Cary Audio SI-300.2d integrated amplifier Page 2

Another excellent 45rpm reissue purchased from Revilla: a remastering of Miles Davis's Sorcerer (2 LPs, Columbia/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2-435). Recorded at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in 1967, Sorcerer, like all of Davis's original Columbia recordings with his second great quintet—Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams—can sound small, foggy, and lacking resolution and clarity. The MoFi changes all that, and again, the Music Hall–Heed–Cary–Elac system provided thrills and chills. Re-creating the beautiful depth of the 30th Street Studio, every scintilla of note action, decay, dynamics, and texture was also richly re-created. Williams's drums shattered the pulse, and Carter's double bass drove the quintet like a night-terror of intent.

One trait of the SI-300.2d became increasingly evident: extreme resolution, and never at the cost of tonal richness or spatial substance. Even in my smaller system, to which I listen in the nearfield, the Cary created engrossing dynamics from a dead-quiet, deeply layered, dead-silent background. Each disc I played led to more discs, more revelations. Even lesser recordings, such as a new reissue of Dizzy Gillespie's 1951 bebop treatise, The Champ (LP, Savoy SVY 16068), sounded resolute, dynamic, natural. The sound was as transparent as a fall sky, and as tonally even-keeled as I've heard in my nearfield setup.

Listening: MacBook–Audirvana Plus, Cary, Elac
I used the SI-300.2d's remote control to switch from the Line 1 to the USB input, and the Cary quickly recognized my MacBook. I opened the Audirvana Plus software to Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny's Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories) (AIFF from CD, Verve 9808050). In Johnny Mandel's "The Moon Song," Metheny's glistening touch on acoustic guitar was palpable, and as never before, every last note of the late Haden's double bass was deeply tactile and toneful. I've enjoyed Haden's solo in Metheny's "Message to a Friend" hundreds of times. When he plucks very low notes, most systems inevitably turn them into confused mush. The Cary resolved each note beautifully and cleanly, the round texture and warm tone of each string speaking with stunning articulation. I was dumbfounded. The Cary's clarity and resolution also benefited the nuances of Metheny's guitar technique.


Unfortunately, I couldn't evaluate the Cary's upsampling options, as Audirvana Plus doesn't support that feature. Billy Wright told me that "USB sources cannot be upsampled because, when using the USB input, the computer the SI-300.2d is connected to is using media player software. We feel if one is a USB DAC customer, which requires a USB connection with a computer, then they most likely prefer to do the upsampling within their chosen media play software."

Listening: MacBook–Audirvana Plus, Cary, DeVore
Using my MacBook to play digital files and the Cary SI-300.2d to drive my DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 speakers opened yet another, quite different window on the music. I'd wanted to hear the Cary work the DeVores' big 10" woofers, and L.A. rockers No Doubt seemed the logical choice. "Hella Good," from Rock Steady (AIFF from CD, Interscope 4935162), has a huge, buzzing soundstage of churning synthesizers, woozy bass, and edgy, processed drums behind Gwen Stefani's silken schoolgirl purr. Guitars and bass functioned within a generally dry, airless production, and here the Cary was all business. This was not the sound of your father's Cary tube amp. Where I'm used to hearing midrange bloom and deep, enveloping bass from my Shindo Allegro preamplifier ($10,000) and Haut Brion power amplifier ($11,000), the Cary was less effusive in those regards while masterfully achieving its now trademark resolution maneuvers. Presenting large, solid images on a soundstage of exquisite transparency, the Cary was nonetheless a bit two-dimensional. Music reaches out and caresses me via my Shindos, but through the Cary it was more resolute—and forceful. The Cary presented its truth with total conviction.

"Nat," from Danish guitarist Jakob Bro's Time (AIFF from CD, Loveland LLR013/014), is a beautifully cascading tapestry of dual chiming guitars, mournful also sax, and bass. It was portrayed in clean, precise, warm images via the Cary: highly accurate, smooth, and crystal clear, the Cary's sound left nothing to the imagination. And through the SI-300.2d, the soaring instrumentals on Pat Metheny's Speaking of Now (AIFF from CD, Warner Jazz 9362480252) were well-balanced, powerful, and, note for note, as highly resolved as I've ever heard them, with concrete if lightweight bass reproduction. Perhaps I was missing the extension and bloom of a tube amp, or maybe the Cary's sound was the more accurate, literal reproduction of the ones and zeros filed away on my hard drive.

Compared to the Cary's own internal DAC on the DeVore speakers, PS Audio's NuWave ($1299) presented a tad more air and better note decay, but less resolution. The NuWave's images were smaller than the Cary's, but somehow fuller. The NuWave sounded more like a tubed device, with a sweeter tonal balance; it also played music with slightly greater drive.

Listening: Cary, Shindo, DeVore
This trio produced yet another, very different result! Playing everything from Pat Metheny to No Doubt to Keith Jarrett, I heard greater leading-edge clarity and air around instruments than with my Shindo Allegro preamplifier, cushioned on a richer-sounding low end that was undoubtedly the result of the Haut Brion's 6L6 power tubes. The soundstage was more enveloping, and darker overall. With the Cary's power-amp section bypassed, No Doubt's "Hella Good" lacked its previous low-end pump, yet its midrange was more tart. "Underneath It All," also from Rock Steady, sounded liquid, flowing, and downright groovy, with better dub-worthy note decay in the bass, yet with a generally lighter sound than through the Cary's amp section.

Cary Audio's SI-300.2d Digital Integrated Amplifier is an incredibly sophisticated component from a company with the apparent resources and brainpower to bring to market whatever Billy Wright and crew desire. With the SI-300.2d, Cary has created a 21st-century Swiss Army knife of sound that can be configured to match any need or whim of today's music lover. Want power in spades to create outstanding dynamics? Check. An internal DAC that's the equivalent of outboard units costing in the neighborhood of $1500, one-quarter the Cary's price? Sorted. The SI-300.2d can upsample your digital files and play DSD, assuming you have the matching software, and Cary suggests that it's readily adaptable to new formats (hello, MQA). And best of all, it delivers more bang for the audio buck, with greater resolution and power, than any $5995 DAC-integrated has a right to.

Thank God that I'm still, at heart, a North Carolina country boy. And thank Him or Her that Raleigh-based Cary Audio still produces such fine music-playback machines. Long may they reign.

Cary Audio
6301 Chapel Hill Road
Raleigh, NC 27607
(919) 355-0010

fetuso's picture

I was glad to read your positive statements about the MMF 7.3. I'm looking to upgrade to a TT in it's price class and your original review knocked it down several spots on my list. Electronic speed control, or at least easy speed change, is a must for my next TT.