A veteran of AVRev.com, Jim Swantko also wrote home theater and audiophile component reviews for HomeTheaterReview.com in the early days of the publication. His focus was on mid- to high-end audio brands like Mark Levinson, Classé, Noble Fidelity, Cary Audio, MartinLogan, and Paradigm.
I'm not going to mince words; the Cary Audio SLP-05 is one of the finest preamplifiers I have ever heard. And I've heard many. It's rare when a single component can impart such a profound impact on the performance of a system, but the SLP-05 took my system up a notch, maybe three.
The $8,000 SLP-05 is Cary's statement preamplifier and offers nearly everything an audiophile could want in a no-compromise unit. It's a two chassis design, which isolates the noisy 5AR4 tube rectified power supply far away from the delicate audio circuitry. The power supply chassis is adorned with beautiful, blue backlit, analog needles indicating plate voltage and current, and a single large knob which powers up the circuitry within.
The Audio chassis is linked to the power supply chassis by an eight-conductor umbilical using Kimber Kable oxygen-free copper conductors. Protruding from the top of the chassis are eight 6SN7 dual triode vacuum tubes, two of which are dedicated as a Class-A push-pull zero feedback headphone amplifier. The remaining six operate in a true balanced configuration providing buffer and gain functions. Volume is controlled by a high-precision Alps potentiometer and the rest of the switching functions utilize gold-contact single-throw switches and solid-seating rotary switches to maximize sonic integrity. A wide array of single-ended as well as XLR inputs and outputs allow for easy integration into any system.
Home theater owners and environmentalists alike will appreciate the Cinema bypass feature, which is automatically engaged when the unit is powered off. This passes audio signals through the preamp to your HT processor while saving electricity and the tubes for material more rewarding than Dumb and Dumber or Smokey and the Bandit, two personal favorites. The included remote control will vary volume and mute the system, that's it.
Listening to the SLP-05 was an absolute thrill. A few words, which came to mind while listening, include transparency, quickness and openness. The SLP-05 seemed to have absolutely no limits on frequency extension, high or low. Bass was deep, tight, powerful and wonderfully detailed. Treble was delivered with a speed and purity which I have not heard before, and which I was shocked by, to be quite honest. No tubed preamplifier is supposed to be this extended but the Cary was, and then some. The midrange is where the tube magic lives, so they say, and the Cary did not disappoint with some of the most natural, beautiful vocals I have experienced. They were rich and smooth with layer after layer of texture. Warm is not an adjective I would use however, but most of you were probably expecting it. Warm would lead one to believe that the Cary imparts a euphonic glow on vocals, but it doesn't. It is absolutely natural and only delivers what the artists' vocal cords were able to produce at the time of recording.
The goal of any high-end component is to recreate the magic of a live performance, and my system has never come closer than with the SLP-05 in the signal chain.
Read about the high points and the low points of the SLP-05 on Page 2.