ARC Reference 6 or Cary SLP 05 with upgrade?

Yeah, it's me again. The Voyager has settled in nicely and I think I would benefit from a better preamp. A friendly local dealer dropped by today with a ARC LS28. That was headed in the right direction but was not close to a $12,000 improvement. I could probably swing a used ARC Reference 6, but somehow the Cary SLP 05 has caught my attention. Everything I read about it is very positive but I don't know if it would lend more of a full sound than increased transparency. Has anyone been able to compare these two directly? 

Currently: Bricasti M3 > Rogue RP-7 > LSA Voyager > Fyne F1-8

One of the things that appeals to me about the Cary, aside from cost, is it uses 6sn7 tubes which are now being manufactured by Lin Lai and have a reputation for great sonics.

Anyway, I await your wisdom. 


My mentor love's the Cary 05. If I stayed with separates I would have it.

At near double the price is the Ref6E. A friend just bought one and he loves

it. I doubt you would be displeased with either.  Nice sleuthing.

You will not go wrong with either… but I have shifted over to all Audio Research over the last 50 years… Reference 5SE for nearly 10 years… now a Reference 6SE. Without hesitation I would go with a Reference 6. Adding a Reference amp could be life changing. 

But these are two great options.


I agree that both preamplifiers are can't lose propositions. The Cary has several particular intriguing aspects.

1 A separate high quality robust power supply.

2  Utilization of the terrific 6SN7 which provides far more choices than the 6H30 in the ARC Reference (If tube rolling is appealing for you).

3 The Ultimate upgrade package is said by many to be a very worthwhile, cost effective and quite meaningful improvement of the power supply and signal path coupling capacitors.


I have almost the same system and went with the Cary because it seemed like more tube rolling (sound tuning) options, tube rectified, separate power supply, talking to people and cost.  The remote is way over kill if just using for 2 channel.  Wish Cary would offer a minimalist remote option.  

Sound-I have a few hundred hours on it and really enjoy the improvement in bass, soundstage and midrange over my Rogue RP7.


I never listened to a Ref 6 but would buy the Cary again.  I don’t think you can go wrong with either. 

I too run a Bricasti M3, AGD Audions (class D) and moved from a Rogue RP7 with NOS tubes.  The Cary enhanced the sound in all the areas I was wanting.  I feel like I’m finally hearing my Joseph Audio Perspectives.  Sorry for rambling.  Reach out if you want to talk about “specific” detail. 


Hi testrun! Yes, we do have similar systems, so your input is particularly valuable. Thank you. The Voyager, aside from having gobs of power, is slightly on the warm side and is quite robust in the lower frequencies compared to the Audions (I had a pair). Same for the Fyne speakers, at least compared to the JA Pulsar II that I almost bought. So a concern I have regarding the 05 > Voyager > Fyne is perhaps too much emphasis in the mid bass. Maybe this is not something you can comment on. I am looking for a more etherial sound than I have now. A soundstage that puts me IN the music, not so much as a voyeur. Yes, I know, headphones. 

Are you still using the stock tubes? What 6sn7s does it ship with? Have you found the 05 to be sensitive to different interconnects and power cords? 

@testrun Did you get the upgrade in your unit? I was planning to do that but they do not allow returns if upgraded. The only reason I might return the unit is as follows.

My main concern is that this is a high gain preamp. The Bricasti, I believe, has a rather hot output (their output specs are not in volts and are confusing to me), the Voyager is powerful (350W), and the speakers are 91db sensitive. I am concerned that I will have a very limited volume range available to me. Like from 0-10 on a scale of 0-100. Your amps are 85W and your speakers are, I believe, 85db sensitive. So in that regard we are very different.

You can ignore my questions about tubes and cables, above. I think I have a handle on those.

I have the SLP-05 without the upgrade, will do it when I am going to be away so I won’t miss it. Super preamp but your concern on gain is valid. I installed rockwell attenuators as suggested by others on this forum and that worked great with no noticeable sound degradation. Vinyl was fine but my digital source was too hot and I have magnepan 3.7’s which I believe are like 87 db fed by Pass X250.8.

the Cary is a fantastic unit in both looks and sound and does offer many tube sandbox play opportunities.

I got it with the upgrade.  Honestly when I buy anything I buy with resale in mind.  I tube rolling options are great the rectifier tubes based power supply is something I really wanted and would suggest for anyone buying a tube preamp.  The Cary is a collectible which is very important for resale fore everyone involved with this addition.  Signing off but think about it . 



Excess audio system gain is something that needs to be factored in. A high output DAC coupled with a high gain preamp (And higher sensitivity speakers) can result is a very limited functional range of use for volume control.


If you are looking for a fuller sound I suspect that your problem is your speakers rather than the amps. I have found that Fyne go overboard on transparency on most of their speakers. For a fuller sound I would suggest for starters Sonus Faber, Vienna Acoustics or Dynaudio, but I am sure that in the USA there a host of speakers that would do the job, speakers I've never had the opportunity to hear in Australia or even heard of.


I’m not looking for a fuller sound. The F1-8s are amazing with the Voyager amp. I have some minor concerns that it might be too full with the 05. But my much larger concern is too much gain. The 05 is a high gain preamp and I’m already restraining 350 watts > 91db speaker. 

Does anyone know what the gain is on the ARC LS28 and Reference 6? I think the Cary 05 is 17db.


why not use the two input level controls instead of the Rockwells? Or are they in the line from your DAC so your phono is not attenuated? 

Both very good amps.

But they have very differing sound characters that arise from implementation of very different design philosophies.

You need to listen to both in your system over a decently long period before you make up your mind.

I'm for the AR as I have a Ref 6 myself, but it's a personal decision.

@markmuse There are some here that have pointed out that the input level dials are not equivalent quality to main volume so ideally they are best left at full for seamless passthrough. This may be splitting hairs but isn’t that what we all do here..ha. I have not done a comparison between using the rockwells versus the input level controls, unlikely I will hear a difference but theoretically it is possible. I will attempt that. The rockwells are fairly inexpensive and considered high quality. They attenuate everything as the are between the Cary balanced out and the Pass amp.

I think I have to get the Ref 6. It has 12 db gain balanced output. The Cary has 24db of gain balanced out! And my Bricasti DAC is a 4V out balanced. So everything is rather hot considering this, the amp power and speaker sensitivity. I'm afraid the Cary would just be too much. 

I auditioned an ARC LS28 in my system a few days ago. It has a gain of 18.5db on the balanced out, and it was definitely limiting the the flexibility of the volume settings. The useful range was 6-9 on a scale of 0-100. The Cary would be a good bit worse in that regard.

Even the 12 db gain of the REF 6SE is very likely far more than is needed with a high output DAC.

First post been a lurker for years.  I just sold an slp 05 with the Upgrade after using it for about 5 years.  Rolled many sets of tubes including NOS KenRad VT-163 and Marconi BL63 among others.  Was always happy with the sound but I could never get rid of a slight crackle from the tweeter.  It was always present, basically there was no dead silence when there should have been.

I believe it was the gain issue discussed but I could never defeat it.

Since my amp is an Arc ref75se I sold the Cary and decided to go the ARC route by purchasing a Ref6 a few months ago,  I am never looking back as I am really enjoying the ARC build quality and sound.  Considerably more money than the Cary though. Other than the slight hiss I still feel the slp 05 is a great piece of gear but I'm happy where I ended up.

@markmuse , A most excellent choice, do post your considerations once your REF6SE has settled in 😎

ARC specifies that the Reference 6 provides 12dB of gain via its balanced outputs and 6dB via its single-ended outputs; 1.7uV RMS of residual noise, IHF weighted, noise with volume at “1” (109dB below 2V RMS output); and less than 0.01% distortion at 2V RMS, balanced output.


I just googled it.

Congrats on your decision.  Please let us know how it sounds.  I really don’t think you could have made a bad decision!!!


It has input gain adjustments L/R. Not the same. And even if it could really reduce the output gain my understanding is the quality of the pots involved are not great. 


Congratulations! You have to choose what best fits your specific needs and circumstances. I hope you find the time to post your listening impressions of your ARC Reference 6SE.


Congrats on the 6SE.  You won't regret it.

You are one step ahead of me - mine isn't an SE.