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Digital Drive: REVIEW: Cary Audio Design 306/200 CD Player/Recorder by EdM

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REVIEW: Cary Audio Design 306/200 CD Player/Recorder

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Model: 306/200
Category: CD Player/Recorder
Suggested Retail Price: $5000
Description: Upsampling CD player and DAC
Manufacturer URL: Cary Audio Design
Manufacturer URL: Cary Audio Design

Review by EdM ( A ) on April 09, 2002 at 07:17:15
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for the 306/200

I have heard many, many cd players- mostly at shows- but I have heard Meridian, Levinson, Krell, & Wadia. I have personally auditioned at home, the Arcam CD72 and FMJ23, The Norh CD-1, most of the Pioneers and Sonys (including the 333 and 777 series), and I owned the Muse 5 and 2 and currently own the Muse 8 and 296. So I feel I have a pretty fair perspective on CD players in general. The Muse 5 & 2 combo were the best I had ever heard until I got the 8 & 296. I prefer the Muse over any of the brands above although I do believe that an actual HOME audition is critical to anyone's selection. This is certainly the case regarding the Cary.

I have heard Cary at the shows and did not think they were spectacular. Although interesting, I was not driven to consider one until my Muse began spending more time in the shop than in my room. So I began looking around at CD players intending to keep my Muse 296 DAC which is just wonderful.

One thing led to another and the Cary keep popping up to the top of my list and I intended to get the 303/200 but was able to find a great deal on the 306/200 at very nearly the same price.

Okay, I'm getting to it. The 306/200 arrived and it was pretty amazing at how heavy this unit is- 35 lbs or so. The build is excellent and while not a "jewel" (like the Musical Fidelity) the look is okay.

So despite Cary's warnings about 100 hour break in, I popped in a CD and sat back. People, prepare to be blown away! From the first few notes I already knew this is something extraordinary.

The soundstage is unbelievable. It just expanded in all directions. My smallish 10 X 11 room sounds like a concert hall (okay a small intimate concert hall). Imaging is precise and pinpoint. But the detail and resolution are just amazing.

So after that first listen, I left the 306 on play for the next 4 days straight and just let it burn. This weekend I was finally able to sit and listen to all kinds of selections. The soundstage is still there and still I can't believe that a CD layer makes this improvement. What circuit design factors or components choices cause this? Is there a line in the engineer's design manual that says, "Use this capacitor or this transformer to increase sound stage" ? Or does this just happen by happy accident?

The detail and resolution are also still evident. When a guitar string is plucked you hear the musician's finger sliding up the string, you hear the note, the air humming, and the gradual diminishing, but all so quickly. There is not a single evidence of harshness, grain, or edge but even the brushes on the drums are no longer just indistinct sounds but as fully formed as every piano key.

I have a highly modified Pioneer PD-65 with a new power cord and Superclock that only get used as a transport to my Muse 296. I was pretty happy using this while the Muse 8 was in repair. That term- "not in the same league" comes to mind. Not only is the Cary not in the same league, it is not in the same universe!

The Cary easily beats the Muse 8 as well, which also astounds me. Not as much as the Pioneer or Arcam or Nohr but it is clearly a higher resolving machine and has a much better overall presentation of the music. I was fortunate to be able to hear Keiko Matsui in concert on Sunday and than come home and listen to her CDs on the Cary for comparison. Let me put it this way, I was able to attend TWO Keiko Matsui concerts Sunday night. Dim the lights and close your eyes and she is there playing for me.

HDCD: I was not aware how many of these I owned until the Cary. It does sound quite good. Turns out most of Keiko's are HDCD and I had the Time Out from Brubeck. Wonderful, wonderful reproduction without being overdone like some SACDs and DVD-Audio.

Upsampling: Remote controlled on the Cary so you can flip back and forth. Make's a hell of a difference on some recordings and none on others and makes some sound horrid. So far, interestingly enough, upsampling to 24/192khz seems to work best on the HDCD encoded discs.

Dislikes: Seems like all the manufacturers have jumped on the blue LED bandwagon. While they are cool, man they need to tone down the brightness! Every one I have seen is just way too much. I put little lens caps on the Muse 296 and the Cary is worse. Glaring bright blue lights all over the thing.

Remote: again, the mfgs go from one extreme to the other. You either get a super cheap piece of plastic or like the Cary- a ridiculously heavy aluminum slab. I know this is supposed to portray "high end" to your friends but come on. This thing must weigh two pounds! So far only Gryphon seems to have this remote thing together.

In the next week or so hopefully I will be getting one of the first Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD players so I will be able to make a direct comparison between the Muse 8, the Cary 306 and the Opus 21.

To sum up, the Cary 306/200 is a significant advance in music playback. If you spend 1/2 the price would it be half as good? Don't think so. If you spend twice or three times or four times more than the Cary 306/200 would be that many times better? No way! I can not imagine that a $10,000 player would be anywhere near worth twice as much as the Cary. Actually I can't even see it being 1 or 2 % better, the Cary is that good.

Product Weakness: Blue LEDs too bright, remote just too much.
Product Strengths: Sounstage, imaging, resolution, totally quiet and noise free transport

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Muse 150 Monoblocks
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Muse 3
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Cary 306/200
Speakers: PMC FB-1, Alon Capri
Cables/Interconnects: Empirical Audio
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Keiko Matsui, McKennit Fleetwood Mac
Room Size (LxWxH): 10 x 11 x 9
Room Comments/Treatments: Accoustics First
Time Period/Length of Audition: 1 week
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Dedicated Circuits
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Cary Audio Design 306/200 CD Player/Recorder - EdM 07:17:15 04/9/02 ( 17)