Cary Audio Cinema 11a Surround Processor and Model 7.125 Amplifier Page 4

The Cary Audio amp’s chassis construction is modest compared with my reference $4,500 Parasound Halo A 51. The Parasound was built in China and has a potentially unfair cost advantage. Still, while the Model 7.125’s design flair is comparatively bland (the review sample was anodized black), its fit and finish are excellent. Everything about it, including the gold-plated RCA jacks and heavy-duty speaker binding posts, exudes quality.

Model 7.125 Sound
When I began to review the Cinema 11a/Model 7.125 combo, I first swapped out my reference Parasound A 51 amp for the Model 7.125 and continued to use my Integra DHC-9.9 surround processor. The Parasound is a five-channel, THX Ultra2–certified unit that puts out 250 watts into 8 ohms and 400 watts into 4 ohms. There was a considerable drop in power according to the numbers, but not according to the sound.

In my relatively large room, the Model 7.125 easily drove the Sonics Amerigo 5.1-channel speaker system that I recently reviewed and purchased (HT, February 2010). It did an equally excellent job driving the difficult load that a large Vienna Acoustics ensemble presented.

I had recently watched the Iron Man Blu-ray with the Parasound in my system, and I hadn’t yet returned it (thanks, Netflix!). So I re-watched some key scenes with the Model 7.125. I found that the lower-powered amplifier was easily up to the task dynamically and in terms of sheer SPL power in my room.

The Halo A 51 sounded smoother, with a richer, bloomier midrange, a more supple bottom end, and a somewhat softer and airier top end. The Model 7.125 produced a tighter, punchier, drier overall sound. Although the sonic picture was a bit less subtle, it was clearly more visceral and dramatic, particularly in the lower frequencies where the punch was of the knockout variety. Bass was well extended, tight, and certain, even if it lacked the textural subtlety that the Halo A 51 delivers.

I heard enhanced dialogue clarity through the Model 7.125. This was a plus, particularly on difficult-to-decipher tracks like Slumdog Millionaire. Still, it was a bit more cardboard-like and artificial sounding.

The differences between the two amplifiers were noticeable and consistent when the DHC-9.9 drove the system. Your personal taste and associated equipment will determine which amp you prefer. Speakers that have soft, warm bass will probably benefit from the Model 7.125’s punchy control. Speakers with etchy-sounding highs will probably sound better driven by the smoother, richer-sounding Parasound.

Conclusion
Cary Audio’s Cinema 11a and Model 7.125 created first-rate sonics, spatially, timbrally, dynamically, and harmonically. In every way, this front-end combination easily produced the best sound I’ve experienced in my home theater, with both movies and music.

The combination managed an impressively large percentage of the clarity, transparency, inner detail resolution, timbral accuracy, and spatial clarity that my far more expensive downstairs two-channel rig can produce.

Of the two pieces, the Cinema 11a is the more significant. Lowvoltage signal processing is just as difficult to get right as power amplification. That’s one reason why these two products, one small and light, one heavy and powerful, are priced similarly.

The Cinema 11a can form the hub for a great, seemingly nocompromise two-channel analog and digital surround system. For that, it’s unique in my listening experience. You don’t need a passthrough loop to connect a two-channel preamp and a separate surround processor.

The limited video-switching facilities mean that some users will need to spend an additional $4,000 for the Cinema 11v to add legacy video products and greater flexibility. If you can get by with just two HDMI inputs and one output, you’ve put your money where it belongs: into high-performance sound, not unnecessary gadgetry and flexibility.

The combination of the Cinema 11a and Model 7.125 produced memorable, and even goose-bump-inducing musical and cinematic performance. The Cinema 11a, in particular, is a major accomplishment. If you’re in the market for a surround processor/amp combo, this is a pair of exceptional sounding, high-performance products.

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Cary Audio Design
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