I think the Cary has a warmer house sound than the ARC. I own a Cary SLP98p, but my next moves are either the SLP 05 or the ARC Ref 3. I love the ARC sound as well, plus how cool does that gear look!
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That particular Cary appeals to me. I am also looking at McIntosh, another ARC, and a others. But I haven't heard the Cary and don't want to go thru considerable expense to try one out. I think there is some merit to a two box design. I think the power supply is a major ingredient in sound reproduction. McIntosh does the same in the 500 and 1000 series. I have tried a REF3 and the big difference between the LS26 is power supply. It is another level entirely form the LS26. I want unity gain and I don't believe Joule or Lamm offer that.
" I want unity gain and I don't believe Joule or Lamm offer that... "
Just for record, Joule does offer unity gain... and everybody agrees that power supplies are extremely important in preamplifiers (VK from BAT believes its about 90% of success).
Your heart telling "Cary" - lsiten to your heart, its excellent preamp, buy it and be happy !
I had a SLP-05 for almost 2 years I choose it over ARC because ARC sounds too analytical and dry for me. SLP is a great preamp, it has typical Cary house sound - warm, tubish, romantic, not to expense of detail - after replacing stock tubes with some expensive NOS I enjoyed it a lot.Then I realized that it brings some artificial sweetness to the sound. Now I have CAT Renaissance - it is in the same price level, but sonically SLP-05 not even close to it. I think that a lot of audiophiles would agree that CAT is one of the best preamp. It does not have remote control, headphone output, but it gives you true presentation of the music without adding any coloration (BTW for $2000 more you can get version with outstanding phone stage).
Bottom line it is up to your preference: if you really like sound of your LS26 - go for ARC RFF 03 - it is definitely step up, if you want something more sweet and warm go for SLP05.
But I have chosen CAT and very happy with it.
IMO, The Cary SLP-05 is a great preamp. Thats coming from an ex-owner of 2 different Cary amps that I had issues with,both repaired but still a drag to ship and down time etc.Ive never heard the LS-26 but really like the Ref3.If you like the AR sound and you cant audition the Cary Id stepup and get a ref3.The prices are coming down as well so seek a bargain deal ,you cant go wrong