Cary Audio DAC100t DAC

American Cary Audio has become widely known in audiophile circles thanks to a wide range of tube amplifiers that have been produced over the years. They are present in the current catalog of the company, but most of it is still high-tech products that meet the requirements of modern music lovers.

I should note that the Cary Audio developers made their way from classic 300B and 845 straight triode amplifiers to multichannel processors and advanced DACs in record time.

The DAC100t is one of the company's most interesting products. This is a high-resolution converter that provides switching of five digital inputs - two coaxial, two optical and USB 2.0. From the USB interface, the signal is processed according to an asynchronous algorithm by the XMOS processor, which made it possible to largely suppress jitter and receive a data stream in the format up to 24 bit / 192 kHz (according to some reports, up to 384 kHz). The desired input is selected using the buttons on the front panel and confirmed by the glow of the blue LED. At the same time, you can hear how the relays click - it's right that the developers abandoned the electronic switch as a compromise solution. When connected via SPDIF and TosLink, the signal is fed to a high-end Wolfson WM8805 input receiver, which provides operation with a sampling rate of 192 and 96 kHz, respectively. The frequency of the input signal is also indicated by LEDs. The next stage, digital-to-analog conversion, is handled by a pair of modern ESS Saber ES9023 chips in balanced mode. Such circuitry is distinguished by a low level of noise and distortion, therefore it is increasingly used in high-end digital technology. In addition, a balanced line output is automatically obtained, which is implemented on XLR sockets with gold-plated contacts. This is better than artificially getting a balanced output out of a normal one with multiple op-amps. With a separate button, you can invert the absolute phase of the audio signal by 180 degrees.

The converter is available in two versions - with semiconductor and tube analog stages. We have the second option, which is confirmed by the letter "t" (tube) in the model name. Each channel outputs a 6922 dual triode, one half of which amplifies voltage and the other half amplifies current, providing a low output impedance for better cable matching. The manufacturer recommends the DAC 100t for systems with a "cool" sound, and the DAC 100 for audiophiles who prefer accuracy and super detail. In both cases, extremely concise circuitry is used without general feedback. Like the use of tubes in digital technology, the lack of feedback is a heated debate, but I will refer to the opinion of Nelson Pass, designer of amplifiers Adcom, Pass Labs, Thresold and others. "For some rational and irrational reasons, they are hugely popular with music lovers."

The device is assembled in a full-sized 44-cm case and weighs (9.5 kg) can be compared with a decent integrated amplifier. A strong steel chassis, a thick aluminum front panel, two mains transformers are classic attributes of High End Audio. One custom-made torus with a Faraday screen that protects against external interference and interference provides power to the analog path, and the other, which is simpler, to the digital one.

The full-face converter looks solid and simple - a row of buttons, two lines of LEDs and a large power switch on the dividing strip.

We started the tests using an editorial player as a CD transport with a coaxial output. I wonder what the developers had in mind when describing the sound of the transistor version as detailed? The fact is that the DAC 100t has no problems with nuances either, every little thing is literally at a glance. True, there is a tendency to enlarge individual details somewhat, but the tubes are good because you can pick up specimens with the desired sound signature. For example, instead of the modern 6922, the good old 6DJ8 or E88CC are installed one-on-one, and any such replacement will give noticeable changes in sound. But even in the basic version, it is quite consistent with audiophile canons. The lower register is carefully worked out, there is neither heaviness nor monotony in it. Everything here is quite lively and comfortable, the reproduction of attack and infra-low notes will depend solely on the capabilities of the acoustic systems. The mids and highs are characteristic of the Saber ES9023 - these ranges are open, transparent and informative. Only on polyphonic phonograms with a dense filling of the spectrum, the sound is perceived not too collected, as if slightly relaxed. Sometimes such a presentation even seems comfortable due to the absence of the slightest hint of tightness or increased, on the verge of sharpness, contrast. Music flows freely, easily, without obvious simplifications, which even very expensive USB converters often sin when decoding a 16/44.1 signal. Although there is, of course, a difference in the sound of CDs and high-resolution files.

Here I pass the floor to my colleague, who did a head-to-head comparison by periodically switching the DAC 100t from coax to USB while playing the same song on the CD transport and from the MacBook at the same time. I failed to do this, because. on my laptop under Windows 7 it was not possible to install the driver posted on the Cary Audio website.

So, the quote: "I had special hopes for listening to HD files from a computer via a USB interface. With the Apple MacBook Air laptop, the converter sang without a single hesitation - there was no need to install any drivers or set special settings. DAC 100t, as they say, immediately picked up the 24-bit/192 kHz asynchronous stream transmission protocol installed in the program.

The nature of playback of files with a resolution of 16 bit / 44.1 kHz, I would describe as neutral-aloof (intentionally started by comparing the same musical material, but from different sources - from a CD player and a MacBook). In both cases, there were practically no bright colors and stormy dynamic splashes - everything sounded free, melodious and very clean. When playing from a computer, there was a slight increase in fine details in the upper register. I did not notice any timbre changes in the middle band, but each image in space was outlined better, which added a little realism compared to the CD.

But the content, which was originally digitized with a higher resolution, sounded without any revelations. The improvements were minimal and more of a technical than aesthetic nature: the scene was more accurate, distant shots were better read, the downward range expanded, dynamic contrasts became a little sharper ... Usually, with the transition to HD files, some special liveliness appears in the sound, additional information , frightening naturalness, and the Cary converter proved to be not so much an improviser as a pedant.

As you can see, in general, our assessments of sound coincided. As for pedantry, in digital technology this is a plus, not a minus. Accuracy and neutrality of reproduction is the basis that the developers of the device must certainly ensure, minimizing all possible distortions, including jitter. And the owner is free to do any tweaking to his own taste - select tubes and cables, experiment with power. By the way, it is DACs that are especially sensitive to the use of network filters and air conditioners. So if there is a solid foundation, as in our case, then the superstructure is a simple matter.

Cary Audio DAC100t DAC photo