Carver Silver Seven Mono Vacuum Tube Power Amplifier Reviewed

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The Sound Of $1650-Worth Of 6550s�Price shouldn't influence a reviewer or a civilian listener when�assessing any product; it should only determine the final�value-for-money rating and whether or not it fits a budget.�Although the Silver Seven may not be the dearest amplifier on the�planet, it's the costliest I've ever used in my review system and�it took a bit of effort to force myself into dismissing the�influence of the price tag. Then again, I wasn't presupposing

that the 'Seven would be all that marvellous, because I wasn't�expecting the performance to match the overwhelming appearance or�price tag. After all, Bob Carver's main achievements have been in�the middle market, and I had no reason to believe that a slap in�the face from the US press was enough to drive him to levels of�sheer brilliance.

Boy, was I wrong. Even before the 'Seven had driven the mercury�up a degree or three, I was finding my face locked in a�grin/rictus. All of those 'chill factor' criteria were met, the�amplifier delivering a flood of 'you are there' touches of the�type that would have J Gordon Holt hopping with glee. Aside from�imagining Bob Carver with a balloon over his head reading 'I told�you so', the Silver Seven -- regardless of the speaker to which�it was attached -- proved itself to be audibly superior to any�amplifier in my arsenal or in recent memory. But before I get to�the inevitable caveats , let me try to describe what this�amplifier does for the music.

However 'classic' the sound is meant to be, it has lower�registers unlike any vintage valve amplifier I can recall. Modern�designs I've heard (regardless of their chosen technology) which
approach or match the Carver include the larger Audio Research�amplifiers, most of the Krells, the big Rowlands, the Mark�Levinson monoblocks and the Goldmund; note that none of these are�'inexpensive', so such low-end control and extension does not�come cheap. If the bass does betray either its tube origins or�Carver's avowed intentions, then it's only through a slight�richness which absent from the solid-state designs mentioned�above.

The vice-like control and the richness continue with absolute�consistency up into the midband, where the latter starts to fade�out in exchange for greater neutrality. I don't know how�deliberate is Carver's sonic 'tailoring', but he managed to make�the richness dissolve by the point where it's already stamped the�sound with valve status, at the same time not allowing it to�intrude into the all-important midband. The inaccurate (though�undeniably pleasing) extra warmth heard on acoustic instruments�and vocals played through vintage tube products is absent in the�'Seven's performance -- a good thing as more and more time passes
from the days when most audiophiles lived with vintage gear and�would be prepared to forgive such euphonic distortions.

As for the treble, it's the same recipe: transient attack to�rival the fastest, most authoritative solid state devices you can�name, with the sweetness (but not the tubby lushness) of the tube�legends. However much it strikes me as dealing with mutually�exclusive virtues, Carver has managed to juggle the old and the�new with greater skill than I've yet experienced. Just as�impressive as the tonal neutrality, though, is the manner of�presentation, for the Carver has holographic capabilities�(dictionary rather than 'Sonic Holography' definition) on a par
with the very best.

'Tall', 'wide' and 'deep' are only part of the story. The spatial�characteristics also include uncanny precision and a seamlessness�that avoids overetched, 'Viewmaster'-style landscapes. In this�arena, the 'Seven has a few rivals bearing Audio Research, Krell�and (when they're working) Jadis badges, so the Carver hasn't�really pushed the boundaries in 3D terms. But rest assured that�it's world class. But if it is compromise or weakness that you�need to read about, then I should mention the way the Apogee�Divas (not the Stages) rendered the 'Seven a bit breathless.

Whatever the power rating, this amplifier is not the gutsiest�beast I've ever used. While the Diva was the only speaker in my�possession to expose some limitations in the Carver's dynamic�capabilities, I have knowledge of a few dozen other speakers�which are just as demanding. True, they, too, could be avoided,�but all are natural candidates for the 'Seven. Indeed, the�majority of high end speaker builders assume that their products�will be mated to powerful amplifiers. Normal levels were no�problem, but playing hardball is not this amplifier's forte. The�Aragon 4004 at 1/10th the price offered greater levels and no�compression or clipping with demanding material like large�orchestral works and sonic showstoppers.

But that doesn't stop me from regarding the Silver Seven as one�of the very finest amplifiers money can buy. The big chuckle,�though, is the price, which means that the Silver Seven is as�much a marketing tool as it is a hi-fi statement, however�undeniable and real its standard-setting virtues. Which leads us�to...

'T' Is For Tiny
Earlier in this review, I mentioned Carver's 'Transfer Function�Matching'. Quite obviously, the #1900 per pair, solid-state�Silver Seven T monoblock is conceived to be the poor man's Silver
Seven, right down to the 'steam punk' styling. Somewhere, I read�or heard that this amplifier was supposed to deliver '90% of the�Silver Seven's performance for 10% of the cost'. Hmmm...

Rated at a 550W per side, the Silver Seven T is said to duplicate�the 'transfer function of the Silver Seven'. Using Carver's�Magnetic Field design circuitry, it actually pumps out more�watts, can drive 2 ohm loads, weighs only 7.2kg per side (as�opposed to the Silver Seven's 68kg), takes up floor space of only�370x292mm and looks just as wonderful. The controls are limited�to an on/off switch at the front, while the rear sports the�five-way posts I wish were on the Silver Seven.

This amplifier is notorious for having received one of the worst�reviews ever published. I think I understand why, though the amp�is by no means ready for display at Crufts. Basically, Carver was�silly for hyping this as a poor man's 'Seven because even those�who haven't heard the 'Sevens would therefore expect something so�far beyond the 'norm' that the wee Carver would have had to�perform miracles. Inevitably, the 'T lacks the absolute�transparency, the delicate treble, the coherence and the�authority in the lower registers of the 'Seven, but none would�have minded so much had Carver not declared it to be a�near-clone. Indeed, it has exceptional stage width,�better-than-average depth, reasonable bass extension and -- with�certain cone-type loudspeakers at least -- enough slam to suggest�that its power rating is indicative of its performance.

However poorly it fared with the Diva, the 'T worked nicely�enough with the Stages to make me wish that I hadn't (1) reviewed�it side-by-side with the 'Seven and (2) heard Carver's claims.�And I could only register dismay when the 'T failed to prove�adequate when asked to drive the ATC SCM20 'mini' monitors. I'd�rather not dredge up the hoary old debate which started with�Carver's Cube of some 10 years back, with its astronomical power�ratings and about as much guts as Charles Hawtrey. The 'T, also�endowed with 'Magnetic Field' technology, also seems to perform�less like a 500-watter than one would expect. It simply lacked�the slam I associate with amplifiers from the Aragon 4004 on up.

But I can't trash the amp because I did manage to find speakers�with which it mated beautifully, the Monitor Audio Studio 10 for�example never causing the 'T to turn harsh or to sound�'over-driven'. But just as the Silver Seven sounded like a�thoroughbred whatever the speaker, so did the 'T seem less than�authoritative through all but the smaller monitors. It suggests�that the 'T does not want to do too much work below 60-80Hz (the�effective lower limits of most small boxes), in which case the 'T�should be auditioned with this in mind.

Let's face it: The betubed Silver Seven is simply a 'dream'�amplifier. At its frightening price, it's amazing that over 50�sets have been sold. Even Carver will admit that it's a flagship,�like Infinity's IRS, designed to call attention to the rest of�the range. That both the Carver Silver Seven and Infinity IRSes�do sell is simply a bonus. But the 'T is the first off-shoot, and�it does not succeed in bringing the 'Seven Experience' to the�masses. It's simply a good, if undistinguished amplifier.

Because the 'T is so aesthetically adorable --'retro-tech' like�the Olympus 'O Product' camera or Mazda's Miata roadster -- it�will probably sell to the same people (and that includes me) who�buy 1930s styled pens or watches or cameras. But that doesn't�help those of you who want a taste of the Silver Seven's glory at�a lower tariff. For that, you'll have to wait for the forthcoming�Silver Six, or investigate the first of the company's tubed�pre-amps. Amusingly, Carver's first valve control centre is not a�high-end piece but a #950 unit within reach of the same people�who'd consider Naim or Exposure or Musical Fidelity; its high-end�counterpart will follow later.

As for that showpiece Silver Seven, well, whatever the sins or�graces of its progeny, it is simply a milestone in high-end�design. I can't flat-out say that it's the world's best amplifier
because I haven't heard every amp available (nor has anyone�else). Indeed, if anyone ever tells you that any single product�is the best of its type, be highly suspicious and change to
another shop or magazine. But I'll tell you this: The Silver�Seven, like most Ferraris, actually performs on a par with its�aesthetic presence. When you first see the four chassis, you
can't help but grin. You realise that here is a product made�truly without any constraints. It's audiophilia gone berserk.�Then you listen. After you recover, you realise that rampant
audiophilia isn't so crazy after all.

Additional Resources
� Read�more stereo amplifier reviews�on
� Find�an AV receiver�to pair with this amplifier.

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HTR Product Rating for Carver Silver Seven Mono Vacuum Tube Power Amplifier

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