Some reviews take longer to come to fruition than others. I've had the Cary Audio DMS-500 ($4995 MSRP) for almost nine months. And, like a human offspring, I've watched the DMS-500 grow from a bunch of potentialities into a complete entity, ready to stride confidently into the audiophile landscape. To give you an idea of how far the Cary DMS-500 has come, two months after initial delivery I contacted Cary to pick-up the DMS-500 since it wasn't, in my opinion, ready for a review. The good folks at Cary told me to hang on, be patient, and wait for the next firmware update.
Sure enough, after another couple of months and a two more updates I can now say with confidence that the Cary DMS-500 is a complete, rock-solid solution for audiophiles who want a high-performance single-box playback device for their digital media. If it's a digital file, in virtually any format, from almost any digital source, stream, or location, the DMS-500 can play it.
What, exactly, is a "media center?" For the Cary DMS-500 it comprises a single box solution to handle the delivery (though not the storage) of almost all digital media, formats, and sources. That media includes USB sources from an attached hard drive, Ethernet, Bluetooth, S/PDIF, AES/EBU, Toslink, and Wi-Fi. The only types of input sources the DMS-500 does not support are asynchronous USB from a computer and old-school analog components. If you need to use an analog source (such as a turntable) you will need an external phono preamplifier with either a built-in analog-digital-convertor (ADC) or one hooked up to an external ADC.
Besides a myriad of digital inputs, the DMS-500 also offers full MQA and Roon compatibility. Although earlier software versions did not support all Tidal streaming options (such as listing albums and tracks), the current version was complete with the same functionality of the Tidal computer application. This is a good place to re-emphasize DMS-500's Roon endpoint capabilities--the DMS-500 can receive a networked music stream from a Roon Core application on either a NAS or your computer. For anyone with multiple, large NAS drives and streaming libraries, Roon offers a way to combine all the music in one feature-laden player/library application. Not only does Roon have its own unique database with added information about artists and albums and links to other music, but it supports multiple output streams (with Roon you can have different music playing on each and every Roon-endpoint device on your home network).
One digital input that the DMS-500 does lack is HDMI. This could present a problem for someone who has AV sources that require HDMI inputs and outputs. My solution (and one anyone with a TV monitor made in the last five years can implement) was to run HDMI source into my Visio P-65 monitor and then route the Toslink audio output from the Visio to the DMS-500. Yes, this does limit the digital signal to a maximum two-channel 96/24, but for most video sources that should be sufficient. For local high-resolution digital sources, such as feed from my Oppo UDP-205, I use the S/PDIF digital output directly connected to the DMS-500.
I could easily spend the next thousand words describing all the technical intricacies inside the Cary DMS-500. But judging a digital streaming component's value solely by what's inside (as many computer audio hobbyists do) while discounting the ergonomics and execution disregards how much a complete, well-integrated, and rock-solid software/firmware implementation adds to a component's value. For those who want to peruse the inner workings of the DMS-500 I recommend visiting Cary's website. Cary also has a direct sales site, Cary Direct, where you can order Cary products, including demos and B-stock versions. The Cary site also has something called "Concierge Pricing," which offers three different levels of support, with the highest level delivering a four-year warranty and a 75 percent of retail value trade-up policy. On the DMS-500 listed on Cary Direct's site, the "Silver" level DMS-500 was priced at $3,495, "Gold" at $4,246, and "Platinum" at $4,994.
Initial setup of the Cary (back in the distant reaches of time, nine months ago) was relatively simple and straight-forward. Turn it on, hook it up to my home network via Ethernet, input Wi-Fi info and passwords, switch to Wi-Fi, set up streaming services and paths to my NAS drive, and I was done. I think the whole process took under half an hour. Subsequently, I have moved the DMS-500 back and forth a couple of times from one system to another. Each install was quick, easy, and almost instantaneous. And if you have questions, in addition to on-line and telephone support, Cary even has instructional videos.
One thing that is definitely not instantaneous with the DMS-500 is the initial turn-on time. Every time you turn on the DMS-500 it takes at least 20 seconds to fully come awake. This is because it must check all its network connections before it becomes fully operational. If you are the in-a-hurry type, I would suggest leaving the DMS-500 continually on. Yes, it will use up more power doing nothing, but life is short and the turn on time is l-o-n-g.
The DMS-500 not only comes with a quite serviceable dedicated remote control, but also an extremely good control app for both iOS and Android devices. The dedicated remote's layout is clean and easy to navigate, despite the fact that it was designed to work on multiple Cary components. I especially like the mute button placement--right at the top right corner of the remote--because when you need to mute, you need to mute right now. The iOS version of the app proved to be rock-solid and fully-featured. My only complaint is that it looks much better and is easier to use on a tablet than on my iPhone SE's smaller display.
Because the DMS-500 has a high-quality digital volume control with 0.5 dB increments and both balanced and single-ended analog outputs, there was no need to employ an additional preamplifier between it and a power amplifier or powered loudspeakers. I used it sans preamplifier in all my review setups.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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