Cary Audio SI-300.2D Integrated Amplifier with DAC Review
This is a review summary written by Terry Ellis December 2021
For the full review please see my YouTube video linked here
The famous tube sound
Cary Audio are a very long established American high end HiFi manufacturer that started back in the late 1980’s and you may know them for their valve amplifiers and preamplifiers. They asked me if I would like to review two of their products, firstly their flagship network audio player the DMS-700 and secondly their most popular product the SI-300.2D integrated amplifier.
I think one of the big appeals of the SI-300.2D is that its a solid state amplifier but one that has been designed with the promise of Cary’s famous tube sound so as you can imagine I was pumped to try it.
Offering a lot of; power, upsampling tech, a DAC and a WiFi connection for…
The SI-300.2D is a class A/B integrated amplifier that can deliver 300 watts of power per channel into 8 ohms and 450 watts into 4 ohms and in practice driving some quite power hungry TAD CE1 speakers I found it had the minerals to drive the speakers properly. When you look at the amplifiers internals it has a unique circuit layout and design with all the transistors and heatsinks on one side and power supply on the other. There is a huge transformer employed here and the amplifiers are extremely close to the output terminals which has to be a good thing.
The digital and DAC section of the Cary are situated in its middle and looking at the rear there are multiple digital connections for input and output providing a lot of user system flexibility. There is bluetooth 4.0 aptX low latency support and you can connect the Cary to your network via wireless to allow app based control of all of its features, I found this feature to be much more useful than I initially expected.
Other useful connections are stereo subwoofer line level pre-outs, home theatre bypass inputs and analogue inputs that bypass the digital section of the amplifier. I feel like 99% of audiophiles needs would be met here and then there is Cary’s proprietary TruBit™ upsampling and OSO™ reclocking technology that allows the user to select their music to be upsampled all the way up to 1 bit DSD 256 which is pretty mind boggling, especially as this also works for Bluetooth.
Testing Each Bit
I started the review by testing the Cary purely as an integrated amplifier and fed into it with a balanced analogue connection from my review HiFi system and pretty quickly I could tell what type of amplifier it was. Its a warmer sounding amplifier that majors on tonal saturation with a bolder overall sound. I wasnt sure initially if this was a good sound match for the TAD speakers as it seemed like it could be too much of a good thing with their more warm character, however I also felt like maybe the Cary needed some more playtime to fully open up.
I connected to the Cary via a coaxial digital connection to test the internal DAC and see how the amplifier sounds as a whole, I also gave the amplifier considerable more play time just to make sure. I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the internal DAC but I think more impressive was how its sound balanced extremely well with the amplifiers sound. I always expect an amplifier with a built in DAC to create a great overall sound with there being obvious synergy but that’s not always the case, and quite often I still prefer to use an external DAC, however the Cary held my attention for several multiple hour, varied music style very enjoyable listening sessions.
Famous tube sound – confirmed
I quickly realised that the Cary had been allowing me to enjoy a whole host of different music because it was all sounding good, not every track was a good as the last but the delta between them seemed smaller than usual, even with Qobuz generally very good sound for cloud streaming we all know not all music is created equal. I surmised the Cary wasn’t separating the wheat from the chaff quite as obviously as I am used to but it also wasnt pulling the music apart either I think in the main for the better.
Music was fun, engaging and very enjoyable to listen to as a musical whole, I wasnt focusing on the small details as much as usual, instead I was enjoying the bigger picture. The Cary present vocals that are smooth, tonally rich and full in size, the bass is rounded and bouncy and massively pleasing and the treble is smooth and glare free, if but a touch play it safe. The soundstage is not as wide open as I am used to, instead its more densely populated. There is the level of soundstage organisation and layering you would expect for high end HiFi at this price with each individual element of the music being large and solid creating an overall bold presentation. The rhythm of the Cary was particularly enjoyable, I found myself really sinking into music and feeling it in my body, it really did get my head nodding and feet tapping and it put a smile on my face.
Really love listening to music
At £5990 the 300.2 has some serious competition and some of its competitors are offering more features such as built in streaming and even DSP capability. I think the big appeal of the Cary will be its sound or overall sound character, that famous Cary tube sound, the warmer, engaging, smooth and bold combination definitely makes sitting and listening to music a very enjoyable and gratifying thing to do, and surely that is what its all about.
An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential.
For the full Specification of the Cary Audio SI-300.2D
See the website here