Review Summary Sound "With the LS26 in my system, a brightly lit, wide-open soundstage virtually exploded out of my speakers, bristling with spatial and tonal information, LP). Performers were located precisely in space, surrounded by lots of air. The power supply is fully solid state. The LS26, like its big brother, sports a completely balanced circuit.
Founded inAudio Research made equipment that starry-eyed audiophiles like me lusted after and bucked the early stampede toward solid-state equipment by suggesting that, in spite of all the gee-whiz advertising, tubes really did sound better.
Audio Research currently offers updates to many venerable discontinued products to extend their useful lifespans. How many manufacturers would bother to update a year old product? For that matter, how many manufacturers even have a year old product? The formidable Reference 3 occupies the top rung, and lots of the technology from it found its way into the LS The green vacuum-fluorescent display tells you the volume setting, which ranges in non-linear increments from 0 to ; the balance setting, adjustable from the remote control; the input selected, also selectable from the remote control; the gain for that input; whether LP) input uses the balanced or unbalanced connectors; whether the phase is normal or inverted, also controllable from the remote control; and whether the unit is set to play in mono, also controllable from the remote control.
Possibly the most intriguing item displayed on the front panel is a timer showing how long the two 6H30 vacuum tubes have been in use. The LS26 is surprisingly lightweight -- a svelte 16 pounds. This gave me an opportunity, for the first time after many years of ownership, to hear what my Meridian CD player sounded like through its balanced outputs. A fuse holder makes it easy to replace fuses if required, and an IEC connector lets you use aftermarket power cords should you desire.
Any noise or distortion added, any changes to the character of the sound which, by definition, is distortion, but not always something we know how to measure are indications of weaknesses. A noise level of just 1. Total harmonic distortion plus noise is rated at just 0. Frequency response is a wide 0. A functional but not fancy plastic unit, the remote control affords total control of the LS Input selection is direct; each of the inputs has its own button, which is legibly labeled.
Three levels of gain settings let you match the LS26 to almost any conceivable amplifier. You can even invert the phase of each individual input to see if that improves the sound.
LP) can also dim eight different brightness levels or turn off the display entirely. I thought the LS26 sounded a smidgen quieter and cleaner with the display off. Even if you have the display turned off, when you make a change to one of the settings, such as volume level, the display switches back Remote Controlled - Old Lines - No Child Left Behind (Vinyl so you can see the change, then turns off again after a few seconds.
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. I placed the LS26 on the shelf in my rack where my reference preamp normally sits. Audio Research goes out of its way to include a decent power cord with each component, so I used the stock cord. I tried both balanced and unbalanced interconnects. In fact, which type of connection sounded best often depended on the interconnects used; unbalanced connections sounded better than balanced if they included superior interconnects. Other connections were all unbalanced.
Audio Research advised that the LS26 needs a minimum of hours break-in, so I waited until that milestone had passed before listening critically. Thanks to the tube timer, it was easy to know when the break-in time had been reached. I continued to hear improvements until the preamp neared hours of use. With the LS26 in my system, a brightly lit, wide-open soundstage virtually exploded out of my speakers, bristling with spatial and tonal information.
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