Audio Research LS26.
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IMHO: the Cary Slp-05 is second to none!!!! Audio Research has the name....... Cary has the sound!!!! Audio Research, & Cary both have their own 'House Sound'. Everything, of course is system dependent. If you're system already is too warm, then the Audio Research. However if you're system is etched, or on the analytical side, then Cary. However, I find myself to be able to listen to the Cary 'flavor' for longer stretches than the sometimes 'whitish, analytical' AR, house sound! The final arbiter is what sound You like, and are trying, and can live with!!!....J.C. A better comparison is with the Ref.III
Whitish? Analytical? Not adjectives I would use in describing the ARC LS26. At all. Gorgeous neutral tonality, solid and palpable focus, clean, clear, smooth...
that is what I hear time and again from this preamplifier.
I have not heard the particular Cary unit you mentioned so I can't make a comparison but can only say that if you have other good equipment then the ARC will only let it all shine.
I agree with Martykl. Based on the criteria you listed, the ARC LS26 virtually meets every one, except for "lush" sound. I would describe the ARC sound in general as being quite neutral. I used to own the LS26 and loved it and upgraded to the Ref3 (I wish I had waited for all the used Ref 3s now flooding Agon :-)). Anyway, based on your criteria I would go with the LS26. Ideally you will be able to audition before you make your decision. Good luck with whichever choice you make.
Once Again, without being redundant. To make a recommendation of a single component without having a working knowledge of other components that will augment it, is both foolish, and ludicrous! Regardless of what anyone will review, or comment.....There is not a Single component, that does not have a Flavor, "House Sound', and; or Sonic Signature!! Palm that off with those beginning this hobby yesterday!!! Audio Research's happens to be more whitish, and analytical, in comparison with Cary, and Others. Again the final arbiter is KNOWING what sound is to You're preference, and how the individual components interact to formulate that particular sound You are endeavoring to achieve, in You're System. That, Turntables, Tonearms, Cartridges, Wires, CDP's, And Speakers, Tweaks Etc; ALL should come together in a wholistic way to take You to that point. All the other information in regards to this IMHO is pointless.
Thank you everyone for your advice. It forced me to listen to both AR LS 26 and I agree that it's a more analytical sound. I am aiming for a different palate of sound that's 3D holographic sound, extended Frequency range, without sacrificing transparency.
I've narrowed my decision to Cary SLP 05 vs Cary SLP 98P F1. What are the sonic differences between them?....
I owned the SLP-98 (non-F1) and to compare it to the 05 is really difficult as in my system they were night and day different.
Going from the 98 to the 05 I found much (MUCH) improved extension on both frequency ends as well as transparency. The top end is wide open but not harsh or fatiguing. The 98 was well rolled off in comparison.
Bass performance is another massive step up on the 05 over the 98. The 05 has serious drive and digs deep, the 98 is a bit bloated and flabby in comparison.
You really owe it to yourself to audition them both as what you described in your original post may not be what you really want... but if you were accurate then the 05 is the pre for you. :)
I really enjoyed my time with the 98, but after having the 05 in my system I could not go back.
I have not had the SLP -05 in my system, but I have an SLP98p F1, direct coupled et all. All the options you can get from Kevin at Upscale. I have heard the SLP 05 several times at my dealer, and it's very nice, but it didn't make me want to get rid of my SLP98. When I think about upgrading I think about going to an ARC Ref 3 (or 5 now). Maybe I will "rent" an SLP 05 off of Audiogon to compare and see if it is the much better in my system.
I will miss the phono stage from the 98 though, I really enjoy the sound of it.