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Cary Cinema 6 Overview

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Why is Dolby Pro Logic IIx so important and isn't the world sick of yet another surround decoding format?

Like its predecessors Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby Pro Logic II, IIx expands 2ch channel content (stereo or Dolby Surround encoded) into additional channels creating a synthetic surround audio experience. However, Pro Logic IIx expands 2ch to 7.1 speakers rather than 5.1. In addition, Pro Logic IIx will also expand 5.1 channel content (such as the output from a Dolby Digital decoder) into 7.1 channels as well.

In other words, Dolby Pro Logic IIx will convert both 2.0 and 5.1 content into 7.1, ensuring that you get the maximum benefit from a full 7.1 home theater speaker configuration instead of limiting yourself to a handful of 6.1 content in Dolby Digital EX or DTS-ES format.

In theory, Dolby Pro Logic IIx can work on any 2.0 and 5.1 content (not just Dolby Digital 5.1), including analog sources (such as the 5.1 analog outputs of SA-CD and DVD-Audio players) and even DTS 5.1. However, the implementation of IIx on the Cary Cinema 6 is limited to Dolby Digital 2.0/5.1 content and 2ch digital (LPCM) sources only.

What is interesting is the type of surround formats that the Cinema 6 does not support. Unlike its more expensive competitors, the Cinema 6 is not THX certified and does not support any THX specific formats, such as THX Ultra2 Cinema mode, THX Music mode, THX Games mode, and THX Surrround EX or any of the underlying technologies, such as re-equalization, timbre matching, or adaptive decorrelation.

In addition, the Cinema 6 does not support Dolby virtual surround technologies such as Dolby Headphone (this is understandable since the unit has no headphone socket) and Dolby Virtual Speaker. Nor does it support esoteric surround formats such as MPEG Multichannel, AAC, or WMA. Finally, it does not support proprietary matrix decoding formats such as Lexicon's Logic 7 or SRS Circle Surround. However, the presence of buttons on the front panel and remote control labelled "CES 7.1" suggests that initially Cary may have originally planned to include support for 'Cirrus Extra Surround 7.1' (a proprietary Cirrus Logic specific matrix expansion algorithm).

Bang for the Buck?

The Cinema 6 supports no-compromise analog inputs: the five stereo analog inputs are not digitally processed, and there is not just one but two 7.1 analog inputs. Indeed, the Cinema 6 seems to be cunningly positioned to appeal to the purist audiophile who wants the highest quality processing and pre-amplification and is willing to forego esoteric surround formats or THX certification. Such a person will likely never use these formats which are potentially sonically degrading.

All these exclusions appear to be motivated by licensing/cost considerations, since the Cirrus Logic CS49400 DSP used in the Cinema 6 is perfectly capable of decoding all the above formats, as evidenced by other surround processors based on the same DSP such as the Rotel RSP-1098 and Sherwood Newcastle P-965. This allows Cary to position the Cinema 6 at a lower price point than high end processors from the likes of Halcro, Halo, and Integra Research (manufacturers that also offer pre/pros with Dolby Pro Logic IIx support) whilst offering comparable audio quality.

Indeed, the Cinema 6 seems to be cunningly positioned to appeal to the purist audiophile who wants the highest quality processing and pre-amplification and is willing to forego esoteric surround formats or THX certification. Such a person will likely never use these formats which are potentially sonically degrading.

On the aspect of audio purity, the Cinema 6 delivers, at least on paper. Common sense suggests that a typical A/V receiver or pre/pro will never yield the same audio performance as an analog only preamplifier. And indeed many mass market receivers and even some high end pre/pros have mediocre specs: S/N in the 80-90s and THD as high as 0.15%. The Cinema 6 seems intent on proving common sense wrong. The quoted specs are impressive indeed: 110dB dynamic range and S/N, channel separation of over 100dB and THD of 0.003%.

The Cinema 6 supports no-compromise analog inputs: the five stereo analog inputs are not digitally processed, and there is not just one but two 7.1 analog inputs. In other words, the DSP operates only on digital inputs, and Cinema 6 operates as a pure analog pre-amplifier on analog 2ch and 7.1 inputs. There is also no provision for digital or analog line level outputs (although the Zone 2 output can be used as an analog line level output), eliminating another common area for sonic degradation (these outputs often add noise to the main path when connected).

The Cinema 6 also shares some common features typically found on Cary CD players: 2x upsampling, as well as HDCD support. The Cinema 6 is a single ended solid state design, so look elsewhere if you have balanced power amplifiers with XLR connectors and/or balanced analog sources.

Finally, in terms of video, the Cinema 6 provides only analog video switching (on composite, S-Video and component connections). There is no video processing (such as format conversion and scaling) apart from OSD (on screen display) overlay and there is no support for newer digital A/V inputs such as HDMI/DVI/HDCP or IEE1394/FireWire/i-Link. However, the component video switching offers a bandwidth of over 300 MHz (most pre/pros only offer component video bandwidth of 50-100 MHz) which should be plenty even for HDTV.

So the bottom line is: the Cinema 6 offers audiophile quality surround processing and analog pre-amplification at a "mid price point" above the mass market receivers but below the high end pre/pros. A winning formula? Well, we shall see.

 

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