Others around here at Club Polk are really good at the technical review or they can wax on poetically like the folks at 6moons, among others. Unfortunately, I can't wax on for very long and while appreciative of the in-depth technical review, would rather just avoid the beating around the bush and get to the meat and potatoes of the equipment and what I'm hearing on my rig. With that in mind....
First, the basic lowdown is that the CAD amps are built upon the design of the all-world Cinema 5 home theater amp. Cary took this design and with some refinements and design enhancements created the CAD-500 monoblock and the CAD-200 stereo amp. The said enhancements are supposed to increase dynamics over the Cinema 2 and be more suitable for 2-channel pleasure. The CAD-200 and the Cinema series amps are common ground and perfectly safe with all the SDA speakers we love here on Club Polk. Since I don't have the coin, I've yet to inquire as to whether the CAD-500 mono's can be strapped together a la the Parasound JC-1's. FWIW, the gentleman I purchased the CAD-200 from believed the top-end characteristics of the 200 were a bit sweeter than the 500 so for similar coin it may be better to bi-amp with (2) 200 versus single 500's.
It's worth noting that the CAD-500 will double up and produce 1kW @ 4 ohms while the CAD-200, Cinema 2 & 5 are a bit more regulated and only put out 350W @ 4ohms. Also of interest is that the Cinema 5 is stable for bi-amping purposes if the 4 outside channels are used for the highs and mids. This was the original plan for my gear, but the Cinema 5's jumped quite a bit on Audiogon by the time I was ready to pull the trigger (~$2700-2900 to ~$3400+) hence a single CAD-200.
That pretty well takes care of the background that's pertinent for my review. If you want to read up on the specs click here: Cary Audio CAD-200 Specs and the owner's manual is here: CAD-200 Owner's Manual Dennis Had's little story about how the Cinema and CAD series came about is worth a read if you're puzzled about how the uber tubehead came to designing and building sand amps.
I’ll admit upfront that one of my main concerns about moving from the Parasound’s would be a loss of dynamics and slam, especially with a bi-amp setup. I’m pleased to report that a single CAD-200, by my ears, has about 90% of the dynamics of the bi-amp combo of the HCA-2200 and 1000. Even on live material like Sarah McLachlan’s Afterglow Live CD/DVD the Cary delivered the goods with deep, detailed, slamming bass, a rich natural midrange and detailed, yet smooth highs. Due to my room, I have to run the SVS’s crossover pretty high (~70hz) compared with what the SDA-SRS’s are capable of, at least in a more controlled environment. Despite this and the SVS’s home theater slant, the CAD-200 mates well with the SVS and delivers a distinct improvement in bass detail.
Potatoes (and Crowder peas, and kiwi’s and….)
Here's the best part. This amp is so clean and natural yet rich and unfatigueing it is truly dangerous. The other night I had an extended listening session and the volume kept creeping up and up and up, yet it kept sounding better and better and better. The next day I thought I might have tinnitus. Luckily I didn't, but I have since been paying much closer attention to the volume buttons.
I guess what I'm trying to get at is that the midrange is rich, detailed, and natural while the top is super clean, detailed, but certainly not bright. These traits seem most evident on my Latin Jazz recordings, specifically the timbales. Not only can you discern the detail of each strike on the side of the timbales or the slightly different strikes and taps on the bells or box, you can pick out the light tap in between each intended strike that the musician uses to keep time. All this detail is apparent, but not too bright all the while the horns aren't too brassy, the sax isn't too reedy, and the congas and bongols have lots of pop and texture and bass.
I also must say that there seems to be an appropriate amount of air and soundstage width and depth. It's nothing exagerated or compressed. Just clean and natural.
Everything I've read online about these amps indicates that these are likely the most tube-like sand amps available at a reasonable price. I personally have zero experience with tube amps and only minimal experience with tube pre's. If the CAD-200 is supposed to be what tubes are with the dynamics and bass control of modern sand amps, then all I can say is that my thoughts of a big damn tube amp have been quenched yet fulfilled.
All I can say is that if you are considering spend $1800-$2200 on a SS amp you'd be foolish not to audition a CAD or Cinema series solid state amplifier from Cary Audio.
P.S.-> I'll try to get some pictures up this weekend.