Obviously the DAC-100 and the DAC-100t shared many sonic characteristics since they have identical digital sections. In fact, the sonic similarities between the two units far outweighed their differences. The sonic differences I did hear weren’t the sort of night-and-day ones you might hear when comparing DACs from two different manufacturers. They were much subtler—so subtle that only after extended rather than quick A/B tests did they reveal themselves.
Both DACs did a superb job of preserving all the spatial cues in my own live classical concert recordings of the Boulder Philharmonic. On my recording of the modern classical piece by Ruby Fulton, Deadlock, which features a beatbox soloist, both DACs captured the three-dimensionality of the recording and located both the soloist and his amplifier on stage quite accurately. Unlike some tube linestages, which can overemphasize depth, the DAC-100t’s mapping of the soundstage matched the DAC-100’s rendition perfectly.
Starting with the bass, the DAC-100t had slightly more low-frequency energy, but the overall bass response was a bit less well defined. The DAC-100 had tighter and leaner bass with better damping, less overshoot, and quicker decay.
In the midrange the DAC-100t had a softer and more euphonic presentation that had less forward momentum and slower pace. I preferred the DAC-100t’s more relaxed and natural-sounding overall presentation, but I missed the better micro-dynamics and speed of the DAC-100. Overall the DAC-100s midrange was slightly tighter and more incisive, but it lacked a bit of the harmonic “rightness” that I heard through the DAC-100t. The upper midrange and lower treble through the DAC-100t also had an added bit of softness when compared to the faster and more controlled output of the DAC-100.
Upper frequencies through the DAC-100t had slightly more air and openness than the DAC-100, but the DAC-100’s greater micro-dynamic speed and control provided a neater and more precise presentation.
Overall the DAC-100t had more additive colorations, especially in the bass, while the DAC-100 was slightly subtractive in its upper frequency ranges. Which is “better” will depend on the rest of your system. In my system, I preferred the DAC-100 because of its superior speed, micro-dynamics, and sense of control. But for some systems, the DAC-100t’s fuller bass, more relaxed midrange, and greater top-end air could make it a better choice.
Two Flavors of Ice Cream
With the DAC-100 and DAC-100t Cary has created two excellent mid-priced DACs designed to appeal to slightly different listeners. Both deliver excellent sonics, but each has its own sonic “flavor” that will appeal to audiophiles with different listening priorities. I encourage you to listen to both and make your own choice—you can’t go wrong with either one.
SPECS & PRICING
USB processor: XMOS asynchronous processing
DAC: Two ESS Sabre ES 9023
Digital inputs: Two coaxial (gold-plated), two TosLink, one USB
Analog outputs: Unbalanced on RCA jacks, balanced on XLR jacks
Input resolution: Up to 192kHz/24-bit
Dimensions: 17.25" x 3.5" x 15.5"
Weight: 21 lbs.
Price: $2495 (DAC-100); $2995 (DAC-100t)