My recent experience with 3 pre-amps - help me pinpoint the next upgrade.

My "current" system...meaning the system I have had for a number of years and have been very much used to:
ProAc Response D30 (89db - this will come in play below)
Audio Research Reference 110 
Cary SLP-03
Cary CDP-1
XLO Reference balanced interconnects and speaker cables

Overall been happy with the sound - Always find it very musical and maybe not so much accurate and transparent but being that I love midrange and pay greatest attention to the vocals - I was overall happy.
Then I got Bryston BP-17 ^3 (Cubed)
The soundstage opened wide, instruments become more spaced and accurate - I really enjoyed that newly discovered sound but I felt the pre-amp was a bit weak (need to turn it up high to play loud) and while the sound was better....I noticed I am not as engaged in the music... The sound was just a tiny bit too analytical, precise and bright for my after several weeks....I decided I need to find something that balances between the accuracy and soundstage of Bryston with the warmth of Cary....
few days ago I got a loaner of Parasound Halo JC-2 from a local retailer.
This is much closer to that desired mix I am describing above - Same as Bryston with wide, transparent imagine, more kick and control of LF, with this feeling of power and yet it retains some of the Cary warmth...however, this preamp has HUGE gain ....I mean; in my system, I can turn the volume to 9 o'clock and it already sounds very loud..... 12 o'clock would be painful loud ...and this is with the channel gain knobs turned all the way down.
That loudness obscures a bit the midrange - the vocals start to disappear, lost in the bass/LF.... 

Really strange that it would drive my 100wpc and ProAc to such loud levels....wondering if this is something with the source ??

In any case....I would say I like Parasound the best - but I am hesitant to keep it... some of my CDs just play too loud and if I lower the volume to what seems normal level I can hear the difference in overall sound stage and the sound becomes a bit narrow / compress...its no longer as open and transparent so no point to upgrade from Cary.
And yet on much of the material - the sound AND music are better....I enjoy it and see as CLEAR upgrade over Cary.

Apologies if some of my descriptions sound odd...   I am more of a "feelings" I am trying to express what my listening experience is like.
Just looking for some guidance / directions....

thank you!
Out of curiosity, have you tried other tubes in your Cary SLP-03?  A relatively inexpensive try at an "upgrade" with some NOS or Mullards. I've read that pre can benefit from tube rolling.  
You should try a passive attenuator between your CDP and preamp. This Schitt Audio SYS will tame down the aggressive output of the CDP. For a mere 50 bucks it is worth a try!
Sounds like a gain mismatch between your CD player and preamp.

Try some different preamps with your system. Not all tube preamps sound like your Cary. You might want to try a tube preamp with a more modern sound like Audio Research or Aesthetix

Some of the most enjoyable music was with a system i had with a Cary SLP 93 preamp, Cary SLM 100 mono blocks (100wpc) and ProAc response 2.5's. Probably 9 years ago now when I had all that. Proac's and tube just seem to gel the best imo. You should really try a tube amp IMO.  

Also like was mentioned tube rolling in Cary gear is quite effective. I also ran NOS Mullards in my preamp and they are fantastic tubes.

The 89db of the ProAc's is not that bad as they are a tube friendly load. I had success with 60wpc, 100wpc and even a 40wpc tube amps with my old 2,5's 

Sounds like you have outgrown the downfalls of a volume control. Try yourself a Wyred 4 Sound STP of a sort if you can trial one. There are VERY few preamps that keep the dynamics fun and the event the same size when even very quiet.
Hi Ether,

I am by no means an expert on any of this, but you have 3V of output from your CD player and an input impedance of 300K ohms for your amp, which I think indicates that you could run about any preamp you choose.

I cannot explain why the Parasound sounds so loud as it has less gain than your Cary preamp.

You could try a passive preamp, so the prior suggestion about the W4S STP is a good idea. I had that preamp and it was pretty smooth but not the most dynamic thing I have had in my system.

A preamp with a lower gain like the Primaluna Dialogue Premium (10db) might work for you.  I still own this preamp and it has good bass and vocals are well articulated in my system. 

I also run a Conrad Johnson LS17-2, which does not have the organic bass of the Primaluna, but is more nuanced and "alive" in my system.

I guess my message is that a preamp is critical and we all need to keep listening to as many as we can. 

Hopefully, someone more knowledgeable about gear responds to your post with more experienced answers to your question(s).

Thanks for listening,


The JC-2 gain is only 14db at the maximum setting and you can turn it down to 4db so that is not likely the source of your problem. Also the input sensitivity for your amp is 1.8 volts which should easily accommodate the JC-2 at maximum.  In fact the gain on your SLP-03 is higher at 16db. Easy thing to try is if you have an unused pair of SE cables around change the CD to preamp from balanced to SE and see what happens.  Your CDP is putting out 6 volts with the balanced outputs as opposed to 3 volts via SE.
Hard to judge with those cables. You might consider getting some Kubala Sosna which are very natural sounding. They will not fix any problems rather they allow you to identify where they come from. 
Hi. I am not that expert to coment. But I think , you should roll different tube to change  your sound. I have not heard of your wsystem sound. But you can try mine at youtube.    JOLIDA  211.
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I think you are on target to suspect source. I use Roon core server because it sounds better for streaming and because there are a lot of discs that are mastered too "hot", cause DAC clipping distortion. Roon allows you to reduce digital loudness before the DAC, avoid clipping distortion. I doubt you have that control with the Cary CD player.
Cary SLP-03 pre-amp is a wonderful pre-amp and sounds very musical! That is the word you need to know, very musical. Differences between tubes can be easily heard through the SLP 03 because it is sensitive enough to reveal different tube; that is a big plus! It is well designed and constructed with a serious power supply. The unit weighs 25 Lbs. For me it replaced an ARC 25 MKII (5500 dollars) and is more musical sounding than the ARC. The ARC weighs a lot less. The Cary needs a good platform along with good footers. Hook up the very best cables that you can afford, Power Cable & Inner connects. It is a balanced component, so to get the very best out of it, it should be at the very least used with a balanced amplifier! Synergy is a must in audio !!!! With good speakers and some tube rolling, you should be in heaven. One more tweak is required; it needs a VPI Brick on top where the transformers are! Happy listening.
As recommended above, the Schitt SYS is a passive unit and placed between the CD player and preamp gain can be adjusted from 0% to 100%.  I was using one between my preamp and amp, the best $49 I ever spent.