How does Berning ZH270 compare to Cary Cad211 AE ?

My system consists of Merlin VSM-MX, Cary cad 211 AE, Velodyne DD12, Aesthetix Calypso, Rega P9 with Konrapunkt C, ASR Riaa and all Valhalla cabling. I’m also experimenting with some DAC/PC stuff.

I wonder if the Berning is up to or par with Cad211AE. I’m very sensitive to hum and noise. Is the ZH270 noisier?

I have just ordered a ZH270 for test from Denmark, this because of no imports to Norway.
I can safely say the Berning is more than up to par with any of the Cary products I've listened to. While I haven't heard this particular amp there is a general sound to Cary that is enamouring, full, rich, voluptous, large stage. I always found their amps a bit lacking in extension at the frequency extremes. Certainly a taste issue.

The Berning is a much different animal. It doesn't have that palpable midrange to the extent that SET amps do but to my ears seems more natural, a taste issue more than anything else. Where it excels is in top to bottom performance. Lovely extended highs and deep controlled bass with an effortlessness in complex musical passages that never unravels.

If your question is pertaining to noise and nothing else, please disregard the above, I wouldn't want to give an opinion that is unsolicited! :) Seriously think of it from this perspective, the Berning has no power transformer, it uses an advanced switching power supply and it also has no output transformer. The sum total is about the quietest tube amp I've encountered. The only noise is the rush of the power tubes when you put your ear next to the speaker. Hope this helps but I expect anything I say will not measure up to the suprise in store for you on first listen.

One more thing, I would be a bit suspect in your choice of cabling with the Merlins, this would be more of an issue than either of the amps. I have tried this cable with my VSM-M and the high frequencies were too overemphasised bordering on etchy. This combo threw the sound out of balance. It could be easy to blame the amp for this. The Berning might highlight this more than the Cary would.
Thanks a lot for the nice information. Witch cabling do you recommend then?
I agree with Tubegroover, the Berning ZH270 should be more than a match for the Cary Cad211, especially if you are sensitive to noise and hum. The Berning does not have a power transformer or a heavy output transformer (the amp weighs less than 5 kilograms!) so there is absolutely no transformer buzz at all. Furthermore, the tubes in the Berning -- 2 pairs of 12AT7/ECC81 tubes for voltage gain, 1 pair 12AV7/5965 tubes for driver tubes, and a quad of 6JN6 sweep pentodes (wired as triodes) for output are heated with radio frequency AC. The two voltage gain stages and the driver stages are single-ended, without interstage coupling capacitors. In fact, there is only one input capacitor in the entire signal path, otherwise the amplifier would faithfully amplify DC. The Berning ZH270 is the quietest tube amplifier I have owned and the most transparent amplifier I have owned period.

The Berning ZH270 also has three feedback settings -- normal(a low 12 dB), medium (a lower 7 dB), and low (3dB); which you prefer will be a matter of taste and the impedence of your speakers. Without the conventional output transformer in the way, the first thing you will notice about the Berning ZH270 is the bass extension and the high frequency extension, relative to the Cary. The Berning also has two sets of inputs as well as internal volume control -- I run my DAC straight into one set of inputs and bypass my preamp altogether. There is no preamp, like no preamp, I know ...

As for the palpable mid range of SET amps, you can achieve that sound in the Berning with a judicious choice of input tubes. If you like the rich mid range of single ended amps, then using richer sounding NOS input tubes such as the mid 1960s (or earlier) Mullard Blackburn ECC81 or the 1950s RCA black wing plate 12AT7 at the lower feedback settings will give you this style of sound, plus keep the bass and high frequency extension of the Berning.


One strong tube recommendation I would offer would be to purchase a quad of the matched, cryo-treated output tubes from Allan Bhagan ( as well as getting the internal silver wire and capacitor upgrades from Allan too. At least with the output tubes, you can listen to the amp while you wait for the tubes to arrive.

If you prefer an extremely transparent, live sound then the Berning ZH270 works very well with any of the top 12AT7/ECC81 types known for their transparency -- e.g. Siemens, Telefunken, etc. -- exactly which one is a matter of taste. The Berning is so transparent that you can easily hear the (not always subtle) differences between the different highly regarded vintage 12AT7 tubes available from top NOS tube dealers such as Tubemonger (here on Audiogon) or Andy Bowman at Vintage Tube Services. The Berning ZH270 autobiases all of the tubes and tube sections separately using servo cicuits to keep the DC plate current constant. This means that the Berning ZH270 will find the correct negative grid voltage bias for each dual triode section independently so that they stay in their correct operating points over their entire lives. This feature alone makes the Berning ZH270 one of the most user-friendly tube amps in existence.
I concur. Before ZH270, I was using Conrad Johnson and loved the magical midrange. BUT, ZH270 does so much better from top to bottom. Sure, I may miss the magical mid, but I can't go back. ZH270 is very natural/ neutral. CJ tended to get hum, but no hum or buzz from ZH270. Very well designed and robust.
After all it all comes down to your taste, but IMO if you are seeking the true sound of what is recorded (and pressed), then ZH270 may be the way to go.
I’m very pleased with the important information you have submitted me with. I’m looking forward to receive the Berning amplifier and maybe mach up with new cables. Thanks again… I have heard that the new units are supplied with better cabling and capacitor. Do you know anything about this?
Merlin told me the following:

The Berning like a very fine digital photo. Joule Electra amps are like a walk in a beautiful forest that you just don't want to leave. Me, personally, I like the EAR 890 sitting my listening room right now.

I concur with the accessments of the 811. It is a rather soft and seductive amp with a bit of a soft top and bottom end. However, the VSM-MX is a rather lean and transparent speaker and Merlin told me (it wasn't Bobbie but was another guy there who said this was "Our opinion") they respect and like the Berning but love the Joule. However, the cheapest Joule stereo is $10,000.00 to $12,000.00.

I seem to be rambling a little but you may want to consider an amp that would "meaty up" those speakers a bit.
I like the analogy. It's got me wondering how a Berning would sound with a Joule LA-100 MkIII preamp, or whether I should save up for the Joule amps. They come around used around $6k or so.
There are well respected members who love their MMs or MXs with the ZH-270 and others the Joules. IMO, having had both amps in my house at the same time, the assessment that Tomryan quoted from (probably) Bobby's partner is right on the money. I found the Berning a tad too lean and the Joule brought greater emotional impact. I would think that a lean cable would not be a good match to the Berning.
How does your 890 compare with your Air Tight? Looking for specifics here please! TIA
I have owned both amps, but, not the merlins. Both have their own merits. I have, in fact owned over 35 amps in the past few years(2.5)My suggestion is neither, as my Dodd 120 bettered each, and most others in my most important catagory. Musical. Extended. Detailed. Musical. If you have a chance to get these, jum[ on it. They are very most of us audiophools would never consider them. I just received my Lamm ML2's today, so hopefully, they will have some real compitition. It's funy, my tube compliment for the dodd's cost me about the same as the amps, go figure.
Are Cardas Golden Ref and Audience Au24 lean cables?

The 2 cables you list are 2 I would highly recommend. I have owned the Au24 speaker cables and have a pair of GR ic's on hand. I am currently using all Stereovox, 600 sei ic's and Stereovox Studio speaker cables. The Studio's are all copper the 600 sei's use silver but have none of the characteristic artifacts that I have heard with other silver cables and the VSM. The highs are exquisite and highlight what the Merlin's are capable of doing.

The Joule is a gem of an amp but the Berning is as well. Having spent a good deal of time with both my assessment is I would love to have both! They do different things. The thing to remember about the Berning is that the term "lean" can be misleading. There are several things that can be done as Musicpre notes including swapping different tubes, wire and cap upgrades. I would never call the Berning lean but when compared to the Joule which is really luscious it might appear that way. Also Joule is quite a step above the Cary products since you get that palpable midrange along with great high frequency extension and air, really notable on massed voices. It is one seductive amp. The downside is that it runs very warm as do all OTL's.
Can anyone tell me if the Joule VAMP integrated has the same sound as the seperates described here . I have been checking into this int. and the Berning 270 . I would like to know how these two integrateds compare to each other .
My apologies to you Nr9 !
Two quick comments:
Saki70 - I believe Joule is no longer supporting the VAMP. I don't know this for a fact but I would contact Joule before buying one.
Nr9 - I find the Audience AU24 cables to be slightly lean. I like it better than Valhalla but if you are looking for a warm cable I'd look elsewhere.
I have not heard the Berning or this particular Cary amp but I find most Cary products too warm and euphonic for my tastes. I don't know how well they work with Merlins but the Atma-Sphere amps are very, very good.
The Air Tight and EAR are two very different designs, the first being SET 300B and the second P/P EL34. One with 8wts and the other 70. I had to sell the Air Tight because it wouldn't properly drive my Harbeth C7-ES2s. They like and need some power.

The Air Tight was a superb SET and I wish I'd found speakers that were easy to drive and would work in my small room. However, I have to say that I have not for one minute missed the SET "sound" as the EAR is also superb and I get beautiful music making from it. It's also a little quieter than the Air Tight and also has dual mono gain control. That is a great feature on the Air Tight. If the Harbeth was 90db, 8 ohms flat, and had a simple and easy crossover, I'd have not gone looking for a new amp and would have kept the Air Tight. I don't miss it one bit though - the EAR is that good. I bought Stereophile reviewer Art Dudley's unit as he bought the sample he reviewed. He had to buy $20,000.00 Lamms to beat it.

I also found the Audience a bit lean in my system and with a slight upper end hash. I use Cardas Gold Refs for ICs and TG Audio speaker cables.
I have also heard that Joule is no longer supporting the Vamp. They discontinued selling the Vamp due to the high cost of production and I have to imagine parts and such are increasingly harder to come by. I was interested myself in a Vamp, but not the integrated. Based on the fact that it is a hybrid model using the same signal path as the LA-100 MkIII, the Vamp integrated should provide a slightly warmer sound, but with the addition of solid state power. My guess is that it would fall somewhere in between the Berning and Cary, probably closer to the Berning.
>> 03-09-06: Khokugo
>> ....
>> IMO if you are seeking the true sound of what is
>> recorded (and pressed), then ZH270 may be the way to go.
IMHO, from my experience with the ZH270, I find the same: good sound but very little or no music.
I can see why Bobby Palkovich likes the ZH270 - it allows him to "debug" his Merlin speakers (much like a studio monitor allows a mixing & mastering engineer to "debug his/her CD production).

>> 03-10-06: Greenman
>> I have not heard the Berning or this particular Cary
>> amp but I find most Cary products too warm and euphonic
>> for my tastes.
In general, that is my experience w/ Cary as well. However, of the few products that I have heard in their factory listening room + at friends places, if you can, do listen to the 805C Anniversary Edition. It is superb. It does not have the palpable midrange of their 300SEI amp but it is very close & far more balanced over the entire audio spectrum.
My friend has a pair of Cary Sixpac monos driving his Merlin VSM-MX speakers. This combination is absolutely divine. There seems to be a balance - the palpable EL34 midrange & high freq combined w/ the lean(er) Merlin VSM-MX speakers. Really fantastic music. It beat the ZH270-VSM-MX combination by many, many miles.

>> 03-10-06: 711smilin
>> ......
>> My suggestion is neither, as my Dodd 120 bettered each,
>> and most others in my most important catagory. Musical.
>> Extended. Detailed. Musical.
Good to read this 711smilin! It appears that you have been listening w/ your ears! Your words above are quite diff from what you had written in that other ZH270 thread back in Nov 2005.

>> and Merlin told me (it wasn't Bobbie but was another
>> guy there who said this was "Our opinion") they respect
>> and like the Berning but love the Joule.
The Berning comment is consistent w/ what I heard myself.
Back to answering Nr9's questions ...

"I have heard that the new units are supplied with better cabling and capacitor. Do you know anything about this?"

As far as recent model Berning ZH270 amplifiers being supplied with the upgraded silver wire and upgraded capacitors, I believe that is a premium option that needs to be requested when ordering the amplifier. My understanding is that most buyers have lately requested these options when ordering, based on the feedback here on Audiogon. I purchased mine used here on Audiogon with the silver wire and capacitor upgrades already installed plus the cryo-treated 6JN6 output tubes. I suggest contacting Allan Bhagan for a more definitive answer.

"I’m looking forward to receive the Berning amplifier and maybe mach up with new cables."

As for cabling choices with the Berning ZH270, I would recommend trying what you already have and experiment with the different feedback settings first followed by input tube rolling.

The primary voltage gain stage 12AT7 tubes (the pair closest to the BACK of the amplifier) are where you can most readily tailor the sound to suit your tastes. If your system leans toward the bright/lean side, then a warmer/richer sounding pair of 12AT7 tubes in the primary and/or secondary gain stages would be a good choice.

In my experience, input tube selection in the Berning ZH270 can be as dramatic as selecting cables, perhaps more so once the cables hit a certain level of quality (defined by high conductivity, plausible geometry, low dielectric, low capacitance, and SHORT LENGTH). Since the ZH270, like other good OTL designs, has such a clean and simple signal path -- the lack of interstage capacitors helps here -- and optimally biases the tubes/tube sections, different tube manufacturers tubes sound very different.

The 12AT7/ECC81 tube type was originally designed as a Radio Frequency amplifier. (Ever wonder why many of the top NOS supplies come from ex-NATO stock? They were used in military radars right through the end of the Cold War). 12AT7/ECC81 tubes can perform well in the audio frequency range, and were probably adapted slightly to do so during the post WWII high-fi boom, but all of the vintage manufacturers' designs have noticeable sonic profiles (even different designs from the same manufacturer). The "lush, rich, musical, walk in the forest, etc." sound is quite achievable with the Berning ZH270 by using the lower negative feedback settings in combination with input 12AT7/ECC81 tubes that have those same qualities (e.g. early Mullards, early RCAs, early Sylvania, etc. -- all of which are still available NOS, see my previous post in this thread for sources).

Selecting driver stage tubes (the pair closest to the FRONT of the amplifier) in the Berning ZH270 is also important -- especially to avoid doing any harm. Electrical properties do matter. The 12AV7 and 5965 types were specified for a reason: they work well and can supply current to the driver tubes at peak signal voltages approaching 600 Volts at full power. Many of the dicussions on the web regarding "better sounding" premium alternatives to the humble 12AV7 and 5965 types (e.g. the 7062/E180CC and 6829) are based on listening to these different tubes in preamps at much lower DC plate voltages and peak signal voltages.
>> 03-10-06: 711smilin
>> ......
>> My suggestion is neither, as my Dodd 120 bettered each,
>> and most others in my most important catagory. Musical.
>> Extended. Detailed. Musical.
Good to read this 711smilin! It appears that you have been listening w/ your ears! Your words above are quite diff from what you had written in that other ZH270 thread back in Nov 2005.

We each learn more every day, I try to tell it, how I hear it. I gave a valid suggestion of what I found to be true, for me. If you want more details comparing the ZH270 VS CAD 211, email me.

Good luck in your journey
Sorry to hijack this so shamelessly Nr9,but what made you decide to use the sub with your Merlins?I ask this as a Merlin VSM-MM owner who's curious.Thanks for your patience,Bob
Thanks for the heads-up on the Dodd 120s. Their website is pretty thin though... any reviews out there online?? Are the 120s class A? Low feedback?

Have you tried their pre-amp?

I'll email the designer also, but am hoping for more impressions from you. TIA!
The Merlin doesn’t have much to give from 32hz and down. It’s easy to implement the Velodyne DD12 with the speaker, because of all the possibilities with this sub.

In my room I have a peek round 50Hz and a dip around 100Hz. I know this is because of a room resonance problem. The Velodyne’s FQ seep shows me this, and it is easy to hear it to.

From the Velodyne’s FQ sweep I can actually graphically see what’s going on. I can se the Merlin’s low FQ cut off. It’s also easily to hear that the sub put some extra weight down there. The FQ is now flat from 100Hz to 15Hz.This is fun, believe me. That’s why! (Sorry my bad English.)
Your English is fine sir.Thats a good explanation,one I can easily understand.Thanks alot for your time and energy,Bob
What might lend greater insight to this discussion is musical preferences. For midrangy acoustical, female vocal music which seems to be the darling of audiophiles and most of the show demos I've been to, SET's and low powered tube amps would be a great choice. But what if one is attempting to recreate large scale vocal, orchestral and piano music with its fast dynamic swings? Isn't this a main criteria of "musicality"?

I've heard what the Berning is capable of at Montreal last year driving Verity Parsifals and I must say as far as musical realism and natural dynamics is concerned, it was quite remarkable. Nothing at the show touched it to my ears. The Verity folks had 2 other rooms with their Ovation and Sarastro models and were stunned as well. I think it had a LOT to do with everything in that system, least being Allan Bhagan's remarkable protype Berning amp and pre-amp. To my ears I haven't heard better and only a few as memorable. The rest of the system consisted of Stillpoint stands, cones and all Stereovox cabling and the Audio Aero Capitol Mk2

The range of music was full orchestral to organ recordings to vocals which displayed the type of dynamic shadings one might hear in a live performance. Tonality and timbre reproduction were 2nd to none. There was no gravy, all music sounded as you would expect a performance would without anything additive. But these are my preferences to give guidance to where I'm coming from. SET's and low powered tube amps are great for certain types of music, or do we eventually end up listening to the type of music that accomodates the addictive sound we hear with these amps?

The Berning is indeed like a microscope but it seems a bit over the top to say it isn't musical if musical is to mean the same as musical realism. My guess is that there are probably other issues with the system, at least that is my experience. I have owned the amp for 4 years and have compared it head to head with many amps out with the Joule being the only real temptation with Merlin speakers. There are more than a few that could own any amp they want and own the Berning out of choice not pricepoint.

This hobby is for sure a matter of taste.
Regarding cable match:
I have tested AU24 and Cardas Golden Ref. in my system. I think they are "greysounding" compared to Valhalla. Valhalla is far more "tactile", speedy and resolving. I wonder why so many using the two first mentioned cables still after testing Valhalla. I will describe Valhalla as a neutral cable, but very resolving. They don’t hide anything.

I will definitely not let a cable change cause loss of detail richness and openness, but I wish that the sound could be little more “forgiving” all over. I would like to keep all the existing positive sides with some “forgiveness” touch. May this be difficult to obtain?

Maybe ZH270 together with MX will change my cable opinion. Any comments?

I can’t either understand why so many describe my Cary 211 AE amp as “to organic” and not extreme enough in the top and bottom ends. The fact is that the 211 AE drawing a big sound stage, and is very open and resolving and not closed in any term. The bass is tight and it is the best I have had so far. I have had many tube amps, and I will not describe the 211AE as too “organic”. I will rather use “lucid” as the description.

You guys on Audiogon have been very helpful and understanding. Thanks again… :-)

You're exactly right. When I had a large listening room (16 years ago) I used larger speakers being bi-amped with tubes an d could get big dynamic swings. But since being in my small room (11 x 13.5 x 8) I have taken to a different type of listening. I still play symphonies and big band jazz (and rock) but just not anywhere as loud as it tends to really overload the room. I've learned to appreciated medium level reproduction of "big pieces".

By the way, I don't listen to many female vocals. You know, this reminds me of something I read in Automobile magazine about 10 or more years ago. The editor said that a small sports car (like the Mazda Miata) driven at its limits can be as much fun as a larger sports sedan like the BMW 5 series. "It's not how fast the car goes, it's how it goes fast." Besides small good handling cars feel like they're going faster. Just check out the Mazda RX8.
"Maybe ZH270 together with MX will change my cable opinion. Any comments?"

My guess from my 6 years experience with the VSM is that the Berning will not offer more forgiveness which is what you are looking for Nr9. To the contrary I think it will reveal the imbalance of the silver cables with the VSM to a greater degree than the Cary. It is an extremely transparent amplifier. As stated in an above post, I have experimented with numerous silver cables and the problem is the upper frequencies become overemphasized and render a leaness to the presentation. The Merlins are, as well, so resolving that this can become a real issue, especially if you are very sensitive to it. The only silver cable in my experience, and its not pure silver, is the Stereovox which doesnt' do this. It offers body, transparency and control with high frequency extension and air without any undo emphasis. I really love the organic wholeness and balance that this cable presents. I have listened to other silver cables which subjectively offer greater bass impact.

I agree, copper cables certainly don't offer the transparency of silver but many do work with Merlins better, at least to my ears. Silver cables I have tried include the following

Blue Marble - ics and speaker
Harmonic Tech Silway -ics
Nordost Vahalla - ics
Stealth Beta - ic's(these were definitely the most transparent of the bunch and conversely the most amusical with the VSM. They were unlistenable after 5 minutes. I had 3 pair on hand. Each added pair made the sound worse)
a few others over the years but the results were the same.

Before you do anything, you might want to listen first with the different feedback settings per Musicpre's suggestion but I am fairly certain you will come to the conclusion that Vahallas and Merlins most likely won't like each other and neither of the amps will have much say about it. I don't know anyone using this combo.

It the problem continues and you want to maintain the transparency of the Vahallas, I would STRONGLY suggest trying Stereovox, especially the 600 sei mk2's and you might want to try their reference speaker cable which I
haven't tried in my system, I'm afraid I'll like it too much and be compelled to buy. I am using the Studio which is a copper cable. The price has come down from the strastophere on these cables to more realistic levels. I wonder what my wife would say about that comment? ;^)

Good Luck and keep us posted on your results
Nice description with the cars, Tomryan.

Today I’m using Valhalla all over. I now understand that these cables will not make good synergy with ZH and MX because of these components high resolving nature. I can image how wrong this combination will go.

So, if you should choose a musical, open, airy and LISTENING FRIENDLY cable with enough weight, what was your first choice then?
I hear ya Tom. So where is that car for everyman? You gotta have at least 2.

Nr9 -you got my choice. As Allan Bhagan told me before listening the first time, it's like crack, it you don't plan on getting hooked don't try it. It worked out that way for me. So far as bass weight, that is more of an issue with speaker cables than ic's and I'm still with copper for now. I heard the Stereovox reference speaker cables once at Montreal last year and there was absolutely no issue with the bass in that system.

I think the issue isn't the highly resolving nature of the products in question as much as the Esotar tweeter in the implementation Bobby has it. I'm sure the Vahallas may work quite well with other higly resolving speakers just not Merlins.
Stereovox is not sold in Norway. How does Kimber cables compare? Is Audience Au24 or Cardas GC a better choice than Kimber?
Cardas GR is a much better choice w/this gear than Kimber. Kimber is more appropriate w/gear that is lacking in transparency. Cardas is much more relaxed, w/o losing details. Au24 is good too, but not quite as natural sounding IMHO. FWIW, I sold my au24 to move up to Cardas GR. Other Cardas models aren't recommended here. There are many comments on these cables w/Merlin & Berning in the archives. Cheers,
Nr9, very much interested in your thoughts of the Cary vs. the Berning. Let us know.
I will let you know. I will receive the ZH270 within 14 days. It’s easy to compare them, because I will have them side by side. I also know the Cary’s very very good. For the test I will use Stereovox SEI/ LSP with VSM-MX.
Just let be say it this way!

I have just received my Berning ZH270. It has now played for about 100 hours.

First I will thank David Berning for making this beautiful sounding amplifier for me. After reading the owner’s manual, I can only imagine how much development work this project has caused. I have deep respect for Mr. Bering’s intelligence.

This amplifier is exceptional.

I have been interested in music and high-end sound for about 30 years now. I have owned so many amplifiers, but no one of them has been like the Berning. The amplifier is totally open and organic in the midrange. The bottom end is extended and deep. The top is so sweet and without artificial edginess. There is no synthetic sound here! This amplifier reproducing and rendering music so good, that I just can’t fault it any way. I wonder if this amplifier could be my last amplifier.

The best cable I have tested so far is Stereovox LSP/SEI. These cables are really good and I believe they are one the best out there at any price.

At last I must say that my Berning ZH270, my Merlin VSM-MX and my Stereovox LSP/SEI cabling make my day!

Congratulations to David Berning, Bobby A. Palkovic and Chris Sommovigo with such excellent products.

Hope you read this Allan!
I will contact you to for further refining my audio system.

I just hope that a DAC in the same league will show up one day. I consider Audio Note DAC 3.1B

I've been watching this thread with interest, as a Berning owner myself.
I expected that this would be the result.

Enjoy your system!