Model: CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Category: Amplifier (Tube) Suggested Retail Price: $8000 (pair) Description: Push-Pull, Balanced,Class A Triode (100 RMS), Class AB Ultralinear Amplifier(200 RMS) Manufacturer URL: Cary Audio Design Model Picture: View
Review by Michael Segal (A) on April 25, 2002 at 14:28:27
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for the CAD-280-SA V12 MonoblocksI recently purchased a pair or V12 monoblocks from Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio. As usual a smooth affair. I had some concerns about trying to mate a tube amplifier with my B&W N802 speakers but got plenty of reassurance from Mr. Dennis Had. Initially I was interested in a pair of Rocket 88's but had real concerns about limited dynamic range (with 20 to 40 watts per channel). To satisfy my need for enough power (at least perceived) I opted for the V12 monos. I know Cary stresses that vertical bi-amping is superior to monoblocks of higher power but I will have more to say on this later.
The amps arrived from California in three boxes all tightly and safely packed. Opening up the fire engine red amps was reminiscent of my younger days under the Chanukah bush. No less than 16 tubes to install in each amplifier (12 power and 4 input). Four separate pots to bias. A dream in heaven.
As an aside the amplifiers are really fully balanced with six pairs of matched EL34 tubes working in either triode or ultralinear. So there are six switches on each amplifier to set any particular set of tubes in either triode or ultralinear. This can be done on the fly and in any combination (you can work out the combination/permutation). Unlike the stereo pair there are only two large transformers (one large and two small on the stereo model) one power and a double wound output EI transformer. I am not sure of the rated output power for the transformer but it is MUCH larger than the stereo unit.
Once the unit was assembled, biased, hooked up and warmed up I started spinning discs. The very first thing I noted was a significant imbalance towards the right. After some diagnostic trials I quickly discovered that the right amplifier was set to all ultralinear and the left to all triode. This would double the gain to the right amplifier. When I adjusted the tubes to all triode the soundstage was balanced.
Now this relates to Cary's suggestion of bi-amping the Rocket 88's. They recommend setting the amplifier to the tweeter/midrange unit to triode and the amplifier to the woofers to ultralinear. Essentially duplicating the imbalance I produced (but within the same speaker). This would undoubtedly lead to a timberal (sp?) imbalance in each speaker (but balanced across two speakers if configured the same). It may sound good but may be less accurate. I am not sure of the significance of this effect.
Well how do they sound (finally)?
As I have not tried all potential triode/ultralinear combinations I will limit my discussion to my experience.
First off, all those with Nautilus speakers who are afraid to wade into the pool of tube amplification....come on in! The water is fine. I have had no problem driving the B&W's to satisfying volumes in full triode mode (100 RMS). This is rocking to SRV on SACD!
The real strength to this amplifier is the imaging. The speakers just totally disappear. They did before with my Classe 25 but not with the same palpability. The feeling someone else in the room with you was quite pronounced. If imaging is what you are after look no further.
In triode Individual instruments and people are highlighted but not etched. Solid state amps give you a more dark and light felling between instruments but usually at the expense of naturalness. While the air between performers was a little reticent the surrounding air of the recording venue was present in all its glory. In UL mode the space between the instruments grows but it seems less relaxed, less natural more forced.
The extreme high end is fine detailed and precise. It has NO grain (that I can detect) what so ever. I suspect there is a little more extension available as UL more seems more extended but also a little courser in texture. This is all relative. I feel that my Classe 25 is much courser than the V12's in either mode.
Midrange is full, warm and detailed. In triode mode the amplifier has the most enjoyable midrange I have ever experienced. This is almost certainly directly related to the incredible imaging (they go hand in hand IMHO). In UL there is just a mild reduction in palpability. Imaging is more precise but less enjoyable. I am not sure how to explain this, as it is counterintuitive but true.
The bass is full and round. Not quite as tubey sounding as Sonic Frontiers amps but still tubey. I thought I would find this the most problematic but that has not been the case. The bass is detailed and I think provides more detail in the lower registers than the Classe 25. In triode it does not plumb the depths but again produces a very holistic sound. In UL it goes about a half octave deeper (still no match for SS amps) but a little deeper.
Here are my thoughts on these amps. I have been converted to tubes probably forever. I am sure the upper echelons of SS would provide better precision but at what cost (>$10,000)? With tubes it is like listening to a turntable. You can pick the details out of the background which seems to go on forever but individual instruments are less highlighted or precisely defined.
I also would like to state that dealing with Cary Audio has been one of the most enjoyable "features" of this product. Having e-mail conversation with Mr. Had (and his prompt and thoughtful response) made the decision to switch to tubes that much easier. A hearty thank you to Cary Audio and a "well done" to Mr. Had are clearly in order.
Some specific music I listened to:
1) SuperTramp, Crime of the Century (Mobile Fidelity)- unbelievable depth in the opening harmonica of SCHOOL. You can definitely tell it was recorded with 70's solid state but still very enjoyable.
2) Allison Kraus et al, New Favorite (Rounder)- probably the best album of last year. If you don't mind "a fiddling" in your house the music is a joy. Ms. Kraus' voice is the finest female voice I have heard recently recorded.
3) Jimmy Smith, "Organ Grinder Swing" and "Root Down" (Verve)- these recent re-releases on Verve Mastersound highlight the incredible power of the Hammond B3 organ as a jazz instrument. On OGS you can hear JS scatting in the back ground like Clark Terry. With my previous amp you could hear him but could not make out what he is saying. With the Cary's you can hear all the syllables of his non-sensible singing. I really dig these discs.
4) Stevie Ray Vaughn, "Couldn't stand the Weather" (Sony, SACD)- Amazing dynamics especially on the song CSTW when the tom-tom drum snaps after the initial guitar rift. You could swear you are there as the recording is being made. Tin Pan Alley lacks a little in the very deep bottom but the feeling of the music is conveyed much better than the Classe ever did. BTW I like it loud and blew the power fuse on one of the amps cranking SRV in pure triode. No problem all I needed to do is run one of the pairs of tubes in UL to get the volume.
I hope you get the idea.
I have tried mixing up the UL and triode. Again it just depends on what you like. For my taste I can not get enough triode and I run in full triode all the time. If I think I need more jam or am just doing casual listening I add in some UL (or all UL) to run the tubes a little easier.
Product Weakness: Chinese EL34 tubes (sure they sound great but I dislike most things made in China), need amp meter to set bias (not for the plug and go crowd), HEAT, Product Strengths: Cary Service, imaging to die for, great power for tube amp, smooth mids/highs, rounded and tuneful bass, amazing visual appeal
Associated Equipment for this Review: Amplifier: Classe 25 Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Sonic Frontiers Line 3 Special Edition Sources (CDP/Turntable): Sony SCD-1 Speakers: B&W Nautilus 802 Cables/Interconnects: DH Labs Air Matrix (balanced) and Bi-Wired Speaker Cable Music Used (Genre/Selections): Jazz/Blues/Pop Room Size (LxWxH): 25 feet x 15 feet x 9 feet Room Comments/Treatments: ASC Treatments all around Time Period/Length of Audition: one week Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Coincident Technologies Power Cord Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner
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Topic - REVIEW: Cary Audio Design CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Amplifier (Tube) - Michael Segal 14:28:27 04/25/02 (14)
- Question for Mr. Segal... - Iguana Man 04:49:46 04/26/02 (1)
- Re: Question for Mr. Segal... - Michael Segal 07:18:39 04/26/02 (0)
- Cary Audio Design CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Amplifier (Tube) - nick t 22:08:32 04/25/02 (0)
- Cary Audio Design CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Amplifier (Tube) - El Monte 17:42:26 04/25/02 (0)
- Cary Audio Design CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Amplifier (Tube) - musicluver 16:41:20 04/25/02 (1)
- Re: Cary Audio Design CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Amplifier (Tube) - Michael Segal 17:45:26 04/25/02 (0)
- Cary Audio Design CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Amplifier (Tube) - SFDude 15:36:08 04/25/02 (7)
- Politically Correct ? - Fiddler 03:05:09 04/26/02 (3)
- Re: Politically Correct ? - mdryoon 08:13:51 04/26/02 (1)
- Re: Politically Correct ? - Fiddler 15:31:22 04/26/02 (0)
- Yes (nt) - Metralla 07:54:09 04/26/02 (0)
- Yes, I Think You Are correct, An Apology is in Order. - Michael Segal 17:43:31 04/25/02 (0)
- Re: Cary Audio Design CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Amplifier (Tube) - Sherlock 15:56:10 04/25/02 (1)
- Re: Cary Audio Design CAD-280-SA V12 Monoblocks Amplifier (Tube) - El Monte 17:37:40 04/25/02 (0)
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