Anyone who has tried to find a local shop that still sells CDs knows that CDs are going the way of Grateful Dead concerts. Those same folks who are still searching out CDs probably already have a number of CDs in their music libraries, so they still need a top-quality disc spinner to play them on. Enter the Cary DMC-600SE, which can not only play your CDs but also handle all the digital streams from your computer, Bluetooth aptX device, or any digital source that uses an SPDIF, Toslink, USB, or AES/EBU connection. In short, the Cary DMC-600SE was designed to be a complete digital hub for all of your digital music. At its list price of $7,995, the DMC-600SE represents a substantial outlay, but it could well be the last digital device you will need to purchase for a very long time.
Cary makes two versions of the DMC-600: a standard version ($5,995) and a special edition SE model ($7,995). Of course Cary sent us the SE version for review. According to Cary, "the DMC-600SE utilizes super premium reference-grade components within the analog output sections for further performance enhancements, as well as a clock input for use with an external master clock for recording studios and professional or semi-professional use." The DMC-600SE supports PCM formats up to 32/384 and DSD up to 256X via its USB input, as well as PCM up to 24/192 via SPDIF.
Instead of one or two DAC chips, the DNC-600SE uses three DACs consisting of six channels (three per side) to create a fully balanced parallel circuit. Digital signal processing, upsampling, and clocking duties are performed by a separate 128-bit DSP engine, which allows the three DACs per channel to be used solely for digital-to-analog conversion. The DMC-600SE also employs something that Cary calls "TruBit Upsampling," which uses a 128-bit DSP engine to generate ten different user-selectable upsampling rates that can extend up to 768 kHz. In addition to the upsampling engine, the DMC-600SE also performs "OSO Reclocking" of all digital signals to lower potential digital jitter. For USB sources, the DMC-600SE uses an XMOS xCore asynchronous interface to support USB 2.0 sources. For Mac OS, the DMC-600SE is plug and play; for Windows, the latest drivers are available on Cary's website.
Although Bluetooth is still primarily a "convenience" input due to its lossy quality, the CSR aptX compression scheme offers the highest fidelity currently available from Bluetooth. Combined with Cary's TruBit Upsampling and OSO Reclocking, Bluetooth through the DMC-600SE promises to sound as close to uncompressed audio as possible.
Many audiophiles vacillate between using DACs with tube and solid-state output stages. A big feature in the DMC-600SE is something that Cary calls its "dual independent output" stage, or DIO. Instead of a single output circuit, the DMC-600SE offers two completely independent user-selectable output stages: one solid-state and one tube-based. Cary's documentation states proudly, "It's like having two source machines in one, allowing you to get the most out of your recordings. The result is fantastic sound for all your digital sources in one cost-effective machine."
The DMC-600SE's front panel contains all the necessary buttons; so, even if you lose the dedicated remote control, you will be able to operate the unit. Front-panel control buttons include: on/off; tube/solid-state; clock input; sample rate selector; CD player controls for open/close, play, stop, previous, and next; and input selectors for CD, optical, coaxial SPDIF 1 and 2, AES/EBU, Bluetooth, and USB. The center of the front panel is occupied by a two-line display and CD tray.
The back panel of the DMC-600SE includes both single-ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs, as well as input connections for all digital inputs (including a Bluetooth antenna) and an AC power receptacle. While not super thick or jewel-encrusted, the DMC-600SE's chassis is solid, with well-designed support "feet" that may make the need for additional physical isolation superfluous. Its overall size is slightly larger than most components, so you may need some additional headroom if you plan to place it on the middle shelf in your equipment rack.
Initial setup and installation were simple and straightforward. I connected the balanced outputs to a preamplifier while attaching all available digital inputs to the DMC-600SE. Since the DMC-600SE has a built-in volume control, you can use it sans preamplifier, connected directly to your power amplifier. I tried all the inputs and found they all successfully accepted signals without any glitches. Even pairing my iPhone 5 with the DMC-600SE's Bluetooth was a simple operation, although the phone does not support aptX. After the phone discovered the DMC-600SE (which was almost instantaneous), I could immediately stream any of my TIDAL album favorites through the DMC-600SE. The Bluetooth pickup range was good; I only began experiencing dropouts when my phone was approximately 40 feet away.
My primary source for the DMC-600SE was a Mac Mini via its USB connection. I tried several music playback applications, including iTunes, Amarra, Pure Music, Audirvana+, Roon, and TIDAL. They all worked correctly with no glitches or failures. I also used the CD transport. This is not a universal disc transport; SACDs will not play if inserted into the tray, but CDs and CD-Rs played without issue.
I was disappointed to learn that the upsampling feature does not work with USB sources, which is where almost all of my MP3 files reside. I was looking forward to hearing how upsampling could improve MP3 sources; but, unless your MP3s are disc-based, you're almost out of luck. At least the upsampling feature works with Bluetooth streams from portable players, smartphones, and computers with Bluetooth capabilities.
Although Cary calls the DMC-600SE a "digital hub," there are some chores the DMC-600SE can't perform. While it can play CDs, it can't rip CDs to your computer's music library. Also it can't recognize and play files directly from a NAS drive. If you want to play music from your NAS device, you will need to hook up a computer to the DMC-600SE and use the computer's NAS-aware connections.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...