CD Players

Cary Audio Design CD-500 CD Player

ARTICLE INDEX

Design and Setup

The CD-500 plays CDs (CD-R and CD-W) and also provides HDCD decoding. It has 192 kHz, 24 bit Burr Brown 1792u DAC chips in the digital to analog converter section. The CD-500 contains audio grade Elna capacitors in the audio circuit for improved musicality and bass definition. To ensure low jitter, it has three buffers, the first two being FIFO (first in first out). The final stage is the dual Burr Brown 1792u DAC chips that convert the digital signal to analog with extremely low jitter (around 90 picoseconds). It uses a ROM drive to buffer the data, which is said to improve the error correction by a factor of 100.

The upsampling is achieved with DSP circuitry that expands the 16 bit audio to 24 bits, where it can then be upsampled to 96, 192, 384, 512, or 786 kHz for the analog output. Why is this important? Two primary factors determine the quality of digital audio: the word depth (bit number) and the sampling rate. The DAC measures the level of sound many times per second and outputs this level as digital data. A word depth of 16 bits can resolve the level of each sample to an accuracy of about1/60K, while a word depth of 24 bits resolves each sample to an accuracy of about 1/1.5 million. Each bit of word depth adds approximately 6 dB of dynamic range, so a 16-bit recording has a dynamic range of 96 dB, while a 24-bit recording has a dynamic range of 144 dB. So pumping the 16 bits up to 24 bits does not add data to the original signal, but instead of the 44.1 kHz sample rate used for standard CD, it can then offer sample rates of 48 kHz, 96 kHz or even higher. Ironically, the higher sample rate goal is to make the digital signal sound more like analog. The 44.1-kHz sampling rate gives you a frequency response up to around 20 kHz, while a 96-kHz sampling rate can achieve a 48 kHz frequency response.

Outputs on the back include one coaxial, and one Toslink, a set of RCA outputs (unbalanced) and a set of XLR (balanced) outputs.

The CD-500 is available with a silver or black anodized aluminum front panel with a matching color remote that is plastic with a metal faceplate. The lower third of the remote can also be used to control a matching Cary amplifier. The remote also has a volume function, so connecting the CD-500 directly to an amp is an option if you use the analog outs, or us the volume control to sound level match other components going through your processor. The remote is not backlit, but I do not find that to be as critical as I would with a video source remote.

Weighing in at 24 pounds, this is a beefy piece of equipment and very solidly built. (I am referring, of course, to the Mercedes analogy from my opening statement).

The front panel display is a blue VFD that shows the usual track information. Instead of displaying STEREO, it opts for L-R. Since it is a 2 channel player, it seems odd to bother with that on a display, unless perhaps it changes to show a mono CD, of which I have none. Also, flashing disc icons that goes up to 16 will provide a visual queue for what track is playing, even though the track number is clearly visible. That seemed redundant and not useful for discs with over 16 tracks. Once over 16, a +16 icon continues to flash for the duration of the playing time. On the other hand, I have a player now that doesn't display what track is playing at all, just the total time elapsed. Now that's annoying! When a HDCD is being played, a blue LED in the upper right hand corner of the CD-500 lights up.

This was a nice feature as it led to the discovery of a disc that I have that is not labeled as a HDCD. More about that later. The disc tray was sturdy and quick to open and close. The faceplate is made of thick aluminum and the top and sides are thicker than most mass market devices you find today. The back has solid RCA jacks for you analog connectors. Other than a standard power cord, no other cables come with the Cary. The CD-500 exudes quality in construction, and in my opinion, just looks great. But what about the performance?