Cary SLP-98 vs. other high end preamps--C-J, etc.

Has anyone compared the SLP-98 to any other preamps like the C-J 17LS (or any other C-J), Joule Electra, or any of the VTL preamps? I guess I'm basically trying to get an idea of how good it really is compared to others I might purchase in the $2 to $3K range, new or used. I've owned a VTL 2.5TL, would the Cary be an upgrade to that? Right now I'm using a CJ PRF (SS), so I realize the Cary is probably opposite in many ways to that. Asking because I don't see the SLP-98 discussed as often. Rest of my system: C-J MF2500A amp, Cary 303-200 CDP, Fanfare tuner, B&W M802 SIII speakers. A C-J preamp is probably an obvious choice for me, but I've gotten intrigued by the Cary. Thanks in advance for any info!

Hi Steve,

I was in the same position you are. I was thinking about
a CJ 17LS or a SLP 98. Unfortunatley, the CJ dealer made
me an offer I could not refuse so I never did audition
the Cary. My previous preamp was the PV-10A. For what
its worth the 17LS is a fantasic preamp. I can't imagine
not having it in my system. The PV-10A was great but the
17LS is in another universe. You have a nice system there.
I think the 17LS will be a huge upgrade for your system.

Also, I think (not sure yet) but you will be able to upgrade
the 17LS to the 17LS-2. Not sure what exactly is upgraded
but its nice to have the option.

Good luck and let us know what you decide on

Thanks, Cmach, for your feedback on the 17LS, it sure sounds like a great pre-amp, from everything I've read. But I have another question for SLP-98 fans: are the oil filled caps worth it?

thanks again, steve
I looked into a SLP98 myself and could not find much info on it. I do remember reading where someone preferred it to a VTL 5.5 and a Rogue 99 Magnum. He thought it was a stones throw from the CAT, so pretty darn nice if that is true.
I own a Cary SLP 98 with phono and have never been dissatisfied. It is one component that has not been back in the box to re-sell in my upgrade frenzy. A couple units you should look into before making a choice: First Sound tube pre-amps made in Renton, Washington and Klyne solid state pre-amps made in Chehalis, Washington. Neither are cheap, but the word on the street is that they rank with the best made, period. Both companies have websites. In many ways the pre-amp is the most important component in the deck, EVERYTHING runs through them, they are your one common component among all components. Klyne makes both line stage and phono stage, First Sound makes only line stage. The Cary is an exceptional value, very reliable, sexy and delicious sounding up and down the frequency range. Huge outboard power supply. A good set of tubes from Vintage Tubes in Michigan and the unit sings, very nice.
I own Cary SLP-98P and CJ-16LS MKII. They have diffrent tastes of music. SLP-98 has more bottom end but less lush midrange whereas CJ-16LS MKII has an awesome sweet midrange when listening to vocals but lack of bottom end. I had CJ-17LS before but I upgrade to 16LS which I love its lush midrange.
FYI CJ-17LS can not be upgraded to LS2, which is replaced by 6H30 tubes (power tubes).
anyone compared Cary slp98 with Lamm ll2 ??
I actually bought an SLP-98 (no phono) a week or two after my original post--I found a virtually new one for a great price. (And the day after I got it, I received the new S'Phile issue with a review of the SLP-98!). Wow, what a nice pre-amp! Any doubts I had about it disappeared after it had broken in. I believe it's a significant upgrade over my VTL 2.5TL (it should be, at roughly twice the price). However, I sold the VTL, & also upgraded my power amp at the same time as the pre-amp, so can't do a direct comparison. I find the Cary does everything well: very smooth, yet dynamic, nice soundstage & depth, very quiet, beautiful mid-range, & looks gorgeous (I have the black/carnival red model).

It also cost at least $1K less than other units I was considering like the C-J 17LS or the ARC LS25MKII. I haven't heard those, but the SLP-98 has totally satisfied my pre-amp upgrade craving. I find it interesting that Nguyenchiro owns both the Cary SLP-98P and the CJ-16LS MKII--& if I read the post correctly, does not consider the 16LS to be clearly superior (just pros & cons for each unit)? If so, that says a lot for the Cary, as it's much less expensive.

I do have a question tho for Markmendenhall or Nguyenchiro--what do you think of the phono stage? Is it worth the $400 to get it installed? I've been considering more expensive separate units (used Cary PH301, C-J EV-1 or PF-1, etc.), but don't want to spend a lot on vinyl playback right now.

Thanks for all the responses to my post. I have to say, the SLP-98 is one of the nicest sounding (& looking) components I've owned.


I bought a used Cary Slp98 a few months ago, it was replacing a Rogue Magnum 99 that I bought brand new and the 99 was less than 2 months old. I took a major loss on the Rogue, but it was worth it once the Cary was installed.

The Cary had the pio cap upgrade, these caps are labeled " Audio 1's" and to who manufactures these caps is a mystery. If you do the research with these caps that Cary offers, you find many posts from indiviguals that they sound awful and have replaced them. I found the Audio 1 cap sounding slow, thick, foggy, soupy (you pick) and lacking great high end extension. Dont get me wrong, the Slp98 sounded great but something was holding it back from becoming a work of art. It was a diamond in the rough.

I yanked these caps and installed the Hovland Musicaps and WOW does the Cary sing. Superb dynamics, excellent lowend, liquid midrange, crystaline highend...and quite. If you buy it new, Cary does offer other cap options.

I agree with Markmendenhall that a great source for tubes is Vintage Tube Services. Andy will answer a call late into the evening.

good luck, kek
Nguyenchiro you mentioned that " SLP-98 has more bottom end but less lush midrange whereas CJ-16LS MKII has an awesome sweet midrange when listening to vocals but lack of bottom end". What caps did the Cary have in it?
Congratulations on your purchase, Steve.

I just stumbled onto this thread because I happened to read Art Dudley's review of the Cary just this morning. I wanted to acknowledge Markmendenhall's post above because I own both a First Sound and a Klyne, and I will attest that they are both superb.
Hi there,
I've owned a Cary-SPL94. What a great pre-amp.
Don't know what different between SLP-94 and SLP-98 (they look quite the same design)?
Is it worth upgrading to SLP-98?

Steveaudio: I understand your question about the SLP 98 phono stage - just how good is it? I own one, but unfortunately don't have anything to compare it to. I have been questioning how good it is to people whose opinion I value, but not enough people seem to be analog savvy. Everything is CD/digital now. Essentially I have concluded (subjectively) that the inboard phono stage of the SLP 98 is pretty good. I had an A-gon buyer over last weekend who was looking to buy some gear I have listed for sale and he heard my analog set up. I have recently undergone a big 'upgrade' (read: expensive new stuff!!) and am cleaning up all my old albums and really enjoying/re-discovering them. I bought a Benz H-2 wood body cartridge, a new Nottingham Analogue Spacedeck turntabale and I bought all new tubes for my SLP 98 pre-amp. The fellow seemed genuinely impressed with the sound. As part of the analog signal path, I feel that the Cary phono stage must be doing its job pretty well or he would not have been as impressed with the phono results. I have been doing a little reading and if money were no object, I would probably go with a Klyne phono stage. Or possibly the Cary outboard unit, but they are expensive and am at least for now satisfied. I think Dennis Had of Cary being a bit of a throw-back (SET amps, tube amps, etc.) would not put anything substandard in any of his pre-amps. Other options might be the Pass Labs phono stage or EAR. But the Cary, I think holds its own. I will tell you this, though, the Nottingham/Benz combo is excellent. I am back to vinyl and the CD's are used pretty much for their convenience and availability of new music, not for the CD sound vs. vinyl. I also believe there really are a lot of great choices out there. As my tt salesman said to me: when you get to $6k for a turntable, all the makers produce a pretty good product: VPI, SME, Kuzma, Nottingham Analogue etc. I think the new/old stock tubes have as much to do with it as anything. MM
I luckily got the Cary SLP98 with internal phono stage and oiled capacitors upgraded. I just bought the deHavilland Ultraverve preamp (also has one 6SN7 input but has a rectifier tube not diodes rectifiers) and would compare with Cary SLP98P. In my opinion the Ultraverve has lot more defined dynamic sound and very clean and clear in the background than the SLP98. Congratulations Steve, you got the SLP98 but I would suggest you roll tubes with NOS Tungsol 6sn7s you'll be amazed with the new old stock tubes which would make your music more lively.
The speakers and amp together have a great deal to do with all the above comments. They should be considered one circuit. Most of today's speakers have two way designs or three way with a cone that is too slow for the midrange it's producing. Get a dome or a ribbon midrange and get a really good SS amp so that your bottom end is not corrupted by the lack of definition and control of the low end speakers. By all means don't let anything above 100-125 HZ go through a slow 10 or 12 in cone especially driven by a tube amp. If all you want is a sweet midrange get a full tube system and a single voice coil speaker as today's speaker designers have lost the ability to truly get two/three way speakers mixing the frequencies correctly. Otherwise just go get a standard surround system from Marantz or something like that where the bus crash sound is all you are looking for. Most people can't distinguish between an mp3,mp4 and lossless PCM anyway. When people talk about most stereo changes they are talking about the distortion they like. If you hear the stereo and are not hearing only the music then you are in that crowd IMNSHO. I used to build $4000.00 amps and custom Speakers in the 70's. The Cary SLP-98p&l are both outstanding tube units. Especially if you change out the 6SN7 tubes used for the line stage with american or german new old stock (NOS) tubes as recommended above. You might even need the tube dampeners as they are sometimes sensitive to the feedback produced. For a tube unit I only have one better and that is a VAC. I still think a really simple SS circuit with minimum extra circuits like protection et. al. is the finest sound. You can't get that stuff because manufacturers don't want the risk of a blown bank of transistors. Tubes are replaced regularly by stereo nuts who want to play so the problem is solved. VAC at least sealed some units. There was nothing like my Bedini / Strelioff (actually in the end Strelioff) SS preamp and amp for sound. Just have to turn them on yourself and let nobody touch any on/off switch. Bob Carver gets bashed for no good reason. He built equipment a mere mortal could/can have and stereofile and all their "expert listeners" couldn't tell the difference between a $700 and a $5000 unit back in the early 80's. Including a Fine tube amp. His C-19 partial tube preamp was pretty special with a good set of replacement NOS tubes from the past.
Listen to the music not the stereo. I repeat, If you are hearing your stereo that's bad. I'd rather listen to Rickie Lee Jones than my stereo. Now I'll go put on my flack jacket for the folks who bought CD demagnetizers from Bedini and for the tube zelots. Bedini was always the consummate salesman. As for the tube zelots I have a bunch of tube amps and preamps some of which (mostly amps) are for sale (like a pair of McIntosh MC30's in primo shape - the holy grail of tube amps). Opinions in here are likely discarded - I don't mind as opinions are like elbows and ... (well you know the rest).
Had the SLP98p for one week. Sounded great on some recordings and very muddy on others. Strange thing. I did reverse the speaker wire at the speakers as directed in the manual (+ to _, _ to +) but actually preferred it the other way. wire phase coherent it was muddy and muffled but inverse phase was much more clear however lacked low end. Also noticed the "terrible" vol pot which was so grainy I only used it to about 9 oclock on the dial.Barely move it which large vol jumps. Of course Cary has a paid service where they will fix that as a "custom upgrade". Didn't see the need to spend 5k for the SLP98. Maybe the one I took home was a dog I dont know but it was brand new in box from dealer. Sounded really good on slower stuff but fell apart as soon as thing got busy.
I brought a used SLP98L and loved it. After a couple of years of happy listening I  sent it back to Cary for a full upgrade (all possible factory upgrades including the Lundahl MC phono transformers.)
It took a hundred hoursor so to break in after the upgrades and for a while during the break in period I really questioned my decision to spend $2k on upgrades.But now the amp sounds truly amazing and is greatly improved in everyway. I think this amp is a forever amp and like others in this thread, this amplifier has survived many system upgrades and is the heart of my system. Current power amps are Pass Aleph 2 Mono's and my speakers are Vienna Acoustics "The Kiss" with Townshend super tweeters. After the Pass Apelph 2 upgrade (Pass Factory update refurbish) I retired the X2 REL T9 subs as they were no longer needed.