Cary Audio Cinema 11a Surround Processor and Model 7.125 Amplifier Page 2
The Cinema 11a isn’t strictly minimalist, though. It also offers a second (albeit minimalist, twochannel) remote-controlled audio zone that’s driven by both a digital and stereo analog output. The rear panel includes an RS-232 port that you can use for custom installs and software upgrades. The Cinema 11a also includes two IR inputs (one for the second zone), three 12-volt trigger outputs, and a microphone jack for the auto setup function.
The Cinema 11a uses the Cirrus Logic CS49700 series digital signal processing (DSP) chip. The processor can decode all currently available high-resolution raw bitstream formats via HDMI, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. In addition, it can decode multichannel lossless linear PCM up to 24-bit/192-kilohertz and DSD (the native encoding format for SACD) via the HDMI inputs. It can also decode the old-school Dolby and DTS compressed audio formats.
The DSP can perform at 24-bit/192-kHz resolution. The Cinema 11a upconverts digital signals that have sample rates lower than 48k to that rate before processing. It passes signals with higher sample rates to the DSP chips at their native resolution. The Cinema 11a uses ten channels of 24-bit/96-kHz A/D conversion for the stereo and 7.1-channel analog audio inputs.
Most significantly, you can individually set the stereo analog and 7.1-channel analog signals to bypass the A/D conversion. So they can exit the processor in the analog domain, as virtually untouched as they were when they entered. You can bet this is how I listened to multichannel SACD.
With its dual 32-bit DSP processors, the Cinema 11a performed a full range of customization options. It has a microphonebased auto setup system, bass and dialogue enhancement, and bass management. Plus, it features digital crossover and an up to six-position auto EQ.
The Cirrus Logic chipset defeats the auto EQ function during all Dolby Digital and DTS movie playback (either compressed or lossless). It’s only available for music playback, and it works with PCM signals from CD or DVD players. It can also work via analog signals that are converted to digital.
Cary doesn’t recommend that you use the auto setup function. Instead, it recommends that you use a tape measure and SPL meter. Isn’t this how all of our readers do it anyway? It’s what I did. I didn’t engage the auto EQ function for music playback, in part because the instructions were less than enthusiastic about the feature. The auto EQ is built into the Cirrus Logic chipset, but that doesn’t mean you should use it.
While mainstream manufacturers pile on the features and tend to skimp on the critical analog output stages, Cary says it lavishes the most attention there. It uses premium parts that let it publish unusually complete and impressive bandwidth, frequency response, and signal-to-noise ratio specifications that mainstreamers usually omit. For instance, its claimed direct analog bandwidth is 10 hertz to120 kHz (–3 decibels), with 0.005 percent total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) and a signal-to-noise ratio of 108 dB.
Setup and Use
The setup menu and the manual’s instructions are relatively straightforward. However, Cary Audio doesn’t explain the availability of separate Music and Movie setup profiles. It doesn’t even mention the Panorama width setting function. An index would be a nice touch. One caution: This system produced the loudest, most eardrum-piercing test tones that I’ve ever experienced. So start with earplugs or tissue in your ears.
The system offers crossover settings for each speaker in 10-Hz increments from 40 to 150 Hz. You can also manually adjust each speaker’s equalization settings in 0.5-dB increments in a range of ±15 dB at 10 frequency points between 80 Hz and 16 kHz. Translated into experienced audiophile English: You shouldn’t mess with these settings unless you really know what you’re doing. Even then, it’s probably not a good idea.
It was particularly easy to set up the tuner for preset stations. However, I found that AM, FM, and especially HD radio reception was subpar compared with other surround processors and A/V receivers.
The remote isn’t backlit, but with the exception of the volume control placement, it’s very well laid out. I could easily find the sufficiently large buttons, even in the dark. The volume control is located near the bottom of the unit, which makes it awkward to operate with one hand. You might expect a more sumptuous remote for $4,000.
It’s All About the Sound
Cary Audio claims “extraordinary sound quality.” Given its price tag and minimal video-switching facilities, I hoped it would deliver as promised. And it did. That was true of the new lossless formats, decoded PCM audio, and the 5.1-channel passthrough of multichannel SACD.