To Garrett Hongo,
I just finished reading your review of the EAR 868 preamp, as this is a unit I’m considering. I understand it’s transformer coupled and I am not sure about the approach. There are so many preamps to choose from, it’s hard to know what to do. The other unit I’ve been considering is the Cary SLP-05, which is fully balanced and I am wondering if you could comment on how they might compare or if you have any other units you’d recommend.
"Transformer coupled" usually means that the output signal is coupled to a transformer instead of to a capacitor. This is generally a more expensive approach than capacitor-coupling in preamps, and transformer-coupled preamps are sometimes considered a cut above the rest. In the EAR 868, output transformers convert the single-ended circuit to balanced, rejecting common-mode interference and outputing a balanced signal.
However, the 868 doesn't have fully balanced circuits per se. The Cary SLP-05 does. But I have not heard the SLP-05 in my own system -- just at shows. That said, I like both preamps, and I don't think you could go wrong either way. If you can, I recommend that you audition them both and choose the one most sympatico with your ears, system, and budget.
One thing to remember, though, is that the EAR 868 can be had as a full-function preamp with a built-in and impedance-adjustable phono stage. The Cary SLP-05 is a line stage only. . . . Garrett Hongo