Cary CAD-1610-SE monoblock power amplifier Page 3
The midrange was in all ways completely fabulous—never euphonic, gawd forbid, but loaded with velvety detail that caressed the cilia of my ears and always communicated the music straight into my soul. Utter clarity, utter speed and transparency, plus a kind of reach-out-and-touch-it midrange undulating there before the listener like a beckoning belly dancer. But, he said, caveats bristling like 16" guns, all of this was built on a Lamm/Nagra–like sonic platform—ultra-fast and ultra-open—that brooked no evil anywhere else in the system. Feed these hot little babies only the finest signals available. Otherwise, why bother? Unless you're in it just for the looks, which are admittedly stunning. But if you got 'em, flaunt 'em—by getting them to perform their considerable best!
The celestial rave that is Moby's "Inside," from Play, was, according to my notes, "Sexy and languorous! Pure velvet! Ear candy!" The bass filled the trance cave our loft had become, and pressured our environment out to every corner with fullness and that deep-trance pulsebeat of God that Moby obviously wants the listener to feel. Tranced or not, I retained sufficient presence of mind to note the coherent upper bass, the fine midrange, and that delightful transition to the upper midrange and above: "so beautiful, so harmonic without any mush whatsoever, the dynamics—both micro and macro—startling, lovely, inspiring, and effortlessly musical."
Moby's "The Sky is Broken" begins with an almost inexplicable noise in the background that sounds like a small fan whirring away. I remember a Wesselman painting that hung in our library when I was a kid, one of his Great American Nude series, and it had the faint sound of street noise played on a tape loop in a radio contained within the painting that gave the work context and atmosphere. You could say that the whirring noise that begins the Moby track performs the same function. What was totally remarkable was how Moby's voice broke out of this very ambient acoustic with the Carys—it was astonishing!
Listening to the next track, "My Weakness" (my theme song!), I fell into a reverie. I present the following, tapped then and there into my laptop, as evidence that the CAD-1610-SE can and did transport me elsewhere while I was seated in the Ribbon Chair: "Ah, it's so lovely...like bein' at a party, and some fabulous babe in a low-cut dress with all-knowing eyes sidles up. And somehow, she likes you. A lot. So you do what any middle-aged guy does: suck in your gut and check to see where your wife is!"
The Carys reached out to me in that way. Resistance was futile—not like an alien with a phaser, but seductively, with soft skin and supple thighs touching me ever so lightly, just enough to make my heart pop out of my mouth. Birth, death, infinity—you're elected, Dr. Ben Casey!
The CAD-1610-SE was able to knock out the big stuff without embarrassment. "Casino," from the Run Lola Run soundtrack (TVT Soundtrax 8220-2), slapped the halves of those green magic eye-tubes together and overlapped them in a double-quick frenzy of jumpin' green light! Had told me that when the eye-tube "crosses," so to speak, it means you're into headroom. The Cary's headroom seemed almost always more than ample, if perhaps not as ultimately powerful as some amps we've auditioned that are specified in the hundreds and even thousands of watts. But the heft and slam were there. What a shock—these being no ordinary single-ended amps!
Listening to that great Bruno Walter SACD of Mozart's Symphony 40 (Sony SRGR 703), I got the impression that the CAD-1610-SE was far more powerful than its specified 55Wpc. They sounded big and impressive, but sweet and musically powerful as well: tonally coherent, and throwing a huge soundstage with exceptional pace and timing. Notes: "The leading-edge development occurs so quickly, and sounds so natural to life, that it gives the impression of a fast system sound—very complementary with the quick Utopias, which are without etch or any kind of hardness while remaining so transparent to the source. The strings sing in a special way in SACD; in the Allegretto, I again find myself a bit stunned by SACD's ability to involve me in the music."
The normal course of events around here is tweaking, changing, listening, noting, then doin' it all again, and then again; it's endless. But listening to the Mozart that night, I enjoyed some kind of cathartic emotional commitment to the music that was undeniable. Take the SACD of Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole (Sony SS 89121)—gawd how I love that piece—a wonderful recording with which to test dynamic contrasts and power handling. Turn it up so the opening is at a natural concert-hall level and press Play. When, soon afterward, Ravel kicks your ass, the amp(s) in question have to swing a lot of current. This, again, the CAD-1610-SEs did with easy grace and aplomb.
Notes: "Ah, how sweet the music, how sweet the fruit of Maurice Ravel, the strings so lush yet so alive. The dynamic contrasts and tonal shadings are superb, the transitions from ppp to fff all done superbly. Very poised; the CAD-1610-SEs are surely the sophisticates of the Cary lineup!"
After establishing that the CAD-1610-SE was able to play the big stuff, the amp turned me naturally toward more intimate fare. I don't think I've ever heard Count Basie and Oscar Peterson's The Timekeepers (JVCXR-0206-2) sound so delicious, open, and clear, so fully explicated, so well laid out, so musical, so available. Some of the JVC XRCDs can sound a touch soft—understandable, given the condition of some of the original material, even though the most recent releases were totally thumbs-up for sound and music!
Listening to my favorite track, "Rent Party," I noted that the analog hiss was less emphasized by the updated dCS 972/Elgar, yet I preferred the Accuphase DP-100/DC-101 SACD/CD transport/upsampling DAC for its juiciness! For me, the entrance of the bass and drums at 5:27 into this great piece is one of the most goosebump-inducing moments in all of jazz. Once again, the Carys laid it all out with aplomb: clear, open, perfectly formed—"It's all there for you!" as Regis likes to chirp on Millionaire. The percussiveness of the walkin' bass was perfectly rendered, as were Oscar Peterson's more rounded piano tones—"with so much quiet swing," I tapped.
Female vocals, as you'd suspect, were served in heavenly fashion. Try the latest from Dame Patti Smith, Gung Ho (Arista 14619-2), and perhaps, like me, you'll sit stunned the whole album through. Open, fast, no murk, and not a hint of grain—just the right velvet in her voice, without a trace of overindulgence or a whisper of succulence. Everything was nailed down, as through the Nagra VPA—but the Carys were bigger and more ballsy, more colorful than the Swiss amps, while still being very transparent and fast, like the fab Graaf GM200 OTL. Smith's vocal presence was remarkable, super-palpable, and "available."
For a taste of chamber music to come down from Patti, I fell upon the Tokyo String Quartet's recording of Schubert's String Quartet 14, "Death and the Maiden" (Vox 9001). It was so beautiful it induced wood; what a visceral experience! Music straight from heaven: open, fast—so explicated—rosiny, tonally full, extended, so romantic. Notes: "Oughta be illegal for gits my age to listen to music like this!" I loved listening to music through the CAD-1610-SE monoblocks.
If you can't irritate a lot of people, what's the point of being a writer?—Norman Mailer
Clear, fast, open, powerful, tremendous transparency...other than the price and the heat in the summer, what's not to like? The Cary CAD-1610-SEs must be mated with first-class preamp and source components, remember, or they won't be worth the chase. If you do buy them, however, you'll be rewarded with God's own sound. And they sure do look unique.
Speaking of unique, some readers might fall to the ground apoplectic that I didn't directly compare the CAD-1610-SE to another tube reference during the review period. Yes, but...the fact of the matter is that these amps make so much their own sound—they're so compelling in my experience, so utterly transparent, so fast and open—that there is no comparison that I could even pretend was valid. So I reviewed the amps on their own terms. These ain't no VTLs or big, lush Macs, and this ain't no disco!
Criticisms? Well, the Cary CAD-1610-SE is only 55W, Rochester, he said, with Jack Benny crossed arms, hand on cheek, eyes rolling. It lacked some sense of ultimate drive manifested by the other solid-state giants we've had around here—or the other big tube amps, for that matter. On the other hand, the Cary sure was natural, and not a bit slow about it. It just didn't have quite the drive of the Linn Klimax Solo 500, let's say, comparing apples and mangoes. (Way different amps, of course.) And it had less center-of-the-world power and control than what the big but nevertheless sweet-sounding Krell 350MC manages (comparing apples and pomegranates!). Spiritually it was more akin to the Linns in the solid-state world, and to the Lamm M1/Nagra VPA/Graaf GM200 in the tube world. And if I wasn't careful to match things up just so, it could almost sound lean. Of course, Dennis Had would say that his amps are revealing problems up- or downstream. And I'd agree.
But the CAD-1610-SE's obvious raisons-d'être are refinement, culture, connoisseurship, and pride. If you have these qualities, or think you ought to, or you can afford to buy them, march on down to your dealer and demand an audition. If you've got the long coin, the Carys might be for you.
Me? I only play one on TV. It'll be a sad day in hell when Dennis Had comes to reclaim his homage to the best that can be done. With an audio cannon shell. Highly recommended for you well-heeled types looking for a unique thrill.