This Cary doesn’t have any thermionic tubes or valves onboard, yet its sonic character reflects a design process that holds the natural balance of such devices in high esteem. Which is hardly a surprise when you look at the company’s amplifier range. Essentially, the DMS-500 sounds relaxed and has a warmth to it that eludes many digital audio components. This is a result of a subtle rolling off of highs and an equally discreet reinforcement of the bottom end; the sound is not as colourful as the display screen, but neither is it entirely neutral by the standards of the genre. This means that Amandine Beyer’s violin sounds a little subdued in its high frequency reach, but that the playing is no less lovely and the tone of the instrument is brought to the fore. It is appealingly relaxed, in fact, but does not lack for instrumental attack. Javier Perianes’ piano [Manuel Blasco de Nebra’s piano Sonatas 1-6 Op. 1, Harmonia Mundi], though played quietly for the most part, is dynamically strong and solid in the Cary’s hands, and its charm is delivered in full effect thanks to the richness of tone that’s reproduced. There could be a bit more of the ‘air’ from the studio and some of this recording’s depth is not made clear, both of which are a result of limited absolute clarity. Other streamers in this class have lower noise floors and thus greater perceived resolution.
Using the Cary directly into my ATC P2 power amplifier, rather than via the Townshend Allegri preamp, produces a beefing up of the low frequencies and a bit more of the effortlessness encountered before. The volume control element of this device is in a higher league than usually encountered with multifunction DACs where such aspects are better left out of the loop if possible. It’s here that Cary reveals its background in amplification: knob or not, this is a decent digital preamplifier to connect up to your power amp or active speakers.
At around this point Cary updated the firmware on the DMS-500 which improved usability and even seemed to improve depth resolution. Arvo Pärt’s ‘Fratres for Piano and Cello’ [Fratres, Naxos] sounded like it was recorded in a substantial and possibly ecclesiastical space and displayed a lot of its radiant pathos. Other tracks reveal a generous and relaxed presentation that brings good shine to brass instruments and real power to bass and drums. Vocals project well and Van Morrison’s ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ [Astral Weeks, Warner Bros] has a lovely flow to it that while not as clearcut as it can be is in many ways more easily enjoyed than is usual with digital sources. I tried another bit of Van [Versatile, Legacy] from Tidal’s Master Series of MQA material and this sounded good and open with plenty of controlled energy, a better result than you get with regular Tidal streams. A track with more potential, Vilde Frang’s Homage[24/192, Warner Classics] with violin and piano sounded rather special with lovely natural acoustic and good depth once again.
With a coax feed from a Leema Antila CD player, the Cary produced a fluent groove and chunky, slightly thickened bass, alongside a warm analogue style midband. It’s the sort of sound that could do with the tightening up of Chord Co cables, but it’s also a balance that can be replayed at high level with ease and is almost enough to stop you wondering where some of the clarity and definition has gone. In fact without comparison this Cary is a very enjoyable piece of kit; it stops you worrying about the details and concentrates your mind on the music, which is always a laudable result in my book. It won’t suit detail enthusiasts nor those looking for ultimate transparency but it will appeal to anyone who wants to get down with their bad selves (so to speak) and be carried away by the tune.