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.


@decooney  don't get me wrong--I think my SLP05 is a great sounding unit and it certainly is a sexy unit.

The thread that I was thinking about involved an issue with a Cary product (and I don't remember which one for certain) that went back & forth to & from Cary, as apparently, for that service order, Cary's right hand wasn't talking to the left hand  (one tech thought that a previous tech had replaced a cap and etc). . . .

I guess my experiences with Cary Audio in the '90s made me somewhat spoiled.  All the Cary products I bought back in that era were solidly reliable and the tech support was via telephone ad personal.  However I do realize that nothing stays the same forever. 

A V12R?  I have one of the earlier V12s and I love it.  It's been a great amp.  What all did they do to the 'R' model?

@immatthewj Yep, same guy and thread with that other preamp. A 1 of 500 kind of issue that finally got resolved I gather. The V12R is a little different beast. Larger main transformer, runs different f/e tubes instead of 6922, 12Bz7 TV tubes Dennis liked years ago. No need for all of that, a standard V12 with really good coupling caps, hexfreds, and good input tubes can be very nice. Since you bring it up, there was a revision I found of the oper manual that did not get updated on the published link. My tech shared with me and the former designer (after DH) concluded running 280ma per side was ridiculous, and no need to go above 200ma per side, it will help save your tubes, fuses, and transformers and still sounds great. Enjoy.

The “Ultimate Upgrade” is a regular factory authorized option and should not be considered a special order with limited consumer rights and/or warranty.  MD is a Cary authorized agent, therefore, it is their responsibility to deal with the manufacture, not the consumers.  This is a MD problem, not the consumers and no way should the consumer bear additional costs to rectify a manufacture defect.  

and no way should the consumer bear additional costs to rectify a manufacture defect.

@testpilot  I totally agree with that.

Hi folks, I just want to post an update on my SLP-05 that was sent back to Cary for repair. I finally got it back this past weekend, and I’ve been playing it everyday and so far so good. Everything seems to work fine without a hitch. I hope this would be it. If you’ve been following this thread, you probably know that this was the second time I sent back my unit. The first one I received had a missing LED light, and Music Direct sent me a replacement. This second unit had 2 problems and I ended up sending it to Cary for warranty repair at my own expense.

Anyway, there were 2 problems with the unit. At first I thought they were related. Turned out that they were not. Here are the 2 problems and what Cary Support found and did for the repair:

The first problem was simply no sound coming out of the unit, and abnormal readings on the meters in the power unit. During troubling shooting with Cary Support while the unit was still in my possession, he noticed my tubes were not inserted fully into the control unit. Indeed he was right. I followed the instruction sheet of not forcing the tubes into the unit to avoid breaking the tube. So I stopped as soon as I felt resistance. Turned out that there was a good 1/2 inch of travel more to go. Anyway I managed to inserted all of them all the way into the unit, but that did not fix the problem.

The second problem was discovered during trouble shooting. Cary Support advised me to try different inputs. I have 1 balanced and 1 unbalanced inputs. So I moved them both to different inputs on the unit. My unbalanced input was moved to Aux2. As I switched input using the input selector to Aux2, the control unit would power off by itself, and when I switched out of it, it would go back to the power on sequence.

For the first issue, Cary Support was unable to reproduce it. The first thing they did after receiving my unit was to plug in all the tubes and played the unit. The unit played fine, and the meter readings were at normal range of 240 VDC and 60 mA. I could not believe it. After some back and forth email exchanges with Cary, the only difference I could come up with was that I did not unplug all the tubes first before reinserting them all back in properly. I simply pushed them all in one by one. Whereas when Cary received the unit, all the tubes were removed and packaged separately, so they had to reinsert all of them. Regardless of the difference, I tried to push for an explanation on why I was able to play the unit for 3 straight weeks with improperly seated tubes, and all of a sudden it just stopped working. Finally, the answer he gave me was ‘No idea!’, followed with some other explanations.

For the second issue, they indeed found an issue with one of the soldered joints, and this is what Cary wrote on my RMA in their RMA website:

"Inspected unit and was unable to replicate customers stated issue of incorrect meter readings. Confirmed customers stated issue of unit turning to "not ready" when AUX 2 input was selected. Inspected input boards and found the cold solder joint for the AUX 2 relay in the left input board. Corrected diode orientation and unit is functioning correctly with meters reading ~240v and 60mA. Reflowed solder on 12v filament regulators in power supply. Unit is set for burn in and will perform final qc in the morning."

I don’t quite understand everything above, and I tried to get a better understanding of what was wrong and why they have to ‘correct diode orientation’ and ‘reflowed solder on 12v filament regulators’, and all I got was some general answer on some regulations in UK that require using solder without lead, and lead free solder requires higher temperature to get a better joint.

Anyway, this would not make an interesting story without any surprise, would it? So here it is:

On the day that I thought Cary would be shipping my unit back, I got an invoice in my email for $310, which included $110 bench fee, $30 RMA administration fee, and $170 for shipping the unit back to me. WTF? Needless to say, I was furious. I already paid for shipping going there, and they are now charging me for something that should be covered under warranty. I immediately email Cary Support, and his reply to me was:

"Yes it would be covered under warranty, but there’s nothing wrong with it. We just spent 3 days and a great deal of time proving the unit is not defective. I agree that if the product is defective we would make the repairs under warranty. We stand behind our products. This is not the case."

So I sent him the comment that was written in my RMA that clearly stated that a soldered joint was bad, and then I didn’t hear back for a good 3 or 4 hours. He apologized and said there was a technical issue with their RMA website, and they will be shipping back my unit with no charge. Problem solved.

So, here are my thoughts on this whole experience:

For the first issue, an answer of ’no idea’ is simply not acceptable. I don’t expect the support team to know everything, but I think the proper thing to do is to file an issue ticket to engineering team, and have them reproduce the problem and perhaps make appropriate design change, or at the very least, issue a new FAQ to help customers address this issue without having them shipping the unit back. Also, improving the setup instruction sheet would also be helpful. To be fair, I don’t know if support had contacted engineering team or not. Maybe this is part of their process. If so, it would have been nice to let me know that engineering team is looking at the issue, instead of a ’no idea’ answer.

For the second issue, it makes me wonder why this wasn’t caught before the new unit was shipped to me. Did they not do proper QC testing before shipping? I didn’t raise this concern with them, maybe I should have. It is entirely possible that I would have never come upon this issue if I wasn’t trouble shooting my first issue. I simply never did bother switching my input to Aux2. It would have been a bummer had I finally found this issue after warranty has expired.

As with the issue of the invoice. I accepted that it was an honest mistake, but the answer I got back really made me think hard on how Cary treats their customers. Do they really think that I’m happy to spend $150 to ship a perfectly functioning unit back for no reason? In the case of the first issue, I agree I bear some responsibilities of making sure the tubes are all inserted properly, but I also can argue that the instruction sheet was insufficient, and they were unable to help me resolve the problem while the unit was in my possession. To charge your customer for what could have been a warranty repair, even though it was a setup mistake just doesn’t seem right to me, especially for a product at this price level. That says a lot about how much do they care about customer satisfaction vs how much money they can squeeze out of their pockets. At the end, this was resolved as it should have, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Anyway, that’s the whole story. I am not trying to trash Cary’s reputation. They do make an awesome product, and I guess most customers are happy with their support. FWIW, the support person I’ve been dealing with are mostly pleasant to deal with and very responsive on his replies, although I don’t always get a straight answer from him. I’m only sharing my own experience, and it might very well be an isolated case. I'm just happy I’m getting a fully functional unit back, I hope I don’t have to report back for any new issue going forward.

Finally, just one more thing about the sound quality. I remember I could barely contain my excitement when I had my first unit for less than 48 hours. I still do like the sound a lot, but I wish the top end can calm down a little. One of the strengths of the SLP-05 is the mid range, it really makes the vocal to stand out and makes it sounds like you are listening to live music. Occasionally, I find it a bit bright at the top end, especially with female vocals. The unit sounds great at low volume with all the details, but when i crank it up, everything sounds louder which includes the top end, and that can be a little much for my old ears with tinnitus. The unit has about 300 hours of burn in at this point. I wonder if the top end can still continue to calm down with more time on it, or if I can address this with some tube rollings. Feel free to give your thoughts on this.

Thanks for reading.

"Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces…" -- George Harrison