Cary Audio Design Cinema 12 Surround Processor & Model 7.125 Multichannel Amplifier Page 2

The Model 7.125 amplifier was previously reviewed by Home Theater with our review of the Cinema 11 in May 2010 (available online at, so I won’t treat it in great detail here beyond its sound with the Cinema 12. It is justifiably heavy, thanks to toroidal transformer. While it purports to have only as many watts as my Onkyo AVR, it certainly sounded more capable driving my demanding Revel Salon2 speakers full range. Not to cut to the chase, but my listening notes are full of various descriptions that simply boil down to shock and awe. The output terminals will handle banana connectors, bare wire, or spade connectors—that last one is something you rarely (if ever) see on an AVR.

Cary Current Delivery System
As a lucky reviewer, I’ve had a lot of great systems in-house, and I’m here to tell you, the Cary is up there with the best of them. It is likely the perfect combination of the superquiet, highly detailed Cinema 12, the arc welder that is the Model 7.125 amp, and the Salon2 tower speakers from Revel that left me starstruck. Those speakers like current—they thrive on it—and sad to say, as much as I raved about them in my review a few years ago, I apparently was cutting them short shrift. They have honestly never sounded as good as they do with the Cary system.

My favorite album of new music this year, and not by any slim margin, is Awolnation’s Megalithic Symphony. The song “All I Need” is a classic ballad filled with lovely reverberant harmonies that evoke the Beatles, Queen, and Coldplay, yet retains its own unique voice. The Cinema 12 was cranked up with no surround processing, just two channels of straight PCM decoding. There were none of the usual compression artifacts one hears as systems are pushed to their limit, no hardening of the sound. Quite the opposite, as the sense of space the Cary/Revel combo created felt limitless and pregnant with anticipation. One negative with the processing is that when I used my Toshiba HD-DVD player as a CD transport via HDMI, the Cinema 12 often dropped the PCM signal between tracks (the front panel display momentarily said no signal). When that happened, I lost the first few milliseconds of the track, kind of like a needle being carelessly dropped on vinyl. This doesn’t happen with my Onkyo AVR when I use the same player and disc.

The most-played radio song from Megalithic Symphony is definitely “Sail.” I’ve heard it dozens of times and fail to tire of it. Aaron Bruno’s mix is replete with deep and cutting synths, processed vocals, and just about anything else you can think of that could congest a lesser system. But the toyish tinkle of the high keys on an old and well-played upright piano still cuts through the mix, as do any of a dozen other subtle embellishments that are heard clearly in the background. I don’t hear all of this on my car’s Bose system, just at home with the Cary. Resolution, if you haven’t gathered by now, is outstanding without being in the slightest sense clinical. Like we used to say in two channel, there’s just more there there.

As I listened to some jazz early on a Saturday morning, at quiet levels that wouldn’t wake others in the house, it became apparent that the Cary sound is all about musicality. Cary was, and still is, a high-end tube electronics company, and these test tube babies have the best genes you can ask for. Immersive and intimate are the words that kept coming to mind as I unwound with Wynton Kelly’s 1959 recording Kelly Blue, one of my treasured JVC XRCD series of CD reissues. The rendition of the jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street” showcases Kelly’s relaxed improvisational keyboard skills, and Paul Chamber’s bass playing is the sort of hip-hoppy finger exercise that is simply mesmerizing in both its complexity and good taste. The acoustic space in the studio is warm, not overspacious or reverberant, but hardly dead. Kelly’s piano is rounded and full-toned, dynamic but not biting. The Cinema 12’s resolution is good enough to make you think you’re sitting behind the glass some 50 years ago listening to a direct feed off the studio monitors. Spine tingling is the only way to put it.

Graphic and Novel
The story of a good-hearted runt who had to be genetically manipulated before he could receive love and respect, Captain America had an almost dated look in early trailers, but on my big screen, the colors looked natural and weren’t desaturated. I really liked the soundtrack. Unlike the constant, thunderous droning of a Transformers movie, Captain America’s mix was more subtle, with particular attention to soundstage depth and detail. For instance, in an early scene in an examining room, the subdued sound of typewriter keys being struck from behind the exam curtain leaks into the left channel, the echo careening off the tiled walls and floors of the medical center and defining in our minds a space that we may not see, but can easily imagine.

Here, the Cary Cinema 12’s resolution was superb, and the separation of the acoustic space perfectly translated. Being a war movie at its core, orchestration is naturally punctuated with snares. The sense of a large, almost limitless stage accompanies every action scene, and while there is gunfire aplenty, the layers of music, dialog, and destruction remain distinct and ingeniously complementary.

Audience Network puts on a great concert series sponsored by Guitar Center. You usually get an hour-long show with an amazing featured artist (unfortunately punctuated with coma-inducing interview segments between each song). One recent show featured Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a band I just saw this summer in scenic Newport, Rhode Island, with some friends. Guitar Center’s 5.1-channel production is exceptional in this concert, and the Cinema 12 and Model 7.125 amp really put me front row center again. The sound of classic Fender amps being driven by humbuckered Fender Jags and Potter’s Hammond B3 organ gave me the chills.

Audiophiles Cary the Day
I love a happy ending, don’t you? Sad, actually, since I wasn’t born rich, just indescribably handsome. But I’m still grinning ear to ear after packing up this amazing Cary combo. Maybe it’s because Cary has been catering to the most demanding of audiophiles for years. The Cinema 12 is superbly musical, and the Model 7.125 has the ability to re-create music with the startling dynamics of a live event. Yes, goose-bumping good. The folks at Cary are blessed with good ears and great taste. The Cinema 12 isn’t an ergonomic, feature-laden trek into the future, but its omissions aren’t sins—they’re just things you won’t miss once you get your groove on.

Cary Audio Design

sealman's picture

I have reread the review for this (Cinema 12) several times now and I still can't get over the fact that it was awarded a Top Pick.

To just gloss over the (buggy/broke) automated setup problems in this unit and give it a Top Pick is ridiculous.
If I bought a preamp that costs 4k I would hope there was a working automated setup.

If I remember correctly there was an Onkyo receiver reviewed in the same issue (that the Cary was) that had some video decoding issues that were fixed by a firmware update. It sounded like the reviewer would have not have given a Top Pick without the firmware update, and rightly so!
So why the Top Pick on the Cary when it is obviously flawed? Stellar sound quality just does not erase the fact that the Cary was not ready for review.

Lets not even get into the meager HDMI inputs......

jeffkad1's picture

It would be highly instructive if you compared the Cary set-up to the Classe set-up you reviewed last year. Especially processor vs processor and amp vs amp. You gave 5 stars to both set-ups, so does that mean they were so close in performance to be almost identical? The SSP/CT 800 is the reigning champ in pre/pros. Is the Cinema 12 really on close or equal footing SQ wise? In all aspects: hdmi/digital input, pure analog bypass, steering, etc? Regarding the amp, I have Revel Salon 2 speakers, and I am amazed that the Cary 5 ch amp at 125/190 wpc into 8/4 ohms can really drive them. Any comparative insight would be appreciated.