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Audio Research SP10, SP8, and SP15

Photos: Top is the Audio Research SP10 and next is ARC SP15. Both have the power supply in a separate chassis


I have used an Audio Research SP8 since 1985 and an SP10 since 1987. Those two preamplifers are different in many ways, but I feel the mid to late 80's all-tube preamplifers are among the best ever made. In the last 20 years, I have found only two other preamps I like as well as the SP10 for phono and only three line stages I like as well as the SP8.

The SP10 is just an astonishing phono preamplifier, amazing deeply detailed and natural sound with palpable 3-D soundstage as well as dynamic and transparent- I never tire listening to it. The SP8 is a "friendlier" sound, a bit more liquid and sweeter.

I would recommend anyone serious about phono reproduction to have an SP10- but with the warning that the tubes must be very, very good. The SP10 phono gain of 74dB is among the highest and the tubes must be very quiet, non-microphonic, and very strong to take the higher current. Today, only the most rugged E88CC and NOS E188CC will survive well. That said, if you can find carefully selected EH 6922 the sound will be just fine and the addition of 4 super NOS Amperex E188CC- 2 as the first phono stage and 2 as the first line stage- can make an amazing sound. In my SP10, I'm planning to use 4 Amperex E188CC as described and the other 8 tubes will be NOS Tungsram E88CC.

The SP8 as I say is a wonderful preamplifier too- more "forgiving" of the qualities of the sources than the SP10 and the ECC83 (12AX7) is much easier to find and offers an evern wider range of subtle sound qualities- and for less money. I'm planning to change my SP8 to a pair of Siemens tyriple mica E83CC for phono and the line stage tubes will be triple mica black plate Sylvania 5751s.

I have not spent a lot of time with the SP15, but my memory of the sound is that it is a more "forward" and somewhat drier sound than the SP10 and I would actually recommend an SP8 above the SP15. The SP15 does everything well, has good controls, and the amazing Audio Research quality of construction, but for me the sound is too "solid state", whereas the SP10 has the perfect balance of liquidity / smoothness and detail. There are by the way, only 3 tubes in the SP15 as compared to 17 in the SP10 and I've found that I always prefer the Audio Research designs with more tubes- and tube power supplies seem to appeal especially! The appearance of the SP10, SP11, and SP15 makes these seem similar but they are quite different.

Write again and let us know what you decide to buy. Certainly, I feel an SP10 purchase is a lifetime, "ultimate" choice. More fuss, because of the tube situation, but just an amazing phono preamp when in good order.


Bambi B

[Audio Research: SP8, SP10, LS3, D115, D130] [SP10 / D115 system: Turntable in the SP10 system is Oracle Delphi III with an SME V arm and Audioquest 200 cartridge, Vandersteen 2C speakers, Audioquest King Cobra interconnects, Kimber 4TC speaker cables]

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