The last few years have seen the rise of a new class of audio product, the network streamer. A device that will access your streaming audio account without the need for a PC or Mac and serve up tunes via their own IOS or Android app. The goal is to mitigate any PC related hash that can interfere with your sonic journey. These units can also have a DAC on board, or they can just serve the files up to your system DAC for processing to your preamp and amp. One of the challenges for these units is that by being the new kid on the block they are subject to the fast-moving changes in the audio world. New streaming services become available. DAC chips evolve. Services like Roon and processes like MQA shake up the landscape every year or two. As an audiophile you want to make sure you are not left behind. Who should you look to for great quality today and flexibility tomorrow?
One company to have high on your list is Cary Audio of Cary, North Carolina. Founded in 1989, Cary has been producing high quality audio gear from the beginning. Originally focused on Tube equipment such as the iconic 805 Monoblock amplifiers it has also been producing solid state digital gear since the mid 1990’s. What is notable is that while Cary is certainly on the cutting edge of digital, the company is also masters of the analogue game. Cary knows how to design toward that elusive analogue sound so many seek even when playing through their digital gear. 1’s and 0’s made more real with that flesh on the bone sound many digital denizens cannot provide.
Cary has been working with streamers for many years now. It's previous flagship, the DMS-600 has received many accolades yet like so many top audio firms they felt they could do better. So, bring out the clean sheet of paper and after much effort, Cary presents its new third-generation flagship streamer, the DMS-700. My first impression when the unit arrived was it resembled my flagship Denon AVR-X8500H home cinema receiver. On the front stenciled on the case were logos for DSD, Qualcomm APTx HD, MQA and Roon. This unit was offering up a state-of-the-art combination of technologies and partnerships allowing the up-to-date audiophile as many ways to access, render, and stream 16/44 and high-res files any way they chose to. Nice! You could have a home system that relied upon Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and the DMS-700 had the antennae to match! You could also plug directly to ethernet and hard wire your access. (Do not use the Wi-Fi antennae if you hard wire.) Also, as expected, it is software upgradeable. The unit I received was not yet Roon certified. Two days after arrival when I turned it on, I was notified of a software update that included full Roon certification. The update, handled through the app, was simple and flawless. And within a few minutes I was cooking with Roon at full power (Roon account required). Just the kind of upgradability you expect from a modern flagship digital audio device.
All the usual inputs are there including three USB, One SD Card, One Bluetooth, One AES/EBU, Two COAX and One Toslink. Plus, the aforementioned Ethernet port which allows for wired access to your favorite streaming services. Tidal is native with full MQA unfolding for MQA Master files. Qobuz and Spotify are also sign in ready along with vTuner Internet Radio. Access using the Streamer 2.0 app via IOS, or Android makes controlling the DMS-700 a simple thing. One small nit to pick is the app only offers a portrait mode functionality. Those of you using a keyboard case will have to wait for the landscape option in a future app release.
When a DAC is involved, the basic question seems to be what chip is being used? The DMS-700 uses the AK4499EQ flagship current driven switched resistor DAC chip from AKM. Cary chose it for its greater analogue sound than voltage driven Delta-Sigma chip designs. But as any experienced audiophile knows the chip is just the beginning. Cary takes full control of the chip by pairing it with an FPGA and full-on analogue circuit and massive power supplies to bring that signature Cary Audio sound to the fore. No off the shelf plug and play here. As Cary Audio describes it: ”As important as the DAC chips themselves are, it’s the designed pre and post DAC chip that gives our Cary Audio DMS products their famous signature sound.” I will concur that the sound is not digital. It is cool and precise with a sense of dimension that offers up a feeling of analogue without any slack. Timing is appropriate and lifelike.