The Amazing Audio Research SP3A-1 Tube Preamp – A Giant Leap Forward for Me, Circa 1976

A stereo blast from the past.

In the commentary below I talk about buying the amazing Audio Research SP3A-1 and what a difference it made in the quality of my system’s reproduction. You could call my old Crown system BTM (Before Tubey Magic) and my new Audio Research-based system WTM (With Tubey Magic) is you wanted to be cute about it.

We talk a lot about Tubey Magic on the site and on this blog. This preamp is the very definition of it.

I was running Crown gear at the time, the DC-300 amp and the IC-150 preamp, so you can imagine that this tube preamp was a real game changer for me. The improvement in the sound was far greater than I ever imagined.

(Now we provide the same effect to the audiophiles of the world through our Hot Stamper pressings. Better sound than you can imagine. It’s practically a credo.)

As an ignorant, credulous audiophile with far-too-little experience in the world of audio, I soon found myself in one audio cult after another. Eventually I had sharpened my critical listening skills to the point where I could hear for myself what was better and what was worse, but it took more than twenty more years to do it. (You may be able to get there faster than I did, but don’t bet the farm on it.)

Recently I came across an old picture of me at the control center to my system, dating from the late ’70s or thereabouts. Sure enough there’s the ARC preamp. Brings back fond memories to this day!  But I sure wouldn’t want to go back to that sound. The changes to my stereo systems from that day to the present would number in the many, many hundreds.


Storm at Sunup used to be my favorite Gino Vannelli album. I played it all the time back in the ’70s. It was one of a handful of recordings that made me want to pursue audiophile equipment with the hope that higher quality playback would allow the album to sound even bigger and more exciting.


It was pretty damn big and exciting already, but I wanted more. 

Right around that time I got my first audiophile tube preamp, the Audio Research SP3A-1, which replaced a Crown IC-150. As you can imagine, especially if you know the IC-150 at all well, playing this album through that state-of-the-art tube preamp was a revelation.

From then on there was no looking back. I started spending all my money on better and better equipment and more and more records. That was forty plus years ago and I haven’t stopped yet.

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Stereo Systems driving Big Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound I enjoy. Anything less is just not for me.


Let’s face it, sad as it may be: most audiophiles would rather be told what sounds good than figure it out for themselves. How else to explain all the bad sounding equipment and awful audiophile records that are in most audiophile’s listening rooms? I have an acquaintance who to this day is in the Audio Research cult. No matter what that company produces, he wants it, the latest version, the new and improved whatever it is. This to me is insanity. I haven’t liked their gear since I got rid of my SP3-A-1 (which was wonderful and got me even more heavily into audio), but seriously, must all their products be the best? Surely somebody somewhere makes a better something. But not when you’re in a cult they don’t. You are a believer.

As you may have read on the site in a few hundred places, we are not concerned with anything about a record — who made it, how it was made, when it was made — except for the sound. The sound is EVERYTHING.

This is what being a skeptic is all about — judging the record by the grooves, only the grooves and nothing but the grooves.

Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

More records that have especially Tubey Magical sound quality.

This is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended for it to if you play it at moderate levels.

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