Audio Research Reference 5SE

Written by on 06/04/2012 in Latest Auditions - No comments

Over the span of eighteen months I’ve had the incredible privilege of spending extensive time in my own top-end system with a near complete hierarchy of the Audio Research Reference preamplifier. Apart from the original model that started the successful Reference series in the late nineties, the Reference One line stage, I’ve auditioned from the model Two all they way to the Reference 5SE.

Of them all, the only unit I did not own outright, was the REF2. Despite this, I was still graced by its cozy tube sound for what must have been at least five weeks. The REF2 came in as a worthy stopgap between my then departed REF5 and the highly anticipated new SE version of the Reference 5.

Before I ever heard a Reference preamp from Audio Research, nothing could prepare me for the revelation the Reference 3 laid upon me. Hearing the REF3 in the known environment of my own setup was like experiencing a 1st kiss. It leaves the mind in a state of excited enlightenment and the sense of the dawning of a new frontier overwhelms. The REF3 did everything so incredibly well, even in direct comparison to another leading brand claiming superiority.

The Reference 5 built forth on the three’s foundations, but came to greater light and speed with more contrast and definition. Once experienced, the REF5 leaves the REF3 behind except for the memory of that first kiss.

Although I’ve not yet had the opportunity to test the 40th Anniversary Reference preamp in my own setup, I had a good idea of what was to be expected from the REF5SE. It employs most the 40th’s new tricks, only trickled down somewhat. One look at the 5SE’s power supply will confirm expectations. It’s reservoir capacitance is 95% of the 40th Anniversary model’s, 45% bigger than before and the same brand of output coupling capacitors are present. The new Reference 5SE is indeed a smaller incarnation of the 40th Anniversary Reference preamplifier and by this I mean it is much more a 40th than a hot-rodded REF5!

The REF5SE indeed sounds every bit as open and transparent as the 40th Anniversary baring in mind the different environments I hear them in on weekly basis. Before the 5SE’s arrival, I always returned from a night of exposure to one of two systems with 40th Anniversary Reference preamps thinking, if only my own system could produce that magic.

My Reference 5SE is now just past 50% toward complete burn-in of six hundered hours and to say it has negated my desire for a 40th Anniversary is not an overstatement. In fact I’m very grateful of having such incredible performance for so huge a capital saving.

Currently, my Audio Research REF5SE is the only one in the country, so if you want to hear what the best is made of, make sure to book an audition!

25 June 2012 Update

A client recently asked me the question that if I had to isolate a single defining aspect of the Audio Research Reference preamplifier ‘s performance that really sets it apart from the competition, what would this be?

My thoughts immediately reminded me of  “Da Bass”!

What??  Bass???  What’s it about bass that could be so important??

Let me explain: Audio Research Reference preamplifiers possess the ultimate low frequency defining capacity that allows them to accurately form the foundation and define the boundaries of the acoustic space.

Sound-staging at the cutting edge starts with the bass. Good bass produces realistic weight and overtones that provides the foundation for the rest of the instruments to grow from. Audio Research Reference models does this better than any of the competition. It allows the bass to set the scene by opening up those lower registers with defining power unlike anything else.

Once the foundation is correctly laid down,  instruments and singers however well defined in individual capacity are all anchored within a whole. That whole is the acoustic space. Within this space no sound or instrument will ever present as a detached element,  no matter how well defined they may be individually.

Going up the Audio Research ladder, both of these aspects of acoustic space definition and individual resolution improves greatly. The scale of realism the combination of these two aspects bring to the overall presentation and musical experience is what separates the cutting edge from mere high-end.

Once reproduced music have been experienced in this way, there is no turning back.

About the Author

Audio Engineer, Critic & Retailer twenty-seven years in the making.

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