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Product Review
 

Cary Audio Design CDP 1 CD Player

July, 2007

Michael Galvin

 

Specifications:

● Codecs: Redbook CD, CD-R, CD-
   RW
● Upsampling: Analog Outputs to
   768 kHz, 24 bit; Digital Outputs to
   192 kHz, 24 bit
● MFR: 2 Hz  - 22 kHz
● THD: 0.003% (1 kHz)
● Output Voltage: 3 Volts RCA, 6
   Volts XLR
● Outputs: RCA and XLR Analog,
   Coaxial and Toslink Digital
● Dimensions: 4.5" H x 17" W x 13" D
● Weight: 23 Pounds
● MSRP: $1,995 USA

Cary Audio

Introduction

Cary Audio became synonymous with high-quality - but affordable - tube amplification some years ago, and in my experience, that reputation is, well deserved.

A Cary tube integrated was the centerpiece of my reference system many moons ago, and even though a change in speakers hastened its departure, the sound it produced remains a subject of fond memories.

In recent years, Cary has reached out beyond its two-channel, tube origins in order to capture some of the burgeoning home theater market. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Cary now makes many solid-state devices. The CDP 1 then is interesting in that regard; it represents both the present and past. It is 100% solid-state, but it is unabashedly two-channel only. Of course, I do not mean to imply that two-channel is a thing of the past, but whether a two-channel, Redbook CD-only machine represents the past for you, is a question that you must answer for yourself. In other words, do you need any $2000 CD player, regardless of its virtues? Cary obviously thinks so and is hoping that its CDP 1 can earn your hard-earned dollars.

The Design

The CDP 1 is part of Cary's entry-level Concept Series, a series which also includes an integrated amplifier, a power amplifier, and a preamplifier. The pieces share a common aesthetic faceplates in a very attractive matte two-tone black and silver with blue LED displays.

The CDP 1 is a substantial player, weighing in at 23 pounds. Overall, the CDP 1 exudes both craftsmanship and class. The refinements continue around back with the addition of balanced left and right channel outputs. Single-ended RCA analog outputs as well as both coaxial and toslink digital outputs are also included. D/A conversion is accomplished via two Burr Brown PCM 1792U chips. Digital sample rates to the analog audio outputs are adjustable, and the many options include the standard 44.1 as well as upsampling to 96, 192, 384, 512, or 768 kHz. The digital outputs allow rates of 44.1, 96, or 192 kHz (24 bit).

Cary press materials note that the CDP 1 is derived from the solid-state section of their $4000 303/300 CD player. Dynamic range, signal-to-noise ratio, and channel separation are all very high at 129, 122, and 104 dB, respectively.

The Cary had no trouble playing the many examples of CD-R that I listened to during the review. Additionally, it can decode the HDCD format. The remote is a simple plastic device, which includes all logical functions such as sample-rate adjustment and volume. I'm not one of those people that lust after three-pound metal remotes, so plastic is fine by me. The display is adjustable from the remote and includes three levels of brightness.

The CDP 1 displays a grid of CD track numbers in the lower right corner, and the display options include elapsed track time, remaining track time, elapsed CD time, and remaining CD time. I noted some variation of the brightness in part of the display, with some of the track numbers appearing a hair brighter than others. The CDP 1 sits on rubberized feet.

Initialization of CDs was on the slower side, but it was far from the slowest I have encountered. That last point must be contextualized because I now live with the slowest-initializing player I have ever encountered, the Rega Apollo. I have become exceedingly patient because of the Rega, but the Cary's lag may bug you.

My review system consists of Revel F12 loudspeakers, a Qinpu A1.0x integrated amplifier, the Rega Apollo CD player, a Denon DVD-910, Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cable, DH Labs Air Matrix interconnects, a Rotel RLC-1040 power conditioner, and Shunyata Research Diambondback AC cords on both the amplifier and CD player.

Listening

While Kid A is not my favorite Radiohead album, it has become somewhat of an inner detail torture test for every piece of new equipment that comes my way. Apart from the album's inherent artistic value, it clearly illustrates the resolving power, or lack thereof, of any player. Track one, "Everything In Its Right Place," demonstrates the CDP 1's ability to convey the song's schizophrenic left to right transients. The Cary enveloped me in the song in a way that was indeed surround-esque. It seemed more than technical precision, which was there, but something else that I'm at a loss to fully explain. It was if the Cary were really getting the best out of my system's ability to place sounds in the space before me. Track eight, "Idioteque," includes a lot of varied, truly deep bass. The Cary's bass was more substantial than I remembered. It filled the room, something the Revels don't often achieve at the volumes at which I listen. Track 10, "Motion Picture Soundtrack," is memorable for the rapid attack of individual notes. The Cary was less than perfect at keeping the sounds distinct, but it is certainly the equal of its price peers.

Deerhoof's 2005 release, The Runners Four gets heavy rotation in my CD player. Track four, "Vivid Cheek Love Song" is a good example of their chaotic style. It features the child-like signing of Satomi Matsuzak, juxtaposed with propulsive guitar and drums. The CDP 1 was very convincing at articulating the individual strings of the bass during the opening notes. Low-end bass had both weight and definition. On track five, "O'Malley Former Underdog," the high frequencies were less pronounced than what I've heard, and it did seem to be an unfortunate omission. The song ends with a series of strange high-frequency effects, all of which were less incisive than what I remembered. Track 10, "You Can See," features staccato guitar and a very prominent male vocal. The Cary seamlessly glued all these disparate elements together to great musical effect. The Cary was able to make the album sound fresh, and I marveled at just how oddly layered and disjointed much of Deerhoof's songs are on this album. The Cary correctly nailed the pacing of this album, which is critical to its enjoyment.

Even though her subsequent album, The Greatest, features far more accomplished production, I still prefer Cat Power's 2003 release, You Are Free for its raw energy. Cat Power is the alias of Chan Marshall who sings over her own guitar and piano, which, if not perfect from a technical perspective, is nonetheless emotionally convincing. I rely on song two, "Free," because Chan's slides of her hand along the neck of her guitar produce a series of wonderful bird-like chirps. I clearly discerned the guitar just left of center, and within that, the Cary also revealed the tightness of Chan's grip on the strings as she went through the song. I was able to appreciate both the performance space and the performer within it. The spatial cues highlighted the intimacy of the wonderfully expressive female voice and the ragged guitar playing.

The background vocals on track three, "Good Woman," have proven to be rather indistinct, and to my dismay, the Cary left them that way. I guess my gripe here is not with the Cary, but with the producer of the album, as I hope (in vain, it seems) that some piece of equipment will flush these vocals out further. Track seven, "He War," has a rumbling presence to it that relies heavily on the bass information. The Cary excelled in supplying this critical foundation. Track nine, "Babydoll," features guitar and vocals over a layer of guitar distortion at various points within the track. The vocal articulation becomes really important here, as the distortion can tend to blur it. No problems through the Cary, in fact, I could even hear Chan take breaths throughout the song.

The Cary is not one of those hyper-detailed players that affirms you are listening to digital playback, but neither is it one of those indistinct players that bore you to death. It balances a position in between those two extremes with great success. I noted many times that bass seems to be its strong suit, but that may not be telling the whole story. The quality of the bass, however, is one of the main things that elevate it above the many mid-fi players I have owned.

I was unable to use the Cary's balanced outputs, so the sound quality may actually improve if those outputs are used, but that is only speculation at this point. The various times I adjusted the sampling frequency left me wondering what the value of that feature really was, as I consistently noted that the high frequencies seemed softened whenever a disc was upsampled. I never thought the Cary sounded harsh or that the high frequencies needed taming, so upsampling was off for most of the review period.

Conclusions

The Cary CDP 1 is double the price of the Apollo, but that's the only comparison I can make with any real relevance at this point, so it will have to do. Ideally, I would have several $2,000 players on hand to face down the Cary, but that kind of review seems to be the sole province of the Brits, which is unfortunate as I myself find those types of reviews extremely helpful.

Needless to say, the Apollo is a terrific bargain, and this opinion comes from someone who thought the original Rega Planet was ridiculously overrated. Rega got most everything right with the Apollo, a remarkable achievement given its price, but the Cary clearly had it all over the lower-priced player in terms of both bass weight and articulation.

The high frequencies of the Apollo seemed a bit more piercing at times and as a result, the sound was could be both more involving and more irritating than the Cary. This, however, was not an omnipresent issue, just something I noted a few times, so it is not to say that the Cary was rolled off. The Cary also noticeably bested the Rega in soundstage width, but both players were equally lacking in believable soundstage depth. The players seemed about equal in pace and timing.

Overall, the Cary had a better balance to its sound, convincingly portraying both intimacy and explosiveness with remarkable ease whenever called upon. I cannot say that within the limits of my system that the Cary had twice the sound quality of the Apollo, but high performance increases are not linear with cost.
 

- Michael Galvin -

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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