Cary Audio Design SLP 98L Preamplifiers

SLP 98L

The SLP 98L is all point-to point wired... no circuit boards. The power supply is external to keep hum away from the linestage. It has a very low, 500 Ohm output impedence, making it compatible with even the pickiest solid state amplifiers. This low output impedance is also helpful with long interconnects. We run it in our demo room with 25 foot interconnects with no problems.

User Reviews (9)

Showing 1-9 of 9  
kek   Audio Enthusiast [Feb 04, 2004]

The Cary came with the optional oil cap upgrade. These caps were the Audio 1's, and I dont have a clue as to who manufactures these, But they sound bad........thick, slow, lathargic, lack of highend extension. I replaced them with Hovland Musicaps and this preamp has never sounded better. Slp98 is truely a superior peice of audiophile equipment.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Craig   Audio Enthusiast [Oct 04, 2001]
Strength:

Gorgeous soundstage, extended bass

Weakness:

none

This preamp is an unsung hero in the audio world. Very few reviews seem to exist outside of this site. Hopefully, this is not a sign that there are few owners of the SLP-98L out there, because this is one beautiful piece of equipment.

My version is the line only, with oil-filled capacitors and remote. As others suggest the remote, while an expensive option, is a worthy addition. It works well and is beautifully machined (although the adjustments are somewhat course and you need to point the remote quite directly at the preamp). I've broken in the 98L over the last two months; during the first month the sound improved dramatically (by losing the sibilent edge noticeable at first).

This preamp throws a very convincing soundstage. The music seems 'right', the way the very best equipment leaves a lasting impression even though you can't always put your finger on exactly what quality sets it above the rest. Frequency extension is outstanding, without the lack of bass noticeable on some other tube pre-amps (e.g., SF). Mids and highs are liquid without being syrupy smooth. Fans of brass instruments look no further; tone and timbre are spot on, and there is no artificial edge to the notes.

The facilities of this relatively small unit are excellent. The left and right user-selectible input sensitivity allows meaningful action on the volume control as well as a balance feature to correct for room abnormalities (essential in my L-shape living room). Plenty of inputs are offered, as are muting, a tape loop and a stand-by feature that virtually eliminates warm-up time.

I'm using the SLP-98L with a SimAudio Moon W-3 solid state amp, Arcam Alpha 5+ cd player, Rega planar 3 turntable with Rotel phono stage (dammit - wish I'd got the SLP-98P!). Speakers are the Reference 3a La Veritas, which are excellent high sensitivity speakers.

As happy as I am with the current set-up, I'm sorely tempted to pick up either the Cary 303 or 306 CD players (both of which trounce my existing digital source). While the Cary + Moon combo sounds great, I must admit to musing about how good things could sound with either the Cary 208 (V12) amp or the 805 monoblocks.....

Similar Products Used: Sonic Frontiers SF1, Audio Research, SimAudio Moon, Audiolab
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Teddy Lee   Audiophile [Dec 17, 2001]
Strength:

Musical, soundstage, bass, controls, etc.

Weakness:

Once in a while you have to wipe out dust on and around tubes

Mine is SLP98P that has MM phono input.
Only a thing I want to upgrade for this little gorgeous is balanced inputs and outputs. But for home stereo RCA is enough to cover almost all the needs.
Tubes are easy to buy and not expensive. Nice design.
Sometimes you can find some noise from phonostage. Choice of tubes is important. For 12AX7, I recommend Green labelled US Jan Philips. For 12AU7, Elektro Harmonix.

Similar Products Used: AR LS25, Mcintosh c22, etc.
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Johann E Lee   Audiophile [Mar 29, 2000]
Strength:

Liquid and beautiful.

Weakness:

By 2002, there'll be a new pre amp I presume that ll be more expensive than any of the last SLP 90 based pre amps in Cary's line.

I own the SLP 90 actually. Bought it in 93. Superseded by a
close sounding SLP94 in 94. Not hearing much difference I stayed with the 90.

When the 94 came out I wasn't eager to change the 90, and so the 98. The 90 has tube rectifiers whereas as far as I could see the 98 does not.

The 98 costs more, is presumably more dynamic and stronger bass.

SLP90 is a great pre-amp. Grain free, well balanced, not polite, just right in the balls dept. Transparent compared to Conrad Johnson PV something or other.

Waiting for the SLP-2002(haha!).

Just joking, Mr Had. (Bet he'll do it tho)

Similar Products Used: CJ. ARC. Grant.
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
4
Michael Mount   Audio Enthusiast [Jun 02, 2001]
Strength:

Warm, quiet sound. Build quality and cosmetic appearance.

Weakness:

Tube sockets not labelled (petty, I know).

The unit purchased was a store demo with the phono stage. It was not shipped with the owners manual and all the tubes were neatly placed in their original boxes so right off I had to call Cary to find out where the 12AU7's went and where the 12AX7's went. Seems like it wouldn't have cost them too much to label at least one of the two identically sized sockets (if you're in the same boat 12AX7's go under the metal cans).

The Cary has an excellent engaging and non-fatiguing sound. It does live, as others have said, a bit on the warm side but that was exactly what I was looking for. Comparatively the CJ was more detailed but colder sounding. The Joule was midway between the CJ and Cary in accuracy and had the most controlled bass of the three. I feel the Tara Labs had the best depth but was also the least accurate and had the sloppiest bass (of course it originally was 1/3 to 1/4 the price of the other three). I think, at least in my system, that the Cary offered the best balance of tonal warmth, soundstage, and accuracy. A very impressive piece that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for laid-back classic tube sound.

Plus the chrome chassis looks great with my Quicksilver Silver Mono's (also chrome) ...

Similar Products Used: CJ Premier 14, Joule-Electra LA-100, Tara Labs Space & Time Passage
OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
4
Gerry   Audio Enthusiast [Apr 10, 2001]
Weakness:

none

This is a review of the Cary SLP-94 as an upgrade from the SLP-90. This pre-amp, with it's built in phono stage alwasy had good sound. At the time I bought it for about $2400 it was pretty unique in having exposed tubes in a chrome body. I had compared it to others and liked it best for the reasons mentioned above. I eventually had it upgraded to the SLP-94 and was amazed at the improvement. Once again, I started listening to old recordings on CD and LP. A while back I was told to switch to 5814 tubes in place of the 12AU7 tubes. I did and thought I like the sound better. Thinking they couldn't be as good as NOS high-end 12AU7s, I switched back. Recently I got a hold of some very good 5814s and switched back. WOW! I love this pre-amp. I now have wonderfull soundstage with body and detail to my music. I know the 98 is suppose to be better, but I am not sure how.
Now I know there may be better out there for more money, but when it comes to sound, this is a great unit and worth an audition along with manufacturers like BAT and CJ. Then let your ears be the judge.

Similar Products Used: Electrocompaniet, Hafler, Cary SLP-90
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Tom Evans   Audio Enthusiast [Feb 25, 2001]
Strength:

Cosmetics. Looks great with two blue eyes with monitor engaged. One of the most musical pre-amps on the planet. Great image, weight, dynamics, yet smooth on top.

Weakness:

First unit purcahsed had noise with the remote control. Dennis and Kirk quickly replaced unit and shipped extra tubes. No other weakness.

This preamp is in line with all tube system and sounds better than ever. With NOS TungSol's, Ken Rads or Sylvania tubes, this is by far one of the most musical preamps available. It is the only component that I have not upgraded or replaced over the pass 3 years. It performs well with SS or Tube amps, CD or Vinyl. It does live on the warm side of neutral sound, and shows its best with dyanmic full range speakers. Most adaquate gain, and it is adjustable independent of volume.

I challenge anyone to audition it against the Ayre, CJ, ARC, CAT, BAT etc, and draw your own impressions. This is a keeper!!

Similar Products Used: ARC tube, PS Audio, Audible Illusions.
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
D J   Audiophile [Aug 28, 2001]
Strength:

Beautiful, extended, rich soundstage.

Weakness:

Likes nice clean power or a power conditioner.

What a wonderful preamp. In my tube-based system it is great on both vinyl and cd. Warms up a solid statwe system too.

Good imaging, nice bass response if your amp can handle it. I have not tried the phono stage, have only driven it direct from cd or thru Trichord Research/Michell Delphini phono stage.

Get the remote control. It is convenient, does not affect the sound at all, and is a wonder to (be)hold. Solid metal machining and only 4 buttons. Lovely minimalist design.

I was having a few problems switching from Standy to Operate some times. A call to my dealer did not result in an answer, but did result in a call from Denis Had, the owner and president of Cary Audio the next day!!!

The preamp is designed for 117 Volts, and in power-stricken Silicon Valley, we sometimes have troubles with our power grid. Most of the time the on switch works fine, especially at night time. During the day, I sometimes have to switch it on/off a few times before it engages. I think if I run it off conditioned power (eg PS Audio300 or similar) then I will be 100% fine. Or if you live somewhere more civilized for power delivery than the infamouse Silly Cone Valley in 2001 then you will be 100% satisfied. Right now I am at 98%.

Make no mistake, this is a great product, and the customer service is terrific. I also recommend my dealer, Dave at Future Sound in San Mateo. You might also want to check out UpscaleAudio.com if you are not in the SF Bay Area.

By the way, check out my review of the Cary V12 amplifier. That is a truly awesome piece of equipment for the $.


Similar Products Used: Many.
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
4
Evan Trent   Audio Enthusiast [Jul 08, 2000]
Strength:

Sounds and looks fabulous.

Weakness:

Price perhaps - remote control volume is expensive add on...

This review applies to the SLP-94, not the 98. My model is a 94L (so no phono stage) and I use it with the Cary PH301 phono pre. Together it's a great combo.

I am amazed at how much of a difference this pre-amp has made in my system. Compared to the solid state pre I had before, which I thought was nice and clean, this thing is far better. The soundstage is both wider and deeper. I feel like I got a new living room along with this unit! The midrange is much warmer, and there is a nice contrast between silence and music. A texture to the music that simply wasn't there before now dominates, and it's very pleasant!

All I changed was my pre-amp but it sounds like I got a whole new system, speakers and all.

One funny note - the improvement in CDs is more dramatic than in vinyl playback. I presume this has to do with the fact that my vinyl was being played through a tube phono pre before whereas this is the first time I have had tubes in the signal path of my CD player.

The SLP-98 has a bit more gain (20 dB vs. 16 in the 94) and may have some other subtle improvements but I have not had a chance to A/B it with the 94. The design and build quality of Cary's gear is always top notch, and from my experiences thus far I would eagerly buy another piece from them any day.

The only possible gripe with this unit is price, but considering that it is hand wired, point to point, and sounds so damn good, the price is justifiable. I wouldn't mind if they included remote control volume instead of charging an extra $499 to have it installed... but that's a petty complaint

The only other issue is that you cannot get the SLP-98 with balanced outputs (XLR) as far as I know. This option was offered for the SLP-94, but I guess Cary dropped it for the 98. It's not a big deal but it would be nice as an option since some of Cary's own power amps have an option for XLR ins, and many other high end manufacturers of tube and solid state amps do as well.

All in all this is a really fabulous pre-amp. It's my second piece of Cary gear (the PH301 being the first) and I am suitably impressed with every aspect of their components.

--Ev

Similar Products Used: Numerous solid state pre-amps but didn't compare to any competitive tube units
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Showing 1-9 of 9  

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