Cary Audio SL-100 Preamplifier

Cary Audio is located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cary Audio rapidly became known as a contractor of high quality, two channel, tubed audio electronic equipment. Their version 805 monoblock named the CAD805AE, has got many favorable reviews on the decades, and has existed for almost so long as the business itself. Cary functions tubed and solid state amplifiers and preamplifiers, a hybrid headphone amp and hybrid D/A converters, along with solid state DACs, music servers, and surround sound chips to a broader audience.

The SL100 ($1995 USD) is a conventional preamplifier - according to the small owner's manual, it is a "double-mono solid state preamplifier" with an "all solid state design that ensures carefree care, yet provides an extremely smooth tonal balance not unlike tubes." Its promised specifications contain total harmonic distortion of 0.03% and a frequency response of 5Hz-50kHz, +/-0.5dB. The guide and promotional materials accessible at provide little added information regarding the SL100's circuitry, though they urge 100 hours of break in for best sound quality. I installed the SL100 between my Standard DAC2 HGC D/A converter and Audio Research D300 power amp and place it to supply background music until I Had estimated it'd surpassed 100 hours of play.

The remaining folded case is not white, and made of thicker-gauge metal than is occasionally located, and has a fine, solid feel. No screws are observable on only a couple on the top and sides, and the faceplate. My sample was not all white, with selector buttons and silver electricity.

The soft-feel power button in the bottom of the faceplate left is encompassed with a blue ring encircled with a round silver bezel; the ring glows blue when the SL100 is turned on. Above this can be a 1/4" headphone jack. In the middle of the faceplate is a big blue LED screen (with brightness control) that reveals the volume level and input signal chosen. In the right is a big, easily turning quantity dial.

Cary Audio SL100

The SL100's back panel reveals its dual-mono design. Going out from there in either direction are all on RCA jacks, input signals for CD, Tape In, Theater Bypass, Aux 2, Aux 1, Tuner, and Tape Out. In the middle of the top half the back panel are three electricity cause interfaces and an IR remote interface, each on a 3.5mm minijack, as well as an RS232 serial port for remote setup. All the jacks demonstrated no play through the entire review period, and felt of high quality. I did most of my listening like that, and thus got a much better quality of sound in the balanced inputs and outputs.

The remote control provided with the SL 100 is an all- though its ergonomics are inferior plastic version that, I suppose, may also be combined with a few other Cary parts. The preamplifier controls I frequently use will be the volume buttons, but these are put in the bottom of the SL100's remote, rendering it almost impossible to press on them while holding the remote in the exact same hand. My thumb needed to extend to get to the volume buttons, as soon as I held it in my own palm. The numerous simple-to-reach buttons in the very best two thirds of the remote appear to get nothing related to the SL100. They do not do anything, although there is another set of volume buttons up there.


The record is accessible from most of the most common download sellers, along with from Stanford's web site.

Solar Echoes is classified as "electronic music" by bigger purveyors of low resolution downloads. Stanford has managed to produce the record sound considerably more analog than I anticipated, after listening to the samples on his website through my iMac's built in loudspeakers. That analog-like sound played to the abilities of the Cary SL100. In electronic music, the frequencies that are higher generally sound etched or sharp. The Cary did not remove any of the details or subtleties of the music, but the general feel was softer, without, and closer harsh edges. My benchmark preamplifier was an Audio Research LS15. Cary has expressed the SL100 to give a heat that leans toward tube sound, without being too "soft" for people who would rather have solid state.

Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks was another excellent pairing for the SL100. I have always especially loved "Tangled Up in Blue" (16/44.1 AIFF, Columbia) for its air and narrative. The Cary made Dylan's somewhat raspy voice and the layered guitars alluring. The sound had a feeling of a little group playing in a space that is modest but quite cozy. Nothing regarding the sound was demanding or competitive. The soundstage felt like everything was combined and perfectly sized. Many records of acoustic guitar sound sanitized in comparison now. Dylan's harmonica, which enters toward the conclusion of the tune, had a scratchy sound that is terrifically without being harsh or overbearing.

Cary Audio SL100

Hearing the manner the Cary expressed Bob Dylan, I felt compelled to hear the way that it might handle Gordon Lightfoot. I found the sound quite comfortable.

Milt Jackson's vibraphone was balanced using drums, bass, and the piano. Occasionally, the sound of the instrument may be a bit hard or glaring, but it was solved by the Cary fairly nicely. The MJQ felt a bit closely packaged in the middle of the soundstage, however there was a fine clarity and separation of sound to the instruments that were different. Each record I listened to through the SL100 appeared to express the impression of cozy.

The size of the space definitely grows in this bit because of the instrumentation needed, but its sound was pervaded by the feeling of a cozy setting as well as a smoothness through the SL100. The harpsichord kept all of its own glory that was plucked without sounding thin. The woodwinds had a soft subdued feel that never let them to feel unpleasant or sharp. The trumpet felt disconnected in the other players in the event the player was some space supporting the orchestra. The sound of the Cary made me feel that this music had been played in a setting of small size, as opposed to the typical big hall we might hear it.

As has been typical of the preamplifiers I've used and analyzed, the sound quality of the SL100's headphone output was small compared to that of its line level output signals. Using my Bowers & Wilkins C5 inear earphones with a 1/4" adapter, I discovered the sound usually level, and a little boomy at the underside. The mix wasn't a useful one for headphone aficionados, although higher frequencies were left cleanly. The headphone jack is a useful inclusion, but isn't a reason to buy the SL100.


In comparison with the Cary, the music was opened up by the Hegel as it had when it arrived here to compete using the Audio Research LS15 for long term home in my own system. With the compositions of Nigel Stanford, the bass guitar impact was instantly more remarkable, but it never overwhelmed. Individual deep-bass sounds appeared clearly in the soundstage. I was conscious of low frequency nuances than through the Cary. Sounds became more distinctive and separate of every other, in a way I favor. And as primary tunes reasoned, they faded back to the wide-ranging, general sound like performers returning with their normal places onstage. Smaller-scale electronic sounds became more distinctive; I could hear them clearly.

The Cary SL100 seemed more comfortable and laid back than its own soundstage, and the Hegel P20 was shallower and narrower - a difference I heard clearly with the Dylan record. The sound was quite comfy, but smaller. That is not saying the sound was bunched up in the middle, between the loudspeakers, but of how hard it was to compete together with the size of the Hegel's soundstage. The Hegel's sound feels just like an extremely sharp picture shot with the incredibly high-priced lens. Music copied using a focus that was softer. The picture was still amazing, but in a way that is different.


This former owner of tubed equipment discovered himself quite comfortable using the warmish sound of the Cary SL100. I concur with the writer(s) of the SL100's guide, who described its sound as "easy." The SL100 will readily meet people who prefer a comfortable sound that is relaxed and laidback, but who do not need to cope with tubes. Given its fair cost and excellent build quality, the SL-100 is an appealing option that should garner a warm reception.

Cary Audio SL-100 Preamplifier photo