Lets get some comments on the true impartiality of hi fi mags in general, and the reality of high end audio. I recently auditioned the Cary integrated 300SEI, 12 W/channel. I have a Naim CD5 and Audio Physic Virgos. Certainly there was the tube "bloom", with some of the immediacy and palpability. But the bass tightness and articulation was not there. (My "reference" amp, an old 1970's Pioneer 50W/channel receiver, was clearly better in this respect) I comandeered my wife, who I would describe as a casual listener, to compare the Cary and the Pioneer. After playing two of her favorite songs on both amps, she said "this is a trick , you didnt change anything in the system". When I pressed her, and played another song, she said she could not hear any difference. The Pioneer is worth $50, the Cary $5000. Cary is rated highly by Stereophile, but they have two page ads spread all over the place ......
I haven't listened to any of the equipment in your list but it may just be a matter of mismatch with your speakers. The Cary 300SEI is a "lowly" 12w/ch amp and the specs on your 4 ohm Audio Physic Virgos calls for 15w to 150w of power. I'd say the Cary was below the low end power recommendation for your speakers. And we all know that low power tube amps need to be carefully matched with appropriate speakers, right?
Here's a personal experience I had with the popular Conrad-Johnson Premier 11a 70w/ch tube amp.... not a low power SE design. I listed to this CJ amp 6 years ago at a dealer in CA. It sounded constrained like it had a sheet over the sound and the bass was almost missing. After that experience I told myself these audiophile people are nuts for paying so much for tube junk.
6 years later I find myself auditioning another CJ Premier 11a in Colorado in a dealer showroom. They have it driving a rather large pair of Avalon speakers, don't recall the model. Same observation on my part, the CJ tube amp sounded lifeless, slow, sloppy bass, although it did have a bit of that midrange warmth. I couldn't believe anyone would buy this junk. But this time I suspected something was not right with the dealer setup. I took the CJ tube amp home and auditioned it in my system on a pair of smallish Thiel CS 1.5 speakers. It sounds awesome! Very open and transparent, smooth, lively, good bass, and no "sheet" over the sound.
My point... System component matching is extremely important with tube amps and don't trust the "expertise" of your dealer even if they seem very knowledgable. I now own a CJ Premier 11a and couldn't be happier!
Reviewers keep their jobs by being excited and turned-on by the things they are asked to review. Could you imagine a music reviewer, for example, who actually told the TRUTH about 80% of the rock and pop music that comes out these days? Needless to say, that reviewer would be out on his tail, with the editor saying, "Why should we hire someone as a music reviewer who doesn't like music?"
Same with hi-fi reviewers. They are paid not to review, but to enthuse and like if at ALL possible. Someone who is too critical, too blase about iterations of products or design ideas that yield too little value for the buck, or someone who only raves about the rare genuine "great" product, I would guess they are often seen as too downbeat, too negative-minded.
I never trust the reviewers, or rather, I take them with a grain of salt. But since when would any of us "trust" someone who has a money-trail, however indirect, leading back to the manufacturer and industry itself?
I must say, this is why a dealer can NEVER be replaced. Because a dealer (a good one) of course tries to give advice and such, but they also just simply let you listen, and that after all is worth more than any amount of dubious ink in industry rags.
Abecollins is right. "System synergy" if you will, is vital to any great sounding system. That being said, and even if reviewers are not going to be overly critical of equipment they are writing about, I highly doubt that anyone at Stereophile (or any other reputable magazine for that matter) would risk their reputation by stating that an amplifier is "the most involving and communicative amplifier I've heard" if it wasn't very competent gear. What it may come down to is a matter of taste. It can't be said enough, that audio equipment is like cooking, you need to find out what you like. You may not like Cajun, but love Italian, hence you may not like the "Cary sound," but do like what you get from your gear. As a final thought, look at the reviews on Audioreview.com--they are split, with little middle ground. At any rate, best of luck finding your favorite "flavor".
Matching is key as well as your taste.Though tube pre's/amps vary in type of sound and quality/value so is the case for solid state.But truisms can generally be established .SS gear gives more clear,less rolled off highs and tighter bass whereas the upperharmonic distortion we like present in tubes makes the mids more harmonically rich.But you may like one or the other more.Plus you speakers may work well with one or the other.Lastly just becauseyou like tubes more like I do does not mean that their isn't crappy tube gear being built.Lot's of factors based on taste and compatability.
Cary does'nt need to get in bed with anybody as their reputation speaks for itself. Sphile on the other hand is like any other magazine-willing to go to bed with any body, any time, any where-just don't call them whores as it tend to ruffle their feathers.
I owned the Virgo's for 3 years. I'll 2nd Abe Collins...likely a mismatch. I've driven the Virgo's with a small Classe 100W SS amp, a Bat 100W SS amp and a BAT VK60-60W tube amp. All w/ great success. The 4 ohm load w/ low power maybe was just to much...also the Virgo's have some midbass warmth...so that might have been to much of a good thing....
With your setup...those speakers can be very revealing and will show you everything upstream...I bet neither the Cary or the Pioneer have given you a glimpse at how good the Virgo's can be! Try something else...
Oh YES!! For there are a lot of 'High End' equipment designers / manufacturing people who can tell you that alot of the reviewers want the equipment 'donated' to the cause, another words ship us a sample and maybe we will review and if you don't want it back then the review is 'flavored' in to your liking. I will not mention names but some of the better lines never make the pages for they won't 'donate' and advertize as well. It is a hand in hand operation. Wakeup.
I once had a CARY SL-70 amp and it went very well with a pair of B&W 802s on the top.Its very important to hear for yourself and find a dealer that you can become friends with so that in that moment when you want to test out one of their products,they will let you take it home to see and hear for yourself.I have a dealer that I patronize and I have the privledge to try something out before I buy it.This particular 12 WPC Cary amp only works well with a very efficient speaker,like over 95 Db,If youre using something like 90 Db the amp will sound like crap,plain and simple,beacause there is not enough power to drive that load.I really dont feel that Cary is in bed with Stereophile because then all the other advertisers are there with Stereophile too,So i feel that they have the loot to advertise,and MONEY talks and B.S.walks.
I owned the Cary 300 SEI. I used it with the same speakers Stereophile used to audition this amp...the Infinity Preludes. I had the same opinion they did of it using those speakers. It was quite good. But those speakers have an amplified subwoofer built in, and were rated at 96db efficiency. After selling the Preludes, I never could find a decent match for the amp, but can tell you that the amp needs highly efficient speakers. I don't think the Virgos are efficient enough. The headphone amp in that integrated is also probably the best in the world, and I almost kept it just for that reason. If you really want to see what that amp can do, plug in a set of headphones. Low powered SETs are probably the most misunderstood creatures in high-end audio. Careful system matching is an absolute must to get great or even good results, and the most common mistake is overestimating the potency of 12 watts. Outrageous claims by manufacturers and dealers that sell these things and say they "will drive most dynamic speakers" don't help. I don't think Cary is one of those, however.
Whether the people at StereoShill are praising their heavy advertizers directly, I can't say for sure. But remember that they rely on the high-end industry being a healthy one. Therefore their advertizers have to do well or they go out of business.
Let's put it this way: I have Totem Forest 87db/w speakers with medium efficiency. The minimum recommended amplifier power is 50W. Currently I use Bryston 3b-st but for auditoning I had a chance to plug in Unison Research Power 35 (35 W/ch)... Not only I havn't found lack of dynamics and base but the other way arround: details on mids and mid highs especially, the music did not go from speakers anymore but from the instruments. I do not think that Pioneer will be able to stand in comparison. Virgos have bigger efficiency (90dB) than my Totems but the bass driver is slower than midrange and tweeter. To make the bass driver "rock" along with others you will be better of with larger power amplifier(Rogue M120, VTLMB125...). Cary does make a sence starting from 805 and up.