Cary 303/200 vs. Ayre CX-7

I recently purchased an Ayre CX-7 (demo w/ 200 hours). I had a brief listen a year ago and it peeked my interest. I am now comparing it to my Cary 303/200. Overall, I like both and could live with both (albeit not an option). They sound different, but both are really enjoyable. I am listening two the players with XLO Sig. XLR cables, Krell HTS 7.1, Cary Cinema 5 amp, & B&W 804N. The Ayre is with a stock PC; the Cary is with a Zu Bok.

The Ayre sounds more natural with cleaner, more detailed highs. Nuances are easier to hear. Instruments seem more life-like. Imagining is a strong suit, but the sound stage is noticeably smaller than the Cary. Overall, its sound more refined than the Cary.

The Cary’s highs are not as crisp and detailed, but the player seems more melodic. It has a fuller sound-stage with a more pronounced mid-range and upper bass.

I actually like the sound of both. After listening to a bunch of music, it’s a toss up. The Ayre seems great with vocals, acoustic & a number of rock/alt recordings. The Cary seems to have the edge with harder rock & conveying more emotion. In particular, Eva Cassidy’s Songbird….Ayre sounds accurate & detailed....Cary the vocals are not as clear (a bit smeared on top), but they just penetrate you. Male vocals, however, come across nicer on the Ayre. I assume this reflects the differences in the two players approached to detail and the top end.

This is going to be tough choice. They are both great sounding players with slightly differences approaches. I was curious to know any thoughts from others familiar with both players.
The Ayre CX-7 and the Cary 306 were on my short list. I listened to the Cary in both upsampling modes (96 and 192) and seemed to prefer the 96 -- which I believe the 303 has. I really liked the Ayre. It seemed to have some noise problems initially that apparently were fixed. There are recent postings that seem to indicate that there are problems with the 303. You might also want to listen to the MF a308cr and the Meridian G08.
In the end I would go with the Ayre, although there are a few things that bother me about it:

1. The remote is extremely cheap
2. There is no fast forward function.
3. You can't enter the number of a song you want to hear.
4. The chasis (especially the top)is somewhat resonant.
5. Some hybrid cd's won't play. Check with Ayre.
6. The Ayre has a vibrant character but is not very dynamic. In other words, if you had just returned from a live blues or jazz concert you would probably prefer the Cary. Guitar notes, rim shots from drums, etc don't "startle" you on the Ayre like they could on the Cary.

I just seems to me that at this price point all of the above could have been addressed and eliminated. Now, the good points:

The size of the Cary soundstage is exaggerated while the Ayre's is more realistic. The images within the soundstage of the Ayre have more weight. The Ayre is extremely clean without being "bright". The detail/resolution is there without being overbearing. At first I thought it was bright but do use the Myrtle woodblocks that Ayre provides. They actually work. Also, Ayre recommends Cardas cables ( i.e Golden cross or reference) but I found the Nirvanna audio S-L's to be a perfect fit. Unbelieavbly quitet backgound eliminates some of the noise you referred to. I have never heard better bass definition and vocal clarity in any stand alone cd player. It's scary how good it does those two things. It is one of the most neutral players I have heard. No one frequency (mid's, bass or treble) is emphasized over the other. Reminds me of the Thiel 1.6's that excel in this same area. I agree with you that its a very refined, sophisticated sound but it is not musical. But I'd have to tell you that most "musical" players color the mid-range or roll off off some other frequency to obtain their "musicality". Comes down to do you want the musical truth or do you want musicality?

Finally, timing, pace and rythm is good, not on par with a Naim or Arcam but still very good.

I must prefice all of the above by saying that the Ayre CX-7 is at the top of the food chain for a stand alone cdp. However, you can achieve siginficantly better redbook playback by going to a transport with a dac. I'm currently using a Sony XA SCD-777ES with a musical fidelity Tri-Vista 21 dac and the sound is phenomenal..better clarity and detail with the dynamics that the Ayre is missing. And the Tri-Vista, while a very good dac, is not a great dac...nor is the Sony the best transport (not like a Theta, Forsell, etc). So, you could achieve better results by using components better than mine.

But the Ayre is nice and over time it gets better. Needs at least 100 hours break-in and that is not just a marketing's true! By the way, check out the new Lector cd player that just got a rave review from The abosolute sound. It was introduced at the 2004 CES show and by all accounts its the real deal...all of the attributes of the Ayre but with the "musicality" you are looking for.

Good luck!

If I can enter a comment: I have the Ayre right now; I'm auditioning it over the weekend. I find it QUITE dynamic, although I don't know if it does fff or merely ff. However, it is clearly a dynamic player in its frequency range. Only the treble dynamics are somewhat "polite"." Could perhaps be having a room interaction? I placed an ASC tube trap on the floor last night as a test to see if the Alons I have were still interacting with the floor (the bass driver is dynamic, for those who don't know, but the mid-and-treble drivers are dipole).

It made a significant difference in the clarity of the lower midrange and bass frequencies descending -- along with a significant increase in the dynamics of the entire frequency range, as though the lower midrange boost that must have been there was masking dynamic contrasts.
I'm not buying the Ayre, so I have no vested interest in it. However, from what I can see, the dynamic range, excluding treble, is fine. Ayre's amps had the same problem in 1994, when I owned the V1 amp: they were dull in the upper midrange/lower treble. I'd say the CD player is along those lines. What I mean is, it's not "see-into" in these frequencies, although you can hear detail fine. It's a bit like a car window with an extremely light morning mist on the windshield: you can see clearly, but you also know the mist is make the windshield just the tiniest bit hazy.
It's a nice player, though!
Thank you for the comments. Truadiophile, I agree with your observations on both of these players. At this point, I have sold the Cary (with a bit of remorse)and kept the CX-7. I do believe the Ayre is a more neutral sounding player than the Cary, and decided to live with it a while.

I have added the ayre wood blocks and changed to a Cardas Golden PC. Both have had a positive impact. As I listen more, it is a very nice player (which I am adjusting to)that does many things well. I would still say it is not as captivating as the Cary, albeit more realistic. At this performance level, it is certainly preference to which one sounds better.