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.
Figure 1. Some claim that the Cary CD 306 SACD Professional Version
closes the resolution gap between analog and digital.
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.
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.
Figure 4. From the front, the professional version is identical to the
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.
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.
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.
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] Remember now, curiosity killed the cat.
Yeah, but satisfaction brought him back!;) ~DK