Cary Audio Design Cinema 12 HD Surround Sound Processor Reviewed

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Cary Audio Design Cinema 12 HD Surround Sound Processor Reviewed

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Cary_Audio_Cinema_12HD_surround_sound_processor_review_angled.jpgStaying in the two-channel realm for one more round, I popped Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge Records) on the turntable. You have to ask yourself one question: Is it five "Ga's" or six? The track "Don't You Evah" illustrated the Cary's low-end mettle with palpable, deep bass response. Like a fine French pastry, each layer of instrumentation in the song was brilliantly reproduced. The guitar riffs also stood out, with their raw and edgy grain. I ended up listening to this track several times, hearing different layers in the music each time.

So we have a seven-channel processor and a beast of a seven-channel amplifier; what's with all the two-channel stuff you ask? It's a simple test of versatility as most of us still have plenty of CDs in our collection, not to mention the resurgence of vinyl and proliferation of music services like Pandora - all of which are two-channel. Truth be told, I was anxious to move on to high resolution multi-channel audio, but after struggling to get 96/24 audio files to play through my DacMagic (turns out its USB input isn't 96/24 capable), I threw in the towel and grabbed one of my trusty DTS demo discs from CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Any audiophile will tell you that these discs are highly coveted; a quick search on eBay will validate this. I popped the disc into the Oppo and started enjoying the sweet, sweet sounds of 7.1 DTS HD-Master Audio 96/24 high-resolution audio in the form of Gjermund Larsen's Trondheimsolistene - In Folk Style. The selection "Diplom" (Folk Suite for Fiddle and String Orchestra) illustrated the Cary's ability to place you in a live concert hall. The Cinema 12 did an exemplary job of conveying the playfulness of the strings in this composition. Low frequency material was also well rendered as the Cary showed its strength across the frequency spectrum. The arrangement showed that the Cary is also a standout in terms of transient response, which was the case with the Cinema 11a as well.

Continuing with multi-channel audio, I went back to my old buddy Elton John with his One Night Only: The Greatest Hits Live at Madison Square Garden DVD (Universal Music) in DTS 5.1. On "Bennie And The Jets," I again noticed how well the Cary conveyed low frequency material. The Cinema 12 also throws a wide, compelling soundstage, which is especially enjoyable with live recordings. What I'd heard earlier with Elton's voice was present again, with every nuance brilliantly conveyed. Absent was the muddiness that can sometimes accompany live music and/or lesser audio gear.

Moving on to movies, I decided to go back a few years and dusted off my Blu-ray of Black Hawk Down (Columbia Pictures) in uncompressed PCM 5.1 sound. When U.S. forces are first engaged on the ground by the Somalis, the sounds of the different calibers of weapons were incredibly intense, flying around in all of the channels. Despite the general chaos of the scene, the dialog remained intelligible and precise. As various RPGs exploded, the sound of debris rained down in the surround channels with convincing authority and detail. Watching the battle scenes in this film through the Cary ramped up my heart rate, it was a visceral experience and one that I'm sure director Ridley Scott himself would appreciate.

Sticking with the Scott brothers, I decided to boot up the Blu-ray of Tony Scott's Unstoppable (20th Century Fox) in 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio. In Chapter 20 the train blows through a pathetic roadblock attempt and the Cary again showed its mettle across the frequency spectrum. The sound of the helicopter tracking the train in Chapter 21 was another audible treat through the Cary, as it handled all of the action with visceral integrity. This was my third time watching this film, yet I'd never heard it sound this raw and intense. You've never heard more train screeching in a film than this, and it was cringe-inducing to say the least.

Competition and Comparison
While there are other processors worth a look in this price range, my experience with the Cinema 12 leads me to believe that you're going to have to spend a great deal more than its $4,995 price tag to get better performance. Even then, I'm not convinced there would be enough upside to justify the higher price. I've heard the same thing from other reviewers about other Cary products, as well. All that said, if you have the budget, then the $6,900 Arcam FMJ AV888 is probably worth a look. Even higher up on the price spectrum is the Anthem Statement D2V, which retails for $7,500 and has been well received by the audiophile community. If these prices are making your chest tighten up a bit, there's also the Marantz AV7005, which can be had for a wallet friendly $1,500 and is a capable performer.

For more on AV Preamps including the latest news and reviews please check out Home Theater Review's AV Preamp page.

The Downside
Thankfully, this section of the review will be brief as, sonically speaking, I found no faults with the Cary. In terms of general functionality, there are a couple of things worth mentioning. I don't think I'm alone when I say that we've become a bit spoiled with on-screen displays. While I did appreciate the simplicity of the Cary menu, which has the added benefit of not making you second-guess yourself on a setting, I missed seeing it up on the big screen. That said, I'll take straight video pass-through and transparent sound over an on-screen menu any day. I also had a bit of trouble with the remote, not just the universal programming aspect, which I found a bit user-unfriendly, but the fact was I found myself having to press a key two or three times for a command to register on the processor; despite pointing it directly at the unit.

While I applaud Cary's efforts in packaging the Cinema 12 with a universal remote, I've come to realize that despite all the hype that certain universals are getting these days, most are simply crap. While I certainly wouldn't construe Cary's remote as such, I'll take my trusty MX-600 remote over just about any other remote on the market.

This is my kind of review - exemplary performance and no major quibbles about the product. The Cary doesn't require an overly complicated setup process, there's no having to worry about Internet connections and firmware upgrades, etc. - just plug it in, make a few basic selections, and the next thing you know you're enjoying truly high end sound. Whatever I threw its way, be it a 25-year-old album, high-resolution music or chaotic battle scene, the Cary absolutely shined. Simply put, the Cary Cinema 12 provides jaw-dropping performance and is equally adept with movies and music. I made the statement in my Cinema 11a review back in March of 2010 that "It's the best sounding, most musical home theater processor I've auditioned yet." Now that lofty bar has been raised by the Cinema 12. As Cary says on their web site "The Cinema 12 is the highest performing home theater processor available today," and from what I've heard, I tend to agree.

Additional Resources
� Read more preamplifier reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
� Explore amps in our Amplifier Review section.
� Find Floorstanding Speakers or Bookshelf Speakers to pair with the Cinema 12 HD.

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HTR Product Rating for Cary Audio Design Cinema 12 HD Surround Sound Processor

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