Review: Cary Audio Design 308 CD Player CD Player

Category: Digital

In the what seeemed like a never ending search to replace my XA7ES, this is what I decided on. I was unfortunately bitten by the SACD bug once I witnessed it at a good friends house. I was quite optimistic on purchasing a Universal Player in the $2000.00 and below range. I started auditioning units like the Marantz 8260, the Denon 5900, and the other usual suspects in this price range.

I had purchased a Sony SCD-222es as a stepping stone unit to get me by and for something to get me by until I made my decision.This is not a bad sounding unit by any means but the Redbook performance just did not WOW me like the XA7es did. Well, after much auditioning and research, I came to the conclusion that a Universal Player is a bit of a compromise in many aspects. I mean there is just too much going on in one chasis.

I just could not find a universal player in my price range that had great Red Book Playback as well as SACD and DVDA. It was at this time that I started another avenue. I have been a long time CARY Audio fan and own a SLI-80 Signature which I have tuned with all NOS tubes and an Audience Powerchord. I emailed Kirk at CARY and started an e-mail conversation which quickly made me realize what I was looking for was right under my nose.

Taking a purest approach, it makes sense (to me anyway) to invest in a great Red Book player as I own well over 1000 CDs and all of about 20 SACDs. Well my decision was between the 308T and the 308. Since I am using a tube amp already, I decided on the the 308 and quickly found a new one on Audiogon from a Cary Dealer so I ordered it.

It arrived and I was very impressed as it is a heavy (25 pounds) unit and have very nice RCA outputs. Well, I hooked it up and let it warm up for about about 8 hours while I returned to work. Once I came home, I started to give it a serious listen knowing that Kirk had recomended 100 hours of proper break in.

Using my SLI-80 and Audience Au24 between the 308 and my Amp, I also have the 222es hooked up using Au24 as well. Not expecting a huge difference off the bat, I took a listen starting out with a little Snow Patrol(Final Straw). Wow, this sounds better to me, hmmm. My first impressions were as follows, the CARY was much quieter than the SONY and had this rythmic pace that was just pleasing. The soundstage moved back like 20 feet.(Not kidding). Imaging was solid as with the sony but passages were much more carefully outlined.

Okay, I am imagining some of this. So I go to my rack and pull a disc I have two of. Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlatism. I put the Sony on 2CH Red Book Mode and cue both of them up preparing to do some A/B testing. I start going back and forth and uh yea, it is clear. The CARY is just leeps and bounds better. Now, I know what you are thinking, the SONY costs less and is a changer. Yes, I know. However, I used the XA7ES for years and know what it sounds like. I would say in all seriousness, the 308 is a better sounding player than the XA7ES.

So feeling great about my purchase, I continue to listen and continue to be impressed. The player has well over 200 hours on it now and sounds even better. Something I have enjoyed as well is the HDCD playback. I never realized how many HDCD discs I actually owned. I will try and summarize what I feel are the strengths and weaknesses of this unit below.

Strengths: Deep Soundstage, solid imaging, a very neutral character with maybe a touch of warmth. Definately not rolled off or smooth.

Weaknesses: Hmmm, at this pricepoint, my only complaint would be the remote is kinda cheap feeling but no biggie.

If money was no object, I would definately own this player. Knowing me and my audio addition, I would probably purchase a higher end CARY Player down the road. But for now I am quite pleased. I have decided that I will keep the 222ES strictly for SACD playback and may even have it modded in the future to enhance my SACD enjoyment. As far a RED BOOK Playback, the CARY is my main source.

I know this is a long review and thank you for reading. Anyone looking at this player, should give it serious consideration.

Good listening!


Associated gear
SLI-80 Signature and Sonus Faber Concertos.

Similar products
Sony XA7ES, Sony 222ES, Micromega Stage 6, CEC 1050, Etc
Great review. I have the 308T as my main source. I have to say that SACD/DVD-A is not compelling to me since I have a Turntable and the 308T. I'm satisfied. Agree with the review.

Anyone know how the 303/100 or 303/200 compare to the 308 in terms of sonics?