Episode 3 - The Return Of Digital - Cary Audio CD 306 Professional Version

DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,603
edited June 2008 in Electronics
Introduction

In the last episode we saw how analog received an 11th hour reprieve from being marginalized in my two channel system. My digital source was enjoying its ascension to the position of preferred source, until my turntable received some help. It appeared that I was going to be sucked into the silky black hole of vinyl for all time. Then...there was literally new light.

306Pro-Badge-6x4.jpg
Figure 1. Some claim that the Cary CD 306 SACD Professional Version
closes the resolution gap between analog and digital.


306Pro-Badge-Top-6x4.jpg
Figure 2. The "shark gill" vents, like the circular window on the CD
306 Version 3, had to grow on me. I still don't like the name badge
on the top. I'd peel it off, but Cary would probably void the warranty.
It's probably welded on anyway.


The Cary Audio CD 306 SACD "Professional" Version

The CD 306 "Professional" Version is the 4th generation of the Cary SACD player. Externally, only the case top is different. Internally, almost every thing is new. For the remainder of this review, I shall refer to my old Ver. 3 player as the "amateur" version and the Ver. 4 player as the "professional" or "pro" version.;)

It was somewhat unsettling to find out that those of us who invested in versions 1-3 of the Cary SACD player have been listening to the amateur version all these years. Enlightenment, though always valuable, is not always pleasant.

CD306-Ver3-Ver4-6x4.jpg
Figure 3. The digital calvary comes to the rescue. CD 306 amateur
version 3 at left and professional version at right. One is excellent
and the other is more excellent.


Miraculously, Cary made transformational improvements in the professional version, yet raised the price by only $500 over the amateur version ($7500 to $8000). Don't be alarmed. No one, on the sane side of prudence, is paying list.

The pro version has some ergonomic improvements. The front buttons require less pressure to push, a new and improved remote is provided and the aluminum drawer has been improved, although it still does not fully extend from the player's face. Five-eighths of an inch of the disk extends into the player when the drawer is fully extended. I assume that is one of the design compromises Cary had to make when they adapted a top loading disk drive (Sony SCD-1) to a front loader.

The pro version, like the amateur version 3, gets barely warm to the touch, even after hours of continuous operation.

CD306Pro-Front-Comp-6x4.jpg
Figure 4. From the front, the professional version is identical to the
amateur version.


The El Cheapo all plastic remote of the amateur version has been replaced with a slim hard plastic remote with an anodized black aluminum face plate and silver aluminum buttons. I initially mistook the new remote's plastic underbody for black anodized metal. It has the look and feel of a smooth, polished metal surface.

Cary-Real-Remote-6x4.jpg
Figure 5. Cary comes correct with a real remote. The professional
version remote is on the left. Shame is on the right.


No Wonder You Sound So Good

I won't bore you with the technical details of the pro version's innards. I will tell you that the result of the much bigger and improved power supply, doubling of the master clock frequency, virtually non-existent jitter, and all new servo circuitry is bigger, bolder and more realistic sound in every respect. The Cary website (www.caryaudio.com) will tell you all you want to know.

Right out of the box, the Pro version displayed heavier, more three dimensional images and a bigger sound stage. It also had an upper midrange brightness and slight sluggishness in the bass that took 48 hours to melt away.

Whether playing CD's or SACD's, the Pro version displayed a level of openness and analog-like realism that was engaging and effortless. Time actually seems to pass faster during listening sessions. I have played the 306 Pro for up to 13 hours straight and not experienced the slightest bit of listening fatigue. Of course, most of that 13 hours I was doing other things as the Cary was playing. As I stated in a previous review, I used to listen to the amateur version about 10 hours per week prior to break in. My listening time with the amateur version doubled after break in. That good experience made me greedy for more...and, along with information from other 306 Pro owners, lead me to where I am today [footnote 1]. What is really encouraging about all this is that I know that one day I will discover another player that will provide even greater aural thrills.:) Now, back to the present.

I will discuss the Pro version's sound with respect to the three types of discs it plays.

High Definition Compatible Disc (HDCD)

I consider this part of the CD 306 Pro to be wasted circuitry. Upsampling an HDCD encoded disk at 192 kbps sounded much better than playing it at 44 kbps through the HDCD filter. I noticed the same thing with the amateur version. Maybe the results will vary depending on a listener's ears and equipment.

Redbook CD

The improvement in the sound of Redbook CD's on the Pro version is stunning and borderline mesmerizing. It was difficult at first to accept that I was listening to an "ordinary" CD. The Pro version imparted more bass slam and more fine detail throughout the entire frequency range. On well recorded CD's upsampled at 192 kbps, the quality was near that of SACD. On some CD's, the sound stage of the Pro version was the same size as that of the amateur version. On most CD's, the Pro version sound stage grew in width, depth and height. I also heard more rear and side wall reflections from the recording space. I appreciate the fact that Cary paid significant attention to improving Redbook playback, since CD's still comprise the bulk of most people's digital music collection.

I found that upsampling over 192 kbps "hardened" the sound and adversely affected detail and imaging. The same was true of the amateur version.

SACD

The improvement in the sound of SACD's was stunning also, but not to the degree of that for Redbook CD's. Perhaps because there was less room for improvement to begin with? On all the SACD's I played (I only have 10 titles), the sound stage of the pro version grew in width, depth and height. Again, I also heard more rear and side wall reflections from the recording space.


[Footnote 1]biggrin.gif Remember now, curiosity killed the cat.

Yeah, but satisfaction brought him back!;) ~DK
"So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
"Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
"Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
"Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
Post edited by DarqueKnight on

Comments

  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,603
    edited June 2008
    Analog vs. Digital, Which Is Better?

    The answer to the analog vs. digital question will vary from system to system and from ear to ear. In my two channel system, my ears inform that balance between the two has been achieved. I experience not the slightest bit of listening fatigue from either side. The differences I now hear are more attributable to the technique and quality of the recording than to the media format or to the machines playing the media. Within my record and CD collections, I have a much higher percentage of well recorded CD's and SACD's than LP's. Therefore, a high resolution digital player will provide greater utility than a high resolution analog player.

    One of the things that intrigued me about the CD 306 Pro was that it was, and is, being enthusiastically embraced by hardcore vinyl audiophiles. Whereas those vinylphiles had grudgingly added a digital player to their systems in order to access content that was only available in digital format, they have treated the CD 306 Pro as a welcome addition to the family. They have also expressed shock and amazement that a digital player could produce Such Good Sound.

    Although I love the natural sound of well recorded vinyl provided by its infinite sampling rate, I do not like (i.e. I hate) the inconvenience and maintenance issues. I grudgingly maintain an analog player in order to access content that is either unavailable in digital format or to provide an alternative to content that was poorly transferred to digital format.

    The detail, bass and dynamic range of vinyl can be excellent if one invests an appropriate amount of $$$ and exercises care in component selection. Also, a good low noise analog system will not (or should not) produce listening fatigue. However, the CD 306 Pro, like the amateur version CD 306 version 3, has again shown me that digital can provide a non-fatiguing high resolution listening experience every bit as satisfying as analog and that it can do so without the annoying inconvenience and maintenance issues. Of course, I realize that some audiophiles enjoy the rituals associated with analog playback.:)

    Dislikes

    So far, the only functional thing I don't like is the lack of the ability to repeat programmed tracks. A Cary representative said it was an honest oversight and may be included in future versions. The name badge on the case top is an aesthetic irritant, but it gets less obnoxious as time passes.

    Break In Procedure

    Cary specified a break in of 300 hours for the amateur version and specifies the same for the professional version. I, and others, found that the amateur version required in the range of 500 to 600 hours to fully realize its true sound potential.

    I currently have 80 hours on the CD 306 Pro. I have not heard any changes since the 48th hour. Maybe it will "bloom" all at once like the amateur version did. I'll report back at the 300 and 600 hour milestones [footnote 2].

    I won't take a year to rack up the specified burn in hours as I did with the amateur version. For the first couple of months, I'll let the CD 306 Pro run throughout the day (with appropriately spaced rest breaks). Play time will be evenly split between CD and SACD media.

    SDA Inquiry

    Monolith4x6.jpg
    Figure 6. The Monolith's want to know why it took
    Cary so long to go Pro.


    [Footnote 2]tongue.gif600 hours? Do you plan to keep the thing that long? You seem to be somewhat commitment shy lately.

    I think this will keep my eyes and ears from wandering for a long while.~DK
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,603
    edited June 2008
    To Be Completed:)
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • reeltrouble1reeltrouble1 Posts: 9,313
    edited June 2008
    8000 bucks for something that plays music and cannot make a telephone call??? cheap machine what was Dennis thinking.

    Raife if I ever move off the M/F this machine would be on the short list. Looking forward to your further thoughts on it. I am not crazy about the logo's on the front, kind of hokey for a machine like this.

    RT1
    REEL TIME THEATRE
    Onkyo-TX-NR5007
    B&K 7270 amplifier
    Polk SWA-500 Subwoofer amplifier
    OppO BDP-83
    Pioneer Elite 50"
    Polk LCi-RTS-105;LCi-RTS-C;LCi-RTSFx;LCi80Fx
    Subs-Twin Polk CSW200
    HTS5000



    Everthing Matters...Tubes Rule...and It's Over until it's Not Over
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,603
    edited June 2008
    I am not crazy about the logo's on the front, kind of hokey for a machine like this.

    If you are referring to the HDCD, CD, and SACD logos on the lower left of the face plate, Cary may not have had a choice. Licencees of the HDCD, CD, and SACD technologies used to be required to display those logos on devices that use them. I don't know if the logo display is optional now.

    If you are referring to the rectangular name badge on the case top, I agree that was inexcusable. I am still waiting for Cary's reply to my inquiry about how to safely remove that thing.

    The front logos and top badge don't look as obnoxious on the silver finish version.
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • reeltrouble1reeltrouble1 Posts: 9,313
    edited June 2008
    Naw, I meant the logo's on the front, the M/F is sans them as well as other manufacture's I have seen, its just a little thing though.

    I suspect that they asked to have them included and Cary said they would, maybe a deal? Or maybe a new licensing agreement?

    It would be way more important to me about how the unit sounds in the system than a few logo's. Although, I agree the top cover badge is different that is for sure.

    RT1
    REEL TIME THEATRE
    Onkyo-TX-NR5007
    B&K 7270 amplifier
    Polk SWA-500 Subwoofer amplifier
    OppO BDP-83
    Pioneer Elite 50"
    Polk LCi-RTS-105;LCi-RTS-C;LCi-RTSFx;LCi80Fx
    Subs-Twin Polk CSW200
    HTS5000



    Everthing Matters...Tubes Rule...and It's Over until it's Not Over
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