Following is my abysmal experience with Cary Audio’s customer service and technical support.

Last year I revamped my system. After researching and comparing phono preamps, I picked up a Cary PH-302 MK1 and wasn’t disappointed. It produced the sound I wanted. Around this time I replaced my amp with an ARC Ref 110 with KT120 tubes that was approximately half as powerful as the old one. Afterwards when spinning vinyl for lack of a better expression was “running out of amp” -- meaning that when I cranked up the volume, I couldn’t get to where I wanted to because the gain on the MK1 is 38dB for MM and 54dB for MC. I didn’t have this issue with any of my other gear: all had much higher outputs.

I contacted Cary regarding the above and received an email from Jam Somasundram, Director of Engineering and Product Development. He stated that the gain could be increased and “highly recommended” converting my MK1 to MK2 status. I received another email from Dan Wemmer, Service/QC Manager, quoting the cost to increase gain by 6dB would be $200 plus shipping -- to upgrade to MK2 was $800.00 plus shipping (approx. $85 each way). The upgrade consisted of a new face plate, new chassis that added to the back switchable loads for MC cartridges, new manual, and increased gain to 60dB for MC cartridges. In other words my old unit would be the same as the current model. I was planning to switch from MM to MC so it made sense.

I sent my PH-302 the first week of August 2011 to Cary for the upgrade to MK2.

I got it back the first week of September. I replaced my Grado Reference 1 with a Soundsmith Paua.

The Paua wouldn’t dial in properly with the MK2’s preset loads. I contacted Soundsmith. Peter Lindermann suggested changing two of the presets to 1k ohms and 2.5k ohms.

I sent my PH-302 MK2 back to Cary at the end of October 2011 to have the loads changed. Cost $132 plus shipping ($85 each way).

It came back in December. The 2.5k ohm setting really brought the Paua to life, but disappointingly I was still suffering from too little gain. I was a bit discourage because so far I’d spent $1262.00 on the Cary alone and had only achieved dialing the cartridge in. I still liked what the Cary brought to my system and had invested more than I’d intended to. I needed to see if there was another solution to increase the gain in my phono section before taking a bath and replacing with another phono pre.

For the next few months, I researched various ways to increase gain. I sent queries to SUT manufactures, Soundsmith, and various others who do mods and upgrades to audio gear. There were lots of ideas but no consensus.

In April, I ran across a thread on Audiogon of a member in Australia who had modified his PH-302 MK2. I got in touch and we exchanged emails. I got the notion that if I upgraded the electronics this would improve the sound and the gain issue might be mitigated.

I’d read glowing reviews of mods performed by Chris Johnson’s company Parts Connexion in Canada. I got in touch with Chris, outlined my issues like needing more gain, related that Cary had raised it to 60dB when my unit was upgraded from MK1 to MK2, and wanted to take my PH-302 to the next level in the hope that this would assuage my gain concerns. Chris said Parts Connexion would check my PH-302 MK2 out and see what could be done. I shipped it to them in May 2012.

The first email I received from Chris was to report that the MC output gain was 52dB not the 60dB that I’d stated Cary had raised it to. I asked him to recheck to make sure because I had a hard time believing that it hadn’t been changed. After all Cary had serviced my unit twice. Chris emailed back that it was 52dB.

In early June 2012 I sent Cary a letter expressing my dismay along with documentation of my dealings with them to increase gain. Included were the emails from Parts Connexion detailing the actual output. I also stated that I’d wasted a lot of my time and others trying to resolve the gain issue because Cary had failed to do the job.

A week or so later I received an email from Steve Witek Cary’s Quality Service Manager. He was gracious enough, apologized, said that mistakes unfortunately happen, and then laid the blame on me for not notifying Cary that Cary hadn’t done the work. Why had I waited 11 months?

I was kinda floored, I emailed back to Steve and asked how was I supposed to know that Cary hadn’t done the job. I don’t have that kind of diagnostic equipment. Isn’t Cary the expert here? I pointed out that my PH-302 MK2 had been serviced twice by Cary. One of my questions to Steve: why hadn’t it been bench tested either time to assess if it was performing to factory specs. My experience has been that testing gear is one of the first priorities other manufacturers undertake before anything is done.

Throughout our email exchanges, Steve never acknowledged that Cary had serviced my PH-302 MK2 twice. He only ever referenced the August 2011 date. Nor did he ever answer my questions as to why my unit was never bench tested before or after the work was done. If the quality service manager can’t answer this, then who can?

Steve’s next response was to cherry pick the emails that I’d sent him in an attempt to concoct a scenario that I’d known all along that Cary hadn’t done the job and was going behind their backs to other companies.

To circumvent the above, I forwarded the emails I had sent to Parts Connexion regarding this issue in which I explicitly stated my belief that Cary had done the job.

Steve’s reply was not to acknowledge the point of these emails, but again resorted to cherry picking: he pulled out the price estimate from Parts Connexion of $100 to rewire to achieve the 6dB gain. Steve decided this to be the amount that Cary would reimburse me for the work that they had failed to do. He didn’t bother to take into account the $1262 spent on the PH-302, time lost, or CARY’S ORIGINAL ESTIMATE OF $200!

I emailed expressing my irritation, disappointment and pointed out to Steve that he “didn’t seem to take responsibility for anything.” In that same email I included:

“A good piece of gear is only one part of the sum. Quality reliable support is just as important. At least it is for people like me who buy for the long haul and look for ways to obtain and insure maximum performance.”

Where were the checks and balances?

Would I have purchased the PH-302 knowing what I do now, NO. Do I still feel that it is a good piece of audio gear: YES. Will I consider purchasing other Cary products, NO. The reasons being that there are plenty of manufacturers out there that offer equally good products along with exemplary service void of excuses who do the job right the first time. I know this because of first hand experience.

Did I accept the $100 restitution -- NO

Like stated at the beginning, this is my experience dealing with Cary Audio. I know there are a lot of satisfied Cary customers. It was my intent to join those ranks. If you are someone contemplating purchasing a Cary product, then I hope this serves as a cautionary tale.

Has anyone had a similar experience as mine?

Regarding the MC output issue. Parts Connexion raised it from 52dB to 58dB which totally took care of this problem. I’m spinning vinyl now with a huge grin. Chris and his engineer did a bunch of other mods and upgrades. THEY DID AN AWESOME JOB!!!!

I find your comments about Billy from Cary Audio offensive ! You slander folks from the security of hiding behind your screen moniker - totally un-cool.

I have nothing but good to say about Billy and the folks at Cary Audio, I worked for Billy and Denis (now retired) many years ago it was a great experience that I learned a lot about the Audio Business from.

Peter Noerbaek
PBN Audio
Sorry to see this thread devolve into acrimony, but I anticipated passionate posts about Cary. I own an AE-3 pre and like it a great deal I was hoping to buy a SLP-05 someday. I knew Dennis had retired, and I don't think there was anything more to that. I didn't know they would have issues with QC or accountability problems. I guess I will have weigh risk and benefit if I ever amass the fortune I will need to buy the bigger pre (even used).
I just looked at a post i left a little over two years ago.I had an issue with Cary and i was embarrassed for them and their unwillingness to offer support for their product.This was an easy resolution for any reasonable person.I even took the time to write a handwritten letter to the president of the company.That letter went entirely unacknowledged,and a follow up phone call was met with a rude and unhelpful attitude.This attitude seemed to permeate every level of this company i encountered.
I have gone out of my way to praise great customer service and support,especially when it is unexpected.
When it is bad i feel the same obligation to alert potential customers to what may await them down the road when you need help.
I also had a very bad experience with my Cary 306 cd player. Long delays for service and next to zero follow up. I will never purchase another Cary product again. I always thought I was the only one, but it does appear to be a wide spread issue.
Correct me if I'm wrong, because it was a long time ago, but I thought that Dennis Had left Cary and started Wavelength Audio. Is that correct?
I just went to the website, and sure enough, they're still selling flea powered amps for a lot of money, but no mention of his name. Did he bow out of that company too?