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Cary 303/300 - How to use 768 kHz upsampling without it sounding bright

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
When I first got my Cary 303/300 it sounded horribly bright even when using 44.1 kHz with the warmest tubes (Mullard CV4003/12AU7). I thought it just needs some burn-in and 300+ hours later I was very surprised and disappointed that it was still very bright. My brightest sounding albums were totally unlistenable to, and my warmest albums were too bright. Increasing upsampling to 96 kHz just made it much more brighter.

Now half a year later I use 768 kHz without tubes and my brightest albums sound as smooth and warm as I want, and all my other albums sound too warm, sometimes so warm that it's unbearable! How did this happen? Read on.

Update january 30 2006: Solid-state now sounds warmer than tubes due to TubeWave and isolation devices.

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How I got into power conditioning

My headphone setup was pretty good (or so I thought) with Benchmark DAC-1, AKG K501 headphones, Graham Slee Solo head amp and Nordost Valhalla interconnects.
Then I decided to upgrade to AKG K1000 earspeakers and started looking around for what amp to use. Someone said a cheap Krell amp was better than high-end tube amps in detail and resolution, but the problem was that Krell is very expensive here in Sweden. Importing a 110v Krell would have been cheaper, but it would have cost $1000 to modify it to 220v. I searched around and found out that some were using PS Audio Power Plants to change the voltage from 110v to 220v. I wasn't sure what to do and almost bought a 220v tube amp (I'm glad I didn't make that mistake!). But then miraculously I found a seller on Audiogon who sold both a Krell KAV-500i and a P300 Power Plant! I found a meaning of this and immediately bought them. Later I found out that this amp is a match made in heaven for K1000.
It had taken a couple of months to order K1000 but finally I received it. I connected it into my Krell and my first impression wasn't that good, it just sounded pretty cool that I could hear more in the recording. It sounded too metallic and bright. I noticed how good it sounds with music that has guitars, however, other music sounded bad and my choice of music changed a bit. A few weeks passed and I never enjoyed music like the way I used to, I didn't know how to fix that problem, I just thought that's how it's supposed to sound like and the reason why most people use tube amps with K1000. Then I started planning to buy a tube amp, I even made a $5000 bid on ebay for some Cary monoblocks, but lost the auction.

Then somehow (fate?) I found a review of a Nordost Valhalla power cord, it made me laugh, "what kind of idiot spends $2500 on a power cable". That same review had Nordost Vishnu ($599) in it too, and the reviewer said it had the same transparency as Valhalla but without the bass. I thought this was very good since I hated bass because it gave me a headache. After a week I bought a couple Nordost Vishnus and connected them to my Krell and DAC-1, it was smoother and I enjoyed music for the first time with my new K1000, I stayed up listening for hours!



Getting a new source

At first I wanted a new DAC, then I was thinking of McCormack UDP-1, but then decided on Cary 306 SACD and requested a 110v unit to be used with my Power Plant. The distributor wasn't helpful at all and told me to stop using the Power Plant! In the end I decided to get a Cary 303/300 just because it has tubes which would bring out the midrange that is lost with my Krell amp. I was hoping that the buffered power supplies of the Cary wouldn't require a Power Plant and I connected it into my wall with a stock power cord. I plugged it in and my first impression was that the transparency was very scary, wow, now I was expecting much more transparency after burn-in, however, that didn't happen and I got disappointed. Perhaps I was expecting too much. Then I decided to get another Power Plant...

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Getting another Power Plant

I was using a PS Audio Power Plant for my Krell KAV-500i amp but since it had a different output voltage I could not connect my new Cary to it. So I bought another Power Plant... It worked, it sounded less bright! Then the obsession began...



Exchanging the Nordost Vishnus

Next I upgraded the Nordost Vishnu power cord into Valhalla and it gave more bass and warmth, I was hooked, a few days later I bought another Valhalla for my amp and the improvement was much bigger there, this was the point when I started loving bass. It also removed the last small traces of brightness at the 44.1 kHz setting, however, increasing to 96 kHz was still too bright so I continued using 44.1 kHz. At this point I thought all brightness was gone and that was how upsampling was supposed to sound like. I thought my system was complete.




If I had bought the Cary 306 SACD instead of Cary 303/300 I wouldn't have had any money left for the upgrades below (fate again?).


PS Audio High Current Ultimate Outlet

I was browsing PS Audio forums and accidentally read about someone who used a High Current Ultimate Outlet between the wall and Power Plant. I wanted to improve my system so I tried it. Suddenly the noise floor got lower and I could listen 8 hours straight instead of only 2 hours. I got impressed of the long decay in my albums!



QuickSilver Contact Enhancer

I posted my "bang for the buck" system at Head-Fi and someone told me to try Walker SST Xtreme contact enhancer to get a little more speed for my system. I found a cheaper version that costs half as much and tried it. The improvement was much bigger than I thought, it sounded more natural and everything had improved by a lot. Later I treated all fuses (including those inside the Cary) and that gave a little more speed.



PS Audio Power Port

It took 2 months to receive these and finally I could modify my european version Ultimate Outlet. This made it possible to connect my US plug Vishnus to it, but I still had to use a stock cord to connect it to the wall. I seemed like I got a bit more transparency from this, but it could have been from re-applying the QuickSilver.
A while later I modified the wall with the Power Port, this didn't make a noticeable improvement because I still had a stock cord in the signal path.



PS Audio MultiWave II+ for Cary

I tried this out and didn't expect much of an improvement. What I didn't know was that it would turn out to be the best single upgrade ever. It gave more transparency with a dead black background and it was like listening to music for the first time. Two days later I ordered a MultiWave II and MultiWave II+ for my other Power Plant just so I could demagnetize my amp too.



At this point I tried the upsampling again and could not believe what I was hearing, where did the brightness go? After a while of testing I ended up using 384 kHz because 512 kHz was too bright. Changing from 44.1 kHz to 384 kHz felt like going from Redbook CD to SACD. My conclusion was that upsampling made the already existent brightness in the system more apparent.




Feeding Power Plants with PS Audio xStream Statements

My next step was upgrading the power cords between the wall, High Current Ultimate Outlet and both Power Plants. Most people recommended to use PS Audio Mini Lab cables, they said it would only give a little more bass. I saw someone else who was using Statements, so I decided to get them instead. I was shocked, the improvement was four times bigger than any improvement I heard so far. But there was only one problem, it was too smooth and warm! Before burn-in it was less transparent than it used to be, but after burn-in it had opened up a great deal.

I tried the upsampling again and was impressed, I could use 768 kHz without any brightness whatsoever. I tried it without tubes and it was still too smooth and warm to my taste. After changing from 384 kHz to 768 kHz I learned what timbre is, I could hear things I never heard before!


Re-applying QuickSilver Contact Enhancer

Still, the problem was that it sounded too dull and it made me want to increase the volume because of it. It was unbearable to listen to! The only logical explanation was that the many months old QuickSilver in the power cord ends had to be re-applied because I unplugged the Valhalla cords when installing the Statements into my system. I was correct, I re-applied QuickSilver and it wasn't dull anymore, the transparency was back and it was even a little better than before! I could now use a much lower volume and it still sounded better!
Right after applying QuickSilver it sounds brighter which is normal, I actually loved this brightness, it was like a breath of fresh air. After burn-in the brightness was gone and it sounded both warm and transparent, and I started hearing things I never heard before!


When I went back to 44.1 kHz again the harshness made it sound a little brighter! I could not believe it, this was the complete opposite from what I heard when I first got the Cary! It sounded like something was missing in the music and it didn't sound real at all, it sounded like listening to a recording. 768 kHz sounds so much better, everything is cleaner without being bright or thin, there is only the music and no audio system. When I turn on the music it feels like I teleport into another world...




Conclusion

There are a few possibilties how this all happened:

A) Power conditioning really makes such a big difference?

B) My ears changed?

C) Cary 303/300 needs 2000+ hours of burn-in?

D) Only my amp benefited from power conditioning?

E) Placebo?

F) Combination of all?


In each case, the Cary 303/300 now sounds best at the highest upsampling level to my ears. This really is a good CD player for the price.

Update march 25 2006: I found the problem now. The Vishnu has background noise and when using upsampling it gets more apparent, that's why it sounded horribly bright. The Valhalla has a dead black background which is the reason why upsampling doesn't make it brighter! The correct answer to my conclusion is: A)


________________________________

Update January 15 2006:

Upgrading other Power Plant (for amp)

Finally I received MultiWave II and MultiWave II+ that I ordered months ago. The improvement was bigger than I thought, about 30% of my previous upgrade. I immediately noticed that it was less bright even when the new QuickSilver wasn't burned in yet. After tweaking settings (P-2 for CD player, TubeWave for amp) it gave a lot more speed, bass and clarity, while showing less brightness and more realism. I found out that using two Power Plants is a must for optimum performance. It made the difference between tubes and solid-state bigger, solid-state now wins overall for realism and is less bright than tubes. Solid-state is also less fatiguing because of less harmonic distortion.
After 2 weeks of burn-in the controlled bass was crazy, and it gave me a headache! The speed was clearly beyond my perception and downgrading to tubes didn't help much either. My amp has turned into something scary...


Trying Cary with stock power cord

I removed the Valhalla and used a stock power cord to connect directly into the wall. My first impression was that it felt like I was naked and there was something missing, it also sounded compressed like I was listening to mp3. After a few hours of neutral A/B-ing I came to conclusions.

These differences are as big as tube vs solid-state. For comparisons I use 'Lesiem - Auracle'.
_________________

Stock + wall: Thin. Metallic. Lifeless. Sounds like a recording. Pinpoint imaging. Compressed. Muddy. Feels like lower volume. Brighter.

44.1 kHz sounds more natural and realistic than 768 kHz!


Valhalla + Power Plant: More bass, body and warmth. Bigger images and less pinpoint. Feels like I'm part of the music, more scary and adrenaline producing, feels like vocalists are in my room. Feels like louder volume. More transparent. More fatiguing because of increase in speed and realism.

768 kHz sounds the most realistic and is super smooth, 44.1 kHz sounds too harsh.
_________________

Power conditioning for the Cary didn't seem to make as big of an improvement as for my old Krell power amp, or perhaps the differences were that small because my last upgrade was overkill* in speed and it was beyond what I could perceive. I think that's why many combine a Vishnu and a Valhalla into the same system. Someone else heard much bigger differences with stock cords, so it makes sense.

*To confirm my overkill theory I added power conditioning into my mid-fi system (HD590) and the improvement was twice as big. Connecting DAC1 + Vishnu into my Power Plant gave more body, speed, transparency and greater timbre. With clearly superior headphones (K501) the improvement wasn't as big, perhaps because the cheap interconnects showed their weaknesses.

The longer I did A/B-ing the more exhausting it became and I started hearing smaller differences, obviously. It seems like the biggest differences are emotional which are not easily detectable with A/B-ing, because that's what music is; emotional! What was interesting was that the Valhalla cord gave me a headache and adrenaline while the stock cord didn't. Focusing on a specific sound just didn't work well, but when putting it all together it's a difference between good music and bad music. With power conditioning the music was simply much more enjoyable.

_________________

Next day I compared Nordost Vishnu + Power Plant as well. Stock cord was always connected to wall.

Stock to Vishnu: Loss of bass. Feels compressed. Highs are good. Less brightness (?).

Vishnu worse than stock? Perhaps I was expecting too much and they are actually equal, more testing follows...


Changed MultiWave settings to P-1 for CD player and P-4 for amp.

Stock: Much brighter. Fatiguing.

Valhalla: Not as bright, but brighter than TubeWave + stock power cord. Can feel the bass. More emphasized mid-bass. More transparency.


Change CD player to P-2

Valhalla: Little less bass. Less enjoyable. Less transparency? Much less brightness! Probably because this MultiWave setting gives less distortion.

Change CD player back to P-1

Valhalla: Little more brightness. More bass, can feel it vibrating down to chest. More adrenaline because of this perhaps?


Vishnu: Can't feel bass in chest, it only vibrates down to shoulders. Little more brightness, but still 50% less than stock cord. Little more fatiguing, but not as much as stock cord. Brightness bothers ears a little. Sounds thin and little metallic. Vocals blend together, not much layering.

Valhalla: More bass, more vibration! More layering!!! Can hear vocals in background with vocals in front, it doesn't fade away and feels more like real life. Firmer and fuller mid-bass, can feel it more. Deep bass makes my body vibrate more. Brightness is there but doesn't bother me at all, not fatiguing, perhaps because it doesn't sound as thin. Definitely more enjoyable, with the Valhalla it feels like I'm home.

Stock: More bass than Vishnu. Muddy. No layering at all, front and background vocals are close to each other, no separation. Front vocals don't sound full or solid, it sounds compressed, localization is worse of those vocals. Much worse timbre, everything blends together more. Less speed and transparency.


Stock was almost as good as Vishnu overall. Valhalla was clearly superior and didn't show any weaknesses at all, it was better at everything.


Honestly I didn't think there would be such a small difference between these power cords. Now it makes sense why blind tests of power cords doesn't show a difference.
Any subtle improvement gets amplified by your body and it becomes more enjoyable. The added vibration to my chest gave me more adrenaline and it made the music even more exciting. Now I know why it happens and it's not a placebo.

If you're using a stock power cord, then the best MultiWave II setting would be TubeWave, this smoothens it out and the brightness becomes more palatable. The best performance but also the brightest is P-1 for CD player and P-4 for amp. I believe the slight brightness that is left in my system is because of vibration, this should be solved with isolation devices that I will try soon...

________________________________

Update january 30 2006: Solid-tech isolation devices removed the brightness and made the biggest improvement I have ever heard, but it added much more resolution which was more fatiguing for my brain. TubeWave for both CD player and amp temporarily fixed this problem while my brain adapted to the greater speed.
With the P-2 and TubeWave combo there is so much warmth, body and speed that it's crazy, tubes are completely obsolete now, they just make it brighter and more fatiguing. Tubes are brighter than solid-state!!! 768 kHz now sounds warmer, smoother and has more body than 44.1 kHz. 44.1 kHz sounds very harsh and fatiguing!

768 kHz sounds amazing if done correctly with power conditioning and isolation devices. With power conditioning it felt like I wasn't listening to an audio system at all, it felt like live music someplace else. But after adding isolation devices to the system, it doesn't feel like I'm listening to the music, it feels like I am the music!
If there were two versions of Cary 303/300 CD player, one with 44.1 kHz and the other with 768 kHz, how much would I pay for them? Since I'm very cheap I would say $4000 for the 44.1 kHz version and $20 000+ for the 768 kHz version, that's how big the improvements are! I can't imagine myself ever upgrading this CD player because it has higher resolution than my brain can handle!

Update june 27 2006: I made an upsampling blind test and scored 99.99%. The Cary is something very special!

________________________________

Source: Cary Audio CD-303/300.
Amp: Krell KAV-500i.
Speakers: AKG K1000 earspeakers.
Cables: Nordost Valhalla (modified with Eichmann Bullet plugs). Stefan AudioArt Hardwired K1000 Headphone Cable. 3x PS Audio xStream Statement power cables. 2x Nordost Valhalla power cords.
Power conditioning: 2x PS Audio P300 Power Plants (MultiWave II+). PS Audio High Current Ultimate Outlet. PS Audio Power Ports. QuickSilver Contact Enhancer.
Accessories: Duende Criatura Tube Rings.

Update:
Isolation: (4) Solid-Tech Disc Of Silence. Rack Of Silence. Shelf suspension for CD player. (8) Feet Of Silence.


Update september 17 2006: I have found that PS Audio MultiWave II+ is the biggest cure of the bright sound. An hour without demagnetizing the system it sounds bright and edgy!

The reason why Nordost Vishnu had background noise and Valhalla didn't was because Valhalla is thicker. See my modding.
post #2 of 3
I can't believe there hasn't been a flury of reactions in reply to your outstanding post. I am on the cusp of chasing powercords...I finally have my equipment in final order for a while, so now it is tweak time. I've printed out your experience for reference...thanks so much for sharing!
post #3 of 3
Quote:
Originally Posted by chadlesko
I can't believe there hasn't been a flury of reactions in reply to your outstanding post. I am on the cusp of chasing powercords...I finally have my equipment in final order for a while, so now it is tweak time. I've printed out your experience for reference...thanks so much for sharing!
There will be a flurry of reactions. It usually when jefemeister gets stuck in first.

But I think Patrick82 post should be made into a sticky...
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