My Cary Audio CD 306 SACD player and I got off to a rocky start, but since it returned from Cary's Hong Kong manufacturing facility in December of 2006 [footnote 1], it has been getting better with age.
Such Good Sound
Figure 1. Good sounds come to those who wait.
Cary recommends a break in time of 300 hours. However, Dave Clark noted in his February 2006 review of the CD 306 SACD (Positive Feedback Online) that his unit required 500-600 hours of break in. I noticed a substantial improvement in sonic performance at the end of February 2008. I listen to the CD 306 an average of 10 hours per week, therefore the 61 weeks between the last week of December of 2006 and the last week of February of 2008 represents approximately 610 hours of play time. I was in another room when I noticed the difference. I had put in a familiar Redbook CD and went to the kitchen. The increased bass coming through the kitchen walls prompted me to go back to living room.
Back in the living room and standing in front of my two channel system, I was puzzled about the cause of the changes I was hearing:
1. More tactile bass.
2. More bass slam.
3. More bass growl
4. More weight and detail on vocals.
5. The background had turned a darker shade of black.
6. More image weight.
7. More recording space room reflections.
8. More overall "ease" and liquidity to the sound.
9. The high frequencies had gotten smoother (not rolled off) and "silkier" in texture.
Listening to other RBCD's, and particularly SACD's, confirmed that there was something "new" going on. I initially thought there was some internal change in my cables that was responsible for what I was hearing. I was so caught up in the music that it did not dawn on me until a couple of hours later that it might be the Cary that had passed over its break in threshold. Switching to my analog source confirmed that there was no sonic change coming from the amps, cables, or speakers. I had completely forgotten that the CD 306 SACD had a long break in time, even though I had noted such in my initial listening notes from August 2006 and again when the unit had returned with the version 3 upgrades in December of 2006.
Figure 2. I initially didn't like the case top peep show, but I have
grown to like it. I was disappointed to find that the latest version
of the CD 306 SACD, the "Pro" version, does not have the disk tray
The CD 306 SACD up samples Redbook CD's up to 768K. However, I previously found that the sound "hardened" when up sampling beyond 192K. Detail and spatial information were diminished. This hardening was also apparent when up sampling beyond 192K after break in.
My digital source prior to the CD 306 SACD (ver. 2, $6000 MSRP) was an Adcom GCD-750 ($1400 MSRP). Even on Redbook CD's and HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) discs, the performance gap (conveyed sonic realism) between the two players was like the difference between standard and high definition television. The gap grew wider after the 306 came back in version 3 form ($7500 MSRP) and wider again after break in. Of course, the 306 has the added advantage of SACD playback, which puts it on another plane of existence.
Whenever I get a new piece of gear, after auditioning it for a while, I like to "fall back" to the item that was replaced to provide another perspective on the differences between the two. In the 306's case, I had to send it back for repair, so I had a three month "fall back" period, which was quite unpleasant and somewhat analogous to drug withdrawal. [footnote 2]
After a little over a year of ownership, I have only found two things I don't like about the CD 306 SACD: 1. The cheapo plastic remote. This is only an aesthetic concern and not a functional one. 2. Songs cannot be set to repeat while in program play mode. I emailed Cary and asked why they left out that feature:
"To: "Info CA" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Repeat Program Play
Every CD player I have owned had a program repeat feature. Did Cary leave this out of the CD 306 SACD due to an oversight or did the designers think no one would want the feature?"
"Subject: RE: Repeat Program Play
From: "Info CA" <email@example.com>
It was an honest oversight as I have never, up until corresponding with you, thought of arranging auto-play in this fashion. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. We will look into adding this in the future. Thank you for your input, and thank you for your support in Cary Audio Design."
Repeat program play is also not available on the new CD 306 SACD Professional Version.:( It seems the folks at Cary always like every song on every disc and have never needed to program around less desirable tracks and then set their player on repeat.
The only quasi workaround for this deficiency is the fact that up to 35 selections can be programmed into the 306's memory. So, if you want to repeat several selections on a disc, you can program them in rotation into memory up to the 35 selection limit.
I prefer the sound of the CD 306 SACD's XLR outputs over the single ended (RCA) outputs. I hear more detail and blacker backgrounds. All of my two channel system interconnects are XLR's, except for the tonearm cable.
Replacing the stock power cord with a Signal Cable MagicPower cord improved bass impact and clarity.
The isolation cone feet are removable, but I did not compare the sound with them removed.
The "CD" in the model name stands for "compact disc" and not for "classic designer" as some people think.
The CD 306 SACD is not upgradeable to the new CD 306 SACD Professional Version due to the fact that there have been many component and circuit board changes.
CD 306 SACD Professional Version (CD 306 SACD Version 4)
Just when me and my CD 306 were starting to have real fun...now this. The CD 306 Professional Version is now available for those that don't mind dropping $8K on a new SACD player. I could knock a big dent in that entry fee by patient, careful shopping and selling my 306 ver. 3, but I really don't want to part with it.
The new CD 306 SACD Professional Version features a new servo board design with internal components tested to 105° C. The PMD-200 filter has now been replaced with a high quality Burr Brown filter chip set. HDCD decoding is accomplished with the absolute latest software available. The power supply has been beefed up with larger, multiple power transformers and higher current regulators. The internal wordclock frequency has been raised from 11.2896 MHz to 22.5792 MHz. A new aluminum loader tray that provides greater disc handling care completes the upgrade package. When I saw the vented top of the Pro version, I thought it might run hot, but according to Cary, the unit only gets warm in operation, similar to the 306 version 3.
The Pro version uses the same cheapo plastic remote as previous versions.
Figure 3. Beautiful, but lonely...like the Maytag repairman.
I used to spin vinyl approximately 6 hours a week...mostly on the weekends. It was like a special treat. Since my cartridge stylus is a consumable, I keep a log of my analog play. After the big change at the end of February, I logged four hours on my turntable in March and none in April. If the 306 Pro is the whiz bang that Cary, and others, are making it out to be, vinyl might become a relic type, sporadic type thing for me.
I was planning a cartridge upgrade [footnote 3], but I'm now thinking that cash would be better spent on an SACD player upgrade.:) Of course, I'll (try to) wait a decent interval to make sure Cary has all the bugs worked out. I don't want to get a 306 Pro and then have to send it back to Hong Kong for 3 months of rehabilitation.;)
[Footnote 1] My unintentional CD 306 SACD upgrade. The version 3 upgrades consisted of a new servo board and new software along with a new Sony chip set that operates at the specified 85° C temperature ratings. The unit ran hot before the upgrade, but gets barely warm now.
[Footnote 2] What in hell would you know about what drug withdrawal feels like?
I don't. I've just heard you talk about your experiences so much that I have a fairly accurate idea of what it is like.~DK ;)
[Footnote 3] Ortofon MC Windfeld phono cartridge.