Cary Audio SA-500.1 ES Monoblock Power Amplifier

Solid-State Powerhouse

Equipment report
Solid-state power amplifiers
Cary Audio SA-500.1 ES Monoblock Power Amplifier

The Hegel H30 power amp puts out 350 watts (8 ohms) in stereo mode and 1100 watts as a bridged monoblock, weighs about 100 pounds, and retails for $15,000; so, it is 50% more expensive and less powerful in its stereo format (the way I listened) than the Cary SA-500.1 ES. In actual use, the two models exhibited comparable power-related behavior. They sounded equally at ease during demanding bass-laden and dynamically-charged passages, and their ability to impart a solid foundation to the music and their respective “control” of the speakers were similar. The Cary projected a marginally wider soundstage, but the Hegel rendered soundstage and image depth more readily than the Cary. Resolution of fine details, timbre, and “air” around the musicians were also clearer through the Hegel H30. The Cary sounded a bit warmer tonally, but the Hegel did not sound not at all “clinically neutral.” I bring the comparison forward, even though the price difference is unfair, only to provide some context to the Cary’s performance, which was certainly respectable given its price. (A pity I did not have the 600Wpc Bryston 7B³ monoblock [$11,390] I reviewed in early 2017 on hand as a more similarly priced comparison piece.)

I also listened to the 500.1 compared to the Gamut M250i monoblock, mainly because the Gamut is part of my reference gear and I needed to get a gauge on the 500.1’s basic sound in my system as an evaluation starting point. At $26,000 per pair, the price difference for the M250i represents a patently unfair comparison to the $9990 Cary. Needless to say, the M250i had greater resolution of fine detail and texture, a larger and better focused soundstage, more continuousness depth layering, and greater musical expressiveness—all with almost tube-like solidity and liquidity. At 2.6x the money, the Gamut M250i is an example of what one can expect by moving up much higher in price.

In its own right, the Cary SA-500.1 ES always sounded musically rewarding. The 500.1 offers commanding output power and a compelling musical groove that makes a subtle nod to the magic of tubes. If you value an overall sound whose welcoming tonal balance, mid-hall perspective, power stability, resolution, and rhythmic drive all integrate into a consistent, musically valid whole, the 500.1 just might be your go-to amplifier.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Solid-state Class AB monoblock
Output power: 500Wpc into 8 ohms (1000Wpc into 4 ohms)
Inputs: One pair balanced (XLR), one pair unbalanced (RCA), one trigger port (3.3-24v)
Dimensions: 17.7" x 7.75" x 19.5"
Weight: 65 lbs. each
Price: $9990 per pair

6301 Chapel Hill Road
Raleigh, NC 27607
(919) 355-0010

Analog source: Basis Debut V turntable & Vector 4 tonearm, Benz-Micro LP-S MR cartridge
Digital sources: Hegel Mohican CDP, HP Envy 15t running JRiver MC-20, Hegel HD30 DAC
Phonostage: Moon by Simaudio 610LP, Constellation Andromeda
Linestages: Ayre K-1xe, Hegel P30, Constellation Pictor
Integrated amplifier: Hegel H360
Power amplifiers: Gamut M250i, Hegel H30, Constellation Taurus 
Speakers: YG Acoustics Sonja 2.2, Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature
Cables: Shunyata Sigma signal cables, Nordost Heimdall 2 USB, Shunyata Alpha SPDIF and AES/EBU, Shunyata Sigma NR power cords
A/C power: Two 20-amp dedicated lines, Shunyata SR-Z1 receptacles, Shunyata Triton v3, and Typhon power conditioners
Accessories: PrimeAcoustic Z-foam panels and DIY panels, Stillpoints Ultra SS