BHK preamp vs ARC Ref 6

I am interested in buying the BHK preamp or the AR Ref6.
I’d like to hear feedback from those who have owned both preamps to comment on the sonic differences between them. Please try not to just say “it’s better.” I love the details.

I once heard the BHK on my system when I had the PASS XA30.8 and it was excellent. Fast, forceful and fixed the images in a spectacular way.
Now I have an AR 150SE and it is a spectacular amp. I recently bought a second hand Ref5 and I didn’t like it very much as it lacked dynamics and had too heavy a sound. I think this unit was out of order and needed a repair. I certainly can’t know for sure since I don’t have any comparative framework but the AR sound is not dark and lacking in dynamics, which makes me suspect that something was wrong with it.

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@uri
Welcome to PS Audio community. Hopefully some members who owned / experienced both preamps would chime in. I have the BHK pre and I think it’s spectacular.

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I’ve been driving my ARC Ref75SE with BHK Pre and the sound is truly spectacular. I borrowed a Ref5SE and although very good in it’s own rights, I didn’t feel it was better than the BHK to justify the increased cost. Removing cost, yes the REF5SE had points where is was slightly better, but so did the BHK so even at that point, I wouldn’t have changed it out.

Before the REF75SE, I was using Pass XA60.5’s which also sounded excellent with the BHK.

I don’t think you can go wrong with the BHK Pre…

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Can you comment on how they differ?

Both of them are dynamic and can really “slam” when called for. I think the REF5SE was slightly better at re-creating space and maybe a smidgen more detailed. The BHK added a bit more warmth. Neither one is traditionally “tubey”.

Keep in mind it’s only a degree or so of difference… not night and day. They do sound much more alike than different.

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Welcome to the PSA forum. Regarding Audio Research preamps and comparison to the PS Audio BHK preamp I suggest you hit up the knowledgeable and respected @badbeef. He has experience with both lines and I believe runs Harbeth Speakers with them. On a hunch I’d like to think your AR REF 5 had an issue(s). Just to satisfy my curiosity what speakers, wiring and sources are you running with? Not surprised to learn you enjoyed the BHK with the Pass Labs 30.8.

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I had the BHK Pre feeding my BHK 300s driving either Maggie 20.7s and MBL 120 speakers. I replaced the BHK Pre with the ARC 6 Ref in that setup. I found the soundstage with the ARC 6 seemed more lifelike and 3 dimensional. Voices seemed fleshier and more human. Transients and attack of the notes seemed more natural. Drum thwacks real. Cymbals real. The price point difference is significant. Bang for your buck it is hard to beat the BHK Pre. But honestly the ARC 6 is better. (And sorry for using better :smiley:) Not blow your mind better but better. I was going to upgrade the 6 to the SE but ended up going a different direction with my setup with an all MBL system.

I owned both the ARC Ref6 and the BHK at the same time. The Ref6 was absolutely not for me. Not to say that the BHK was better, just very different. In all honesty I think it will come down to the rest of your one’s system matching and sonic preferences.

Keep in mind that in the comparisons below, I was using a few different NOS/aftermarket tubes and a Synergistic Research Blue fuse in the BHK while the Ref6 was in stock form.

In comparison, I found the Ref6 to be much more articulate and controlled, which are two qualities that were superior from the BHK and why I ultimately moved on from the BHK over time. The Ref6 showed me the BHK could be improved upon in those ways. That said, I found the BHK to have a wider and more holographic imaging. There was more tubey goodness from the BHK as well, which added layering and thickness to vocals and instrumentation. Ultimately, I found it to be more emotionally involving albeit less revealing. The Ref6 was simply more “lit” and “in your face” compared to the BHK.

At the end of the day, the BHK is an incredible preamp for the money if you need tubes in a pre, but if you have upgraditis, it likely won’t be end game. The Ref6 ‘could’ be end game, but only if matched properly into the rest of the system and if your sonic preferences tend to be yearning for a super tight and articulate sound.

Fwiw…still very happy with my AR ref.6 SE:

[quote=“wijber, post:50, topic:18549, full:true”].
Over 300 hours on the SE-upgraded Ref 6 so about time to give a small insight in my experience. Happy with the ARC Ref 6, imho one of the best still ‘somewhat affordable’ pre-amps, i initially was in doubt whether upgrade to SE would be worthwhile.

Just to be absolutely clear right away: glad i took the plunge!

At times the first couple of hundreds hours felt like a rollercoaster but in the meantime all settled down nicely. Without going into too much detail and superlatives: highly insightful, more ease, smooth, speed, unforced pronounced bass. On every spectrum the Ref 6 transformed to just another beast, this amp brings out the best in my system :yum:
[/quote]

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It wasn’t long ago that I was on the exact same fence. My justification for going BHK as a pre was for more synergy and matching. Also, with great tubes becoming unobtainium, the need to obsess over 6 more tubes vs. 2, was a factor for me. There’s 14 total tubes in my system right now. I see myself growing away from tubes in the next 10 years. Cheers!

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Good point on the number of tubes. One of the reasons I dove to an all MBL setup was to have low maintenance in the future.

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I have never had the BHK. But my experience with the ARC Ref6 is the same as yours. It is a cool sounding preamp. Very detailed, great bass control, but lacking warmth. It followed a pass labs xp30 in my system, and I missed the more emphasis to vocals of the pass.

And keep in mind I had it paired (also the pass labs preamp) with the ARC ref160m.

But if you lack detailed sound, with lots of top end, very transparent, you should take a look at the Ref6

welcome @uri!
My only contribution is to say I ran a 5SE for a while and agree with the others that ARC preamps are very “clean” sounding for tube preamps. Big soundstage, nice detail retrieval, sweet on top. I demo’d a BHK a couple years ago and while a very fine sounding pre, was not a great match for my system. May have been tube dependent, it came with EH tubes (if I remember correctly) from the dealer when I had it for a demo

Currently running a Concert Fidelity CF-80 LSX2 and love everything about it

Great discussion - can never have too much preamp discussion

Best,
-JP

I’ve whittled down on tubes myself. I love them, but I finally graduated to solid state that’s so hifi i prefer it more than tubes (T+A P 3000 HV). Over time I went from having an all tube system to an almost all solid state system. Once you can hear the level of engineering that has the sweet harmonics tubes bring with the SNR of a solid state amp, you’ll never go back.

I appreciate all the opinions. you are all very kind.