combo.  I had  Pulsars in my music room and to me they are a warmer speaker, which I paired with a Prima Luna DiaLogue HD tube amp.  I thought that that combo sounded very nice.  Nonetheless, I wonder if keeping the Pass and getting an ARC REF 6 preamp might be the ticket.  I have a REF 6 and a Pass 250.8 for my Wilson Sabrina X's and it really hits the spot.  Let your ears tell you what sounds best!

Most definitely the ARC, but you were on the right track with the XA25... Why is the obvious answer a tube amp? 
A really good option, and one I ran with big B&W's... ARC Pre, big Pass amp! I used an X250.5 at the time, but if you want tube like sound as opposed to intense focused bass, crystal clear mid & hi's.... Big mono XA's!
XA60.8's will sound completely different than your XA25
$14K a pair new... there are 3 year 0% interest deals out there...

I bought an Arc REF75 so long ago I cannot remember, sent it to ARC and had it upgraded to REF75se another long time ago.  I have never had the thought to ever change amps, I am pretty sure this is endgame for me.  A year ago it started sounding muddy in the bass and lost detail, checked the hours, 2030 on those power tubes.  Put in new tubes (from ARC, yeah, reluctantly paid the price) sounded much better immediately, now 80 hours in it sounds wonderful again and I know it is just starting to bloom, in another 200 hours, back to audio bliss.  Pairs perfectly with my ARC REF6.  After reading reviews and talking to people I am feeling I will prefer the REF6 sound to the REEF6se sound though that is a somewhat baseless opinion because i have not been able to spend some time with the 6se.

Bottom line: another vote for the REF75se.  Not the ref75.  Big difference!   I listened to MacIntosh years ago.  I found the Macintosh to be a fun listen now and then, but too bloated and exaggeratedly tubey.   I wanted some thing more natural, like the musician was in the room with me, with a hint of warmth. My cables amplify the tiny bit of warmth I hear in the ARC. 

I would also suggest if you could afford it, eventually maybe, pair it with the REF6 Pre, to me it sounds like they were made for one another.  I added the REF6 after I had had the REF75 for awhile, and that changed everything - I could no longer listen to how my system was sounding because the music kept distracting me.  Except for adding a server (Aurender) I haven't changed anything in a long time.

Spending money on Head-Fi now.


Some of the statements about the sound of each amp mentioned above my post are generally true.  This is the best advice I have read.  Pick up an ARC D-79A or D-79B.  Even used, a lot of people think it was the very best amp ARC ever produced.  BUT you have to have them modified.  We recently upgraded a D-79B and were amazed at how it sounded once upgraded.  BUT it is a big beast! LOL.

I don't see your source so I am thinking you are getting your sound quality from the source and not as much from the amps but I am not there to help you evaluate that part of your sound.

Happy Listening.



Very nice account of your experience with ARC. Very similar to mine although I have spent the last few years with the Ref 160s and 160m.

Judging by your comments on your main system I must highly recommend the Woo WA5 headphone amp. If you can afford it add a pair of Takatsuki 300B tubes and you will be in the the same headphone nirvana which all ARC does to your main system,

I've moved on from ARC gear. Ime it sounds superficially impressive, plenty bass, dynamics, big soundstage but lacks musicality when compared to the best. I'd be happy to have it in an AV system. Macintosh are midfi at best and don't belong in a reference system.

An earlier poster suggested mixing a valve pre amp with solid state power amp. For me this is audio nirvana, i would suggest a VAC pre with a Boulder power amp.

This would give the warmth you enjoy and the bass you crave, with added musicality. A mailed fist inside a velvet glove.


I like searching for deals ; )

Echo Hi-Fi is a great group to deal with and have a BAT VK-75SE.

I have no experience with this brand but this seems like a nice option for consideration.  

Thanks guys!

Seems I should be looking for a nice Ref 75SE.  Prefer it in black……

Though I’m a little surprised nobody mentioned VAC.  Have given a little thought to a used 200iq.

I have been listening to JA Perspective2s with Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL pre and Pass X250.8 for few months now. I ❤️ what I'm hearing. When I demoed the speakers at my dealer, hear them with full Mac system, tube pre but SS monos but sounded bit veiled to my taste. 

@bobbydd I have owned several VAC amps... the least favorite of which was a Phi 200.  It was well built, but the sound quality was disappointing for the price paid.  McIntosh MC275 MKV was superior.   

Both the ARC Ref 75SE and the McIntosh MC275 are good choices... and resale value is high, assuring you will lose little to nothing if/when you choose to resell.


Here it comes from left field.. Ready? 

Pathos Kratos Hybrid Integrated- Class A PreAmp / Class AB Amp 

I'd be concerned about maintenance on an audio research product longer-term. Would recommend buying from a dealer if used.  McIntosh is reliable and built like a tank and sounds really good and is not midfi.  Would encourage you to get better tubes than what it comes with.  


Just noticed a set of Jadis JA30 II mono's for sale here.  Anyone familiar with these units?