Audio Research LS26 Preamplifier Reviewed

Audio Research LS26 Preamplifier Reviewed

Resting amidst the middle of the family tree the LS26 form Audio Research doesn't suffer from middle child syndrome for it isn't easily overlooked thanks in part to its classic good looks, large digital display, remote control operation and superb sonic character. Oh, and don't forget it's rather affordable by reference standards.

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The Audio Research LS26 occupies the middle position in the trio of linestage offerings from the Minnesota-based company. It is described by many, including Audio Research, as a slightly scaled-down version of their critically acclaimed Reference 3, which is their statement preamplifier. Physically, the $5,995 LS26 shares many traits with its big brother, such as a large vacuum-fluorescent display, which provides all the necessary information the user may need, including level, input, balance and tube hours. As with the Ref3, the LS26 has control knobs on each side of the display and a row of sturdy push buttons below. The rear of the unit is also very similar, providing balanced XLR and single-ended connections for all inputs and outputs. Those of us who bi-amp certainly appreciate the fact that ARC includes two sets of outputs. A processor pass-through allows for easy integration into any home theater application.

Additional Resources
Read more about Audio Research including other tube preamp reviews here.
• Read dozens of audiophile stereo preamp reviews from brands like Krell, Audio Research, Mark Levinson, Copland, Quad, Linn and many others.

Internally, Audio Research says that the LS26 received many pieces of trickle-down technology, including proprietary parts, damping and design elements. The LS26 uses a pair of 6H30 triode tubes, with a solid state regulated power supply that differs from the tube regulated power supply in the Ref3. Three separate gain settings are provided to the user, making the LS26 extremely easy to live with, whether you're listening to a loud orchestral recording or quietly enjoying some jazz after everyone else has gone to sleep.

Sonically, I would have to agree that the LS26 is best described as a slightly scaled-down version of the Ref3, which is my all-time favorite preamp. It offers speed and dynamics in spades, yet still provides texture and smoothness to vocals and strings. The treble is clear and extended, never harsh, and bass is punchy and taut. To my ear, it successfully combines the best of the solid-state world with the best of the tube world without any of the sacrifices of either.

Read more about the Audio Research LS26 on Page 2.

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High Points
• The Audio Research LS26 is very well constructed and utterly noise-free in operation.

• It is very simple to operate and provides the user ultimate convenience with a well-designed remote, as all preamp functions can be controlled with it. 
• It is simple to integrate into any existing or planned system, providing single-ended as well as balanced XLR inputs and outputs, and includes a processor pass-through circuit for home theater applications.
• Sonically, it does all the same things that make the Ref3 one of the top preamps, only on a slightly reduced scale. Its sound is smooth and open, dynamic and musical.

Low Points
• Like the Reference 3, the LS26 takes several hundred hours of break-in before it sounds its best. 
• As with any tube product, there is inherit maintenance required when the tubes eventually wear out. That is part of the appeal of a tube preamp. However, there is cost and effort involved that you will never deal with in the world of solid state, high-end audiophile preamps.

Conclusion
The LS26 is a fantastic preamp that does everything right. It's simple to use, built like a tank, and sounds terrific. Think of it as a Ref3 with a large discount. Yes, the Ref3 is better, but unless you have the absolute best of the best components, cabling, power, room treatments, etc., it may be overkill. Nearly all enthusiasts will be blown away by the LS26, which will keep them happy for a very long time. More than likely, this will be the last component that will need to be upgraded. 

Additional Resources
• Read more about Audio Research including other tube preamp reviews here.
• Read dozens of audiophile stereo preamp reviews from brands like Krell, Audio Research, Mark Levinson, Copland, Quad, Linn and many others.

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