dCS is a typically British, stubborn high-end brand. The company has been making digital to analogue converters for more than thirty years. But not in the standard way where a dac-chip from TI, Wolfson or for example ESS is used. No… dCS has its own ring-dac. An ingenious design using a random composition of resistors for each value. You can read exactly how this works in our report of the factory visit. In this review we focus on the new Bartok headphone amplifier, pre-amp, streamer and dac… a very versatile device. But can it still play at ‘high-end’, dCS level despite the many tasks?
All-in-one products seem to be making quite an advance in recent years. One of the brands that does that well is Hegel. The H190, H360, H590 and for example the Hegel Röst are all very successful models. NAIM knows the game too. Look at the new Uniti line. No hard feelings, shall we say.
dCS is, of course, of a completely different class. But also here you can find all-rounders in the assortment. Think of the Vivaldi One. A very high quality solution for those who are looking for a streamer, dac and pre-amp in one.
The Bartok is not Vivaldi One. It’s below that level. Although this is very relative with dCS, because with 11,900 euros, the Bartok is not an investment that anyone would make for a while. But know that there are in fact three devices in one box and that we are talking about 4000 euros per device. Yeah, a lot of money, but that’s a different story. Isn’t that right? By the way, the headphone amplifier is also an option. The Bartok then comes to 14,250 euros.
The nice thing about a product like the dCS Bartok is that it is always possible to upgrade. This takes the form of software – free of charge – or a headphone amplifier (in this case) or an external clock. With the latest upgrade dCS shows its studio-roots. After all, in studios there is often a central clock that makes the digital chain work synchronously. Crucial for good recordings and reproduction.
Box and controls
Here we can be brief. The build quality and finish of the Bartok is, just like other dCS equipment, simply top-notch. Exciting? No…. but tight, and in a way chic because it’s so understated. On the left a clear display (not really readable at more than 2 meters), in the middle the crucial buttons for operation and on the right the headphone jack and volume control. That’s it…
On the back we find a variety of in- and outputs. From double AES, coaxial, optical, bnc and USB (asynchronous) to Ethernet. In addition, we also find bnc connections for the clock function. And of course the analog outputs (xlr and cinch) and the balanced headphone output. This is in our case a 4-pin connector. No big jack-input. That’s something to watch out for, because not all headphones have a stereo balanced connection.
The control can of course also be done via the app. dCS does not have its own app in the Android store. But it works flawlessly via BubbleUPnP or any other UPnP app. There’s also ROON. We worked mainly through ROON. Purely because it works better and sounds better. Focus, space… refinement… just better through ROON. Period.