Cary Audio Silver Oak III

Category: Speakers

Cary Audio Silver Oak III
I did something I never thought I would - buy speakers unheard. I have a friend in the industry that gave me an amazing deal on Cary HT equipment (Cinema 6 prepro, Cinema 5 amp and DVD 6). The deal was so good I bought them unheard, and it worked out so well, I was receptive when he told me about the new Cary Silver Oak III's.

I live in a smaller city that doesn't have many speakers to audition, and not liking the ones around, I figured with a big discount, faith in Cary Audio etc., I'd give it a shot.

The problem with buying a speaker blind, no matter the deal, is that you never know how good they'll sound after break-in, which makes for considerable angst during the process.

Cary had actually burnt them in over 5 days before I received them, so I figured they'd be about ready to go when I got my hands on them. HA! The first thing I noticed was an amazingly eager effortless sound, but with nasally mids, and a boxy hollow sound.

OK, they were designed to be sand filled, so I filled them up with sand the following day. The boxyness was nearly gone, though there were traces remaining of hollowness that I figured more burning in would solve. Also the nasalness of the midrange disappeared after a few days, and everything sounded more right.

I let them burn in another couple weeks, and more bass came in, the timbral accuracy was there, and everything improved considerably. BUT, a big problem was that I noticed lower volume passages just seemed to timbrally collapse as the sound did in general at lower volumes. So interior melodies or harmonies got very recessed, and only the loudest instruments or passages sounded timbrally right.

For a $4.5K (MSRP) speaker, this just would work. As a last ditch effort, I decided to see if I could force any more sand in the thing. When I removed the terminals to try to put more sand in, I noticed the sand had settled and there was room for another 5 pounds or so. I also put the spikes in the stands as a best effort before I tossed them out the window.

WOW, what a difference. The speakers now sounded rock solid, finally playing just fine at lower levels and not timbrally compressing the inner details any longer. Playing around with speaker placement found the optimum placement for my room was about 10' apart with about a 30 degree toe in. Now these baby's imaged like crazy and just seemed to do everything right. Given their excellent off-axis performance, I was surprised that relatively minor adjustments made such a huge difference.

Sound Quality
After break-in, it became harder to give an overall picture of the sound since I think they're very neutral speakers. They're full range speakers that effortlessly fill my large 20X40 room - even though they're not huge speakers (around 4 feet tall).

The have uncanny openness, a sweet sounding top end that nonetheless doesn't seem rolled off or lacking in assertiveness when its called for. While the midrange isn't as prominent as the B&W 804's they're replacing, the whole speaker sounds more right with no particular emphasis in the top mids or bottom.

And bottom end is substantially full but amazingly well balanced without either bloat or leanness. Timbrally overall, a fantastic performer with instruments sounding exactly as they should sound. Piano and violin are the two instruments I like to test equipment with. Getting the full richness, percussion, transients, overtones etc reproduced from a grand piano is a difficult thing, and the Cary's make it sound like you're listening to a live piano.

Violins I like to test for sibilance or roll-off with the tweeters. Too much zing (like from the B&W's) can be painful, and too much roll-off affects the realism of the instrument. The Silver Oaks passed the violin test with flying colors. Excellent realism and transients with no zing whatsoever.

My Mother came over today. She was/is a child prodigy, lifelong musician with perfect pitch who has a large network of wealthy friends. Over a glass of wine, we listened to "The Magic Flute". She was absolutely in awe. She commented that she'd never heard ANY home audio system ever that sounded as good as mine. In my more limited circles, I'd also have to agree.

After watching a couple of movies she just wouldn't let me stop during the credits either time as she was soaking up the beautiful soundtracks.

Some Interesting/Unusual Features:
For Home Theater:

The Silver Oak line was made with 3rd order crossover to maximize the sound off axis. This is an excellent feature for Home Theater, since usually only one person fits in the sweet spot at a time. These speakers sound great just about anywhere in the room. Standing up, sitting down, over to the left, etc. Everyone in the room gets the full impact.

I was worried that this might compromise the sound for stereo listening, affecting soundstaging, imaging, etc., but those are some of the standout strengths of these speakers.

For low wattage tube lovers:

I'm using my Cary 5 channel 200WPC amp on these so I can't personally verify this. But these speakers are rated from 10 watts (6 ohm). And Cary demoed these speakers to rave reviews at CES 2004 using nothing more than a 15 WPC amp. For those into low wattage amps, forget about needing horns, these speakers work incredibly well (according to reports from CES).

It makes me want to invest in some low wattage tubes just to see how much better 2 channel audio could possibly be.

How good a value are they?
This I can't answer since I haven't auditioned many speakers in this price range. For the price I paid, I certainly couldn't expect to do better. But that doesn't answer the question.

Given the arduous break-in process, and the fact that though they sound great all around, they don't emphasize one particular spectrum, it might be a tougher sale at its price point. People auditioning them in showrooms might be more impressed with the standout midrange, treble, bass, etc. from other speakers in its class. But once its home, the Cary's rightness across the spectrum will ultimately make it more enjoyable on a greater variety of music and recordings types IMO.

By the way, I'm the one with an ad on Audiogon for these speakers. Now that I've gotten through the break-in and setup issues, there's no way I'm selling. I'm about to cancel the ad.

I wish I could tell you they slay anything at twice the price, but I just don't know, not having auditioned anything in those price ranges.

What I can tell you is that if you are looking for speakers that give audiophile sound in stereo but are excellent for Home Theater with large seating, or if you're looking for a super efficient no compromise speaker for low wattage tube gear, you should go out of your way to audition these. (Just make sure the dealer has packed them with sand and had a lengthy break-in).
Now that the speakers have had even more time to burn in, I can say that they greatly benefitted from burn in even over the first 200 hours.

The midrange that was always a tad understated is now a strong point, and the bass has continued to improve along with the overall warmth of the speakers.

I must say I've never heard speakers with this much bass output that never became tubby or ill-defined. And now I'm even really enjoying rock, industrial, trance, etc on these.
Even though I've always owned better gear than most people, I've never heard so many compliments on my sound system before. I've had several people comment that they've never heard a better audio system in anyone's home before. And that includes a house guest that owns a film restoration business who's been in many a celebrity's home theater.

I'm now thrilled with the purchase, but I must say that the burn in process was a bit scary.
Nice review. I heard these speakers at CES last year and liked them very much.