Designing and Building High-End Audio Components With Surgical Precision
Experience is a great teacher. Expertise comes through repetition and nothing in life imparts and inculcates knowledge more forcefully than repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again.
In Asian culture, the *10,000 Hours* mark is commonly regarded as the minimum metric needed to attain accredited professional status within any career field. Anyone who invests ten hours per day, every day, into a specific career will climb to the 10,000 hours level of expertise in about three years.
By this metric, to climb farther up the professional rankings to the rare 30,000 hours level of experience will take about ten to twelve years of dedicated and daily effort. It is this 30,000 hours of experience—10 hours per day, every day, for 10 to 12 years—of obsessive-compulsive effort that creates a master surgeon, a heralded helicopter pilot, or a brilliant symphony musician.
If you need open-heart surgery, you’ll definitely want the master surgeon with 30,000 or 40,000 hours of experience under their surgical gown to be handling the surgical tools. Conversely, you do not want ‘Shaky Earnie’… part-time gardener and rookie surgeon… who graduated 148th out of a class of 150 and has three solid weeks of experience in surgical theatres to be handling your precious inner parts. There is no replacement for decades of hands-on experience.
Audio Research: Advancing State-of-the-Art In Music Reproduction
Since its humble beginning in 1970, Audio Research Corporation (ARC) has consistently fabricated state-of-the-art vacuum tube components with class-leading sonics. After five decades(!) of hand-crafting bespoke audio gear, ARC’s considerable engineering knowledge and vast manufacturing experience has led it to a rare position of expertise within the luxury electronics industry.
Today, Audio Research’s gear is the culmination of 50 years of near lunatic efforts to advance the state-of-the-art in reference class music reproduction stereo systems.
From the outset, ARC wanted to create a better listening experience from recorded music for audiophiles and music lovers alike. Today at the landmark 50th anniversary in business, ARC’s singular focus and vision towards the lofty goal of creating warm and natural sound from recorded music still passionately exists.
From the company’s inception in 1970, Audio Research’s primary goal was to develop components that produced the lush sonic richness and textured timbral accuracy associated with tube sound. ARC also sought to combine this tube warmth with the immersive detailing and breathtaking dynamics of solid-state gear without adding the sonic compromises wrought by transistors.
Audio Research has pursued this goal by relying on two equally important testing methods. One, ARC’s engineers use scientific measurements derived from bench tech and laboratory gear to assess the electrical purity of their circuits. Two, ARC’s listening tests are done by human beings. All of the design engineers are passionate audiophiles who understand the critical importance of actually listening to the gear in real-world environments, rather than solely relying upon metric analysis as done by machines.
Audio Research’s 50 years of R&D experience, fabrication expertise, and engineering know-how are now being put to great use within the new cutting-edge 20,000 Sq.Ft. manufacturing facility which opened in August 2018.
ARC’s R&D team brings decades of experience in design engineering, industrial fabrication, circuit design, and PLC programming to the table. The journey of taking elaborate conceptual designs from the drawing board, through extensive testing and re-testing of prototype units with different electronic parts, and then fine-tuning individual units to achieve the best possible sound is a lengthy and challenging one. Every team member involved has a passion for going to live concerts and listening to recorded music.
For Audio Research, the process of fine-tuning a unit’s sound during the design and build phases is comparable to a Formula One team rather than a stock car racing team. A stock car primarily relies upon pure muscle to drive around an oval track as fast as possible. A Formula One car combines raw power with nimble-footed agility to traverse racing circuits filled with long straights and tight corners. ARC often goes to extremes in dialling-in its circuit designs. Sometimes small changes can create huge improvements in sound and push the sonic boundaries to new and jaw-dropping levels.
Before any electronic component or material is used in a specific piece of gear, Audio Research meticulously evaluates the performance of all of the parts. This lengthy evaluation process includes testing FETs (Field Effect Transistors), vacuum tubes, solder, internal wiring, and chassis materials like aluminium and acrylic. Only the best sounding components are chosen for the gear that ARC brings to market.
There is simply no replacement for experience. Greatness takes time and there are no shortcuts. It has taken Audio Research 50 years to accrue its vast knowledge in mechanical, electrical, and acoustical engineering. The mind-blowing sound quality of ARC products vividly reflects this impressive heritage.
ARC’s obsessive-compulsiveness in working like a demon to continually improve the sound quality of vacuum tube stereo components has resulted in an extremely rare level of expertise that few other luxury market audio companies possess.
Audio Research’s attention to detail is so extreme, in fact, that many transformers, resistors, capacitors, and signal-carrying wires are designed in-house. Similarly, ARC carefully burns-in and precision matches vacuum tubes for every unit that requires sets of tubes. All of ARC’s circuit boards are assembled by hand and mechanical dampeners are used to *fine tune* the micro-vibrations of specific components. Some electronic components are even placed off the main circuit board to further push the boundaries of sonic purity.
Up and running in August 2018, Audio Research’s state-of-the-art lean manufacturing facility incorporates a J.I.T. (Just-In-Time) scheduling model which allows the company to build each unit per order, one at a time, thereby eliminating production lots. This manufacturing methodology allows ARC to maximize fabrication efficiencies, dramatically increase unit-to-unit sonic consistency, and improve the reliability of every handcrafted unit.
Audio Research builds components with passion and pride. Every piece of gear is assembled by hand and each technician initiates their work on a production card. Customers receive a copy of this card so that they can track whoever built their specific unit. ARC also listens to every single newly built component, after bench testing and burning in, before the unit is shipped to a customer.
Audio Research: The Next 50 Years of Innovation!
What’s next to the moon for Audio Research?
ARC typically develops about four new components per year. Examples…? Two components celebrating the momentous 50th year anniversary were released at the end of 2019: the new Reference 6SE vacuum tube pre-amplifier and Reference 750 SEL tube amplifier.
A vacuum tube Phono 3 SE was also recently released and a new Reference Series tube amplifier will be coming out later in 2020.
Stated once again, greatness takes time. Audio Research’s 50 years of experience and millions of hours of engineering expertise in designing, building, and dialling-in the sound of its luxury vacuum tube audio gear is what makes ARC components sound so darn good. Check out the complete story about ARC and its founder William Zane (Bill) Johnson on Our Story page.