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Cary DMS-800PV Customer Review

Genuine user experience by Cary Audio customer Frank P., who purchased DMS-800PV Network Audio Player. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the kind words, Frank!

Cary Audio DMS-800PV

I purchased a new DMS-800PV two months ago. As an audiophile, over the years, I’ve gone through a lot of component upgrades while evolving my listening preferences along the way. Gone are the days when uber-definition, emphasized bass, and sizzling treble with questionable musicality put a smile on my face. This has been replaced by a balanced presentation, a clear view into the music, tonal accuracy, body, and a natural soundstage. For years I held my ground against digital playback as a viable music source. It never seemed to have the musicality of a good analog source. In the last 5 years, steady improvements in sound quality, along with format convenience and greater availability of digital music, have since won me over. As more and more recordings start life as a digital master, having a good digital front end seems to make sense. I really am impressed to see the number of companies in the digital source space and the increased level of product investment occurring. There are a growing number of digital equipment manufacturers getting it right. Cary Audio is one of them. 

Welcome Cary Audio’s DMS-800PV

Having most recently owned the DMS-700, I was not sure whether an upgrade to the DMS-800 PV would be worth the money. The DMS-700 is an exceptional benchmark, so the bar was high. I decided to do a bit of homework. In my evaluation process, I also checked out competing products which included Lumin, Auralic, HiFi Rose, and Aurender. Prior to purchasing the 700, I went through a similar comparison, having compared, and listened to several competing products. The 700 showed its pedigree and easily competed head-on, winning me over. This time around, I considered separate DACs and streamers, as well as all-in-one units. I like the notion of an all-in-one approach like the DMS product family, as the DAC and streamer are designed and engineered to work seamlessly together. I respect the DMS-700’s musicality, ease of use, bulletproof operations, and quality craftsmanship. Don’t get me wrong, I was very satisfied with the 700, yet after reading about the design and approach that was taken with the DMS-800PV, I had to find out for myself. Would the DMS-800PV represent a subtle improvement in key areas giving me a little more of what I like, or lead to a more substantial improvement?

Time to listen…

The Cary was packaged robustly in a double box and, as expected, finished exceptionally well. I purchased a silver unit that matches my other gear and looks great. The DMS-800PV looks purposeful and no-nonsense, is a bit taller than the DMS-700, and is noticeably heavier. While not as easy to maneuver as the 700, once in place, it’s not going anywhere, so the added weight becomes a non-issue. Like the 700, the 800 is deeper than most standard gear, so it can be a little tight getting the cables in place, yet I was able to make it work on what is a standard audio rack shelf. The back panel layout is logical, with all the expected inputs and outputs.  The online manual is comprehensive, well thought out, and written in a way that is easy to understand. The screen is bigger than the DMS-700 and most other competing products, which makes it easy to read, at least in my small/medium room. Getting everything in place, connected, and operational was simple. Twenty minutes after opening the box, I was ready to power up. I have mono single-ended tube amps and preamp, so my hook-up is old-school, non-balanced, using RCA cables. As such, I could not try the DMS-800PV using the balanced configuration. There was a software update pending, which was a snap to complete. In preparation and considering the unit was new, I decided to leave the DMS-800PV on for a few hours before getting down to some serious listening.

Anyone familiar with Cary’s DMS music management application will feel at home with the 800. Why mess with success? The app works perfectly, is intuitive, and at least for my current needs, is good enough, at least for now to avoid buying a music management app like Roon. As the DMS-800PV is “Roon certified,” when the time is right, I am set.  I have my local music (3TB+) stored on an external hard drive connected via USB. I use Qobuz for streaming and connect the DMS-800PV via ethernet to the internet, avoiding the need to use wireless, so I can’t speak to how well the Wi-Fi functionality works. I use a folder and file structure that works for me and is easy to search against, allowing me to easily add music both locally and through Qobuz. I also found a handful of hi-def Internet radio stations through the pre-installed vTuner Internet radio app that serves as a reliable source for quality-sounding background music. I use a higher-quality router which, while considered audiophile-grade, has nothing more than a lower noise power supply, beefier chassis, and better connectors.  

The DMS-800PV powers up quickly and immediately recognizes my configuration, streaming services, and external hard drive. The unit is dead quiet and adds no audible noise to my system. Any music added to my hard drive or updates to Qobuz since the DMS-800 was last used is recognized and located where it should be. The menu options are clear, and navigating the app is straightforward. I use the Cary Audio Streamer 2.0 iOS app on my iPad, which works great. The remote is a high-quality, full-featured unit that doesn’t get a lot of use. Navigating the app is quick, and all the album details and artwork are displayed both in the app and on the DMS’s front screen. I only wish the Cary Streamer 2.0 app would allow for horizontal viewing on iOS, as I prefer to use my iPad that way. For a mobile phone, the orientation is fine.

I started listening to a few of my high-definition reference recordings that I am very familiar with. These are both excellent sounding and happen to be recordings that I understand how they were recorded, the recording venue, and the equipment used. The majority of these are directly recorded to DSD (in some cases DSD256) and DXD and sourced from companies that include NativeDSD. The list included David Elias’s “Coffeehouse,” Mat Pozsar’s “Black Stork,” and Applewood Road. Immediate smile – the same family characteristics as the DMS-700; analog smoothness, big soundstage, and magical midrange. Considering the difference in technology and price between the DMS-700 and the DMS-800PV, I was expecting things to sound better, and yes, they did. What I was not prepared for was the degree of improvement and, more importantly, the areas where the improvements occurred. Generally, the improvements are in areas that require a significant additional financial investment to start to get. The instrument and voice placement within the soundstage is stunning. The soundstage is very wide and exceptionally deep, and everything about the presentation is at a new performance level. There is more order to soundstage width and depth.

The surprises continue; After a few songs, I started noticing how impacting the dynamics are. Pianos, drums, and even voices went from 0 to 60 in no time. On Cat Steven’s “Tea for the Tillerman,” the song Father and Son opens with an acoustic guitar that has a new sense of impact, clarity, and body perfectly positioned in the soundstage. There’s now an effortless aspect of the music that I didn’t realize existed. The body of the music, especially noticeable with acoustic instruments, is now more like real music as you can almost feel the wood in a guitar, the horsehair in a violin bow, and the hammer felt of a piano. In listening to Dogs from Damian Rice’s album “9”, Damian’s voice has a see-through clarity, no edginess, yet is raw and very detailed. The instruments carry the weight, body, attack, and warmth far better than I have ever heard from my system. I was assuming that the quality of my reference recordings was a factor in hearing these attributes, yet I also hear significant improvements from older, less technically perfect recordings. What was mediocre is good, and what was good is now great. I am closer to the music.   

The next round of music included Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” Counting Crows’ “Recovering the Satellites,” Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain,” and Lisa Hannigan’s “At Swim.” Amazing music, yet the recording quality is what I would consider average. Things got interesting. On the song Ora by Lisa Hannigan, Lisa’s voice was floating, more tightly focused, and the height and size of her voice was spot on.  Music was layered, and I found myself being reintroduced to a song I had listened to many times before, yet never sounding anything like this. Again, I was closer to the music. The same with Miles Davis’s “Song of our Country” from “Sketches of Spain,” where the sound from the horns was coming from the instruments and not the speakers.

Classical music is a good test for a digital front end. A full-sized symphony orchestra can have over 90 musicians, layered front to back and left to right. Sixty to seventy percent of the musicians play string instruments which can be difficult to reproduce, balancing clarity, body, and silkiness. Listening to Reference Recordings Utah Symphony’s Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 8, the violins were right there, full of body and bite with no edge. The concert hall dimensions and acoustics were captured perfectly, and the dynamics and low-level detail was superb. The choir sounded well-balanced, delicate yet full of life.  I am not sure how to describe the improvements differently, yet it all has me thinking more about the music and less about my music system.

Some of the other things I noticed; While I am not sure the bass is any deeper, it is tighter and more natural sounding with newfound dimension. Cymbal’s glimmer with amazing detail and finesse, and voices are “can touch them” real. The same holds true for my streaming service of choice, Qobuz. The CD and hi-def recordings sound fantastic, and the sound quality detractors I heard using a streaming service like Qobuz over local-stored files are less now than before. My ripped CDs are very engaging and listenable, showing more depth and analog smoothness.

Throughout the last two months, I took the time to document all the improvements I was hearing.  Some additional points:

  • Micro and macro dynamics are superb. Just listen to a single piano note, and you will hear the attack of the hammer and the body of the note in a way that’s very real. My system now sounds unrestricted.
  • Music decay. Listening through the DMS-800PV, I better understand this concept as I can more clearly hear it. As an example, piano, guitar, and bass have both leading-edge impact and easy-to-recognize decay. I can now hear the impact of the decay far better and appreciate what it adds to the body of the note and the pace and timing of the music.
  • Deep, tight, fast bass with tonality. The foundation of the music has never sounded better, and when listening to, as an example, a standup bass, the character of the instrument and not just the low-frequency notes is there.
  • Midrange purity, focus, and emotion. It is startling to hear a female voice front and center and singing to you. I never realized how important the leading edge of a voice reproduced correctly with the right balance of smoothness and clarity is.
  • I’m listening more at lower volume levels. I did not realize I was doing this, yet I do not have the urge or need to play music as loud as I did to get more detail or impact. The lower-volume level performance is a bright spot for the DMS-800 in part, I believe, because of the exceptional low-level dynamics and see-through transparency.
  • High-frequency smoothness and body. Yes, cymbals do have body and dimension, and the DMS-800PV lets you hear this in spades. The Cary does an exceptional job of getting the last degree of detail out of the higher frequencies without any edginess.
  • Soundstage maturity. There is now much better order to the soundstage. Musicians and instruments are in their places, and it is easier to see them on stage.
  • Dimensional focus – everything is rounder and more three-dimensional, yet without the loss of focus. Whether a violin, stand-up bass, electric guitar, or piano, every instrument has more character and body.

Are there downsides?

The DMS800PV is large, so you will need a location that will accommodate it. There are most certainly more streamlined units out there, yet considering the DMS-800PV is both a DAC and streamer on a single chassis, it is acceptable. Also, it would be nice to have the option of an internal SSD drive, as the current cost and size of SSD drives make them a viable alternative to an external spinning or SSD drive. Having a built-in SSD drive feature pre-engineered by Cary Audio for the DMS-800 would ensure low noise, perfect compatibility and likely be included in the product firmware upgrades and support. The iOS app not rotating as you turn an Apple tablet, while not a showstopper, appears, at least to me, as something that can be addressed.      

The DMS-800PV has made my music system significantly better, far exceeding my expectations in the area that matters most, musicality. Instead of getting more of the same, I am experiencing things in areas of dimension, impact, focus, and tonality that are at a level I have not experienced.  I am thoroughly enjoying listening to music, rediscovering so many wonderful recordings, and extremely satisfied with all the improvements in sound quality. Oh yeah, another advantage; The folks at Cary are first class. They care about their customers, quickly respond to emails, and help to make the buying experience special. For what you get, the price of the DMS-800PV is very reasonable, making it an audiophile bargain. It is a high-end player in the league with the big boys and easily holds its own. For me a game-changer, exceptionally musical, and from an iconic American brand. Highly recommended.