When company, Audio Research was founded in 1970, analog vinyl playback was the de facto music source of the time. Audio Research has either incorporated or built stand-alone phono stages since the very beginning, and has continuously provided phono preamplification, even during the height of digital music. The Reference Phono 3 is the next advancement of analog playback.
Founder William Z. Johnson was never one to follow popular trends; Audio Research began building vacuum tube components as transistors were replacing tubes for its low cost and simple maintenance. But the fact remained that vacuum tubes simply sounded better. Digital technologies arrived in the mid-1980’s, and offered a level of convenience and low maintenance, but again at the sacrifice of ultimate playback performance. Audio Research has never discontinued its support for vinyl playback, but instead use the collective knowledge accumulated over the decades to produce some of the finest phono preamplifiers available on the market.
The Reference Series from Audio Research was first introduced in 1995 and has been the ultimate representation of performance, musicality and power. Beginning with the Reference 1 preamplifier and Reference 600 monoblocks, the Reference Phono was introduced in 2000 as the first Reference-level phono preamplifier. The Reference Phono was succeeded by the Reference Phono 2, and later 2 SE, and the Phono 3 is the newest member to the family.
The goal for the Reference Phono 3 was to arrive at the level the SE amplifiers and Reference 6 were providing. The addition of two vacuum tubes in the analog circuit (bringing the total to six) permits an even lower noise floor, while simultaneously providing greater dynamic range and authority. New coupling capacitors offer a grainless and time-coherent presentation
The Reference Phono 3 is a continuation of the work which has been evolving other components in the Audio Research Reference Series over the past year. In mid-2015, all of the amplifiers received significant performance enhancements with the SE updates, new output tubes, components, and other parts ushered in a new level of sonic accuracy and musicality. This exposed a need for higher resolution and dynamic capabilities in components upstream from the amplifiers, and in October 2015 the Reference 6 was introduced. The Reference Phono 3 is the next step in our pursuit of musical realism. Like the Reference 6, the tube count in the analog section Reference Phono 3 has been increased from four to six. The power supply has been redesigned to accommodate the additional tubes, as well as provide a greater dynamic range. Numerous other components and parts, including proprietary coupling capacitors, wiring and cryogenically-treated pieces advance the playback experience to a level reminiscent of master tape playback for a realism and palpability previously unavailable.
The Reference Phono 3 phono preamplifier is housed in a single chassis paneled in custom-machined aluminium. The vacuum tube audio stage uses six 6H30 vacuum tubes (three per channel), and one 6H30 and a 6550WE provide regulation in the power supply. The large, vacuum fluorescent display on the front panel shows all functions relative to the selected input. A row of six buttons control power, mute, input, and menu controls. Menu functions include: auto shutdown, gain and load settings, display brightness, equalisation settings, and tube hour reset. High and low gain settings, as well as six fixed and one custom impedance setting, accomodate most any moving magnet or moving coil cartridge. Two single-ended inputs provide connectivity to two turntables. There are two main outputs providing both balanced and single-ended outputs. RS-232 and IR input allow for additional control options. The Reference Phono 3 ships with a full-function metal remote.
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