There is one saying that holds true for just about everything, the more things change the more they remain the same. At first glance, the statement seems to contradict itself. How can things change and yet remain the same? Perhaps one of the best examples of why this is true occurs in the world of perfect sound reproduction, where one would conceivably never know the difference between a recording and the original.
That is not to say that things remained the same. One such example is tubes giving way to solid state in virtually all forms of audio equipment as technology began to transform the world. Yet as the years past, tubes made their way back into even entry-level equipment as some listeners felt sound had become overly electronic and metallic like the equipment that reproduced it. The market is full of components that use tubes, as well as high tech digital solutions, many of which are hybrids, but all of which continue to strive for the best possible sound reproduction.
This brings up an interesting conundrum, especially in the world of sound reproduction to move on the pathway towards perfection. Well, the answer is technology, though certainly not perfection instantiated, has certainly the audiophile world. The increased ability to blend both the best of digital and analog worlds together has given way to greater potential, even as the very recording formats have changed and remained the same. The realm of professional sound recording and mastering capabilities is changing, allowing consumers glimpses and sometimes more into increased performance and better sound.
The blend of digital and analog into hybrid equipment has become more and more a reality. The ability to obtain the best that both technologies have to offer in components allows listeners the ability to choose the most "correct" or perhaps better called, the personally "correct" playback of material delivered. In the case of material delivered electronically, either through physical discs, such as CDs, or electronic means such as digital files, the combination of possibilities is nearly endless for playback depending on the system used.
The Company And Equipment
Times have changed again and the quest for better, flawless reproduction continues unending. Cary Audio remains committed to embracing the latest technologies, while keeping a keen eye to utilize their own core competencies as well. Their latest products, released over the last several months are prime examples of this fact, but none more perhaps than the DMC-600SE. Within their line of components, it represents the most vivid example of possibilities when old school tubed technology meets new school digital technology to create a synergistic relationship.
The DMC-600SE is somewhat of a Swiss Army knife, so to speak. It has the capability to take nearly any format of digital format and convert it to analog signal. These include PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz native audio as well as native DSD 64, 128, and 256 audio. Additionally the SE version, there is also a standard version, adds the ability to utilize professional or semi-professional master clocks as a source and link it to subsequent equipment, should you have one. Though the company is quick to point out, they put a great deal of effort into their own digital clock, so it is certainly not a necessity. It is also something that this review did not evaluate. It also is supposed to better internal components than its sibling is, but once again, it is not something tested as the review sample was the SE model.
In addition to taking digital formats, it takes digital signal in a variety of ways. One of the most apparent features of the component is the disc loader which signifies its ability to play discs Echoing the industry, Cary has moved away from CDs not only because the market has better and more utilized formats, but also because, according to the company, the drives themselves are getting harder to find. However, the refinement that Cary adds to this particular CD drive gives it a quality that anyone with a substantial CD collection like this reviewer will appreciate.
However, this is certainly not the only way of supplying digital signal to the two coaxial, one TosLink, one AES/EBU and one USB connection. In addition to the physical connections, the unit also allows for Bluetooth connections. This connection employs the company's CSR aptX lossless Bluetooth. The upshot is that it allows you to connect to mobile devices through Bluetooth rather than directly eliminating the need for additional cables and the need for additional software, without sacrificing any audio integrity.
Once the digital signal arrives at its processors, the DMC-600SE really takes off, so to speak. Utilizing TruBit Upsampling technology, the unit allows you to take CDs, Bluetooth, Coaxial or TosLink signal and change the sampling rate. Although quick to point out in their documentation that this upsampling is a way of achieving greater audio fidelity, it is not a complete fix and oversampling might result in a decrease in performance. Luckily, the supplied remote gives users a very simple way of changing the sampling rate to their own preference according to different input types and remembers the levels for subsequent use.
Finally, rounding out its feature rich offering is the company's DiO vacuum tube and solid state analog outputs. The output supplied to downstream components can connect through either a pair of fully balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA connections. Additionally, the DMC-6000SE works as a digital preamplifier because it has a fully integrated volume control does not influence the sound quality. It is not hard to see why the company claims the first three initials, DMC, stand for digital music center.
Rough To Smooth Transitions
Once out of the carton, it became evident immediately that the build quality and attention to detail was spectacular. The unit itself weighing in at a hefty thirty-five pounds is impressive, but the fact that included with component were spiked feet and a casters specifically built to allow for both accurate placement, balance and increased vibration isolation was a definite plus in my book. It certainly made the placement and setup of the DMC-600SE simple in my reference system and gave me the opportunity to worry less about external influences right out of the box.
With the component in place and connected by way of Nordost Red Dawn interconnects, power cords and their Qbase power system; it was time for the arduous task of breaking in the component itself. The usual time for this process is a few hundred hours and the DMC was no exception. However, during the break-in period, some concerns began to arise. These concerns revolved mainly around some hiccups with the CD playback somehow not functioning correctly in all cases and some more issues with the Bluetooth connectivity. It is unusual for there to be a few minor concerns with new equipment in my experience. The response from Cary Audio more than made up for these challenges.
During the same time, I had already had an open dialogue with Billy Wright, CEO of Cary Audio, on the setup and use of certain features. Upon having these issues, he immediately took action and within a week, the first revision of the firmware was in my email box ready to install. Of course, nothing goes without a hitch; remember the old serial cables you used a few years ago, well the bios upgrade works through these cables. Unfortunately, my cables were either lost currently in the ether or gone forever, because it took me an additional few days to get a cable to allow the upgrade, but after one mistake in the cable ordered, the update worked without any problems. In fact, it was one of the simplest upgrades and once it completed all the minor issues disappeared.
Time To Try It Out
Firstly, my overall experience with the DMC-600SE was superior to just about anything in the recent past. One thing that seemed to become evident almost immediately, no matter what genre of music used was the clarity each musical selection possessed in evaluation. This was somewhat of a mixed blessing in many ways. For example, Jazz at the Pawnshop, which has been released by several record labels, happens to be in my personal stock of review material in multiple editions. The first, and perhaps least audiophile friendly version was everything I have come to expect from the recording. The DMC-600SE did a great job of reproducing the music from tracks like Limehouse Blues and How High the Moon. It did not lose any of detail of the instruments, vocals or recording location, but it also did not hide any of the flaws in the CD itself. In fact, using the upsampling capability brought out certain depth I hadn't heard, but also brought out the harshness of the non-audiophile mastering as well.
On the quest for better performance and quality of sound, I decided to add the only format not in my collection and download the high-resolution version from HD-Tracks. At a whopping 352kHz/24-bit resolution, it certainly trumps any of the other versions I had on-hand. The connection to my PC was simple and after discovering JRiver's Media Center, it was a breeze to get the evaluation underway. Unlike my first audition, there was absolutely no comparison between this reproduction of the material or any other in my experience, except perhaps with vinyl, and those were much closer. The sound was rich and extremely enveloping to the listener. In fact, the early part of Limehouse Blues had me looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was actually there. There was not, in case you were wondering, it was the recording itself. High Life, another track that I use repeatedly had me wondering why I had missed so much prior to this particular playback. About the only thing that I could not do with this high resolution, material was change the sampling rate, but then, there certainly was no need.
The second standout was Miles Davis's Bitches Brew on Mobile Fidelity's Label. Mobile Fidelity has been one of the leaders in audiophile quality sound and this particular album is certainly no exception. Their remastering efforts transformed a high quality recording on other labels into something magical that at sometimes seemed almost like being there during the recording session. In fact, with many SACD playback systems the fidelity is often times lost and on the CD layer it is slightly harder to get comfortably accurate playback. However, this was not the case with the DMC-600SE. In fact, although it does not have the capability to play the SACD version, the CD version was staggering to hear and experience. In this case, not only did the recording have a life of its own, but the playback was equally as engaging.
Once again, upon experimenting with the upsampling capability, this reviewer came to the same conclusion, that the veil between the material and the reproduction had lifted substantially. Unlike the experience earlier with the upsampling capability, this particular CD, again because of its quality, became more brilliant and the instruments themselves became more realistic and sharper as the rate increased. Of course everything has its limit, it seemed 192k was the limit I found the most enjoyment with on this particular album, though others varied.
It is hard to know where to stop with the material used in this review, but my favorite album in reviews, as many know is Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. The remastered version is another example of raising the bar on performance standards. Although I've often found that the SACD and vinyl have far more detail than the CD version, this was one of the few exceptions where it seemed not to matter. The difficult material, especially the heartbeat at the beginning, did not lose any of its luster because of the lower resolution medium.
That said, it was with this same album that I found that the Bluetooth version from my iPhone had a staggeringly remarkable impact on the sound. Unlike many of my prior experiences with Bluetooth connection, the DMC-600SE did not suffer from any of the loss in performance other systems seemed to experience. In fact, for the first time, I found myself enjoying the Bluetooth version more than the CD version and that is a statement in itself.
One interesting item which did seem to go counter to my experience with this equipment was my preference for the solid stage output stage rather than the tubed one. Although there were a few albums where I slightly preferred the tubes, overall it tended to cause a loss in sound depth and slight coloration to my ears, but certainly many listeners will find it more pleasing. Luckily, since the option exists to use either and switch during playback, there is no reason to decide.
That said, nothing is perfect and the DMC-600SE is no exception. Although these might not be considered flaws, they certainly detracted from an otherwise exceptional example of what synergy between vacuum tubes, transistors and computer chips These included a lack of network connectivity, the lack of ability to connect mobile devices directly and the loud click when it locked on Bluetooth sources. At the beginning of this review, there were many others, but as I finished the review a new firmware released addressed them.
Of course, nothing of this caliber comes without a price and the cost of owning your own Cary Audio DMC-600SE is $8000. It is definitely out of many people's price range, but for those that can afford the price it is well worth the investment. Especially for those audiophiles who are looking to get the most out of their CD collection, want the ability to stream high resolution material from their computer or have mobile devices they want exceptional performance.