There are a bunch of folks on the digital forum in Audio Asylum that have them already and are raving.
I got a chance to play around with it this weekend at a friends place. We also did a quick comparison with the Naim CDS2.
The Cary player sounded pretty good -- detailed, open and lively sounding. The tube output option sounded less bright and not as open and airy on top, but I am sure that too might be a reasonable tradeoff depending on the system it is in (a true comparison is made a bit difficult by the apparently lower output of the tube output).
If you are into tweaking, the multiple upsampling options could be a source of endless fun. For me, I was less enamoured with this feature, particularly because no one particular option seemed best to my taste for all CDs. The top rate 192k sounded the most open and airy, in a similar manner to SACDs, but it could also sound a bit dynamically soft. Also at 192k, the image would sound wider and have more front-to-back dimensionality, but the image seemed a bit ephemeral and not solidly placed. Both qualities, are what I also here with many SACDs. I tended to prefer the second and third step to the highest step up in upsampling.
Overall, I preferred the sound of the Naim CDS2 player to the Cary in the particular review system (Naim preamp and amp, Spendor S8 speakers). The Naim has a richer upper bass/lower midrange that made the music sound meatier. The sound seemed to bloom into the room more with the Naim. The Cary did sound a bit rough and brash in the upper range and did not have as rich a midrange. But, this is probably an issue of system matching -- the Cary certainly sounded very good, just not as good in this system. The advantage of the Naim player increased substantially when it is supplemented with an optional external power supply, but that puts the combination well beyond the price range of the Cary.
I heard this players at Celestial Audio and Video in Phoenix, Arizona yesterday. I auditioned it against an ARCAM FMJ CD33 and a $9k CDP made by YPA (a French company I'd never heard of.) The 303/300 BLEW AWAY the other two players.
All three were run through a Pass Labs pre and amp with identical IC's. The speakers were Celestial Altair speakers (check them out: http://www.celestialav.com/altair.html) I used my own source material, which was Chuck Mangione's Millenium Collection remaster, primarily comparing "The Children of Sanchez (Overture)" and "Hill Where the Lord Hides."
I liked the ARCAM - it sounds very up-front on vocals and lead instruments. I was floored at how brilliant trumpets sound with the ARCAM. I had a hard time hearing the mid-bass and bass region, however, leading me to conclude the ARCAM is a bit bright. I also could not hear much resolution on the quick bass guitar lines in "Sanchez." I'm not sure if the bass resolution was really somewhat poor or if I just couldn't hear it well enough due to how up-front the lead and treble was, though. The soundstage seemed somewhat collapsed to me, and certain images moved around inexplicably - the drums on "Sanchez" seemed to move out to the sides of the soundstage during the solos, for example. The imaging for the lead instrument was always focused and centered, however. For those that like an in-your-face, the ARCAM is for you!
I liked the ARCAM, but the Cary was just phenomenal. I listened to it for an hour, replaying various parts of the source material in each upsampling mode and through both the tube and SS output stages, and found joy in the 24/96 and 24/192 SS settings. The treble and vocals are much more laid back with the Cary than the ARCAM. The overall sound was much warmer with the Cary in all upsampling modes. The bass resolution was fantastic - I could listen to the bass guitar and hear every note, regardless of how quick the notes, with no problem. The Cary was dynamic, and the soundstage was HUUUUUGE. I read some comments on the 303/200 (which I haven't heard yet, but will in a couple weeks) that the soundstage for that player was "exaggerated", and this may be the case with the 303/300 as well, considering the incredible difference between the soundstage of the 303/300 and the ARCAM. Not only was the soundstage wider than the speakers, it extended all the way back to the wall, which was about 8 feet behind the speakers. I'm not sure how accurate the imaging was - the trumpets on "Sanchez" seemed to be in an arc centered behind the singer/soloist, whereas the trumpets are on the right with every other source I've heard. Same with the trombones - they sounded like they were sitting right in front of the trumpets, rather than being on the left. Imaging was pinpoint.
But here's the most important thing I can say about the Cary: I wasn't listening to a recording of Chuck Mangione. When I closed my eyes, the whole damn band was right there in front of me! I'm certain if I disoriented someone, blindfolded them and took them in the room they would've thought they were listening to live music. It was amazing.
I've read alot of stuff from alot of sources on CD's, since I'm looking to upgrade my mid-fi CDP later this year. I've heard several CDP's up to the $10k range (not the Wadia 861se yet, though), and I can say that this $4k Cary 303/300 was BY FAR my preference.
I'll repost to this thread at the end of the month after I get to listen to the Ayre CD-7 and Wadia 861se in San Diego.
But for now, my money is on the 303/300. It's so good I'll actually do something I swore I'd never do: buy new!
I own this player. The only way I was able to replicate the "arc/previous on right" was to purposely reverse polarity on one channel. Not saying the dealer had a "flawed" demo, but it wouldn't surprise me. Anyway, I basically agree with your comments. Also tube rolling can, to some extent-tune the sound to give you the in room response that you desire.
Just picked it up, couldn't be happer. The detail in the palyer is awesome and the sound stage is nice and wide but not to wide. I really like being able to switch from the tubes to the solid state. I have all tube stuff but some music just sound a bit crisper with the solid state and it sutes the music better, however I will use the tubes more it is a ritcher sound. WHat a improvement over last years model. Overall I think I found a winner.