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Cary Audio Design CAD-280 SA (V-12)
10 Reviews
rating  4.5 of 5
MSRP  4000.00
Description: '0' negative feedback circuit design 50 watts/channel @ < 3% THD (triode mode) +/- 1dB 16Hz - 30kHz full power 80 watts peak power 2, 4, or 8 ohm loads. The power rating will double in the ultra-linear output mode. Tube complement: 12 - output tubes 2 - EL-84 2 - 6922


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Reviews 1 - 5 (10 Reviews Total) | Next 15

User Reviews

Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by OrtofonFan a Audio Enthusiast

Date Reviewed: October 30, 2013

Bottom Line:   
The V12R revisited: - Who says an elephant can’t dance?

I was reminded of Lou Gerstner’s book title a few weeks ago when my V12R saw it’s first daylight in several years.
The poor amp had languished in a cubbard since meeting it’s nemesis in the form of efficient Audio Note type J speakers. My thinking at the time when I got the ANs was that such efficient speakers need smaller and faster amps than the V12R (I blush…)

So into the darkness went the Gentle Giant and out of it came a trio of old faves from the English A-team: Audio Innovations and it’s siblings Audio Note and Audion. The amps I know from this family are all very entertaining, and while my specimens are not truly great all-rounders, they all have their specialities in which, under the right circumstances, they are second to very little IMHO.
Of the English amps, the AN kit2 is the speed demon and the bassmeister. (Whoaa!!! Entwistle RIP, thank God we still have Squire). The AI800 is the party lion, the rhythm king and an occasional crooner. The Audion Silver Night too is fast and – with mesh grid Sophia Electrics – throws a palpable and very tall soundstage which is dangerously seductive at late night. Sonically the V12’s little brother Rocket 88R sits somewhere in the middle of the triangle of talented A-amps, and it defends it’s shelve space simply by being such an agreeable and competent do-it-all.

And so the years went by. Until that is…. a comment in a discussion on Audiogon made it dawn on me that with the V12 there is no reason to run six output tubes per side unless all that power is really needed. How much cooler can this amp it get? (pun intended)

The realisation left no alternative other than to rip out the four KT120s from the Rocket 88, move them to the V12, set the bias and to flip the “Operate” switch. What happened next must have blown my mind because I am still oblivious of it. But I am sure it was good because the next day the room in a chaotic state with LP covers and tube boxes just about everywhere, and this is the best proxy marker for musical-excitement-in-the-home that I know of.

The V12R has not moved an inch since, and I suppose it will stay for many years to come. Like the Rocket it is decidedly a jack of all trades, but the difference is that the V12R (given the right tubes for the occasion and the correct operating mode (triode/UL) - and with two output tubes per side – and in my system, see below) cheerfully takes on all the specialists on their own terms and make a very excellent and impressive show of it indeed. Even if it doesn't quite manage to win in any discipline except sheer weight and power (ability to fill and dominate the room without strain), it is the hands-down overall champion just as it should be.

The interesting question that remains is whether removing power tubes actually improves the sound of the amp in a system like mine. I've come to suspect that it does, but have no proof as I have not gotten around to actually trying it yet.

Finally some words about tubes. When I received this amp for the very first time I got so utterly disappointed and disgusted that I decided to hand it back, and promptly. It was only when slipping it back into the shipping box that it occurred to me that I had some nasty old Sovtek 12AX7s in a drawer somewhere. What a fortuitous little hunch that was! The Sovteks, themselves no good at all, utterly transformed the sound in an instant. To cut the story short, the stock 12BZ7 tubes turned out to be the worst tubes of any kind I have come across EVER. They sounded utterly dull, grey and were surely 100% worn out. All the pins were visibly corroded and some were actually rusty. There is no shortage of good 12BZ7s these days, but I am still compulsive about checking them against a 12AX7 reference whenever I receive new ones.

As for output tubes, to me the KT120 is a clear first choice in the Rocket 88 mainly due to the low end extension and grip it brings to an amp that needs more of exactly that. No so with the V12R I think, at least not with speakers such as the ANs. Long established favourites such as Winged-C KT88s, Tung-Sol EL34s and JJ KT77s (and KT120s obviously) still do very well of course, but the special mention must go to the humble EH 6CA7 which really shines in this particular application. It also the cheapest alternative, something that may matter the day you want two extra quads for that upcoming barn dance or new year party.

Thanks for reading. The context in which all of the above must be considered, ie. the other gear used with the V12R during the last month:
AC power - Isotek Sigmas with Syncro
Cabling - Wireworld Silver Electra and Silver Eclipse throughout
Preamp - Audion Premier Line/Phono two-box
Speakers - Audio Note type J in Baltic birch cabinets
Digital - Bryston BDA-1 / BDP-1
Analog - Sony PS-X75 / Ortofon Rondo Red / Ortofon ST-80SE SUT

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Used product for:   More than 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Audio Enthusiast

Product model year:   2004

Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by greystone a AudioPhile

Date Reviewed: June 18, 2004

Bottom Line:   
I have to agree with the other reviewer on this amplifier I have the i model. It is clearly one of the best amps I have owned. It does so many things right and very little wrong. The amp does take at least 100 hours to break in but once it does its amazing. The SET sound with the power to drive anything. Flip the switch to Ultralinear and shake the dust out of the rafters. I have owned many many different amps and this is one of the keepers.

They are going for a steal on the used market which is amazing for the amount of amplifier you get here.

Expand full review >>

Used product for:   3 Months to 1 year

Duration Product Used:   AudioPhile

Product model year:   2002

Price Paid:    $2800.00

Purchased At:   Dealer

Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by gverbosky a AudioPhile

Date Reviewed: May 14, 2004

Bottom Line:   
I always find it somewhat disconcerting when I read reviews from folks that don't actually own the product but feel compelled to rate it low. I have owned many very expensive amplifiers and to this day still do and would never dream of rating a product based on an afternoon listening session in a showroom.

This particular amp has become my favorite in a matter of weeks. Even before it was burned in the depth and detail it portrays was awe inspiring.

The Cary build quality is second to none even compared to my WAVAC. I am not sure what was up with the amp the previous gentleman reviewed but something was obviously wrong. My WAVAC cost me 20k and this amp is right there with it.

One thing over the years that I have found true is the Stereophile ratings. If a product is Class A you can pretty much figure that the sound is going to be right up there with the best. There may be exceptions but that is not the case with this amplifier.

Highly recommend this amplifier it is a raving bargain and spectacular looking to go along with it.

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Used product for:   Less than 1 month

Duration Product Used:   AudioPhile

Product model year:   2003

Price Paid:    $3000.00

Purchased At:   Upscale Audio

Overall Rating:2
Value Rating:2
Submitted by roulade r a Audio Enthusiast

Date Reviewed: November 10, 2003

Bottom Line:   
I spent an afternoon at a famous audio salon in NYC listening to a variety of amps last weekend. All amps played through Audio Physic 3-driver floorstanders (about $4K) and digital source was always an Arcam CD 73. I had never heard any Cary amps but from what I had read, I liked their design philosophy and was predisposed to like the V-12. Heck, I went to college in North Carolina and have a soft spot in my heart for gear manufactured in that sweet state.

Surprisingly, I really didn't like the amp at all-- I used VTL 5.5, assorted BAT tube preamps and a high end tube CJ preamp as front ends, and none of them sounded any good with the V-12. I also tried a VAC Avatar through the same setup.

Stevie Wonder's Talking Book CD was my listening material. Through the V-12, high end was virtually nonexistent, the soundstage was closed in.... I was incredibly surprised and couldn't wait to turn the thing off.

For comparison, I listened to the same material through the same pre-amps using Rogue Monoblocks, BAT tube amps and a BAT VK-200-- those amps absolutely destroyed the Cary in terms of detail (but none were harsh at all), soundstage depth and a sense of musical "rightness" that made me want to listen more. In another room, I listened to the same material on the same Arcam through a VTL IT-85 integrated into JM lab mini utopias, and even that $2750 integrated killed the Cary.

I hesitate to write a bad review for an amp I haven't lived with, but my reaction was so strong and immediate, and many audioreview readers don't live in an area where they have access to high-end gear and they rely on magazines and the web for information. Given that Stereophile rates the V-12 as Class A, I thought it was important to share what I heard in a controlled environment where I had a bunch of high-end gear that could be a/b-ed against each other where it only took seconds to switch amps.

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Used product for:   Less than 1 month

Duration Product Used:   Audio Enthusiast

Product model year:   2003

Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:4
Submitted by Mike Pulizzi a AudioPhile

Date Reviewed: June 16, 2003

Bottom Line:   
I brought this amp home for the weekend, through the kindness of Jeff at Audible Arts in San Jose, in the attempt to find the perfect (hah!) amp for the Newform Ribbons speakers. Comparison amp is the Spectron Musician II. Front end Levinson 390s and Spectral pre amp.

This is a gorgeous $4,000 amp, done up in "Jaguar Red" (Looks more like blood red; maybe the name refers to the Jaguar's prey.) It has 6 EL34 output tubes on each side of the transformers,which reside in the center of the amplifier. Inputs are XLR and RCA. The amp seemed to like the XLR the best so all consequent listening was done in that mode. Power rating is 100 watts pc Ultra-linear class A/B and 50 watts pc Triode class A.

The Cary took about two hours to come up to speed (the amp had been off quite a while) and to find the best power cord etc. Now on to the sound.

In a word, gorgeous. Midrange was sweet and utterly grain-free. Highs were detailed and spacious. Cymbals sounded like real metal being hit with real wood sticks and presented a great accustic decay. Patricia Barbers Voice just wrapped around me. Everything was just a tad more seductive in triode mode, so for most testing thats where it stayed. The amp had plenty of power there, though not the best of deep bass control. Switched to ultra-linear it was capable of some darned good bass. In both modes, the bass sounded very organic and musical with plenty of mid-bass heft and weight. Ultra-linear just gave some more deep-bass control, though not enough for electronic rock.

Cary's have been accused of being overly sweet. I did not find the amp to be so; in fact I could make its balance change at will with different interconnects, and even more so, power cords. I could make it sound like it preferred to do highs (with the JPS power cord), or I could make it lushly sweet (the Spectrons power cord). All in the cable mix,and the choice of speaker terminals, the amp just tells it like it is. Final choice in interconnects were the Empirical audio silver XLR cables.

Compared to the Spectron the mid-bass was more prominant (read:satisfying) with the Cary. Deep-bass of course was the Spectrons home and the Cary could not get near its performance here. But most accustic music just doesn't go there and the Cary's bass was so musical and organic. In the low-midrange the Cary also held the advantage with a sensuous warmth and dimensionality that the Spectron could just not equal. From the upper mids on up the Spectron came into its own,its ultra-clean dynamics and depth surpassing the Cary handily here. (As it does most everything else in this frequency range. If it had the proper mid-bass I would be happy.)

An interesting thing was noticed as regards the subwoofer. With the Cary, the sub could not track the main woofer's movements as well as it could with the Spectron, with a loss of bass-coherence resulting. The subs frequency control had to be turned all the way down to avoid smearing the bass. This effect was above and beyond any level adjustment. I lay this down to phase shift and a bit of flopping with the woofers on the Cary.

This amp should live a long time; the quality is evident all through the amp. The extra pair of EL34's on each channel give the tubes plenty of headroom in ultra-linear and they are still not working too hard in triode. (Most 100watt EL34 based amps only use 4 tubes per channel, pushing the tube pretty hard.)

I consider the Cary a late-evening amp for romantic music of all kinds. I am loathe to part with this amp, the sonic beauty of it with the Ribbons was so seductive that I am (almost) willing to overlook the lack of power and low frequency control and extention. (I sometimes just play damned loud in the day time.) I need more power Scotty!

If your music of choice is Jazz, Blues, and Classical this is your amp daddy! Not recommended for those that like heavy electronic rock or Blue Man Group at full volume.

Expand full review >>

Used product for:   Less than 1 month

Duration Product Used:   AudioPhile

Product model year:   2003

Purchased At:   Audible Arts, San Jo

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