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.


@ghdprentice,  thanks for sharing your experience on break in.   I'm definitely trying to give it some time.   Will try to report back if my impression changes after it settles a bit.

@testpilot, interesting experience here.  It does help calm my nerve a little.   Last thing I want is to have the upgrade worsening the sound.  I agree this is still an awesome preamp, and it's still a keeper.

@xcool a few questions for ya, if known. Agree with others, give it a lot more time.

1) what 6SN7 tubes came with it (EH?)

2) and, the 10 Mundorf caps were installed, correct?

3) How many hours do you have on the SLP-05 now before/after upgrades?

i.e. some years ago Cary use to run them for 2-3 days before sending them out. Not sure if they do that any more. Caps, transformers, tubes all settle in. I used to see people pulling the generic stock EH tubes in the 05 and using Popes instead, fwiw. Wondering what they sent ya.

Having used those same caps in three different upgrades (preamps and amps), let me share right up front the break-in and cap forming cycle can be "aggravating" to say the least, on those. Prepare for what we call "the rollercoaster ride" on those Mundorfs. I was warned too before my first try. It’s true. I emailed the Mundorf factory and they confirmed this for me while I was getting to be very impatient. Sounded bad new. Seems like it took forever. Finally got there. YES, the sound is going to change at 100 & 200hrs, some say up to ~300hrs. I heard changes even at 300hrs. No joke. I use the same caps in my (other brand) current monos. Mine sound different now, much more engaging, nice tone, texture, smoothness and more after the 200 and 300hr mark. Patience will pay off.  Your experience may vary. I had to look again at the upgrade itself, link.


Yes more time will be needed as others have said , usually bass shows up 3/4 to just about the end of burn in and highs and depth during the final stages.


hang in there and keep us posted!

Hey @decooney

1) Yes, it came with the same EH tubes as the stock unit.

2) I haven't opened the chassis to check the capacitors.   I know nothing about capacitors so I wouldn't know what to look for anyway, but I'm pretty sure they did install the upgraded caps.  Well, I hope anyway.  The shipping box does say 'Ultimate Edition' on it, and the packing slip listed the ultimate upgrade as well.  So that gave me the confidence that the upgrade was indeed installed.

3) Before the upgrade, and I mean my original unit, I had probably only run it for less than 40 hours before shipping back.  My current unit with the upgrade has about 50 hours so far.

I'm not aware that Cary has done any burn in on the unit before shipping it.

Thanks for sharing your experience with the Mundorfs,  that really helps keeping my hopes up that the sound will continue to improve.   I will definitely try to be patience and let it play out.  Time for some meditation 😀

@xcool if you have not done so, take a look at that link above, it describes the upgrade and components.  The Mundorfs are obvious if you decide to lift the hood.

6SN7: after burn-in I never quite adjusted to the stock EH 6SN7 tubes in my own Cary preamp, fwiw.  Mine are back in their original boxes for safe keeping.  

After the 200hr point, if you still feel its not the sound you want, it might be worth it to start exploring SLP-05 owners threads for other 6SN7 options.