Cary Audio SA 200.2 SE power amp (latest version)


Hey there,

I need some advise and opinions on something. My current setup includes : Monitor Audio Gold 200 5g (latest generation), Classe Sigma Amp2 class D power amp, Classe Sigma preamp, Cary Audio CD 306 SACD player.
My speaker cables & XLR balanced analog interconnects are Cardas Clear Reflection. Power cables : Shunyata Delta NR, Transparent Reference PowerLink MM1, Audioquest Blizzard, Shunyata Venom V10 NR (20 Amp / C19) from wall to my Shunyata Venom PS8 AC power line distributor. AC power line distributor: Shunyata Venom PS8 with Venom Defender.

I’m about to pull a trigger on the new Cary Audio SA 200.2 SE power amp (latest version) to replace my existing Classe Sigma Amp2 class D amp. The Cary is a class AB amp. Which amp do you think will be a better choice for my system? Have anyone compared these two amps before and what are your thoughts? My Monitor Audio Gold 200 5g speakers (latest generation) are very laid back warm smooth refined sounding speakers. The highs and mids are very smooth. These new MA Gold 200 5g are complete opposite sound profile than the previous MA Gold 4g series, which are very forward and somewhat bright. And I’m using warm sounding speaker cables and analog XLR interconnects throughout.
Your advise, inputs and thoughts will be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

dilatante
I had the previous Cary SA 200.2 amp and I liked it with my Harbeth speakers.  
Compared to other amplifiers I have owned it was midrange forward with a slightly unrefined top end and deep extended bass.  Overall very forward (think jazz horn that fly out of the speakers) and extremely dynamic.  turned my box speakers into HE horns.  
I bought the Cary SA-200.2 SE almost a year ago.  I had downsized my listening room and bought smaller speakers (Reference 3A Reflectors).  The smaller room made it unbearable for my tube amp and after much research I came across the Cary SA-200.2 SE.   I wanted to retain the tube-like sound character without all the heat, and the reviews (posted at Cary) said it runs cool.  I also read in the reviews that midrange and vocals were excellent, in particular female vocals.  The original version has been around a while and is a proven performer, so I figured the SE should be better.  (The professional reviews refer to the original).  I have it paired with a Sonic Frontiers Line 2 preamp to retain the tube character.  I had 30 days to try, but almost immediately I knew it was a keeper.  I call it analog with slam, dynamic, and non-fatiguing.  Like everyone else, I take professional reviews with a grain of salt.  But the reviews at Positive Feedback and 10 Audio were compelling enough for me to give it a try.  Also, it's manageable at 65 lbs.
@avanti1960 

I wonder if the previous version (non SE version) shared the same sonic attributes with the new SE version. What preamp and front end source component did you have the Cary amp paired with at the time? Or perhaps it wasn’t a good match with your Harbeth speakers? That’s why you had a very forward midrange and slightly unrefined top end? Or perhaps it was the preamp or the front end source component you had at the time? 
@yowser

So you’re implying that the Cary SA 200.2 SE sounded a bit like a tube amp? Or maybe because you have it paired with a tube pre. Did you ever have the amp paired with SS pre? I have a Classe Sigma SS preamp but am planning to get the PS Audio BHK preamp which is a hybrid design pre with vacuum tube input stage and SS output stage.

Does the amp run hot or warm to the touch? 
Yes, sounds a bit like a tube amp.  Cary has stated that they voiced their solid state amp to the "Cary sound".  I never paired with a solid state preamp as I've always been happy with the Sonic Frontiers Line 2 which is known to be very neutral.  The Cary amp definitely runs warm to the touch, not hot.
Some years ago, I owned the Cary CAD 500MB monoblock power amplifiers, which were the original amps said to have been designed and/or voiced by Dennis Had in his living room. Those amps were not perfect but I enjoyed them for their rich tone, full powerful bass, and solid build. I sold them and moved to a series of Class A amplifiers but then decided to go back to a pair of Cary monos and purchased the newer Cary SA-500.1 monos. While I found those newer amplifiers to be just as powerful, quieter, and possibly more detailed than the 500MBs I had previously owned, they seemed to be missing the same level of body and tone that made the older 500MB amps so enjoyable and engaging to me. Maybe the Sanken 50 ampere, high current, wide bandwidth bipolar output devices used in the 500MBs (and not in the newer amps) had something to do with the sound I heard - who knows. I sold the SA-500.1s and moved on, and I actually purchased another pair of the older 500MBs a couple of years ago that I currently use to power my outdoor system.

In short, I believe the older CAD 500MB and CAD 200 amplifiers were indeed designed by Dennis Had to display a touch of "tube body and warmth" while the newer SA-200.2/500.1 ES line of amplifiers were designed to be modular, with bigger power supplies and newer parts, which resulted in a somewhat more detailed yet still powerful sound. However, to my ears, the newer amplifiers did not retain the same level of body or warmth of the original amplifiers - they do not remind me of tubed amplifiers.

Below is what TAS had to say about the sound of the Cary SA-500.1 monos, which I suspect should mostly mirror the SA-200.2s. 
Even though part of the design goal was to retain some of Cary’s well-known tube sound in a solid-state amplifier, Cary did not ladle on the classic tube sauce heavily enough to dominate the amp’s sonic flavor. It does not have an overt upper-bass emphasis, a loose mid-to-lower bass region, or a soft top end. The 500.1 had just a pleasant hint of warmth and sweetness and most definitely had no signs of poor grip and definition in the bottom octaves. On the contrary, the 500.1 had better-than-expected bass control and clarity. The upper frequency range was well extended but with a lighter touch rather than a “ruthless truth” approach. The lower midrange was indeed a bit warm and inviting à la tubes, but only just enough to readily bring out music’s natural underlying appeal. Again, not an overt classic tube-sound dousing.


@yowser 

Thank you for all the info. Curious if you had a faint humming or buzzing issue with the newer Cary SA 200.2 ES amp. Few people had this issue but I think they had the original SA 200.2 (non ES) amp. They said there’s a faint buzz or hum coming from the speaker(s) and was caused by the SA 200.2 amp. 
Did you ever experience with your SA 200.2 ES amp? 

@mitch2 

Thank you for sharing your experiences. Much appreciated. So these newer SA 200.2 & 500.1 amps were designed by Dennis Had then? I’m still using the Cary CD 306 SACD player (latest version) in my setup. This is an older player and I believed this player was designed by Dennis Had. It’s a great sounding player very musical IMO.
So these newer SA 200.2 & 500.1 amps were designed by Dennis Had then?
Not sure, but I don't think so.  The older CAD 500MBs and CAD 200 were designed by Dennis Had but I believe the newer SA 200.2 & 500.1 amps may have come out after he retired.  The design may have been based off of the original but IME with the 500 wpc monos, the older 500MB amplifier displayed more of the body and warmth that people sometimes associate with tubed equipment. 
Never experienced any hum or buzz coming from speakers.  I also just checked and pressed my ears against the drivers.  Dead quiet.
@yowser 

Perhaps Cary has fixed the issue with the ES model.
@yowser

Do you normally leave the SA 200.2 ES amp on standby when not in use? Or do you normally turn off the main power switch on the back of the amplifier completely when the amp is not in use? Or simply just turn off the power button on the front panel would be good enough when the amp is not in use?

The reason I ask is because my current Classe Sigma Amp2 power amp doesn’t have a main power switch on the back of the amplifier, so the amp is always on standby when not in use by just turning off the power button on the front panel of my Classe Sigma Amp2.
Thank you again
Actually, I had forgotten there was a power switch in the rear of the amp! So, yes, I leave it on 24/7. It’s also kind of hard to access it on my rack.

Following is from the manual:

Press front panel power button to turn on and off. Button will blink while powering up. When button stops blinking, unit is ready to operate.

• Protection against short circuits, device failures, miswiring, and internal faults.
• Thermal as well as DC offset protection
• Stable with mismatched, reactive or unusual loads
• Soft start circuit prevents “Brown outs” when amplifier is turned on

Also, if you haven't already, the white paper is an interesting read on Cary's design philosophy of the ES series.

@dilatante     I used the SA200.2 with a Rogue Audio tube preamp.  my sources are all excellent.  
My findings of a dynamic, forward sound with unrefined top end come after using a Rogue Cronus Magnum II integrated.  The  Cronus mag sounded better overall.  
My next stop was a Rogue Audio Stereo 100 power amp which sounded just as powerful as the SA 200.2 but less forward and definitely more refined.  I cannot comment on the new model.  
However when a solid state amp is said to sound like a tube amp, it depends greatly on what is meant by tube amp sound.  
Many if not most modern tube amps sound neutral and slightly forward to bring out the midrange bloom.   
Long gone are the days of exaggerated midbass and radically rolled off treble. 

@yowser

I received the Cary SA 200.2 ES amp couple days ago. I noticed there’s a slight faint buzzing/humming sound coming from the right speaker (right channel) only when I put my ears really really close to the right speaker but not audible at all from a listening position. The left speaker (left channel) is dead quiet. But as the amp warms up after the amp was put to use for several hours of playing music non-stop the buzzing from the right speaker became louder and became really loud and was distracting from listening to music. So I turned the amp off for couple minutes and turned it back on and the buzzing became somewhat faint again, but an hour or two later it became really loud again. Again it’s only on the right channel (right speaker).
Mine is the SA 200.2 ES (newer version), not the original SA 200.2 one.

The amp is plugged into my Shunyata Research PS 8 AC power line distributor with the Venom Defender plugged into the PS 8. Did you have your SA 200.2 ES plugged directly into the wall? I’ve been working with Cary and they told me to plug the amp directly into the wall and see if the buzzing goes away. I will have to do that later and see what happens. For few years I’ve had my Classe Sigma amp plugged into my Shunyata Research PS 8 power line distributor with the Venom Defender and never had buzzing/humming sound from a speaker.

I gave the serial # of the amp to Cary and they told me that my amp was manufactured in 2018. FYI, I bought it used here on Audiogon. So I don’t think it’s dried caps since the amp is only less than 3 years old. But otherwise the amp sounds great very musical and better than my Classe Sigma Amp2 class D amp.

What do you guys think? Thanks in advance.

@dilatante 

Interesting!  I've had mine on for a couple hours and just read your post and checked for buzzing.  I do hear a faint buzzing in both left and right channels.  My equipment is plugged into a Surgex power conditioner/surge protector.  I also just tried plugging the amp directly into the wall and no difference, still faint buzzing.  I responded earlier to your inquiry about buzzing and it was totally silent at the time, which was in the early AM.  I'll check again in the morning and see if there's a difference.  With my ear two feet away, I don't hear anything.

@yowser

Did the buzzing eventually become louder with yours? Try running your amp for several hours like some 6 or 7 hours of playing music non-stop and see if the buzzing gets louder and becomes really loud to the point where it’s audible from a listening position (8 to 10 feet away from speaker) and was distracting from listening to music. That’s what happened to mine couple days ago but only on the right speaker (right channel). The left speaker remains dead quiet. It’s bizarre. It started out as faint buzzing on the right speaker (very faint) almost inaudible unless if I put my ears right up against the speaker. I literally had to get super close to the speaker (right speaker) in order to hear the buzzing.
I’m going to send it in to Cary Audio so that they can take a look at the issue and will hopefully address it.

I never had buzzing issue with my Classe Sigma class D amp. I’ve had this amp for almost 5 years now and not a single issue. I’m keeping this amp just in case if the Cary SA 200,2 ES amp keeps getting me buzzing issue.
But I like the SA 200.2 ES better, more musical than my Classe Sigma class D amp. I would love to upgrade to the new Classe Delta Stereo power amp (class A/AB amp) but it is $14k to $15k. it’s way out of my price range and will be overkill for my speakers. I’ve heard the Classe Delta Mono monoblock amps (class A/AB amp) before and they are stunning but cost $25k/pair.

I had the prior non-SE version SA-200.2 and it was pretty quiet, did not hum. Nice amp. I reluctantly sold mine to go back to mono tube amps.  

Before you ship it out, make sure to plug it in to a comletely different wall plug, on a different circuit (if you can), use a different (back to stock) power cord, and different interconnects (or swap R to L), different speaker cables/connectors if you have them. Some basic troubleshooting might be worth giving a try before you send it out. Best of Luck.   

 

@dilatante 

I turned on my amp yesterday morning and let it run about 10 hours with no music playing, then played music during a normal session of about 2 hours.  During the day (no music playing) there was a faint buzz that would sometimes change to a faint hum -- audible from up to 2 feet to less than 6 inches with the grills off (it fluctuated).  It was never audible beyond 2 feet during the entire 12 hours, and usually audible only within 1 foot .  So no, it never increased during under these conditions. IIRC about 20 years ago I had a Parasound amp that was humming and one side of the amp was noticeably warmer than the other.  Parasound repaired it under warranty but I don't recall what was repaired.

try using balanced connections if you can

@avanti1960 

I always use XLR balanced analog interconnects throughout.

@yowser 

was the buzzing/humming in both channels (both speakers) or just one channel? 

 

@yowser

If the buzzing/humming are in both speakers then you might have a ground loop issues. In my case it’s only in one channel (right speaker) and that says something. I will experiment more by disconnecting the XLR interconnects from my Classe preamp to the Cary power amp and see if the buzzing/humming goes away. If it goes away it means that it isn’t the power amp, it’s somewhere up the chain. But I never had any buzzing/humming issue with my Classe Sigma Amp2 class D power amp. Or perhaps class D amp isn’t as sensitive to noise as class AB amp? Who knows?

@dilatante 

Right now it's a very faint hum from both speakers, I really have to get my ear close to the speaker cone to hear it.  I am using XLR interconnects.  I did a search on ground loops and tried a few technics such as disconnecting the interconnects from components including the amp and using a cheater plug at the amp power cord and power conditioner to the wall outlet, but no change.  I never previously felt that I had a problem as the hum/buzz is very faint and I never noticed it until you asked me to check for it.  It seems to me that it's not unusual to hear a faint hum from a 200 watt amplifier, but I may be wrong.  IIRC my previous amps had at least a faint hum but definitely inaudible at my listening position which is only about 8 ft now..

Switch the cables at the amplifier only by connecting the left channel cable endpoint to the right channel amplifier input and the right channel cable endpoint to the left channel input.  If the problem is with the amplifier, then the noise should remain in the same channel. If the  noise changes to the other channel then you have  an issue with an upstream component, cable, or ground situation.

@mitch2  

I did. It is the power amp.

@yowser  

While the left channel is quiet but it has its own different issues. On occasion the sound in the left channel is cutting out and at times the output in the left channel is significantly lower than the right channel. It only happens every once in a while and randomly. 

 

This amp needs to be repaired and serviced. I have shipped it out to Cary Audio for repair / service. 

@dilatante do you have a reputable "local tech" who can go through the amp and identify the noise or possible transformer hum? Might be less shipping-damage risk and less cost vs shipping it back to Cary if you plan to fix it. I remember my SA200.2 was a beast at 87lbs. Hope you can get it resolved. Its a neat amp. Best of luck.  

@decooney

It isn’t a transformer hum. There’s a slight faint buzzing coming from right speaker and only audible when I put my ears really close to the speaker but would progressively become louder after several hours of use and became really loud and audible from listening position like 8 to 10 feet away from the right speaker. And when I hooked my Classe Sigma class D power amp back and the buzzing went away completely. So gotta be the Cary SA 200.2 ES power amp, not my preamp, not my speaker and not my CD/SACD player.

While the left speaker is dead quiet but it has a completely different issues of its own. Occasionally the sound in the left speaker was cutting out or sometimes in and out and all of the sudden the sound would disappear completely from the left speaker. It happened randomly and intermittently and only happened every once in a while. Doesn’t always happen. Very bizarre.

I recently purchased this amp used here on Audiogon. When I gave the serial # to Cary Audio they told me this amp was manufactured in late 2018 so only couple years old. This is the newest latest SA 200.2 ES version, not the original SA 200.2 version. And this amp weighs in at 65 lbs, not 87 lbs.

@dilatante do you have a different pair of working speakers and different speaker cables you can test with this amp?