The last time I had a Cary Audio product in the system it was a valve amplifier. Cary still builds a lot of valve designs to this day, but the North Carolina-based company also makes a wide range of solid-state electronics including preamps and power amps, integrated amps, home cinema processors, all-in-one streamer/DAC/amps, and four digital audio sources, of which the DMS-500 is the sole network streamer. By the standards of its class, the Cary is large and wears its features like badges along the front panel either side of a large and colourful display panel.
The DMS-500 is more than a mere streamer; it is also a digital to analogue converter with numerous inputs, as well as Bluetooth in its more desirable aptX form, and it’s a preamplifier with outputs in both balanced and single-ended varieties, both of which are volume controlled. Given this state of affairs, it’s a little surprising that there is no volume knob on the front panel; this facility has to be accessed with Cary’s dedicated control app or the button festooned remote control. The CMS-500 is unusual in being designed for use without the control app or a network, so you can play music stored on an SD card plugged into the front or a USB drive for which there are connections front and rear. You then access the music with the remote via the display screen, an approach that might be a little like hard work if you have a large library, but should be fine with smaller collections. There is no USB B connection for use with a computer, but then the computer is inside the box so it should not be necessary.
On the other hand, the Cary is clearly designed for network audio applications as indicated by a readiness for Roon control software (albeit not a full Roon core ) and the ability to decode MQA material most commonly found on the Tidal streaming service. So it’s a streamer for those yet to fully embrace the concept, which might be a smart move in many markets. Audiophiles in the far east for instance are not inclined to involve computers with their audio and they make up a fair proportion of the market. There are often times when I too would rather it was a matter of putting a disc in or on a device and pressing play, but change is life even in audio.
The Cary gave me a few niggles which the company put down to my iPad Mini, a device that, while not in the first flush of youth, seems to work with most (but not all) control software on the market. I was encouraged to find a more up to date tablet and that seemed to bring back pretty well all the functionality of the colourful control app.
The DMS-500 has independent volume settings for each input, thus when you switch to coax, for instance, it will change to the output level last used with a coax source. This is quite a clever and intuitive way of dealing with variations in source level and avoiding nasty surprises. The DAC is also very flexible when it comes to sample rate options, with everything from native up to 705.6kHz or DSD256 upsampling available at the touch of a screen, and yes it can convert PCM to DSD. Output level is unusual in running from -98 to +8, the latter being very high indeed and something to be careful with when running the Cary direct into a power amp. It’s possible to make small steps with the remote and very large ones with the app, so it’s the latter that needs to be kept away from the young and infirm. One peculiarity of the control app is that it shows a play button while playing, which doesn’t sound odd until you realise that all other such devices work the other way around, including the likes of YouTube, but it’s not beyond the wit of the modern audiophile to get to grips with.