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... Dead Can Dance, Anabasis, WAV 24/44.1 Dead Can Dance, Anastasis, [PIAS] Entertainment Group, PIASR311CDX, Special Edition Hardbound Box Set, CD+USB drive 24/44.1 WAV (2012); Kankawa, Dear Myself, 24/192 WAV Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 24/192 WAV; Keith Jarrett, January 24 1975. Part I, WAV 24/96 Keith Jarrett, Köln Concert, WAV 24/96, HDTracks; Me Myself And I, Elytom Encon, WAV 16/44.1 Me Myself And I, Do Not Cover, Creative Music, 005, CD (2011); Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, Searching, WAV 16/44.1 Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, Sleeps With The Fishes, 4AD, GAD 710 CD; Sonny Rollins Tenor Madness, WAV 24/96 Sonny Rollins, Tenor Madness, WAV 24/96, HDTracks; Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars), WAV 24/96 Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, HDTracks; The Alan Parsons Project, Sirius + Eye In The Sky, WAV 24/192 The Alan Parsons Project, Eye In The Sky, DVD-A.

The Audio Research REF75 provides a very solid chunk of good sound and music. And really, what else to expect from a manufacturer with quality products in its very blood? Even the change of ownership to Quadrivio SGR from Italy after the death of founder and ‘good spirit’ William Johnson hasn’t changed that. What didn’t change either is the ARC signature sound I hear in all their products. And what a sound that is!

The Reference 75 sounds big and massive. Bass is saturated full and strong and slightly emphasized in the 100-200Hz power region. This gives extra oomph and casts really large images. I can’t imagine any situation where one would call a system with the REF75 dry thin or light. That option isn’t on the menu. There would have to be something seriously wrong for that to happen, like forgetting to switch on the active subwoofers in an Avantgarde Acoustics hornspeaker as I once witnessed.

This sound is thick and malleable. Bass is stronger than usual which however doesn’t affect the midrange or adds similar weight to it. And such an emphasis would be so easily done when adding midbass also results in a dark thick unhurried midrange. Here pace is slightly restrained but not by coloration. I get back to that later. I was particularly interested in this aspect since there are many warm slow tubby tube amps which despite their supporters tend to sound tedious, tiring and boring over the long run. Of course I know how they are often paired with overly bright speakers to correct tonal balance as a kind of tone control. I would be hard-pressed to butt in and come down on it since it’s only natural to look for synergy which includes tonal balance. However there are limits one shouldn’t venture beyond. Forcibly warming up a system with a slow warm amp would be exactly that and go too far.

The ARC Reference 75 can affect tonal balance. As I said it offers a strong clearly emphasized bass. Yet it’s not senselessly thumping nor does it dip everything in amber to solidify it forever. It’s far more subtle. When we pair the ARC with Wilson-type speaker (which makes sense in that both manufacturers use each other’s products for their new design work and even share the same Polish distributor), the somewhat dry short bass of the speakers will be fantastically complemented by the slight bass excess of the former.

I was very interested in how it would affect the treble. Strong fleshy bass usually colors the midrange but here it is different. Bass by nature sets the tone of a presentation regardless of repertoire. But perhaps most important is what the REF75 does in the midrange. It’s big and not particularly selective but of good resolution. Both density and depth are set at a good level to create a very atmospheric immersive sound. I was extremely pleased to listen to certain records that hadn’t sounded this good in my system for quite some time.

Small ensembles worked out incredibly well. That was another interesting trait because such a large amplifier with this type of tube power usually gets associated with high levels and the type of repertoire that veers from Vader to Megadeth or from a Queen concert album to imposing works by Mike Oldfield. And we would be right as the American amp can do that really well. But what captivated me was the way it presented the small and individual.

Solo violin sounded beautiful whether on an old recording with Henryk Szeryng or a modern reading by Hilary Hahn. Both albums are wonderful but recorded in completely different ways. The amplifier made them sound more similar by providing a strong bass foundation without muddying up the midrange. The presentation was dense and very emotional. I could get wrapped up by it and in it. I might have expected to feel dominated by the midrange saturated with harmonics but I was not. The midrange exhibited proper proportions to the upper ranges. There were simply so many sounds going on but this intensity arose from presence, palpability, proper saturation and decay, not from hyper detail.