Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
The Cary Audio CD 303T SACD Pro is one of those pieces of gear that fill multiple roles in a high end stereo system and can do it well. The proliferation of high resolution digital audio files has lead to the current, and often spirited conversations or whether CDs (and SACDs) will remain relevant. Whatever the outcome of today's version of the age old tube versus solid state debate, the Cary Audio CD 303T SACD Pro has you covered. The CD 303T not only plays CDs and SACDs but also serves as a DAC for digital sources ranging from old CD transports to computers with high resolution digital files (PCM only), as it has a complete set of digital inputs (yes, including USB and even AES/EBU) that will accept and decode signals up to 24/192 kHz.
While the CD 303T eschews the beautifully finished milled aluminum top plate of its more expensive sibling, it does maintain the heavy and finely finished aluminum face plate and adjustable aluminum feet. The CD 303T has an attractive and understated front panel available in either silver or black finishes; my review sample is silver and fit and finish are top-notch. When I first loaded a disc to break the player in, I noticed that Cary used a custom-milled aluminum disc tray rather than an off-the-shelf unit. Looking inside the unit I was impressed by the tri-part assembly with each section physically shielded from the others. The left section houses the power supply with multiple C Core transformers. The center section houses the transport and digital circuitry and the right section houses the analog circuitry, including the four 12AU7 tubes which are conveniently located under an access panel for easy tube rolling. So not only does the CD 303T accommodate both sides of the digital audio file vs. disc debate, but also the tube vs. solid state debate as well by allowing the user to switch between tube and solid state outputs.
The CD 303T is full of many features, too many to go through them in this quick review, but some of the highlights include: selectable up-sampling of digital signals received through the digital inputs; selectable up-sampling of CDs to 96, 192, 384, 512 or 768 kHz; HDCD decoding; SACD word clock frequency of 22.5792 MHz. The CD 303T utilizes four Burr Broun 1792u digital to analog converter chips in a balanced parallel configuration.
Read about the high points and low points on Page 2.
• The CD 303T's ability to handle digital media ranging from CDs to 24/192 makes it a very versatile player.
• The option between tube and solid state outputs and the ability to
select between them with a push of a button allows one to tailor the
sound not just to one's system but also on a disc by disc basis.
• The inclusion of balanced audio stereo outputs allows one to take advantage of the fully balanced DAC circuits.
• The CD 303Ts does not allow for multi-channel SACD playback as it
does not have multi-channel analog audio outputs, nor does it allow
SACD signals to be sent via digital outputs.
• While the USB input was as good as or better than any USB-equipped
DAC, it still fell a bit short of the best standalone USB to SPDIF
The CD303T was easy to use. The front display provided all the
information I needed, whether the tube or solid state circuits were
engaged, the oversampling rate, if the digital inputs were selected the
resolution/rate of the files was displayed and the same information was
provided for the digital outputs as well. I have been listening to the
player now for a few months and can easily say it is of reference
quality with both CD and SACD playback. While I was initially skeptical
of the selectable oversampling feature, I found that increased
oversampling could improve the sound of most discs, with the sweet spot
of oversampling varying by disc. I found the tube outputs to be more my
taste than solid state. The bass was warm and rich, adding body to the
detail extracted from the signal. Listening across the frequency range
I never heard any grit or glare that wasn't in the signal. The Cary did
not add any digital artifacts but neither would it hide anything in the
original signal. Music played through the Cary had the rich textural
and spatial cues that separate the extraordinary components from those
that are merely good.