The Cary 12 comes with a couple of manuals, two remotes, aerial for FM radio...Attachment 212590
Only takes an hour or so to unpack, plug together, and run through the usual speaker setup/distance/levels procedure...Attachment 212591So, what's the story ?
I wanted a pre-amplifier/processor to listen to 2 channel music that can also decode the latest HD formats for movies (minimum of 5.1 but preferably 7.1). My reference points are pre-amplifiers from the likes of Ayre, BAT, VTL and Audio Research. I'm not interested in video processing/scaling or room EQ (my room is acoustically treated with bass traps and absorbers at first-reflection points).
For several years I've used a Bryston SP1.7 which - at the time - was *by far* been the most musical PrePro I'd ever heard, comfortably beating the likes of Arcam and Meridian (which I'd owned before). But more recently I've been interested in moving into HD audio and, as good as the SP1.7's 6 channel pass-through was, listening to SACD or DTS-HD as decoded by my Oppo 83 was not *that* much better than CD or Dolby Digital.
After reviewing the market the decision came down to the Arcam 888 and the Cary 12 (they are approximately the same cost in the UK). However as I didn't need all the video processing or EQ circuitry, and was looking for all the cost and effort to be focused on sound quality alone, I went for the Cary. At the time of purchasing, the best PrePro I've ever heard is a Classe SSP-800 so I was hoping that the Cary would be as good, but for less cash !
My goal is to hear a naturalness and musicality to the sound. This is a complicated thing to achieve but requires the accurate reproduction of things like harmonics, decays, ambience, dynamic range, the sense of space (depth as well as width), timbre etc etc, and doing so while also making it intelligible no matter how complex/busy (!)
I've now had the Cary Cinema 12 for 24 hours and had chance to listen to a wide range of music. For consistency all tracks were 44.1kHz/16 bit FLAC, streamed from a NAS via a Logitech Duet and digital coax, thereby entirely in the digital domain before it reaches the Processor's own DAC (a 192kHz/32 bit Burr-Brown 1795). The pre-amplifier is fully balanced internally sending the signals down studio-grade microphone xlr to a Theta Dreadnaught power amp, and from there via 4x6mm Van Damme cable to Vandersteen Quatros.
We all have our favourite demo tracks, and also those which allows us to unpick the nuances (and limitations) of the gear we're auditioning. You might want to jump to the conclusion but, for those that are interested, here a sample of my usual tracks and what I'm looking for:It's Probably Me (Sting, Best of)
- snap and decay of the click, definition of the guitar strings, a well defined vocal, able to hear the kick-drum and the bass at the same time, strings placed way back in the soundstageSixth Sense (United Future Organisation, first album)
- door slam, whistling, running water, spoken vocals, showers of bells... lots of familiar sounds to present realistically, then, once the music kicks in, especially the bass, has to keep all those layers of sound coherentTrust in Me (Holly Cole Trio, Blame it on my Youth)
- able to present vocal, bass and piano without confusion, tangible plucks of the acoustic bass, the decay of the piano notes, able to 'hear the room' that it was recorded inDiamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes (Paul Simon, Graceland)
- able to hear and place separate individuals in the group vocal at the start, Paul is placed centrally and in front of the group, once the music starts there's a real swing and texture to the percussion, should be able to follow the bass line throughoutRepo Man (Ray Lamontagne, God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise)
- able to tell the type of strings on the guitar and follow both it and the bass at the same time, there's a real 'weight' to the bass and a 'bite' to the electric guitar, the placement of the tambourine and shaker in space, manages to deliver musical rhythm once all the instruments are playing (including two guitars), the vocal then cuts through everything cleanly without compressionEnd Credits (Bruno Coulais, Coraline)
- able to cope with swirling strings and choral voices, insanely deep bass and closed-mike lead vocals, able to convey a real sense of funTake a Look Around (Limp Bizkit, Mission Impossible II)
- crispness of the cymbals and the variation in how they are played, separation of notes on the bass (not just a vague rumble), differences in the texture of the drums, successfully pulls the vocals out of the mix, there's a real power to the distorted guitar but also doesn't lose it's grip on the musicSleeping Beauty/Mission Impossible (Danny Elfman, Mission Impossible)
- one of my favourite pair of test tracks; the former having to cope with prepared piano, placement of percussion and strings, able to hear the difference between the electric and acoustic bass; and with the latter, the musical energy of the orchestra should come through, especially the brass (notoriously difficult to do well)
And so on and so on...So my conclusion ?
The Cary Cinema achieved all of the above and more. It delivers a realism and emotional engagement that only the very best gear achieves. Dynamic range ? check. Definition at the low end and detail at the high ? check. Realistic decay and sustain ? check. That 'brittleness' that is so typical of digital artefacts is gone and in it's place is a sound that is fabulously lifelike and engaging.
And is it as good as the Classe ? Yes, I think so. OK, to be strictly accurate it'd need to AB them in the same room but all of the clarity and emotion and space and nuance that I remember the Cary also delivers, and delivers in spades, which makes me a happy bunny
I should add that I'm also impressed by how good the Bryston SP1.7 was after all this time; yes the Bryston did a lot of what I have described above but the Cary does it all but better... more dynamism, greater soundstage (especially depth), more coherent musically, and with people and instruments a little more 'solid' in 3d space.
Next I'll listen to HD audio followed by some movies, and post my findings...
...'til next time - cheers !