When Audio Research was founded in 1970, analog vinyl playback was the de facto music source of the time. Audio Research has either incorporated or built stand-alone phono stages since the very beginning, and has continuously provided phono preamplification, even during the height of digital music. The REF Phono 3 is the next advancement of analog playback.
The Ref Phono 3 is a continuation of the work which has been evolving other components in the Audio Research Reference Series over the past year. In mid-2015, all of the amplifiers received significant performance enhancements with the SE updates - new output tubes, components, and other parts ushered in a new level of sonic accuracy and musicality. This exposed a need for higher resolution and dynamic capabilities in components upstream from the amplifiers, and in October 2015 the Reference 6 was introduced. The Ref Phono 3 is the next step in our pursuit of musical realism.Like the Reference 6, the tube count in the analog section Ref Phono 3 has been increased from four to six. The power supply has been redesigned to accomodate the additional tubes, as well as provide a greater dynamic range. Numerous other components and parts, including proprietary coupling capacitors, wiring and cryogenically-treated pieces advance the playback experience to a level reminiscent of master tape playback for a realism and palpability previously unavailable.The Ref Phono 3 phono preamplifier is housed in a single chassis paneled in custom-machined aluminum. The vacuum tube audio stage utilizes six 6H30 vacuum tubes (three per channel), and one 6H30 and a 6550WE provide regulation in the power supply. The large, vacuum fluorescent display on the front panel shows all functions relative to the selected input. A row of six buttons control power, mute, input, and menu controls. Menu functions include: auto shutdown, gain and load settings, display brightness, equalization settings, and tube hour reset. High and low gain settings, as well as six fixed and one custom impedance setting, accomodate most any moving magnet or moving coil cartridge. Two single-ended inputs provide connectivity to two turntables. There are two main outputs providing both balanced and single-ended outputs. RS-232 and IR input allow for additional control options. The Reference Phono 3 ships with a full-function metal remote.