Cary Audio SLP-05 First Impression

Hi,  I just received my Cary Audio SLP-5 tube preamp this weekend.  It’s only been less than 48 hours and I can’t wait to share my experience with my fellow A’goners. If I have to summarize my initial impression of this unit in one word, it would be:  WOW!!!

I don’t consider myself a true audiophile, so I don’t really have a strong audiophile vocabulary to describe the sound quality, but a few clichés come to mind:

  • sounds like the musicians are right there in my room
  • holographic 3D sound
  • dead quiet
  • sweet & non-fatiguing top end
  • deep bass

Couple of things I hope will continue to improve is a tiny bit more punchiness in the mid bass, and smoothing out some occasional graininess at the top end.

My strongest impression so far is the overall imaging of the sound, and the sense that I’m listening to live music.  Last night I had my system casually playing in the background when I was doing stuff around my apartment, and Eva Cassidy’s Live at Blues Alley album came on.   I was suddenly drawn to the music, and for the first time ever, I finally understand what the description ’sounds like the musicians are right there in my room’ means.   It was surreal.   It brought a big smile to my face.  It was simply beautiful.   Need I say more?

This is the first line level tube preamp I’ve ever owned.  I do own the Herron VTPH-2A tube phono preamp.   Now I know what all that fuss and craze of tube pre/power amps are about.   I guess you simply have to experience it to appreciate it.   I still feel my Parasound JC2 and JC5 combo sounds great, and I am not planning to get rid of them anytime soon.   It’s just that the Cary SLP-05 completely opens up a new music dimension that I’ve never experienced before, and so far it’s been very pleasant.

I will consider doing the ‘Ultimate Upgrade’ offered by Cary at $1600 at some point.   Please feel free to share your experience If you are a SLP-05 owner and have done this upgrade.

I have purchased so many components in the last couple of years based on suggestions and comments that I received, and stuff I read in this forum.  So thanks to those who continue to contribute and share their experiences to fellow members. 

Finally, a big shout-out to @ghdprentice for your suggestion of tube preamps and brought up the Cary brand name in one of my other discussions.  This preamp is certainly a keeper.

PS:  there are a couple of changes Cary had made to the latest production of SLP-05.  It now comes with a universal remote control.  The same one that they sell for $190 on their website, instead of a basic 3 buttons remote that I read from some older reviews.   Also they no longer recommend stacking the control unit on top of the power unit, and therefore those indentations on the top of the power unit are gone.  It is simply a flat surface now.   Actually to my surprise, the power unit runs much hotter than the control unit.  I always thought the control unit would run hotter because that is where the vacuum tubes sit.

PPS: My unit was shipped with the blue power LED missing.  After contacting Cary Audio support, they told me it was most likely dislodged due to rough handling by Fedex.  So the unit is now going back and i would have to wait for a replacement.   That sucks, but kudos to the customer support folks at both Cary Audio and Music Direct for their great service!

Thanks for reading.


Nice write up! Are you running the Cary with the JC5 and does the JC2/JC5 combo have the punch your hoping the Cary will have once settled in?

Hi @jdub39, the answers to your 2 questions are yes and yes.  

To add a little more color to the 2nd answer, the Cary does seem to go a little deeper in bass, whereas the JC2 seems a little more punchy in some areas such as the drums.


@xcool Thanks for that as I have a JC2 on order for my JC5 but the thought of a tube based preamp has been grabbing my attention lately ,your comments and others on the Cary slpo5 does give one a clear path to work my way up to.

Thanks again !

Hey @jdub39, congratulations!  I think you'll be happy with the JC2/JC5 combo.   I recently upgraded the balanced cable between the 2 units, and it made a huge difference.  Check out this thread if you are interested.

I went for the Cary to satisfy my curiosity for tube preamps, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.   Have I not done that, I can see myself living happily with the JC2/JC5 combo.   They sound beautiful together.  I'm not planning to sell my JC2.  I like to keep it around so I have some varieties.

Good luck!

Congratulations and a fine piece.  It is impossible to overstate the importance of a quality preamp in a system.  Makes all the difference.