Cary Audio SLI-80 Signature integrated amplifier


Cary Audio is an American company manufacturing models of electronic components since 1989. Leader in the vacuum tube sector, for a couple of years it has been opening also towards digital components and Home Theater. Every peace is home-made and the few models have been slowly improving in course of time, without substantial changes, as a sign of a designing and operational maturity that obtains remarkable positive feedbacks from customers and critics. In Italy, this brand is not very famous, but all my audiophile friends, after a listening session, have made positive comments. Il Tempio Esoterico in Catania looks after the Italian distribution.


Aesthetics and functionality

The SLI 80 Signature integrated amp mounts KT88 output tubes and has a stated power of 80 watts per channel in ultra-linear mode, whereas 40 are the watts in triode mode. Actually, a great object with a noticeable look. The sample I tested had a standard light black chassis, lacquered knobs, metallic switches and tumbler, and writings in light gray. The display of the output transformers is peculiar, not perpendicular to the chassis but slightly oblique, a feature that characterized and make of the model one of a kind. The Electro Harmonix 10 tubes are respectively two 5U4 Rectifiers, two 6922 Input Buffer Preamp, two 6SN7 Pre-Driver/Phase Inverter, and four KT88 Output tubes. On the front fascia, we have, from left to right, the on/off switch with a light blue led light, a small knob to select the three inputs, a big knob for the volume, another small knob for the balance, and the tumbler switch for the headphones. On the top sides are two tumbler switches - one for channel - to select the ultra-linear or triode mode of the output tubes. On the rear of the amplifier are two 4 and 8 Ohm switch settings to regulate the impedance. The binding posts to provide output to the speakers are on the rear panel, while more inside are the gold-plated RCA posts for the inputs and an output for a subwoofer, the fuses holders and the IEC socket for the power cord.

The bias of the output tubes is adjustable via two jacks, one for channel. It is possible to connect a meter plug that can read mAmperes.

The general impression is an accurate and solid manufacture, an object that can last in time, and valuable components. The remote is small, made of plastic and with a particular shape. It controls only the volume and the muting.

Relevant is also the circuit that speeds the recovery of the power overloading (clipping), so to allow a more accurate and controlled output in the low range.


Listening impressions

No, it is not very quick. No, it has not exceptional dynamic skills. No, it has not a hyper-defined detail. However, the amp succeeded in giving me the best listening hours with my system. Nothing has beaten it in three fundamental parameters: harmonic richness, spatiality and control of the bass. And in the other parameters: rise time, dynamics and detail, it behaves very good, since it is the balance among all those parameters that makes the magic. The magic is making every piece play better. I try to explain: some reviewers speak of devices that play well only with well recorded takes. Here, instead, the amp makes listenable, better enjoyable, also the recordings of bad quality and makes exceptional the good ones. Proof is listening to a compilation by Mina of the '60s or a modern issue of hits of the 60's in jazz key performed by Nicky Nicolai and Stefano Di Battista's band. Furthermore, although being a tube amp, also rock and percussive music have the right grit as happens with the first Talking Heads. In my home system, I have another amp with the KT88 tubes and with a similar electric scheme: the AAAVT P88i. Hence, I knew and appreciated this kind of sound before knowing the Cary SLI80 Signature. In any case, the Cary epitomizes the quality that I have already known in part. The difference in price, rather remarkable, circa 1 to 4, can be heard. Naturally, it is difficult to evaluate the difference of sound performances in economic terms. For sure, the Cary does not perform four times better, but I have seriously considered to improve my system purchasing the SLI80.Then I gave up for various reason, but I am sure I will regret. Cary is superior mostly in dealing with the low range, where it benefits of an attentive overload recovery circuitry, that is the ability of an amp of recovering immediately from overloading and following clipping. Such thing has a positive receipt at the hearing, in terms of materiality and depth of the low pitches. That is evident with recordings containing instruments that can go down -very - down, like the famous Ouverture 1812 by Chaikovsky, Firth of Fifth by Genesis, or some bass drum by Reference Recordings. A great plus is the headphone output, with an astounding quality for an integrated amp. A few words about the tubes. All manufactured by the Russian Electro Harmonix, they are very well made, well selected and well matched.

Back to the technical examination. The Cary needs some attention to perform at best. From the Nordhost DAC model Blue Heaven, I have used signal cables capable of giving velocity, detail and brightness to the sound. Pay attention also to the electrical phase of the power cord, otherwise the sound will have less harmonic richness and spatiality, resulting more opaque. Playing with the switches, I have preferred the 8 ohms on the speakers and the triode mode, but I think that other systems can benefit of other modes. So, just try. Among the faults, initially the input transformer made a hum hearable without music, a mechanical hum, not coming from the speakers. By disassembling and reassembling the tubes, the problem has almost disappeared. My AAAVT is thus more silent. Besides, from a visual point of view, it is not very easy to read the positioning of the knobs, especially the volume, from a certain distance. I put a white strip of UHU tack that I have removed after the test.

In sum, the Cary is a powerful but refined tube integrated amp that can make you appreciate the music, all kind of music, with very high sound levels, in terms of tone colour and spatiality. For the estimators: the quality of the headphone output is so high that you will not need any other external amplifier.

Of course, the price is not very low, but the quality of the manufacture is remarkable. On the market, there are many less expensive similar devices, especially the Chinese products, but among the ones that I have listened to, so far is the Cary to offer the best performances.



Selection of listened music

Genesis, Selling England by the Pound, CD Charisma-Virgin

Mina, Le più belle canzoni, CD Warner Music

Nicky Nicolai and Stefano Di Battista Jazz Band, Mille bolle blu, CD Repubblica-l'Espresso

Piotr Ilyich Chaikovsky, Ouverture 1812, LP Mercury

Talking Heads, Fear of Music, LP Sire Records

Eiji Oue, Showcase, CD Reference Recordings


Official technical specifications

Circuit Type: Push-Pull Ultra-Linear Pure Class AB-1

Power Output: 40W - Triode 80W - Ultra-Linear

Input Sensitivity: 45V for full output

Noise and Hum: -82dB below full output

Frequency Response: 19Hz to 23KHz +/- .5dB

Inputs: CD, AUX 1, AUX 2



            2 x 6922 Input Buffer Preamp;

            2 x 6SN7 Pre Driver/Phase Inverter;

            4 x KT88 Output Tubes;

            2 x 5U4 Rectifiers


Speaker Posts: 5 way, gold-plated

Tube Sockets: Ceramic w/ silver pins

Power Transformer: 1 x EI Laminate, Silicon Impregnated

Output Transformer(s): 2 x EI Laminate, Silicon Impregnated

Resistors: 1% Metal Film

Capacitors: Oil filled coupling, (copper optional)

Power Supply Capacitors: 2x1200µF @ 450VDC; 6x10µF @ 400VDC Film & Foil

AC Cord: 3 Conductor Shielded, Detachable

AC Power Requirements: 117/234VAC @ 50/60Hz

Consumption: 166W - Operation

Warm-Up Time: 3 Minutes

Break-In Time: 100 hours of playing time

Finish: Textured black steel chassis with machined, black anodized aluminum front panel

Weight: 42lbs

Dimensions: 17x7"x16" (HxWxD)


Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Official current price in Italy: 4,200.00 euro

Associated equipment: to Fabio "Puzzled" Barbato's system

by Fabio
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