Audio Research Reference 5 SE line preamplifier
Description: Tubed, remote-controlled line preamplifier with six sets of balanced and unbalanced inputs, three sets of balanced and unbalanced outputs, and a unity-gain Processor input.
Tube complement: 6550C and 6H30P (power-supply regulation), four 6H30P (dual triodes).
Frequency response: 0.2Hz–200kHz, +0/–3dB, at rated output (balanced, 200k ohms load).
Maximum voltage gain, main output (single-ended or balanced input): 12dB, balanced output; 6dB, single-ended output.
Distortion: <0.01% at 2V RMS, balanced output.
Input impedance: 120k ohms balanced, 60k ohms single-ended.
Output impedance: 600 ohms balanced, 300 ohms single-ended main, 20k ohms minimum load and 2000pF maximum capacitance.
Output polarity: non-inverting.
Maximum input: 20V RMS maximum balanced, 10V RMS single-ended.
Rated output: 2V RMS (1V RMS single-ended) into 200k ohm balanced load (maximum balanced output capability is 30V RMS at <0.5% THD at 1kHz).
Noise: 1.7µV RMS residual IHF-weighted balanced noise output with volume control at “1” (109dB below 2V RMS output).
Power consumption: standby, 2W; full output, 130W.
Dimensions: 19″ (485mm) W by 7″ (178mm) H by 15.5″ (394mm) D. Handles extend 1.5″ (38mm) forward of front panel. Weight: 30.4 lbs (13.9kg) net, 41.6 lbs (19kg) shipping.
Finishes: Natural Aluminum, Black.
Serial Number of Unit Reviewed: 59304913.
Price: $12,995 (upgrade from Reference 5 to Reference 5 SE: call ARC). Approximate number of dealers: 50.
Summing up my experience of Audio Research’s Reference 5 SE preamplifier is pretty easy: I was smitten. I hear a lot of great audio gear, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been so taken with a component. I can’t imagine anyone hearing the Ref 5 SE and not falling head over heels for it. It’s been a long time, too, since I’ve heard a component that seemed to be so fundamental and significant an advance over all others I’ve heard. It’s true that I haven’t heard the latest models from Ayre Acoustics, Simaudio, Sutherland Engineering, and VTL. And $12,995 is a lot of money—but not for a component this good and this well built, and not for one that Audio Research stands behind. There are a lot more expensive preamps out there today, but I’m not sure that any amount of money will buy better performance than the Reference 5 SE’s. One thing I am sure of: Like its illustrious predecessors, the Ref 5 SE is a component I’ll wish I’d held on to—assuming I ever let go of it. The Reference 5 SE gets my highest recommendation.