How far has computer audio come in the last few years, you ask? Once the domain of the tech-savvy gadgeteer or the network nerd, media players more amicable and approachable have rapidly become the norm rather than the exception. Exhibit A: the Cary Audio DMS-500 Network Audio Player. If you’re a computer-phobe (a show of hands please), forget the sweaty palms. The Cary puts users at ease while effortlessly bringing forth digital media in all its many wired and wireless and exotic permutations.
The DMS-500 is “Central Command” for most things digital, from streaming to file playback, wireless or Ethernet. At the heart of its digital engine is a pair of two-channel AK4490EQ DACs that stream or play back native PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz (and WAV files up to 768kHz). Plus it’s DSD64, 128, 256, and 512-capable. Although there is no onboard storage, once it’s connected to a home network the DMS-500 will stream files from either a MAC or a PC, from NAS drives, or via music services such as Tidal and Spotify. All the while, Cary’s proprietary TruBit PCM and DSD technology enables on-the-fly PCM conversion to DSD up to 256, or PCM upsampling with a choice of six rates up to 768kHz. AptX Bluetooth and AirPlay? You bet.
Solid, seamless, and nicely laid out stem to stern, the DMS-500’s overall construction quality appears beyond reproach for this category. Its front panel, available in either brushed silver or stealth-black aluminum, is understated yet elegant. It’s dominated by a large LCD color display for configuration and input navigation, as well as tracking metadata and album cover art. The large font is legible and readable from a distance. This display conveys loads of information, but is a bit of a tease in that it appears to be a touchscreen. Well, kids, it ain’t—so save the swiping for your iPad. The panel keeps it clean and simple with only a single on/off pushbutton and handy inputs for USB thumbdrive and SD card.
I think of media players as the wranglers of today’s digital world where connectivity is the name of the game—and the hassle-free DMS-500 upheld its end of the bargain. The back panel hosts a throng of digital inputs including three USB ports, two coaxial jacks, an optical input, plus one AES/EBU. The DMS-500 will also accept an SD card, has an Ethernet port, and will connect to aptX Bluetooth. The DMS-500 will output a digital signal on optical and coaxial jacks.
The DMS-500 offers the choice of unbalanced or balanced analog outputs. There’s also a handy volume control for those who may wish to forgo a conventional preamplifier and connect the player directly to an amplifier or powered loudspeaker. Naturally the DMS-500 includes a remote control, which made navigation a snap, but the new controller app was even better.
That said, the Cary app could’ve been more graphically stimulating—as in, it lacks sexy menu-view options. Also, its display is portrait mode only, so it will not rotate to landscape on a smart device. Still the app is far better than garden-variety; it’s easy to understand and does what it needs to do. Cary Audio is also striving to improve its app and was on the ball informing me of firmware updates, including a format upgrade, and later on—as the review was going to press—a significant update to enhance the Tidal and Spotify experience.
Advanced users may still want to remain loyal to third-party media server software such as JRiver, MediaMonkey, or foobar2000 but a key advantage that the Cary app has over these is user control of most of the DMS-500 functions such as power, on-the-fly upsampling, or input selection. Though Cary’s file manager may not be as comprehensive or searchable, it certainly does simplify operations overall.
In keeping with a trend that’s rendering front-panel control a vestige of the pre-smart-device past, the DMS is launched and controlled from either the remote control or via the Cary app. Personally I still like twisting a knob or pressing a mechanical button. But then again I still like cueing a tonearm and shifting gears with a clutch. That aside, I know of nothing that can strike more fear in the computer-fixated than the caveat, “Operation assumes all users have a minimum of a moderate level of understanding of computer file sharing, networks, and associated peripherals, etc.” Rest easy and put away the Xanax; it doesn’t take the résumé of a Silicon Valley IT expert to get the DMS up and running. The Cary instantly recognized my Synology NAS on my network; I used the following connection sequence: a run of Wireworld’s new Starlight CAT 8 Ethernet cables from the NAS to the Netgear ProSafe switch, and another run from the Netgear back to the Cary—and bingo. Frankly I’ve had more trouble setting cartridge VTA.