Cary CAD-280SA V12 power amplifier Page 2

Then check each of the 12 red LEDs behind the tubes; they should not be lit, because you've turned the bias voltage all the way down. (When the amp is operating normally after bias is correctly set, the red LEDs pop on to indicate that the tubes are conducting and you're ready to play music.) After you've watched the output-tube filaments light up, grab a beer (or a V8!) and wait about five minutes for the tubes to warm. Then take a flat-blade screwdriver and slowly advance the bias pot clockwise until the red LEDs begin lighting up. "When you have reached equal brilliance on each tube's LED, stop any further adjustment," the manual instructs. You can then back it off slightly and do it again so that all the LEDs just light up. "DO NOT ADVANCE BEYOND THIS POINT!!!!!!!!!!!" (I swear, that's how many exclamation points are used in the manual.) Then do the same for the other channel, if necessary.

Congratulations, pilgrim—you've just brought your amp into proper operating bias. A more exacting method involves inserting a voltmeter set to read out in DC milliamps into the ¼" bias jack with the supplied adapter, lighting up those red LEDs, then fine-tuning each channel for 275-300mA of DC current. Manual: "Please, please, remember this is a DC current reading and not DC voltage!" Okay, okay, Dennis—don't bunch your shorts about it!

It's pretty clever, actually; the red LEDs can also be used to troubleshoot the amplifier if you start blowing the 0.5A tube fuses. If one blows, it indicates excess current draw in class-AB ultralinear operation or a defective output tube. To check which tube it is, take a gander at the red LEDs. If one of them is dark, that's the tube that's NG. Or if you turn down the bias pot on one channel and one LED stays lit long after the others have gone off, that also indicates a defective tube. "With a modest voltage of 365VDC on the output tubes, a defective tube will be a rare occurrence. Tubes should last upwards of five or more years in your new V12 amplifier," informs the manual.

But Murphy's Law has yet to be repealed, as I discovered when one of the Ruby EL34s blew a fuse. That brought the whole channel down, heralded by a slight but ominous popping noise through the speakers. I replaced the fuse, but the new one blew only a few hours later. I realized that the problem wasn't an anomaly and went through the above routine: fiddled the bias pot on the right channel, found the bad tube, and replaced a matched pair that had come with the amp. After rebiasings to 275mA, I never had another pop or burp of trouble.

It's no big deal to rebias the V12. In fact, a few days after delivery, I checked both channels, and while they closely matched each other, they were a little low at 263mA. I upped both sides to the recommended 275mA and lived happily ever after.

Pedal to the metal
I started with Analogue Productions' reissue of Duke Ellington's This One's for Blanton (CAP-J015), a limited-edition 24k gold CD from Chad Kassem at Acoustic Sounds. The piano sound was excellent, the Duke's instrument less tinkly-sounding via the Cary CAD-280SA V12 than I've experienced through some solid-state amps, although it was still a bit on that side of things. Ray Brown's bass was wonderfully rich, full, and deep, and the soundstage was enormous and encompassing—way outside the speakers in a most enjoyable way. The V12 seemed fast, the timing of Brown's bass working hand in hand with the sharpish tone of Duke's piano—musically very appropriate. The presentation on "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" was to die for, the timing interactions of Ellington and Brown so evident, the sound so lovely and luminous, without ever becoming in any way euphonized in the negative tube sense. The music was just there, laid out before me to enjoy and relish, round and fleshly, palpable and detailed.

"Sophisticated Lady" leads with a Ray Brown solo that I mentioned in my review of the amplificationreviews/Lamm Industries L2 preamplifier in the May 2001 issue—it's one of the greatest acoustic bass solos I've ever heard. Brown's fingerwork was so well explicated, the tonal balance so superb and enjoyable, that I found it hard to criticize the sound in any way. I had to keep pinching my ass to remind myself that the fullness, power, and depth I was hearing in the bass were courtesy of a paltry 50W! Notes: "The air and ambience are as good as it gets, the Lamm L2 a beautiful match with the Cary." Swingin', baby!

Take "Roots," from Count Basie and Oscar Peterson's Satch and Josh...Again (Pablo OJCD-960-2), but don't take it too far—I'd dearly miss it and would have to kill you! It's just a plain ol' OJC of a classic Pablo produced by Norman Granz, with Basie and Peterson on pianos, John Heard on bass, and the great Louis Bellson on drums. It was recorded in 1977 by engineer Val Valentin and remastered in '98 by Joe Tarantino at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley. There's no way to be more drenched in bluesy, locked-in-time jazz than kickin' back, firin' up the V12 and a fine preamp, and playin' this CD. The music is sublime; I can't imagine how much better it could possibly get. The cushiness, tonal color, and fullness to the sound were entirely soul-satisfying. Peterson is perfectly linked to Basie's brain, and through the CAD-280SA V12 the timing seemed utterly natural in an on time kinda way that really reached me. And that midrange...oufff, just fabulous.

My head nodded uncontrollably as I bent over my laptop. Around 2:50 into "Red Wagon," Bellson starts a riff on his cymbals, and the way the V12 shimmered out the sound into the containing ambience of the soundstage was simply incredible—and put an end to any lingering doubts I might have had that tubes can't be extended on top, especially given the pedigree of the lovingly handbuilt Lamm L2.

The profoundly wonderful delicacy so readily apparent in "Lester Leaps In," also from Satch and Josh...Again, reminds me so much of the great piano duet in "Rent Party," from Basie and Peterson's great XRCD The Timekeepers (JVCXR-0206-2). "Lester Leaps" is obviously an homage to Lester Young; the warmth and loveliness of it all are inescapable. The bass sound was a bit lighter here, but only because the instrument is being played with restraint—the Cary V12 was excellent at retrieving those small shifts in volume and microdynamics that, along with the big shifts, yield a very involving, full-range picture of the music. Notes: "A cheerfully full tonal palette, the sustains are lovely, the timing spot on, with an airy soundstage draped over a very deep and colorful image. The V12 is a real nuance-grabber, and the speakers completely disappear."

For mellowness personified, try Bean Bags, with Milt Jackson and Coleman Hawkins (Koch Jazz KOC-CD-8530), originally released in 1959 on Atlantic with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Eddie Jones on bass, and Connie Kay on drums. This HDCD recording has early Atlantic sound—very left-right, not much information in the center—but it's the tonal qualities that count...and count...and count. Notes: "Milt's vibes are utterly vibrant and captivating, a nicely turned-out piano sound, and Coleman sounds fabulous on his tenor sax—reflective and introverted, yet at the same time connected to the other players and to me! A superb musical experience."

The CAD-280SA V12 seemed made for this sort of small-ensemble recording, whether jazz or classical. But I wondered what might happen if I cranked it up. Staying in the same groove (as if I could leave it even if I'd wanted to!), I grabbed another Fantasy OJC, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra featuring Paul Gonsalves (OJCCD-632-2),, hey, hep cat, just line yourself up on "C-Jam Blues." I just knew that Ellington was gonna sound snappier, that the trumpets were gonna soar, that it was going to be more dynamic. Indeed, the V12 tracked along quite nicely, musically right there, even with only 50W on tap in triode: zip, speed, timing, air, space, great bass, wonderful mids, even if this particular OJC sounded slightly thinner in the highs than the above-mentioned recordings. But hey, you want the V12 to give it to you "Straight, No Chaser." "Take the 'A' Train" was lovely, "gushing with music," I seem to have scribbled. If I played the amp really loud, I had to flip a few switches and add a little ultralinear oomph; otherwise, beyond a certain point, the bass loosened up a bit too much. Where that point will lie will depend largely on the impedance curve and sensitivity of your speakers, of course.

1020 Goodworth Drive
Apex, NC 27539
(919) 355-0010