Cary Preamps

I don't read much about these pre's here on Agon, but they seem appealing with respect to price, features, and the inclusion of a remote. I would like to know more. Can people share their impressions and experiences? Which ones are the best (and why)? Are there others that are must not that hot? Which are the best bang-for-the-buck?

(Note: I am helping a cousin get a tube preamp in the $800-$1000 range, and am considering Cary, VTL, perhaps a few others). Thanks.
had an SLP98 - for about 3 days. worst microphonic ringing piece of junk i've ever had in house
I have to totally disagree with the above post. I have the SLP98 preamp with phono. It is one of the absolute best preamps on the market. With the stock kimbers, it is an excellent and musical preamp. With Teflon caps, which I put in, it is in the top tier of great preamps. Much experience with gear, but now you have two opinions, so I suggest you listen for yourself. If you want another opinion, do a search and see how long a fairly priced used SLP98 preamp remains on audiogon before being sold.
I think your price range excludes the 98 preamp. AES, which is also Cary, has simple versions, sometimes in kit forms of their preamps. They are reasonably priced new and used, you may want to check those out. They also do not last long on the used market. In fact, most good preamps that are reasonably priced do not remain on the market long.
Other suggestions that would work in your range (used price) and are respectable, Rogue Magnum, Audible Illusions L1, ARC SP6B, ARC SP8, ARC SP3A1, CJ PV series preamps. Even older CJ premier preamps sometimes show up less than $1000. I think a great vintage preamp, if you want to do some work restoring rectifiers and caps (not resistors) is an old Eico HF85. This has very respectable sound and I regret selling mine. Ugly as heck but I go after sound. . New you can consider the eastern minimax.
I think any of these preamps will do a good job and will not dissapoint.. You have to match it up with the rest of your system. I think linestage is easier to match than phono. If you buy on Audiogon without listening, then no matter what opinons you get, when you finally get the piece, if your taste differs, then you still may not like it. I suggest going to an audio dealer in your area. Many have used gear for sale at reasonable prices. Here in the Chicago area, as an example, Audio Consultants, Quintessence Audio and Holm Audio often have good supplies of trade in gear. At some, if you leave a credit card, they will allow you to take home and audition. Audio consultants has a 90 day, no questions asked return policy on their used gear. And of course, you can listen in store.
Good luck with your search.
I have never owned a tube pre-amp (and there have been MANY), that did not "ring like a microphonoic piece of junk" with a microphonic tube installed.
Your on the right track, and perhaps Bob had his a little too close to the speakers, whom can say. Maybe he had a bad one.

The Cary SLP98 is excellent, so is the VTL 5.5 one here today for I think 2200 with lots of toobs.

Also if you can find a BAT toob unit, I like those. An older VAC is nice, aw heck, so many toobs, so little time.

I second the SLP-98. I just bought one and have had no problems with it. I own a few Cary components and find them to be high quality. The suggestion for AES is a good one. Also, these are rare, but the N.E.W. P-3 is a consideration. I traded mine in to a dealer when I bought the SLP-98, so I know where one exists if you're interested. It would probably cost less than $500. Cary built the P-3 for N.E.W. (a company now defunct) which resembles an AES DJH and Cary SLP-50. According to a conversation I had with Dennis Had, he got a lot of mileage out of that preamp design. For $150 Cary will upgrade the unit to accept 6CG7 tubes. According to Dennis this will make the preamp scream. I owned the preamp for several years and it was very reliable and sounded great. Original price on it was $1650 (circa 1997) so it was no slouch.

I'd consider some of the other Cary preamps as well. The SLP-88 seems to be in your price range and is the predecessor to the SLP-94 and SLP-98. A couple on here now.

Good luck with the search.

What brand of teflon caps did you install? Also, what tubes are you using?
Many of the great tube component manufacturers produce entry level preamps that share some of the same components and design ideas that their higher priced preamps have. Entry level preamps from high end manufacturers may be the best bang for your buck value in High End Audio. Some suggestions in your price range would be a BAT VK3i(in my opinion you cannot go wrong with a BAT tube preamp), various Audio Research preamps (another no-brainer, and various Conrad-Johnson preamps (another no-brainer).

That being said, Audible Illusions 3A preamps which have always been considered amazing values are, for some reason, extremely inexpensive on the used audio market. If you can pick one up for under $1000 and then do some tube rolling to suit your musical taste, mine runs toward warm sounding tubes, then your cousin will only have good things to say about you during family reunions.

A nice preamp in your price range is the Cary SLP50A. I use one I purchased on Audiogon with the Jenson copper/oil caps and remote. Add RCA 6CG7 tubes. Very nice IMHO. Under $700.00. The Agon member I purchased the preamp said it was as good as the Cary SLP98 he purchased. That would be a matter of opinion.
Good luck!
The Tube Audio Designs, TAD-150 is nice. Between 600 - 800 new! I tried one before I bought my FS. It really is great bang for the buck. Paul at Bizzy Bee offers money back (minus shipping) if you don't like it. At least he used to.

good luck
Not to add to your list but...

The Eastern Electric Minimax is an exceptional pre and be had new in your price range. On A'gon, it can be had for $500-$600.


PS - Cary/AES make fine products.

I've had my SLP98L for about 2 months now and love it, one of the best purchases I've made in this hobby. I also cannot agree with the ringing microphonics stuff, and mine is only about 4 feet from my speakers....FWIW
I purchased the TFT Exotica from handmade electronics. The improvement was jaw dropping. I have experimented with caps for a long time. This by far was the best. I wanted to buy more but they are out of stock in the 0.22/600v version.
I might have an AES DJH Super Preamp for sale in the next couple of days. With Pope NOS tubes, it is outstanding. With remote. Probably $1300.
I own the SLP-98P. Before that, I had a Cary SLI-80 integrated amp. Both have the characteristic Cary house sound, warm and sweet with musicality up the wazoo. I had a Musical Fidelity A300 integrated amp before I got into Cary gear. The MF is much more forward with the soundstaging, which results in a harsh, fatiguing sound for my ears, JMO.

The SLP-98 is considered the best current production Cary preamp, but Cary just came out with the SLP-05, which adds two more 6SN7 output tubes and a MM/MC phono stage with switchable impedance settings, among other things. I haven't heard anything about the SLP-05 yet, but it seems very promising.

The SLP-88 can be had for your price range, but it only has 2 12AU7 tubes. I imagine the sound would not be quite the same as the SLP-98 or the SLI-80, which have different tube sets.

A used 50A, as mentioned above, or the 50B, would probably be good options at your price range, but this is only based on what I have read. I would also look into AES.

You don't mention the amp that would be paired with the preamp. When I auditioned the SLP-98P, it was first hooked up to a BAT VK-55 amp. The imaging was shifted way to the left, for some reason. The sound was also cold and sterile, to my ears anyways. Then I had it hooked up to the Cary V12R, and the imaging was perfect and the sound was magical.

If you are also getting an amp, consider the SLI-80 integrated amp (if your speakers match it). You can get a used one for about $1800. You can try it out to get a good idea of the Cary sound. If you don't like it, you can sell it at or near the price that you purchased it for. I went this route, and ended up upgrading to the SLP-98P and V12R.

One last note - Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio is an excellent source of advice for all things tube. Try him, or ask your local dealer, if you have one, for advice.
I use a Cary CAD-5500 that was upgraded by Cary. These include:
a. paper/oil caps in the signal path
b. Multicap polypros everywhere else
c. Rubycon high-speed photo caps in the power supply (which is separate from the preamp)
d. high speed, soft recovery hexfred diodes in the power supply
e. "standby" switch

This unit is from the early 90's and it was designed not as a preamp but to take the digital edge off early CD player output.

As a preamp it is warm and liquid-something I prefer- with a very clean & slightly forward character. It is not "neutral" but makes me smile when I hear it.

I think for the most part Cary makes fine products but they do have a "house sound".
I have had ringing problems with Cary as well. It's their uninspired tube choices. You know what fixes it? Better tubes and a couple of racket balls under things. You don't have to spend a fortune on vibrapods or anything. The basic thing with ringing is - if you have a lot of bass or a bright room - you can get some shaking of your tubes. Hal-O's will stop it if the first two suggestions don't. I actually think a little bit of microphonics in the right spots - not to noticeable - can add a little sweetness, but it's better to get it as dead as possible first to hear if and wear you want it.
I'll second going the NOS tube route on the SLP-98. However, I had no problems with the Chinese tubes other than they sounded flat. No ringing problems but then again I use Halos and my preamp sits on a suspension rack.
Note: I notices that someone was looking for a SLP-50a here on Agon. A thought on obtaining that relatively rare unit:

I sent my "NEW" preamp (designed by Cary) over to Cary's service dept. to have the tube compliment changed to the same as the 50a, oil caps installed, and a remote installed (using the power LED hole for the sensor). It is a beautiful preamp, and was told it would be very much like the 50a by Dennis after the mod. Cary charged me $500 for the mod, which included a total checkup on the unit. I was told there are a couple of these offered now on Agon for around $400 - so it could turn out to be a good deal with the upgrade.
I had an NEW preamp and the DC-33 battery operated amp. I traded those in on a Cary SLP-98. The NEW preamp was great and Dennis Had also recommended sending it in and having the tube circuits converted to accept 6CG7s which he said are similar to the 6SN7s. Also, there are occasionally AES preamps for sale here that are made by Cary's sister company. They are supposed to be a good value.