My ARC tour was scheduled for 9:30 and I was on the opposite side of the Twin Cities at 9:00. Under normal conditions the drive would take me 20 minutes. But, the driving conditions were far from normal. A typical March snow storm was dumping snow on Minneapolis and causing a traffic nightmare. I don't want to incriminate myself so I won't go into the details of how I arrived at the front door of Audio Research Corporation at 9:31. When an opportunity this cool comes along you have to take matters into your own hands!
Shortly after I arrived I was greeted by Leonard who would give me the complete tour. We entered the production area of the facility where all the magic happens. You can follow every component from its infancy as a single circuit board to the final listening test to the packaging of the tubes for shipment. This is not a small facility, but it is certainly not a huge factory that pumps out hundreds of units per day. Everything throughout the whole production process is done carefully by hand. With this much attention to detail it is amazing that ARC can produce enough units to satisfy global demand.
As Leonard guided me through the facility I walked by the empty metal shells that would later contain the internal parts being assembled ten feet away. The further we walked the more each unit started to look like the final product. I was quite surprised to see half a dozen 610T amplifiers in different stages of assembly. The 610T was the component of the year in one of the popular print magazines and retails for around $40,000. Seeing the care and quality that goes into making the 610T sure helps you understand the retail price of the product. Add the incredible sound of the 610T to the equation and it really makes sense why I saw so many being assembled. They are worth every penny. Period. To some readers that may sound crazy, but I am dead serious. There is no snake oil or smoke & mirrors around Audio Research. This company and its products are the real deal. Companies like ARC give high end audio a good name.
Midway through the tour I was shown the repair section of the facility. As you can imagine not much space was dedicated to this function. I saw products from every decade I've been alive on this planet. ARC's products really do last a lifetime if you're willing to send them in every thirty years for a little tune-up. According to Leonard the older products with toggle switches have problems after so many years of flipping them up and down. ARC has since phased out the toggle switch in favor of the current black switch visible in many of the photos here. Not too far from the repaid section is the area where every single tube is tested for around 72 hours. The first thing that came to mind when looking at all the empty tube sockets was heat. I bet it is unbearable in this are in the middle of August when the humidity is as sky high as the temperature. Next to the tube testing are was, you guessed it, a large collection of tubes awaiting placement into a component. Call me what you want, but the sight of all the tubes gave me a good feeling and the itch to get into my listening chair.
Finishing up the walking part of the tour Leonard brought me through the rows and rooms of stocked parts for current and old models. If you need a replacement for the fifteen year old faceplate on your preamp you might be in luck. One of the most popular requests Leonard receives is for replacement screws. People seem to lose them often he said as we walked through shelves containing screws for every ARC component imaginable. You have to love those loyal ARC customers who will only replace missing screws with screws directly from the manufacturer.
Toward the end of the tour I was introduced to Dave Gordon, Managing Director at ARC, who I had previously spoken with on the phone. Dave is the one who provided me some preliminary information about the upcoming ARC DAC, which will have a USB input (NICE!). He is also the person who extended the invitation to go to ARC for the tour. You might expect one of the world's best audiophile equipment manufacturers to be pompous and arrogant, but nothing is further from the truth when it comes to Audio Research. Dave was very down to earth and answered every questions I asked. He even offered up some information on a new product that I was privileged to listen to. How cool is that? If only more people could be exposed to this side of high end audio I think audiophile numbers would increase and the unwarranted skepticism of audiophile products would decrease dramatically.
The Best Audio SYstem, Bar None
After discussing a few things with Dave he suggested we head back to the listening room. That was a no-brainer for me. I would have walked across town to get this opportunity. Dave is a real audiophile who listens to equipment at work and enjoys his music at home. He asked me what kind of music I listened to instead of spinning some constantly overplayed Diana Krall disc. If you've ever been to a high end audio show you know exactly what I'm talking about. DIana has a great voice and some great music, but everything in moderation please. Dave grabbed a small stack of CDs from the collection. He played some artists that I was familiar with, but the specific recordings I was not. Then he popped in Easy To Love by Roberta Gambarini. All I can say is WOW! Sitting in the center position with the lights in the room dimmed real low I heard music like I had never heard before. I seriously didn't want to leave. This complete Audio Research system was absolutely the best sounding, most musical system I have ever heard. Hands down. I could place every instrument on a stage in front of me as if I was there. Dave spun a few more discs for me and each one absolutely amazed me. Saxophones and trumpets sounded like real instruments right there. There was nothing smooth about a trumpet solo coming from the right speaker. The trumpet sounded brash just as it was supposed to! One of my favorite instruments to hear on a great system is the stand-up bass. There is nothing like hearing the pluck of each string to make you think you're actually at a live performance. As I said a few sentences back, this system was not only the best it was the most musical I've ever heard. This combination is not found often. Many high end systems are one or the other. The ARC system had me listening to music even though I was there to see the equipment, after all ARC is an equipment manufacturer.
You may be wondering what components, what cables, and what speakers were in the system. To be honest, it doesn't even matter. Every ARC product is of such high quality I could have listened to any of them and been just as enthralled by the music. Seriously, I've seen each of the products being hand made and doubt you could find a single flaw in any of them. This may sound like an advertisement for Audio Research, but trust me there is nothing in it for me. This complete article is actually for you guys, the readers. You may not get a chance to hear a complete system of this caliber and to actually see what goes into creating such quality products. Not only are Audio Research products some of the best you'll find anywhere, the people at Audio Research are some of the best you'll find in the business. Ask anyone who has ever talked to the ARC people or dealt with them through a local dealer. You'll get the same answers every time. In fact, after my listening session Dave extended an invitation to come back any time and to bring some of my favorite CDs to play on their reference system. Not many people live minutes away from one of the best high end audio equipment manufacturers in the world. Fortunately I do and I will be back. Audio Research's enviable reputation can be attributed to the great products and the great people who work there.
See all the Audio Research photos on the following pages.