Cary Audio CAD120s MkII Power Amplifier

Cary Audio CAD120S MkII miniatura
Cary Audio CAD120S MkII miniatura

This is the second appointment in a brief period with the products of the esteemed American Cary Audio company. This time the object of our review is the CAD120s MkII power amplifier. The chassis is imposing, heavy and squared. The eight KT88 tubes deliver 120 W into ultra-linear and 60 W in triode into 8 ohm. There are also four SLN7 tubes, acting as input and driver. The chassis is placed on four strong flared rubber feet.


Likewise the modeI Cary SLI 80 integrated amp, already reviewed, all the tubes are the substantial Russian Electro Harmonix, whose production is not recent, I may say. The back transformers are covered by a black metallic box with three grids perforated on the top. The front side shows a big central display featuring two windows for the analogue reading of the bias, with a light blue illuminated background. The display is not aesthetically very original but is very functional, though. In fact, it helps you understand how much time the power tubes need to conform to the right tension after the device has been switched on and if they are losing or not supplying capacity. Two buttons, with blue and red leds, make you switch from triode to ultra-linear mode. The ergonomics of the buttons is not up to standards, since you have to press them a lot to activate and there are no signalling clicks to understand when the contact has occurred.


The back connectors comprise, besides the usual RCA, also the XLR that correspond to a “Pure Balanced” configuration, but I haven’t tested them. Only a pair of binding posts are available and able to drive loads from 4 to 16 ohms. We also find on the back panel the screws to adjust the bias and the IEC main socket, together with the lodging for the right and left fuse. All the connectors are of very good quality.


How does it perform? Very good, thanks.

We are speaking of very high levels, with features and potentialities capable of satisfying palates, pardon, very exigent auricles. I can say that every time you want to listen again to your favourite records, because you feel that before you haven’t caught all the details.


Let’s go in-depth into the sound qualities of this device. I find something in common with the SLI 80 integrated amp. There’s the same scrupulous care in the perspective reproduction, the sound image is remarkable in the three dimensions, and the division of the sound stages is very well delineated.


Furthermore, the low range is powerful and detailed, full of harmonic texture and deep, capable of making appreciate new details in very well-known recordings where you cannot expect any new surprise. As I said, a certain “family sound”, but with more power given by the increased number of KT88 tubes that can exhibit more developed rock features, somehow surprising for a tube device.

Through the excellence of its dynamics, the CAD120s becomes a device suitable for all musical genres, also for rock or percussive music, like David Byrne or John Mellencamp. Mostly in the ultra-linear mode, which maintain the refinement of the triode-mode and that I’ve preferred for its great dynamic momentum and sense of time in attacks and releases.

The mid-range keeps the typical qualities of the tube amplifications with a noticeable adherence to the nuances of the live human voice, like in the delicious arias of the cantatas by Vivaldi performed by Emma Kirkby and the Academy of Ancient Music, or in the instruments like the tenor sax of Stan Getz, the violoncello of the great Janos Starker, the acoustic guitar by Georg Gulyas, precious in the vibrating resonances and power.


The high range is not hyper-defined and is never annoying. Stiffening and sibilant consonants are kept at bay but you can detach, when present in the recordings, harmonic notes often hidden by less refined electronic devices than the CAD120s MkII. In particular, the well recorded violins have a detail and an impressive harmonic richness, like in Vivaldi Recordings of the Oyseau Lyre series performed by the AAM directed by Christopher Hogwood.


Operating tips: quick and reactive cables, silver mainly. Avoid low definition and dark components. If you want a bright amp you need the right quality also in the other parts of the system. Find the right phase of the power plug. For curiosity I have also used a tube preamp: the Trends Audio PA 10.1D, already reviewed on ReMusic and with a cost of about a twentieth of the CAD which offers great performances, although lower than my reference preamp, the Sonus Mirus AAAVT, but amazing as for quality and pleasantness.


Besides the poor “user-friendless” of the front knobs and a quite heavy appearance, there’s also some noise coming from the loudspeakers also when the music is off. I must say, however, that my system is without ground.


In conclusion, there is an enjoyable balance among tone, dynamics and perspective skills in this device made by Cary Audio. Unfortunately it’s quite expensive even if in line with the quality of the sound performances that can be obtained.


Selection of listened music

Vivaldi: Concerti per violino e cantate - “The Vivaldi Recordings”, The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, Ed. L'Oiseau Lyre-Decca.

David Byrne: Rei Momo, CD Ed. Luaka Bop/Sire

John Mellencamp: Whenever we wanted, CD Ed. Mercury”

Stan Getz: Jazz Giants '58, CD Ed. Verve

Georg Gulyas: Albeniz, Ponce, Tarrega, SACD Ed. Proprius


Official technical specifications:

Circuit Type: Class AB, push-pull amplifier, Ultralinear or Triode mode operation with a front panel selector switch

Power Output: Ultralinear – 120W per channel - Triode – 60W per channel

Inputs: XLR balanced or RCA single-ended

Noise and Hum: -80dB

Input Impedance: 100K both RCA and Balanced

Frequency Response:   17Hz – 25kHz flat @ 1W


  • 2 - 6SN7 input gain stage
  • 2 - 6SN7 driver tubes
  • 8 - KT 88 output tubes

Power Transformer: EI High voltage & bias supply EI laminate

Output Transformers:    Special bifilar wound 150W rating unit in each channel

Gain: 28dB

Sensitivity: 1.24V

Power Supply Capacitors: 4 x 560µF

Speaker Posts: Cary gold plated copper, 5-way binding

AC Cord: 3 Conductor Shielded, Detachable

AC Power Requirements: 117VAC @ 50/60Hz - 234VAC @ 50/60Hz

Warm-Up Time: 3 Minutes

Break-In Time: 100 hours of playing time

Finish:  Jaguar Anthracite black with clear coat finish, silver anodized aluminium faceplate standard (black optional)

Weight: 65lbs, 27kg

Dimensions: 17"x 8"x14" (430x200x360mm) (WxHxD)

Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Official current price in Italy: 6,650.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Fabio “Puzzled” Barbato’s system

by Fabio
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