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Cary Audio SLP-05 Preamplifier Review

By Jim Swantko

I'm not going to mince words; the Cary Audio SLP-05 is one of the finest preamplifiers I have ever heard. And I've heard many. It's rare when a single component can impart such a profound impact on the performance of a system, but the SLP-05 took my system up a notch, maybe three.

The $8,000 SLP-05 is Cary's statement preamplifier and offers nearly everything an audiophile could want in a no-compromise unit. It's a two chassis design, which isolates the noisy 5AR4 tube rectified power supply far away from the delicate audio circuitry. The power supply chassis is adorned with beautiful, blue backlit, analog needles indicating plate voltage and current, and a single large knob which powers up the circuitry within.

The Audio chassis is linked to the power supply chassis by an eight-conductor umbilical using Kimber Kable oxygen-free copper conductors. Protruding from the top of the chassis are eight 6SN7 dual triode vacuum tubes, two of which are dedicated as a Class-A push-pull zero feedback headphone amplifier. The remaining six operate in a true balanced configuration providing buffer and gain functions. Volume is controlled by a high-precision Alps potentiometer and the rest of the switching functions utilize gold-contact single-throw switches and solid-seating rotary switches to maximize sonic integrity. A wide array of single-ended as well as XLR inputs and outputs allow for easy integration into any system.

Home theater owners and environmentalists alike will appreciate the Cinema bypass feature, which is automatically engaged when the unit is powered off. This passes audio signals through the preamp to your HT processor while saving electricity and the tubes for material more rewarding than Dumb and Dumber or Smokey and the Bandit, two personal favorites. The included remote control will vary volume and mute the system, that's it.

Listening to the SLP-05 was an absolute thrill. A few words, which came to mind while listening, include transparency, quickness and openness. The SLP-05 seemed to have absolutely no limits on frequency extension, high or low. Bass was deep, tight, powerful and wonderfully detailed. Treble was delivered with a speed and purity which I have not heard before, and which I was shocked by, to be quite honest. No tubed preamplifier is supposed to be this extended but the Cary was, and then some. The midrange is where the tube magic lives, so they say, and the Cary did not disappoint with some of the most natural, beautiful vocals I have experienced. They were rich and smooth with layer after layer of texture. Warm is not an adjective I would use however, but most of you were probably expecting it. Warm would lead one to believe that the Cary imparts a euphonic glow on vocals, but it doesn't. It is absolutely natural and only delivers what the artists' vocal cords were able to produce at the time of recording.

The goal of any high-end component is to recreate the magic of a live performance, and my system has never come closer than with the SLP-05 in the signal chain.

High Points
- The SLP-05 is easily in the top two or three preamplifiers I have ever heard, at any cost. It is transparent yet rich, quick yet powerful and a complete joy to listen to.
- The Cary imparts a soundstage that is wide, deep and extends far beyond the constraints of my listening room. If you like your music big, you will love the SLP-05.
- The Cary is a very flexible preamp allowing it to seamlessly fit into any audio system regardless of complexity.
- The build quality on this preamp is as high as any unit I've had pass through my system and it will no doubt last a lifetime.
- I love the understated elegance and classic touches such as the exposed tubes and analog meters on the front of the unit. When in operation there is a beautiful arc of glowing blue LEDs that stretches across the two units. Someone obviously spent lots of time tweaking knob positions to make this happen.

Low Points
- This is a big one and may be a deal killer for some consumers considering the SLP-05. The remote control only controls volume and mute. If you want to listen to a different input you are getting up from your chair and walking to your gear. If you want to turn the unit on or off you are once again walking to the preamp. To handicap such a wonderful piece with such a limited remote control is a shame, as many will simply not consider the Cary because of it, in spite of its staggering performance.

- The two chassis unit takes up quite a bit of room with the large exposed vacuum tubes on the top of the audio chassis. If you are running short on space the SLP-05 may be a tough fit.

In case you didn't notice, this preamp impressed the hell out of me. It's open and clear and completely gets out of the way of the music yet somehow is rich and refined at the same time. Sonically, there was nothing that I was left pining for, honestly. The remote control is a big deal to most as we have become accustomed to absolute convenience and the Cary's remote control does not pamper at all. In the end however, the inconvenience is quickly forgotten as soon as the music begins playing (besides I could stand to burn a few more calories anyway). If you are looking for an absolute state of the art preamplifier - do not buy anything until you have spent some quality time with the SLP-05.

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Thanks for your review. I've heard nothing but praise of this preamp.

The remote wouldn't bother me. How many sources would you be switching to in a dedicated music listening room that this preamp belongs in. If you have to get up to change an LP's or SACDs you can get up to change the source selection knob. And power on in advance to a listening session and off at the end of the day is not a problem for me either.

Now for that inheritance, so I can own it and the matching CAD-120 power amp.
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