Going from Cary Audio separates - in my case the Cinema 11a processor and 7.125 seven-channel amp - to a receiver is a depressing affair. Such is the state I found myself in about a year and a half ago, when I begrudgingly sent back the Cary separates after reviewing and thoroughly enjoying them. Flash forward to 2011 and I'm once again basking in Cary's high-end glow. This time around it's the newest processor in their Cinema Series, the Cinema 12. The Cinema 12 is priced at $4,995 and for its level of performance, it's a bargain. I'm sure some of you reading this will scoff at that last comment, but if you've heard how Cary's amps and processors perform against gear costing two to three times their price you'd understand exactly what I'm talking about.
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Like all Cary products, the Cinema 12 is aesthetically pleasing with an anodized aluminum faceplate and brilliant blue-hued display. The Cinema 12 measures 17.7 inches wide by four and a half inches high and 16.5 inches deep and weighs 25 pounds. There are some welcomed improvements over the Cinema 11a, which I'll get to, but the much coveted Cary sound is still present in spades. One of the most important upgrades over the Cinema 11a is the presence of two additional HDMI inputs, for a total of four v1.4a inputs. For you 3D folks out there, it's worth noting that the Cary will support most 3D formats. There are also two balanced inputs, eight analog inputs, 7.1 analog inputs, seven coaxial and optical inputs and the requisite inputs/outputs for a second zone. The outputs include 7.1 fully balanced XLR as well as RCA outputs. All lossless audio codecs are supported, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and, as Cary explains on their web site, the "Cinema 12 offers the very latest Burr Brown 32 bit/192 kHz surround DAC chips for the most impressive surround separation and steering, and the most accurate audio decoding."
The Cinema 12 is an audio-only processor. This means that the unit only passes through video signals; it doesn't manipulate them in any way. This is a welcomed feature, especially at this price point where those in the market for a processor of this caliber are likely using Blu-ray players with capable video up-conversion. Like the Cinema 11a, the 12 comes with an additional remote for Zone 2 functionality and it also features an HD radio tuner and antenna. I experimented with HD radio and definitely heard the sonic improvement over standard FM, yet I'm so addicted to customizable music services like Pandora that I quickly moved on. Lastly, the Cinema 12 has two separate Listener Profiles, which allows you to create one for music and one for movies, a nice touch as I like to juice up the center channel a bit for movies and leave it balanced with the other channels for music.
I've cranked out quite a few reviews thus far in 2011, but having had such a pleasant experience with the Cinema 11a and Cary products in general, this was the most excited I had been to connect a piece of gear in awhile. Packaging on the Cary was intuitive and secure, definitely on par with this price point. Once out of the box, I proceeded to connect the Cinema 12 to my current reference system, which consists of an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, a Cambridge Audio DACMagic DAC, a Music Hall MMF-2.2 turntable and an AppleTV. My current amp is an Outlaw Audio Model 7900, which is a seven-channel beast of an amp at 145 pounds and 300 Watts per channel. For the connection between the processor and amp I used Oasis 6 balanced audio cables by WireWorld. The rest of the connections were made with a mix of digital and analog audio cables, also by WireWorld. My speakers are Episode 700 Series in-walls, which are only available through custom installation channels.
The setup and calibration of the Cary is simple and straightforward, thanks to a minimalist menu and the lack of video processing. Rather than using the Cinema 12's auto-calibration, I grabbed my tape measure and Radio Shack sound-level meter and set about inputting the distance of each speaker to my listening position and matching the sound level of each speaker. I set the crossover for each speaker to 80 Hz and started digging for source material.
Beginning with some two-channel music, I grabbed the 1987 vinyl pressing of Elton John's Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MCA). On the track "The King Must Die," John's piano danced with brilliant resolution, as did all of the many instruments featured on this track. All of the soulful texture of Elton's voice was present in spades. The typically warm character of vinyl was balanced by the neutrality of the Cary and the somewhat lively character of my Episode speakers. Such is the beauty of a fine processor, mated with the right amp, speakers, source material and cabling - they can transport you back almost 25 years, to what must have been a magical night in Melbourne.
Read more about the performance of the Cary Audio Cinema 12 HD on Page 2.