Cary Audio DMS-650 Streamer & DAC Review.

Cary Audio DMS 650 Streamer and DAC Review.

 

For the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of listening to a superb duo from Cary Audio. Their all tube SLI100 Integrated amp and the brand new DMS 650 DAC/Streamer have been making music in two of my systems, and I am itching to tell you all about them!

I have listened to them in my reference system, in my Klipsch heritage systems as well as individually with other amplifiers and DAC’s.

Before I get to the sound quality and the amazing value that these pieces bring I have to talk about just how gorgeous these are in the flesh, as well as my history with owning Cary Audio gear over the last three decades.

The All Tube 100 WPC SLI 100 Integrated Amp. 

Cary Audio – Built in the USA

When I started getting seriously into high end audio back in the early 90’s one of the first brands I got hooked on was Cary Audio. I loved the all tube designs and the fact that they were all made here in the USA. I especially loved that the head honcho at the time, Dennis Had was accessible to those who bought Cary products.

Dennis had a knack for creating some of the most beautiful tube designs of my time and I have owned quite a few of them. I even bought a pair of speakers Dennis made, a one off. They were a project build of sorts and were pretty cool. I have always gotten pleasure from the Cary gear I owned.

Today Dennis is retired but still enjoys making one off tube amps and preamps. He offers them on occasion. Cary Audio is run by Billy Wright these days, who worked with Dennis side by side for years and is also a part of the Cary Audio success story.

Some of the Cary Audio Gear that I have owned in the past (not all):

  1. SLP98P – This “Sweet Little Preamp” is still in production today and sounds as good today as it did back then. It’s not the most detailed or airy piece but it is superbly musical and creates magic with the human voice. I LOVE this preamp, even today.
  2. Cary 805C Monoblocks. I adored these amps and while they were huge, heavy and only 50 WPC they delivered that big midrange Cary was known for but with a heavy dose of magic. These are also still available today in their upgraded form. Beautiful Class A single ended triode Amps.
  3. Rocket 88 Stereo Amp. I LOVED this amp and with its cats eye tube in the front providing a light show, this amp was a true value at the time of its release. It had a sweet sound, and a gorgeous look.
  4. 306/200 CD player. At the time, this was touted as one of the best CD players you could get. I had this in my system for four years and loved it. The remote was a solid hunk of metal, almost like it was forged and created for the human hand. It even lit up. The sound was fantastic for the time.
  5. AES Six Pacs Monoblocks. These all tube monos were affordable and KICKED MAJOR A**! These were not under the Cart name but were created by Dennis Had under the AES name, which offered Cary sound quality without the fancy casing or high end automobile paint Jobs. These amps were amazing, and I kept them for five years. These beat out a MUCH more expensive McIntosh tube integrated I had at the time. In fact, these embarrassed the McIntosh for sound quality.
  6. AES DJH Signature Pre Amp. I ran this with the Six pacs and it was as good as some gear that cost 5X more. Enough said.

The AES Six Pacs

I have had a few other pieces from Cary over the years but one was mishandled in shipping and had a transformer buzz (SLI80). The SLI80 even had a severely bent transformer, thanks to UPS. I returned it of course. I also owned the 306 SACD Professional CD player/DAC which was awesome. I have also heard (but never owned) the gorgeous SLP-05 preamp, which I drooled after a few years ago. It’s a top level pre-anp that is also beautiful to look at.

The Cary Audio SLP-05 Pre-Amp

Overall I have very fond memories of my time with some pretty special gear from Cary Audio and I was excited to hear the new DMS650 streamer and DAC. I have been listening to some pretty snazzy and expensive DAC’s lately up to the $15k range and discovering what the true high end pieces bring to a well set up audio system (MAGIC). I was looking forward to seeing what this new Cary could do.

The Cary DMS650 is under $5000. In fact it is currently coming in at $4798 at Cary Direct for a beautifully built and designed Streamer and DAC. While it doesn’t have that $15k price tag I am excited to say it competes with others I have heard that cost much more than $5k. I love talking about products within HiFi that offer much more than you would expect, and we have one right here my friends.

When the DMS650 arrived I unboxed it and was literally taken by surprise by its quality of build, its heft, its big bright display, and the fact that it looks like a million bucks. No, really. This is a really nice looking piece. The display is gorgeous and not like the small ones that we see on most streamers. Heck, some (most) streamers do not even have a display at all, regardless of cost.

Im streaming from Spotify and have the DMS-650 set to upsample to DSD256. This smooths out the sound and does make a difference!

SPECS

From the Cary Audio Website:

“The DMS-650 is capable of native 32-bit / 768kHz PCM and DSD 512. It’s also Roon Ready and MQA Certified. Like other DMS products, the DMS-650 allows streaming from on-board TIDAL, Qobuz, Spotify, Spotify Connect, vTuner, or from files stored on a network computer or NAS Drive. If that wasn’t enough, it includes three (3) USB-A ports for listening from connected USB hard drives, flash drives, and even from a SD card. As an extra measure for convenience, the DMS-650 also includes aptX™ HD input and output (output for Bluetooth speakers or headphones) as well as Airplay.”

Additional features include Ethernet or Wi-Fi connectivity, TruBit™ 7-step Selectable PCM upsampling to 768kHz, and selectable PCM to DSD conversion with selectable 3-step DSD upsampling. Digital inputs include Coaxial (x2), Optical (x1), and AES/EBU (x1) as well as Coaxial and Optical digital outputs, RCA and XLR fully balanced outputs, OSO™ Re-clocking, MU-MIMO Wi-Fi, and a full 3-volt output and variable volume control for direct-to-amplifier connection.”

Think about this for a second. This is a product that Cary builds right here in the USA. It packs in all of this tech into one box for under $5k. Upsampling, Roon Ready, Bluetooth, Ethernet, COAX and OPTICAL outputs, MQA compatible, Airplay Compatible, can attach hard drives or even an SD card to play tunes. It has the makings of a superb all in one digital solution that is ready to rock out of the box.

Spec wise, build wise, this is one of those HiFi products that does not seem overpriced in the slightest. I like this as I see many products in HiFi today that are blatantly overpriced. So is this Cary really High End? So far from the specs and build, YES.

INSTALLING

I unplugged and disconnected my Nagra Classic DAC (new retail of $15k, used around $9k) and my Lumin U1 Mini Streamer ($2k) and installed the under $5k Cary DMS650 as it replaces both pieces. I had no idea what to expect with user experience or sound quality. Switching from a $17k retail cost set to one that comes in at $4800 should bring a huge downgrade to the sound, right?

I initially hooked it all up to my Nagra Classic Pre and Amp, saving the all tube SLI100 integrated for later.

I admit, I did not read the online manual as I wanted to see how easy it all was to set up. I highly suggest reading the manual as there are so many features to this box that you will discover as you delve in. I discovered how to change the remote code as out of the box stock it was the same remote code that the Nagra Pre Amp used and the DAC volume would lower or raise as I changed my preamp volume.

The Cary has a “Pure Audio” mode that enables only when you hit 8.0 on the volume, and this is where it sounds its best. Anytime I lowered the volume of my system it would lower the streamers volume due to the remote codes being the same. It was easy to change within the systems menu. Problem solved, and I am happy they thought of this. I have never seen this feature before, and it came in handy.

From the DMS-650 Manual on Pure Audio 

“For the greatest sonic benefit when using the DMS-650 as a source, it is recommended to set and leave the volume to +8.0, controlling subsequent volume via your preamplifier, integrated amplifier, or receiver. Doing so will activate PURE AUDIO MODE. Pure Audio Mode bypass all digital volume control circuits and provides the best, purest audio path for exceptional sound. For all practical purposes this can only be achieved when using the DMS-650 as a source and NOT as a preamplifier. When using the DMS-650 as a preamplifier it is unlikely you will ever have the volume maxed out at +8.0 directly feeding your amplifier. This is yet another reason to consider using component preamplifier when using a separate power amplifier.”

I also discovered you can change the startup screen. By default it goes to a USB input screen, and if you do not have anything plugged into the USB you will get a screen telling you to do just that. Since I was listening mainly for online streaming of tidal, Qobuz, and even Spotify I set it up to start up in that screen and I was ready to roll at startup.

There are also many upsampling modes with this streamer and DAC that you can switch on the fly via the Cary app, so I will say that if you purchase this piece, do read the manual. Heck, you can do so even before you purchase, it’s right here.

This piece has various ways to play your digital music. For streaming you would select the “internet” mode from the remote. If you are playing via USB, just select the USB mode.

I also recommend downloading the Cary app for the DMS650 as it will find the unit and connect to your phone. With the app you can try the various upsample modes or even upsample to DSD. You can also stream direct from the app using Tidal, Qobuz or Spotify. I did enjoy some of the resampling modes but ultimately preferred it bypassed. It’s pretty cool to hear the differences upsampling makes to music, and some may prefer to have this enabled.

I set up the DMS 650 to be hard wired in my ref system via ethernet, and also tested the WiFi in my second system. Both worked flawlessly and the unit does ship with three nice WiFi antennas which really bring in the signal without issues. I experienced zero dropouts with WiFi. Within the menu you can also check for system updates. The review unit was fully updated as I expected but this piece will also auto update, which means you do not have to worry about manually doing this.

It seems Cary thought of everything here.

On the back of the DMS650 you will find RCA and XLR outputs, the three WiFi antenna’s, an ethernet input, an AES input, USB inputs, COAX and optical as well. Also coax and optical outputs. Yes you can take your CD players digital out and plug it into this and use the Cary’s DAC for a big increase in sound quality from your CD’s.

This is a full fledged streamer and DAC, and while this is the entry level streamer from Cary, it also has a gorgeous front screen that is big, bright and easy to read from across the room. Makes my Lumin U1 mini appear a bit “cheap’ in comparison when it comes to looks.

Yes, this is the entry level piece from Cary in their streamer lineup yet it is appointed better than some megabuck streamers I have seen/heard. The all black unit is striking with its blackout look and really appears as a true high end piece.

With the way HiFi prices are going these days, the DMS650, so far, appears to be an all out bargain.

But what about the sound?

THE SOUND

I’ve been listening to my main system with my U1 mini Streamer hooked into a Nagra Classic DAC and a Weiss DAC501. Both are very expensive DAC’s. $9k-$15k. I admit, I have gotten used to the best sound I have ever had in my home so I was curious if the entry level Cary would be a huge downgrade.

I set it up for streaming through Roon, as it is fully Roon ready and MQA compatible. I started out with a few tracks from Tidal and I immediately knew this was hanging within a higher price bracket than the $4800 it costs. While it did not match the $10k and up DAC’s it provided music in a way that was impactful, rich, big, and oh so musical…expansive. There was detail though it was not as airy or holographic as the $15k Nagra.

Of course, it should not match the Nagra as that is what the higher up models from Cary are for ; )

Remember, this is the starter streamer in the Cary lineup, so it needs be compared to something within its price range. I also have an iFi DSD Pro Signature on hand, which is another all in one device. The iDSD does not have a fancy screen, nor is it large. It’s small, and doesn’t look quite as high end as the Cary but it’s a $3500 piece and sounds damn good for the cost as well.

The $3500 iFi Streamer/DAC

The Cary, besides offering the larger size, huge display screen, and nice remote also has a bigger sound than the iDSD. It’s impactful and sweet yet retains detail and images superbly. I can not emphasis the “size” of the music when the Cary is in the system. It’s seriously BIG with hint of warmth and solidity.

I even did some streaming from Spotify and the results were gorgeous!

 

Listening to Bodil Niskas “Et Gammelt Stykke Oslo”, a song I know well and use when testing audio gear was beautiful. The music just had a flow, an ease and a richness to it. No, it wasn’t crazy 3D but offered up a nice meaty midrange, where the magic of this song lives. The piano was well defined as well. It all just sounded like real music. Which is what we should be striving for. My body was swaying and that, for me, is a sign of superb musicality!

While I am certain the new Cary DMS800 Professional Streamer is above the 650, I started to question who would need more than the 650 in a digital streaming solution. It’s job is to take those digital bits and turn them into music we can hear with our ears and well as feel with our hearts and soul. It does this job very well, in a fuss free way. Yes it can and does get better, but we would have to spend quite a bit more to get there.

Listening to Adele’s new album was a treat. “My Little Love” has dynamic shifts, deep bass, stunning vocals and a palpable presence that is uber real on the best of systems. With the DMS650 taking over for the Nagra and Weiss DAC not much is lost. With the Nagra the sound is more in the room, more expanded and with a slightly heftier punch to it. The Weiss is smooth, studio like and offers up stunning detail without harshness.

The DMS650 by Cary brings this track to life just like those two do but with ever so slightly less transparency and realism. Not that the 650 lacks in these areas, it doesn’t, but when comparing it to those heavy hitters we do not lose very much. It’s that diminishing returns thing.

Next to the lower cost iDSD Pro Signature, the Cary wins for me. It’s more open, larger, and really seems to fill the room better. Plus the vocals of the Cary, that midrange, is stunning and for me, bests the iFi. While the iFi punches above its weight for sure in regards to sound, the Cary is one of those rare pieces that deliver a little more than it should for the cost. The Cary also sounds smoother than the iFi, less digital. It also looks nicer, is built better and looks like a real high end piece.

I can only imagine what the Cary top end pro version sounds like if the entry level is this good.

I tried for days to think of negatives here. No, it’s not an R2R DAC, which seem to be all the rage these days but IMO R2R DAC’s are not the be all end all. It’s just another flavor and when we get to this price point, of even $5k, those differences get smaller and smaller. It comes down to personal preference and the type of sound you love.

The Cary sound has always been about weight, solidity, and midrange magic. The DMS 650 matures a bit on that and brings on details without being bright, as well as a big expansive sound that truly fills your room with beautiful music.

THE SLI100. Bring on the Tubes!

With the SLI100 in the chain, replacing the Nagra Classic Pre (which is also tubed) and Amp (no tubes) things changed. In fact, for rock or metal music it IMPROVED. The all tube 100 WPC was bringing an immensely powerful sound to the system.

The Fleetwood Deville’s were rocking out and blistering my brain while listening to “Twenties” by Ghost.

The beat, the flow, the bass, the chest thumping energy, the sweetness was insanely good. While less refined for things such as small scale Jazz or vocals vs the Nagra, the Cary was truly a rockers dream setup. Both of these pieces jive very well together and when assembled as a team truly shine. It’s that Synergy thing again! If you listen to rock or metal…this is your audio team.

This combo sounded fantastic no matter what I played through it. It kept that larger than life realistic presentation with very meaty bones and weight. It was sweet and punchy and even made old crappy 80s recordings sound nice.

The bass performance of the SLI 100 was top notch, and the impact was insane. Not what you would think of with tubes but these are some powerful tubes and with 100 WPC the easy to drive Deville’s were giving their all.

I then hooked the pair up to my Klipsch system where I rotate LaScala’s and Forte IV’s.

To those of you who own Klipsch Heritage let me just say that THIS IS ONE HELL OF A COMBO and the best I have heard the Heritage to date. If you want my honest opinion, the SLI100 is a big step up from the older SLI80 in all ways. The pair looks stunning together as well. The Forte IV”s were sounding like I have not heard them before and the kick they had was impressive. That big sound worked well with the big sounding Klipsch. They can truly bring a concert to your room.

They can also do quiet. Turned up.

Streaming some sexy sultry Diana Krall form her “Turn up the Quiet” Album had me feeling like I was in a smoky jazz club listening to her just a few feet from me. Super intimate sound from the Klipsch and the Tubes. “WOW” is what I said to myself as I listened into the night. 

CONCLUSION

While the DMS650 can not match my $15,000 reference Nagra Classic DAC when it comes to refinement, for the money (and slightly above it) I have not heard anything to match it when it comes to build, style, and sound. I had to keep reminding myself that this was the starter entry level streamer from Cary. While it appeared and sounded like some others top end solutions, this is just the beginning of the Cary streamer and DAC ladder. Cary has the DMS 700 and 800 above this one, which is nuts because this 650 is so good as it is.

No matter the music I listened to with the Cary duo it was extremely Musial and offered up a huge expansive and rich sound with a weighty midrange and solid bass. What it lacked in all out transparency it made up for in musicality and by having a way of bringing the artists to your room. It was smooth and had some refinement over lower cost DAC’s that was welcome. If. there is one thing I can not stand with a DAC it is one that sounds ragged, digital or bright.

The Cary DMS650’s DAC section had none of that. What we have here is a true high end bonafide bargain in a world of insanely priced audio gear.

If I had only up to $6,000 to spend on a digital front end of streamer and DAC, THIS WOULD BE IT, no question. I can not imagine anyone being disappointed in the DMS650 for what it costs. It’s one of those rare HiFi pieces that do really punch above its price class and it makes absolutely beautiful music that can touch our heart and soul. 

Unless you are uber picky and want to eek out every last bit of detail and transparency from your tracks, this may be all you ever need for quality high res streaming. If you want more, be prepared to spend quite a bit more. 

You can see all of the Cary Digital solutions HERE at Cary DIRECT. 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Hi Steve- Great read. Did you try the Cary SLI-100 with the Forte IVs? Its what I have and have been thinking of trying a tube amp for them. I”m not too keen on the Yamaha A-S1200 I have them paired with, sadly. Hoping a tube amp can do wonders for them. Any thoughts or recs on best pairing? This Cary or any others I should look at?

    Thanks
    Hugo

    • Yes I did. The SLI 100 has a very dynamic and big powerhouse kind of sound. It’s not delicate or smooth, rather its heavy hitting and pretty dynamic with the Forte IV. Plenty of power for sure and big bass as well, which Cary is known for. A great pairing if big bold sound is what you are after : )

    • The Cary has a big, bold, punchy sound. The Pass has a transparent, airy yet full bodied sound. I have not heard them together but they should do well. I do know there are dealers for both brands that allow for an in home audition. (Reno HiFi for Pass, and Music Direct for Cary (60 days).

  2. Hi Steve, thank you for your review. With respect to the SLI-100, I got the impression it’s been voiced to sound similar to an 845 SET according to the Stereophile review of it. Would that be your impression? Is the soundstage 3D holographic? I owned the Line Magnetic LM-219 as well but sold it as it didn’t gel with my Audio Physic loudspeakers. I was thinking of trying the Cary as a replacement. Anyway, many thanks again, and best wishes to you and your family.

    • The SLI-100 for sure sounded closer to the Line Magnetic 219ia than a standard tube amp. The magic lied in the vocals, the mids. They were large as life which is similar to what a SET amp does. It’s also crazy powerful and I feel it sounds leagues better than the older SLI-80. Different flavors if you will.

  3. Got my answer on Cary web site. Amazon Music can be streamed indirectly via bluetooth or Apple AirPlay but CD quality or above might not be achieved. Unfortunately, I don’t think Amazon allows their music app to be on stalled by manufacturers on their devices.

  4. ▫️Thanks for a very interesting review of the integrated Cary streamer/DAC. This could be my next next upgrade because it appeals in a number of ways. It seems to be pretty far up the diminishing returns curve. It meets my psychological limit of not liking to spend more than $5k for a single component (and this is really two). I like having a streamer and DAC in a single unit. It seems to have high build quality and looks good.
    ▫️I’ve learned not to take anything for granted so I have one question. Can the Amazon Music app be installed on this Cary unit?

  5. Thank you Steve, please expand on comparison of its DAC with Pontus and Terminator that you seem to like so much.

    • It’s different. All of them are different in the way they present the music. The Denafrips will be darker, smoother and mellower in comparison. The TII a bit more refined. The beauty of this piece is that it is a streamer and DAC all in one. It does everything, and you would need two boxes for a normal DAC. I’d take the Cary over the Pontus II. It really depends on what the user is looking for. All of them sound incredible but the Cary excels with midrange, bass and filling the room with music. Thank you.

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