How Audio Research Continues to Push the Boundaries of Sonic Excellence
For any high-end audio company, the lofty goal of trying to attain sonic perfection is a problematic one. First off, what exactly constitutes perfect sound? Second, how can sonic perfection be measured as it relates to recorded music?
To audiophiles, the idea of an absolute sound means to recreate a live musical event so accurately that it suspends disbelief. While listening to recorded music, if the sound of the stereo system is so pure, organic, and natural that it allows a listener to close their eyes and—literally—believe that they’re listening to a live performance, then the stereo must be considered state-of-the-art.
The question still lingers though: how does any manufacturer measure sound quality? Is it better to use precision machines to bench-test the electrical efficacy of circuits? Or, alternatively, should manufacturers rely upon subjective listening tests conducted by human beings to evaluate sonics?
For 50+ years, Audio Research Corporation (ARC) has continually strived to deliver reference calibre sound from its gear. ARC measures the sound quality of its components through two methods. The first uses precision machines to analyze the electrical performance of individual circuits. The second grades sonics through subjective listening tests that are done by humans.
Tangle Audio Design Approaches: Does perfect sound exist?
Stated bluntly, there is no such thing as a perfect audio component. Compromises inherently must be made within the design and manufacturing of every audiophile-grade piece of stereo gear.
There are, of course, many different ways to engineer high-end audio components. Some manufacturers prefer to measure the electrical proficiency of the circuits with machines to judge the performance. Other manufacturers choose to rely more upon listening tests to grade the sound quality of their gear.
At Audio Research, while objectively measuring individual electronic parts with precision machines is critical, assessing the overall sound quality of a finished component with subjective listening tests is just as important.
Throughout the initial design stages, Audio Research uses Audio Precision instruments and sophisticated software programs to obtain electrical metrics. These processes allow ARC to measure the harmonic distortion (THD), bandwidth, frequency range, dampening factor, wattage output, and a myriad of other electrical characteristics of specific units.
Power transformers and circuit board layouts heavily affect the overall sonic character of any component. Germane to this, ARC focuses a sizable amount of its R&D efforts on transformer performance and circuit board designs.
Once a benchmark sonic performance is established, ARC’s engineers conduct extensive experiments with circuit board topologies, electronic components, and internal wiring. Even the metallurgical composition of the solder used comes under scrutiny. Working with parts suppliers, Audio Research actively provides feedback to try to improve the electrical performance of all of the individual parts used in its gear.
During new product development, one of ARC’s major goals is to overcome existing design limitations and performance constraints of any given component. Since minimizing one constraint often reveals another that needs to be improved, this is an iterative process.
Throughout the manufacturing process, Audio Research goes to great lengths to achieve superior sound. By burning-in vacuum tubes for several days, matching the valves, and then individually testing each set in specific units, ARC strives to achieve longer tube life and higher sound quality.
To gain more insights about Audio Research’s manufacturing process, we invite you to read the Pursuit of Sonic Perfection story.
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.