The cover page on the January 1994 issue of Stereophile Magazine featured two amplifiers, the Cary CAD-805 SET tube monoblock amplifier and the Krell KSA-300S solid state amplifier, with the caption “If either of these amplifiers is Right —- the other must be WRONG.” I am not sure which one was wrong but the CAD-805 amplifier, designed by Dennis Had of Cary Audio Design, has had an enthusiastic following ever since – and is still in production today (22 years later). Had is no longer with Cary but this venerable company has been making some fine Vacuum tube and Solid State products based out of Apex, North Carolina including the subject of this review, the 200TS Digital Analog Converter.
Not just a Digital Analog Converter!
The 200TS weighs a substantial 12.2kg and is quite large – 44cm x41cmx9.5cm (wxdxh), finished in an attractive matte black powder coated steel chassis with a black aluminum faceplate (A silver finish option is also available). The faceplate has a generous display window with a few buttons, although one look at the rear panel and I realized that this box was much more than just a DAC. In addition to the usual digital inputs – 1 usb, 1 optical, 2 coaxial and 1 AES/EBU – were connections for World Clock in and out, Antenna connections for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Ethernet RJ45 connection, a 12v dc trigger input and an IR control input. Outputs constituted of a pair of RCA and XLR connections, along with digital coaxial and toslink optical outputs. Lastly a mini usb connection is provided for firmware updates along with two screw in antennas for the wireless connections.
The front face has the following buttons, power, sample rate converter, Bluetooth, toslink, coax1, coax2, usb, AES/EBU, clock input and tube input along with a full featured remote control which can be used to control multiple products. One can use their choice of digital inputs from the source, though SPDIF inputs are limited to PCM signals from 44.1 KHz to 192 KHz. These can be upsampled by the proprietary TruBit upsampling technology all the way upto 768 KHz and 32 bit depth by using the “Sample Rate Converter” button on the front panel or SRC on the remote. A “Bypass” mode is also present to preserve the native rate. Using the USB allows the user to experience 32 bit/ 384Khz PCM or Quad rate DSD signals.
The detailed user manual also lists a host of other features such as “Onboard Signal Origination” reclocking (OSO) for maximum elimination of jitter, USB asynchronous clocking via XMOS xCORE and “Dual Independent Output” (DiO) which allows switching between tube or solid state analog output stages which are completely independent of each other. Based on all the connectivity, switching options and features, the 200TS can function as a Solid State DAC, Tube DAC (with a pair of 12au7 tubes) or Digital Preamplifier and can be connected to your home network to be controlled via iOS or Android apps. Lastly – four AK4490EQ DAC chips are used in the unit – and true balanced output via the XLR connections is on offer.
Since I am using a Windows 7 based PC as a source, I had to download a driver from the Cary website. After that, I connected a USB cable to the 200TS, fired up JRiver MC21 and selected “XMOS XS1-U8 MFA(ST)” as the output device with “ASIO” output mode. The process was quick and simple without any handshaking glitches between the computer and the DAC (I did this twice with two different computers in both my systems). The manual advices the use of DSD via DoP for DSD file playback, and this was the setting I selected in JRiver as well. One excellent feature of the 200TS is the onboard variable digital volume control that provides a range of output voltage gain settings from 0.15 volts to 3.0v with various intermediate values. This provides unparalleled convenience in matching the DAC to a preamplifier or integrated based on that component’s optimum/recommended input. To my ears the 2.0 volt settings sounded the best with my system – with the most usable volume range on my preamplifier – which corresponded to a volume level of 0.0 db on the 200TS.
How does it sound?
I started off with Three’s Company, We’ll Be Together Again – Chesky (24/192, AIFF). On the track Dark Eyes Javon Jackson’s Saxophone sounded airy and rich with well developed tonality, with the accompanying drums and bass depicted in an expansive soundstage which was deep and wide. Imaging was holographic with copious amounts of air around the instruments creating excellent instrument separation. Switching between the tube and solid state output revealed subtle but definite changes, the tubes lending a mellower tone to the Saxophone notes, while the solid state made the sound slightly sharper and more forward. In this case I liked the tube output, but I would assume that the choice of either setting would depend on the listener’s preference. Next I moved on to female vocals from Alexis Cole, A Kiss in the Dark – Chesky (5.6 MHz, DSD). On the title track her enticing contralto voice sounded eloquent and natural, the presentation ultra realistic. Indeed this native DSD recording sounded very analog like, smooth and adequately warm, making a good case for the DSD format.
More Jazz DSD, this time from Miles Davis Filles De Kilimanjaro – MFSL (2.8MHz, DSD). On Tout De Suite, the dynamics of Davis’ horn was spectacular as he scaled high notes and beguilingly smooth as he expertly weaved soothing tones. It was a magical performance and easily the best resolution yet, that I have heard from this album, again showing the promise of DSD files. Moving on to some fusion music from Sangam – ECM (16/44.1, FLAC), the title track layering of the soundstage was exceptional with Zakir Hussain playing the tabla softly to right rear with Charles Lloyd’s Saxophone upfront to the centre. The Ustad’s tabla beats in juxtaposition to Eric Harland’s cymbal strikes was mesmerizing, the percussive timing and pace rendered superbly. This album is very compelling and listening to Guman where Zakir Hussian pays vocal homage to his father, the legendary Ustad Alla Rakha, was also simply fascinating.
I cued up another percussion artist, Stanton Moore’s Groove Alchemy – Telarc (16/44.1, FLAC). On the James Bondesque Cleanse This House, as the track builds up to a crescendo, Moore steps up the kick drum attack and the visceral impact of this was astounding. The 200TS presented superbly extended bass with excellent pitch definition, texture and overall impact. Listening to Robert Plant on the Grammy winning Album of the Year, Raising Sand – Rounder (24/96, FLAC), his distinctive nicotine/booze stained voice sounded raspy occasionally and smooth at other times on the Fortune Teller track. Both male and female voices sounded very revealing and realistic, a certain indication that midrange was being competently handled.
And how does it compare?
I compared two different DAC’s that I owned, which are at different price points, to the Cary 200TS. First was the North Star Design Excelsio, which can handle DSD signals. This DAC is in the ball park price range of the Cary, so majority of my comparison was with this unit. The 200TS sounded better extended in bass, though both of them were equally smooth in higher frequencies. Midrange was also served equally well by both. I felt that the lateral expanse of the soundstage was better represented by the Cary while the depth and height depicted by both units sounded similar. Imaging precision seemed better with the Excelsio though the 200TS excelled at instrument separation with more air and space around them. Next up I listened to my Ayon Skylla II, which is limited to PCM files. The Ayon was more refined in overall sound quality and sounded closer to analog than the Cary. The Cary was more extended in bass, but the Skylla II was smoother in higher frequencies. In the Tube setting the sound quality of the 200Ts approximated that of the Ayon – which is also a tubed unit –with nice warmth and lush midrange but did so at the cost of sounding slightly laid back and veiled. The Ayon Skylla II is double the cost, so regardless, this is excellent showing by the 200TS.
Lastly I also tested the 200TS as a preamplifier using the volume control option. In this mode it sounded very good, especially in comparison to the built in preamplifier stage of my Line Magnetic 501 IA Integrated amplifier. I felt that the Cary was more transparent and afforded more resolution.
My ending thoughts:
I enjoyed my time with the Cary 200TS thoroughly. This is a DAC that will play all your digital sources with outstanding resolution and an engaging sound quality that will immerse you into the music. Its performance on native DSD files was phenomenal, exhibiting lush and warm sound that sounds just like analog, at the same time it was able to present PCM files exceptionally well. The smooth treble, lush midrange and extended, textured bass was easily amongst the best I have heard. Added to this is its flexibility of use as a Tube or Solid State device or as a good standalone preamplifier making this DAC a tremendous value. I will be sorry to see it go.
- Sources: Windows 7 based Music PC running J River Media Center v21 with Paul Pang v1 usb card and Uptone audio usb regen and HDplex LPSU.
- Converter: M2Tech Hiface Evo Two and Clock Two.
- DAC: North Star Design Excelsio, Ayon Skylla II.
- Amplification: Parasound JC2, Trigon Tre50, Lamm LL2.1 deluxe, Line Magnetic LM501 IA.
- Speakers: Ascendo C8R, ATC SCM11 v1.
- Cabling: Kimber Select 1011 interconnects and 3033 speaker cables, Shunyata Venom/Audio Art power cords, Signal cable silver reference interconnects and speaker cable.
- Room treatment: 6 GIK Acoustics 244 panels, 4 GIK gridfusors, 4 vicoustic wavewood, 2 GIK Acoustics Polyfusors.
- Rack & Stands: Soundfoundations equipment rack and Sound Organization speaker stands.
- Listening room dimensions: 4.3m x 3.7m x 2.6m’ (lxwxh).
Cary Audio Design, USA
Cary 200TS, Digital to Analog Converter
Distributor: Audio Planet
E-mail: [email protected]
Price: ₹ 327,000.00
Warranty: 18 months parts and labour, 90 days exchange on tubes