Cary Audio DAC-200ts
Input: 1x asynchronous USB, Bluetooth, 1x AES/EBU, 2x Coaxial S/PDIF, 1x Toslink, Ethernet
Output: Balanced XLR, Single–Ended RCA, Coaxial S/PDIF, Toslink
Dimensions: 3.75″ H x 17.25″ W x 16.25 ” D
Weight: 28 lbs
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Cary Audio, Raleigh, NC
I can still remember visiting audio retailer Audio Nexus in Summit, NJ back in the '90s and seeing the lovely Cary CAD-300SEI integrated amp which was at the time outside of my comfort price zone. I was heavily into exploring single-ended tube amps and ended up with my first love, the Sun Audio SV-300BE followed by many a Fi amp (I still own the prototype Fi 45), and finally landing very comfortably in the land of Shindo, albeit outside the SET camp. To say that Cary Audio represents an important part of our hi-fi history is to state the obvious and to say that I was looking forward to spending time with their latest DAC would be an understatement.
The Cary Audio DAC-200ts re-clocks all incoming data prior to hitting a total of 4 Asahi Kasei AK4490EQ DACs the idea being to reduce jitter which Cary claims is below measurable levels in the 200ts (while bits are bits, it turns out when dealing with D to A conversion, timing accuracy matters). The USB input, provided by XMOS, is asynchronous and capable of handling PCM sample rates up to 384kHz and DSD 256 (via DoP). The Coax and Toslink inputs max out at 24-bit/192kHz but you can activate the Upsampling option with the push of a button which will convert the incoming sample rate to one of several higher rates (44.1 ---> 48--- > 88.2 --- > 96 -- > 176.4 --- > 192 --- > 352.8 or 384 --- > 705.6 or 768) as well as increase the bit depth to 32-bit using a 128-bit DSP engine. The upsampling option is not available for the USB input and Cary recommends handling this in your media player software if interested.
Cary being Cary, there is your choice of a solid state or tube output stage. They refer to this option as DiO™ (Dual Independent Analog Output Function). The tube output is based on a pair of nine-pin dual triode 12AU7/ECC82 and using the font-mounted button or the handy remote, you can switch between solid state and tube output whenever and how often you choose. Since this is an included option in the DAC-200ts you don't have to fret over whether or not one is better or more accurate than the other.
The unit's aptX® lossless Bluetooth input will pass CD-quality data as long as the sending device is aptX capable (iPhone's are not) and the company even throws in an input for use with an external master clock. There's also a master clock output if you'd like to use the Cary's internal clock as a source for other so-equipped digital sources. You can also choose to employ the DAC-200ts' internal volume control or set it to Independent Volume which allows you to set a fixed output level for each input for use with a preamp/amp or integrated amp. Cary also includes an Ethernet input and Wi-Fi allowing you to use the free Cary Remote app for iOS and Android devices which mimics the unit's font panel options. Outputs include analog RCA and XLR pairs, as well as a number of digital outputs.
The very first thing you'll notice when unboxing the DAC-200ts is its 28 pounds are very hefty for a DAC, think a pair beefy transformers—one for the digital power supply and one for the analog circuits—and overall its built like the proverbial tank. The faceplate comes in your choice of silver or black and sitting front and center is a blue LED display. When playing music, this display will show the input selection, the incoming sample rate, the outgoing sample rate, and a big "T" if the tube output stage is employed. Filling out the front is the on/off button, input selector buttons, and the sample rate converter button. The included handheld remote includes all of these options and adds volume control, brightness level for the display including off, and the ability to deal with setup options (Volume, Ethernet, IR Remote, and Wi-Fi) and check your unit's firmware version. Firmware upgrades are handled by the owner as detailed in the product manual.
My setup for this review is my setup for most reviews that includes my Pass INT-30A integrated amp and my DeVore Fidelity The Nines. My music is stored on a Synology NAS and accessed by Roon (see review). I connected to the Cary from my MacBook Pro via USB. I use the cables that I enjoy using including the Light Harmonic Lightspeed USB cable, Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 Balanced ICs, and Auditorium 23 speaker cables.
What I want from any DAC is big, solid, well-defined, rich, and musically engaging sound. I don't like wimpy overly detailed DACs, or dry emasculated music parading as "accurate". I want to be able to sit back, close my eyes, and get lost in music for as long as I choose for years on end. While I cannot speak to the latter regarding the Cary Audio DAC-200ts, I can speak to everything else and what I say is check, all good.
I ran in the review unit for a few months on and off before sitting down to enjoy listening for many more weeks thereafter. I used the DAC-200ts during my review of the Bel Canto REFStream and even gave it some miles with the Auralic Aries as part of its break-in process. Throughout all of this time, yea I even aurally peaked for pleasure during those first few weeks, the Cary DAC delivered the musical goods. Its sound is big, solid, well-defined, rich, and musically engaging. It is fuller sounding than the recently reviewed NAD C 510 (see review), and even out body slams the Auralic Vega.
Everything I played through the Cary came out sounding like beautiful music. DSD, CD-quality, higher resolution PCM, and Tidal's lossless streams. Of greater importance Frank Sinatra, Archie Shepp, Bomba Estéreo, Kendrick Lamar, Sera Una Noche, Hesperion XXI, Ibeyi, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Alice Coltrane, PJ Harvey, Nina Simone and on and on led me to wonderful musically motivated places regardless of sample rates and bits. Listening to music for pleasure is really a very easy thing to do especially when all the gear in use rings true like hitting a tuning fork that in turn rings out joy.
I mainly used the Cary's volume control as it did not differ from my Pass' to any noticeable degree. For those looking to rid themselves of a preamp, the DAC-200ts can easily fill those shoes for your digital needs.
I also took the Cary's Bluetooth input for a spin using my iPhone 6 as source running the new Apple Music app. I initially did not engage Cary's upsampling option and found the sound to have that unnaturally splashy synthetic digital lossy sound. Taking that lossy signal and upsampling to 705.6kHz (the highest rate) helped smooth things out a bit. While still clearly not as engaging as lossless, I was nevertheless entertained for short listening spans. Perfect for parties or any activity where you enjoy background music.
Back to lossless-land, I spent many a day and night in the DAC-200ts' warm glow. Which brings us to those 12AU7s. I preferred them engaged, where music sounded more rounded up top and less sharp. This was especially welcome on lessor quality recordings and lossy music. I can see how some people in some systems at some times may prefer them out of the loop. Since this is an included option, you don't have to devolve into that endless meaningless debate over the concept of accuracy versus enjoyment. Besides enjoyment is more accurate than any other measure when it comes to listening to music. If you're thinking about looking elsewhere in the Cary line for a tube-less DAC, the DAC-100 would be one option but it is not equivalent to the DAC-200ts (see a comparison).
Let's finish things off by checking off some oft-requested sonic details. Bass response is fit and full, there's plenty of timbral richness, and a lovely natural sense of the space of the recording which extends well beyond the speakers in every dimension. The Cary simply and effortlessly allows you to enjoy your music for as long as time allows.
Switching back to my reference Auralic Vega DAC one last time reinforced my earlier impressions: the Cary's sound has more body and weight while the Vega offers sweeter and more refined upper registers and a general sense of providing greater resolution. Horses for courses but there's no loser here. The heavyweight from North Carolina is an absolutely worthy contender. I'm listening to Jimi Hendrix's Blues as I type so I have to go now and get the full experience in my listening seat if I can stand to sit still.
If you are considering a DAC in the $4k price range, you'd be wise to give the Cary Audio DAC-200ts as long a listen as you can afford. You may not want to ever stop.
Also in-use during the DAC-200ts review: Auralic Vega