Cary Audio DAC-200ts

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter
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
Price: $3995

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.

Musical Bits
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.

Cary Delivers
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.

Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the DAC-200ts review: Auralic Vega

Lofty's picture

Audio Nexus is in Summit, NJ. You're confusing it with PAC (Professional Audio Consultants) in Millburn NJ.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Corrected, thanks!
Vincent Kars's picture

As far as I know, aptX over Bluetooth is not lossless.
CSR claims CD-like quality audio over a Bluetooth
Not to be mistaken for lossless :)

dwberk's picture

As Michael pointed out, to get the greatest benefit from aptX the source device must also be aptX. Bluetooth is a convenience non-critical source. However, given we use the BT's digital signal and fully incorporate into our entire custom digital ecosystem using 128 bit DSP engine, TruBit Upsampling and re-clocking techniques, it can sound quite good! It is a CD quality audio format of 16 bit, 44.1 kHz.
•Compression ratio: 4:1
•Audio Format: 16-bit, 44.1kHz (CD-Quality)
•Data Rates: 352kbps
•Frequency Response: 10Hz to 22kHz
•Algorithmic Delay: <1.89ms @ Fs 48KHz
•Dynamic Range: 16-bit: >92dB
•THD+N: -68.8dB

ncmusicguy's picture

Michael -
I've read (but not confirmed, although the source is a longtime Cary Audio retailer, including partnering on custom versions of Cary products) that the warranty clock now starts on Cary equipment when it ships from the warehouse, not when a consumer purchases it. Have you heard this? The retailer sells new (but possibly old stock) equipment and offers its own warranty in case the Cary warranty has partially/totally expired.
This may not be the appropriate forum for this question, but I find the concept, if true, to be unfair. If you don't feel this is the correct form for this question feel free to not post. I am curious if you've heard this, however.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I confirmed that it is true.

I looked at the DAC-200ts manual's warranty section (PDF manual) and it states, "...(18) month parts and labor warranty from the date of the original purchase from Cary Audio."

And, "This warranty extends to products purchased directly from Cary Audio or an authorized Cary Audio dealer. Purchasers should inquire of the dealer regarding the nature and extent of the dealer’s warranty, if any."

It sure makes sense to me to ask the dealer how long of the original Cary warranty is left when purchasing.

dwberk's picture

our warranty was actually extended. the 12 warranty on digital products was increased to 18 months to compensate for dealers turning inventory. With the "buy just in time" model most dealers use today as opposed to actually stocking product, we felt and additional 6 month was ample time to sell any stock one may have. When it comes to floor demo's we offer special demo pricing to the dealer with incentive to turn that demo and be able to offer as much as the original warranty as possible. Dealers are incentivized to do so. If a dealer holds onto a product for years and forgoes our incentives, then they fail to use the program as intended. From a manufacturers view, it's not fair for a dealer to use a demo for a year or more (not knowing what wear and tear) and expect full warranty upon selling it. Car dealers don't do this. If you buy a demo car with 10k miles and the car manufacturer warranty is 50k mile, your remaining warranty is 40k miles. Our policy is no different and considering we actually extended the warranty length we are in fact tacking the customer into great consideration. I hope this helps!

ncmusicguy's picture

It isn't my intent to drag this discussion out. However, I will say that it is my expectation (actually requirement) that when I buy a brand new, unopened piece of equipment from any retailer, the full manufacturers warranty will be in place and honored, regardless of how long the retailer has had the equipment in their inventory.
Thanks for clarifying Cary Audio's policy for me.

dwberk's picture

understood. However, I feel it's much ado about nothing. At our level of product, inventory is not the norm by any stretch and 99.9% of goods are presold and custom ordered resulting in the customer getting a longer warranty period then before. It's actually beneficial to our customers base on current dealer models. Looking at it from a negative point of view is not a real world scenario today based on how dealers order. If dealers bought back stock today I would agree and our policy would reflect that. That being said, we always work with our dealers and customers to ensure a mutually beneficial transaction in all circumstances. Ask the dealer questions. Call us if in doubt about a "stock' unit. We'll more then happy to make sure you're covered to the fullest extent. Feel free to call anytime 919-867-4333

jgmein's picture

How do you think the Cary rates for value? A friend of mine preferred the 200ts to PS Audio's DirectStream DAC. Is that going too far?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If your friend prefers the Cary to the DirectStream, then the Cary certainly represents great value for him/her. However I don't believe everyone will share this preference.

I found the Cary very easy to like and the longer I listened, the more I found to like. It embodies many positive traits and a wonderful overall presentation without any glaring sonic penalties, again imo.

Doug M's picture

Thanks for the informative review. Do you know why Cary hasn't offered selectable filters (minimum phase, apodizing, etc.) on its DACs (as far as I can tell)?

They've done a great job of expanding their DAC line and feature set, other than selectable filters. I have the original Cary xCiter DAC and still like its sound very much (despite the now out of date feature set).

GreyHound's picture

I briefly had the 200ts for 2 weeks and I returned it. It sounded dull with little musicality. The tube stage sounded flat. There was no synergy with my system what so ever. It sapped the dynamics from my system. I really wanted it to work out. I ended up getting a Luxman DA-06 which is a perfect match for my gear which consists of a BAT VK-51se preamp, Pass Labx X250 amp, Magnepan 1.6 speakers and a Martin Logan sub crossed over at 45Hz. In all fairness, I did not use the USB section because the graphics card in my laptop died. So I used the spdif connection to my transport which is a Music Hall 25.2 CDP.

I believe that the 200ts is a good piece of gear, it has great features and is built like a tank. It just did not work out for me.