Is Audio Research becoming a “lifestyle” brand?

Sep 15, 2013
I have been an ARC fan since the mid seventies when I bought an SP-3 and D75A. I’ve had numerous ARC models since then and I still have 6 pieces (a few are silent “museum” pieces).

I was a little concerned when Bill Johnson sold ARC to an Italian investment group, and it is now of course part of the McIntosh group (oh, the horrors :)). I admired Bill’s clever circuit design and his insistence on listening tests. Bill designed and built industrial-grade instruments (in the best sense of the term “industrial”) that measured well, but also played music extremely well, with a admirably consistent sonic track record. There were very few “bad” sounding ARC products. Bill didn’t hold back on using the best parts where required. I also love the older styling that is unabashed American industrial chic. To me the D-150 is gorgeous, and better looking than the new REF160. Maybe that’s just me. The new owners seem to have decided to redesign the look of the products to be more “lifestyle”-oriented (I hate that shallow marketing term). They even applied the name “Galileo” to some products as if that would confer some Italian style to ARC products. Kinda cynical if you ask me. So much for big American muscle.

The following is only my speculation and may not be factual: Since Bill’s departure and eventual passing, the electrical design team at ARC had been technicians who had worked for Bill and most of their new products were tweaked evolutions of Bill’s existing designs. I don’t know who designs them now - McIntosh engineers maybe? But I can guess this much: ARC’s stated emphasis on reducing costs is visible in newer products in a couple of ways. FETs have replaced tubes in many front-end stages. These are often hidden from view under the chassis with only tubes visible on top - so you might think that these are tube-only amps with very simple circuits, when they may not be. FETs are much cheaper than tubes and don’t require heaters and high-voltage supplies. I’m not saying FETs are bad. There are many FETs designs that sound great, including ARC products. But I think cost-cutting was a big factor too.

Probably the most expensive parts in tube amps are the output transformers and the power transformers. To a first-order, transformer cost is proportional to weight. Heavier transformers can carry more power without distortion, but they require more copper windings and more steel core material. It seems to me that ARC may have reduced the relative sizes of transformers in recent years. Compare, for example, the output transformer sizes in the REF250SE to the old D-250. Both put out 250 watts per channel. Heck, compare them to an ancient D75A! At least the REF250SE still has the recent version of classic ARC styling. Compare total weights of old products to newer ones based on relative power levels. Transformer technology has not advanced that much, so that doesn't account for it. My guess is that lowering cost does.

I suspect that ARC is trying to carefully walk the line between cutting costs while maintaining sound quality as much as possible. And all the while injecting Italian style. A reasonable business thing to do. It is also reasonable for consumers to keep manufacturers accountable.

Having said all of that, the few times I have heard the more recent crop of ARC products, I have been impressed by their sound quality. But I wouldn't dismiss their older products as being outdated either, even back into the eighties, just because they’re not the newest “thing” anymore.

So count me as still an ARC fanboy, just a bit more cautious. It will be interesting to see how the parent company continues to evolve and distinguish the ARC and McIntosh brands. Mac builds some decent stuff, but they never had an audiophile pretense. They were what doctors and lawyers bought. Pretty blue meters and black glass panels are almost a parody now that Mac has become a full-on lifestyle brand. ARC was always audiophile-respected and a serious all-out attempt at the state of the art. Will ARC become just another life-style brand? We’ll see. I surely hope not.


Member Sponsor
Jul 8, 2011
San Diego, CA
No chance of that happening. They're interested in creating great quality products, and everything is still developed through extensive listening tests, using a variety of speakers (cones, panels, etc)
This recent batch of products from ARC is basically the best stuff they've ever done, with much improved sonics *and* reliability.
I do like some of the old look, but I do like a lot of the new, post-Galileo look as well!
Last edited:


Active Member
Feb 16, 2013
Some are reporting that the new AR products are sounding much better
Likes: asiufy


Active Member
Jul 7, 2017
I absolutely love the new look. Honestly the old look was part of what had kept me away from ARC. I now own a Ref 6, and there’s nothing lifestyle-ish about its performance. And I’ve been drooling nonstop over the new 160S since its pic was released.
Likes: asiufy

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