Cary CAD-280SA V12 power amplifier Page 3

Triode mode was fine for 75-80% of my listening through the JMlab Utopias. On those occasions when I wanted to scare the neighbors, I'd go to 1/3 or all ultralinear, with an attendant loss of some air and delicacy. It all depended on the music and how deep I wanted to push the loud pedal.

Regarding really deep bass, try track 2 of Peter Kruder's Peace Orchestra 1999 (G-CD 004), the CD with the Band-Aid on the cover and the title printed on it—you can't miss it! The CAD-280SA V12 sounded like...a V12! Powerful, capable, with good roadholding that struck a fine balance with this CD's powerful deep bass. The V12 didn't embarrass itself at all in triode, sounding quite strong and deep; the soundstage didn't collapse, and the highs didn't get hysterical and hard when the bass thrummed out.

But when K-10 wanted to party hearty, I had to flip the Cary into ultralinear. Notes: "Wow! Okay, the bass isn't the same deadly depth-charge-deep that makes you crap your pants—like the barrel-chested Krell 350MCs, or the fast, tight, scare-the-horses Linn Klimax, which makes me wanna, er, yeah, klimax! The V12's bass, even in ultralinear, is more round, full, less in control—but hugely harmonic, redolent with tonal color, in a somewhat less tightly sealed acoustic container than the big solid-state boys."

Track 2 of Peace Orchestra 1999 also has a midrange to die for, even in ultralinear mode, but there was more light from within in triode. Ultralinear offered more of an external light, as if projected upon a stage, whereas triode's lighting seemed to come from inside the sound. Yes, the bass was certainly more impressive in ultralinear, deeper and tighter, but some ineffable quality was lost when I flicked the switches for more power. In fact, ultralinear on the $4k V12 at sounded surprisingly similar to the sound I used to get from my cherished Jadis JA-200 monos, but with a touch more forward presentation in the soundstage. I still had a huge soundstage—bigger, perhaps, in ultralinear, if not as deep as triode, but certainly more crisp. But running in triode was already crisp when called for, so ultralinear became extra crispy. Again, whether you like that or not is a matter of taste.

Sitting in my listening chair, I cast my eyes down at the April issue of Classic and Sports Car, which had arrived the day before. It lay open to a feature comparing Maserati's classic Alfieri-designed 1957 3500GT with the new super-flash 3200GT. There was something familiar about the comparison. Ultralinear is the newer car, tight and capable and ultrafast when bombing the back roads; triode is more like the older car, more gran turismo. But with the CAD-280SA V12, listening in either mode was, as lucky bastard Richard Heseltine writes about the Masers in C&SC, "sensory overload played out on a grand scale."

Unlike some other mode-switching tube amps I've tried in the past (and I don't mean VTL), the Cary revealed no schizoid-like personality disorder with the change. It was the same amp either way, while evincing the sonic differences I've described above. So simple. So straightforward.

Like many dance trip-hop specials, Peace Orchestra 1999 has a lot of special effects shimmering across its soundstage, and all of them were more finely delineated in ultralinear mode—more forward, and popping out of the heady ambience. Try it; you might like it, if on some CDs more than others. Even at 100Wpc, the juicy, 3-D, extremely palpable, wrap-yer-arms-around-it imaging that was so enjoyable and participatory was much in evidence on this and other CDs. And that's part of the high-end experience, I think—that projection of the music right into your lap, heart, and head.

Female vocals on Peace Orchestra were round, palpable, sweet, airy, and present, floating before me in a large—nay, vast soundstage, the kind that killer tubes do better than practically anything else. But on tracks 8 and 4, where lurk male vocals, I waddled my fanny over to the Cary and flipped the switches into triode. You can't have everything, they say.

No, but you can have most of it, and the V12 was pretty most—and all for a relatively modest $4k.

A note on SACD overdrive
I'm not sure there's any finer way of enjoying SACDs than via the Lamm L2 and the Cary CAD-280SA V12 in triode mode. Monk's Straight, No Chaser (Sony 64886) had me sitting with my big mouth hanging open in appreciation. Somehow—I have no idea why this should have been so, but have no doubt that it was—SACD always sounded better in triode mode. All was revealed, with no loss, no compromise, no nuttin' except sublime, driving, head-noddin' musical communication.

The superiority of SACD in triode was apparent even with big orchestral works such as Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic's recording of Dvorák's "New World" symphony (Sony Classical 06393). Even with the volume cranked, triode was all I ever needed from the V12. Notes: "Very satisfying, lots of meaty, beautiful tonal colors, excellent dynamics, and, especially with the Lamm preamp, fabulous extension on top, with those shimmering counterpoint bells chiming in out of the layered and complex mix of the soundstage."

Just after eight minutes into the symphony's Allegro con fuoco are some mighty big musical moments. But the sound was so sweet in triode, and the dynamics and bass so fine through the Utopias, that I felt no need to hustle my bustle and switch to ultralinear. Nevertheless, when I did flip the Cary into the higher power mode, its presentation of this recording was tighter, more gutsy—some loss of air, but more precise imaging. The midrange was so Lamm-like: sweet yet extended, so clear and pellucid yet full of detail and nuance—all of the Lamm's wonderfully positive aspects extend to my description of the V12 as well. Notes: "If this amp measures badly, I'll eat my shorts—well, my words, anyway. But I'm confident I won't have to munch any raiment."

Listening to the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (Sony Classical 06062) with Isaac Stern and the Philadelphia Orchestra, I noted: "One hears every detail of Stern's aggressive playing, even while beautifully integrated into the musical whole. The string tone is superb! Again, I'm overwhelmed by that Lamm-like sense of extension and ultimate sweetness." The palpable presence, the life, the joy of it all were beyond belief. And does this piece ever move along under Maestro Stern: no lag, no waiting, check your bags and you're in the air!

Fire it up and let's go!
I loved the Cary Audio CAD-280SA V12—and such a deal at $4000! At a tenth the price of the huge Cary CAD-1610SE monoblocks (reviewed in the December 2000 issue), with which I had to work mighty hard to get to sound their best in my system, the V12 came off as a bargain of the first order.

My highest recommendation for one cherry of a stereo tube amp.

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