Cary Audio AiOS

Device Type: Integrated Amplifier/DAC/Network Player/Headphone Amp
Availability: CaryDirect.com and Authorized Dealers
Price: $2,995.00
Website:
www.caryaudio.com
Full Specifications
Product Manual (PDF)

All-in-One-System (AiOS)
The Cary Audio All-in-One-System joins the group of recently reviewed All-In-Ones; Moon by Simaudio Nēo Ace, Hegel Music Systems Röst, Lumin M1, and Peachtree Audio nova300 Amplifier. Let's see how well it fits in with such distinguished company.

On paper, the Cary AiOS has most everything one needs, sans speakers, to serve and stream your music, add 2 analog devices, and play 'till your hearts content. You can even listen on your cans. The amplifier offers 75wpc into 8 ohms of Class A/B power, the USB and Ethernet inputs support PCM sample rates to 384kHz and quad DSD, and Cary has joined the MQA crew with a twist; "...unlike other MQA products to date, AiOS will playback any MQA sample rate up to 16x. This means despite the original sample rate of the MQA file, the MQA decoder will extrapolate the file to either a 705.6 or 768 kHz sampling rate." So says Cary. The AiOS will also take in music over the airwaves via Bluetooth or AirPlay.

The AiOS is part of Cary's "Lifestyle Series". As such, it isn't housed in a box but a curvy silver and black affair with side panels that come in colors ($89/1, $150/2, $220/3...); Gunmetal Gray (standard), Spring Green, Deep Plum, Cary Blue, Candy Red, and Champagne Gold.AiOS is also Roon Ready, making it very lifestyle as far as I'm concerned because Roon was developed by music crazies who also happen to be hotshit software guys. Developers. To my mind, anyone, and I mean anyone or any company, thinking about offering an app-of-their-own had best give Roon thorough look and ask them self(s) one simple question; can we do better. If the answer is "no", and if you're being honest with yourself odds are that is the answer, let Roon do it. Better.

Looks are a personal thing but I like the effort that went into making AiOS not look like a boring piece of hi-fi. Beyond the different color side panels, users can change the colors of the front panel display, something Cary calls "switchable color illumination". You can set the unit to automatically update itself when new Firmware is available, an option I endorse setting to "Yes". There's also an included remote for people who want to hold something that has limited functionality (OK, it's actually a full function infrared IR remote but it ain't no app).

It's Not Easy Being Green
Especially when you're side panels for a piece of hi-fi. I preferred the plum so that's what I rolled with for the review (I did not notice any sonic gains or losses just in case someone out there was wondering).

The Cary AiOS sounds bold. I dare say it nearly sounds like there's a permanent loudness control set to "On". Before we run for the hills, let me clarify; the Cary AiOS offers a big, fat, bass/midbass rich sound that's somewhat bereft of the full tonal palette of other gear I have and have heard here in the barn. I also enjoyed listening to the Cary AiOS for the weeks I listened to it. My hunch was I liked the amp better than the DAC.

To test this theory, I connected the review Aqua Formula Optologic DAC, being fed from the dCS Network Bridge, to Line 2, Line 1 was occupied by my turntable, and did some comparing. This was a simple thing to do using Roon to switch where it sent my music and the Cary remote, yea the handy one, to switch inputs. Night and day, day and night were the differences heard. You may saying, "Well you just added over $18,000 worth of stuff to your system so it better sound better!" I'd agree; this was a somewhat silly comparison in real terms but I was testing a hi-fi theory so silliness is par for the course.

What the Formula/dCS combo added was a number of things I enjoy including tone saturation (things sound more like they sound) and a better-defined sound picture where everything and everyone was clearly present in their own space. These things make for a more engaging experience, for me.

Let's focus on the AiOS in realistic terms where it performs quite well compared to the like-components I listed at the front of this review. If you've read those reviews, you'll see that we are not comparing apples to apples in terms of functionality and the Cary AiOS is more All-In-One than most and its Roon Readyness places it at the head of the pack in terms of my user experience. This is something I cannot stress enough—there are to my mind two main things one needs to get right to enjoy digital replay; the plumbing and the interface. Roon takes care of the latter and I need to write about getting the former right. So fumbling around with some half-baked control app kills off some of my enjoyment when dealing with a hardware company's idea of good interface.

In terms of sound, I felt the Peachtree was most akin to the Cary in that it is also a bit bottom forward but I preferred the Peachtree because it also delivered a more saturated sound as compared to the AiOS. But, and this is a big butt, the Peachtree does not offer a network input so you'll have to add that piece yourself. If you want a more All-In-One device, the Cary comes out ahead.

If you want a more delicate and refined sound, replete with silky upper registers, check out the Hegel (while the Hegel does offer a network input it is not Roon Ready so that leaves it off my friendly-to-use list). The Simaudio Nēo Ace may be the most all-around sonic performer of the bunch and the company is promising Roon Readiness but I imagine some people may find its sound a bit. . .cold or clinical. I know, the burdens we bear.

I spent some time listening to records, i.e. LPs, on the Well Tempered Amadeus/Denon 103/Auditorium 23 step up/Sugden phono stage and found it ever so enjoyable. There are a lot of albums I own and love that are not available in digital form so a turntable serves a very practical purpose in addition to the enjoyment I get from the experience. On the opposite side of the world, I also AirPlayed and Bluetoothed to the AiOS, options I see as being great to have.

AiOS also offers app-resident EQ which some may find a handy way of fine tuning its sound to your room/system/liking. I don't object to having this option, just as I don't object to the AiOS' ability to decode MQA, but EQ cannot dial in more tone color, it shapes what's already there. More or less.

I do not browse music by format. Ever. I browse music by album cover and prefer Album view for my collection and "What's New" and "TIDAL Rising" Album view in Tidal. My point being, while I did enjoy some MQA streaming of music I've added to my library from Tidal, the new Kronos Quartet Folk Songs, which I initially enjoyed but it got too familiar too fast, and the truly lovely async from Ryuichi Sakamoto, nothing hit the floor and all of my clothing remained where it was when I started listening. That's to say that while the MQA versions sounded clearly better than the non-MQA versions, I would not run out and buy anything because it has a new sticker on it.

Nearly All-In-One
If you spend more money than the Cary AiOS, and you spend that money on separate pieces of hi-fi and the cables you'll need to connect everything (not to mention any connectivity and power supply upgrades and tweaks), you can get better sound. If you want one box that is truly all-in-one, meaning all one need do is connect it to your network and your speakers and serve and/or stream away, the Cary AiOS checks off all of the boxes.


Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
LMDA1's picture

Cease and desist from Apple in 5, 4, 3, 2 ...

insertusernamehere's picture

Being an apartment dweller, I am a BIG fan of LITTLE (compact) systems. I've gone even more all-in-one, with Kii Three Speakers and Kii Control pre (I only wish the Control streamed, darn it!), but even if I'm not in the market at the moment, I've really enjoyed this lifestyle series of reviews. Thank you!

A question however: are you somehow not going to review the Devialet Pro?!? I'd be very interested in your comparative (to the other "systems") take on what's probably been the most (best?) reviewed of them all and which did, to my mind, kick off the whole post B&O lifestyle movement.

insertusernamehere's picture

... I just wanted to add that while I do realize that Mr. Lavorgna *did* review the Devialet 120 several years ago, 1. it was an old model, now replaced by the "Pro" line and, more importantly, that review didn't take place in the context of the present all-in-one series; it'd be interesting to know how, in Audiostream's estimation, the (now) Devialet 130Pro and/or 220Pro stack up against these other current offerings.

Matias's picture

+1

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...is roughly twice the price of all of the all-in-ones I've reviewed recently. Since I try to review/group things by price for comparison, the Devialet will have to wait until/if I venture into higher priced al-in-ones.

Cheers.

ron@rongordon.com's picture

Any plans to review the NAD M32 all-in-one? I ask because I'm considering it and value your opinion. Thanks.

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