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dCS Bartok

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by tmarshl, Mar 5, 2019.
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  1. tmarshl
    dCS Bartok Sound Signature - some of my favorite albums

    Presence and Spatial Accuracy

    Each instrument resides in aural space, both horizontally and in depth. I have spent many hours listening to live jazz in the club. The feeling of "being there" that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck is the elusive quality that I treasure. the dCS Bartok has it in spades.

    Chet - Chet Baker (Riverside 1959 - Keep-news Collection) The interplay between Chet’s trumpet, Pepper Adams baritone sax, Herbie Mann’s alto flute, Bill Evan’s piano, Paul Chamber’s bass and Philly Joe Jones drums​


    Many systems can deliver soaring and edgy treble, but it is the nuance and delicacy that the dCS Bartok brings to the listening experience that moves me emotionally - and that's what it is all about.

    Scheherazade- Fritz Reiner - Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1960 RCA) The opening track The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship starts with a violin solo which is so beautiful and delicate that it can get lost on other systems. The dCS Bartók brings out this solo with such clarity and precision, that it brought tears to my eyes.​


    This DAC/AMP is nothing short of "delicious" in the way that it renders vocal presentation. The clarity and detail are so natural, it is as if they are singing right next to your ear, nothing forced or edgy. So clear you can hear every nuance of their voice and breath. Several great examples that I loved were:​

    Love Scenes: Diana Krall (1997 Impulse! Records)

    Come Away with Me: Nora Jones (2002 Bluenote)

    The Carpenters - Singles 1969-1981 - Karen Carpenter (2000 A&M Records)

    Magnificat - Arenesen (2014 2L)​


    If there is one thing that I cannot stand, it is "muddy" bass. So many systems over-drive the bass presentation and ruins it in the process. The bass delivered by the dCS Bartok is crisp and clean and deep, without drawing attention to itself. The enhancement of bass can be a real distraction from the music - when you just want to hear the music being played as it would be in a club. Two excellent examples of this quality are:

    Wood - Brian Bromberg (2002 A440 Music Group)

    Cross-Platform Interchange - Misha Mullov-Abado (2017 Edition Records)
    MQA: The Bartok's ability to render MQA encoded streams on Tidal is a big plus for me, as I can appreciate the time correction that MQA can bring to the party, eliminating some of the "time-smearing" which was evident in the original release. MQA is not as good as well mastered DSD high resolution files, but the tradeoff of being able to discover and stream a huge number of songs is well worth it to me.

    ROON: I use the dCS Bartok with Roon Remote running on an iPad Pro 12.9; Roon Core running on a Roon Nucleus; and the Roon Ready dCS Bartok for rendering. I use a pair of Focal Utopia headphones with a balanced Transparent Ultra cable with mini XLR4 connections the Bartok. It is a great combination, and contributes to the overall quality of the music listening experience.

    Summary: the dCS Bartok gets just about everything very right IMHO. It is consistently a pleasure to listen to, and is non-fatiguing.

    Caveat: As is always the case, the original mike placement and mastering have a lot to do with the quality of the recording, and the Bartok cannot make up for substandard recording or mastering.
    onsionsi likes this.
  2. DrPo
    Nice summary, thanks!
  3. Sunya
    Bartok vs DAVE?
  4. tmarshl
    Yes, I owned several Chord products: Mojo, Hugo and Dave. They were all very good for their price-points. I do prefer the dCS Bartok to the Chord Dave, particularly when driving the Focal Utopias with a Transparent Ultra balanced cable. In my listening experience the Bartok was was just "more" - more lush, more rounded, more present than the Dave in my setup. I listen to a lot of streaming music (Tidal, Qobuz) and the addition of MQA in the Bartok was a welcome advantage.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2019
    onsionsi likes this.
  5. Deftone
    Interesting, i think HugoTT2 + Mscaler would be a better comparison to the Bartok in this case because it is said to bring the same improvements over Dave alone. Thicker, more rounded, more dynamic etc
  6. Zhanming057
    The TT2+Mscalar is the more versatile system but personally, I would prefer the Bartok to the Dave as well. If it's the Mscala+Dave you get a bit better technical performance but the signature on the Bartok is a bit more organic and engage in my opinion.
  7. MacedonianHero Contributor
    I agree with your comments of more "lush, more rounded"...which is why I prefer the DAVE's transparency. Looks like we both share the same digital sources (Tidal, Qobuz). But as they say, YMMV.
  8. tmarshl
    YMMV is absolutely true. To me the Dave sounded a bit "thin" compared to the Bartok, which I prefer. Thanks for your comments.

    I am on Tidal and Qobuz for the next year, and during that time, I will decide which service I prefer.
  9. MacedonianHero Contributor
    The higher distortion on the Bartok is likely what gives it a rounder/fuller sound. It's good that we have choices in life as I'm after the upmost in transparency (thought I find the DAVE still quite far away from most DACs with a hint of warmth and fullness). Have you tried an NOS DAC? They can be even warmer/fuller.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
  10. DVass13
    I had the opportunity to demo the Bartok last Friday and wanted to share my thoughts. I made the 4-ish hour drive down to Hifi Buys in Atlanta.

    I split my listening time pretty evenly between headphones and speakers and use my system for anything from critical listening to watching YouTube videos to just providing background music while I'm in a different room. My DAC is fed through my computer and I have no network interface with it so any music or volume changes require me to be at my computer. This isn't generally a huge pain but it would be nice to be able to control my music via an iPad or mobile device. I am generally satisfied with my system as it is but I have two cross-country moves coming up in the next year so I am counting the number of boxes and thinking of ways to simplify to ease the pain of packing everything up and moving... twice.

    My interest was piqued last fall when I first heard news of the Bartok. It seems like it is exactly what I'm looking for: a streaming DAC and pre-amp with a built in headphone output. There are a number of devices with similar features that have similar features (Auralic Vega G2, Ayre QX-5 Twenty, Mytek Manhattan II with network card, iFi Pro iDSD, and now the Aurender A30) but a few things make the Bartok stick out in my opinion. The first is that dCS has a great track record and doesn't spit out new models every year. There is no flavor of the week that will make the Bartok obsolete in a year's time. The fact that the DAC is FPGA-based and can be updated via download means that the unit can be upgraded over time to fix bugs/add features/improve sound quality. This is one of the features that led me to the DirectStream DAC. One other feature that makes the Bartok stand out is the attention they gave to the headphone output. The headphone output doesn't seem to be an afterthought or a feature to tick a box but a well thought out design that is a main selling point. There are several other reasons that I am interested in the Bartok over the other units listed above, but these are the big hitters.

    The Bartok was feeding a D'Agostino Progression pre-amp and stereo amp and the speakers were the Monitor Audio Platinum PL500 II. AudioQuest cabling was used exclusively throughout. I'm not familiar with these speakers and I have only heard D'Agostino components a few times, so I spent most of my time listening to the headphone output. I currently use a PS Audio DirectStream DAC to feed my HeadAmp GS-X mkii. I've had this combo for a bit over a year now so I'm pretty familiar with its sound.

    The Bartok was networked via ethernet cable and I used an iPad with Roon to interface with the Bartok. I didn't play much with the dCS app, unfortunately, but the interface through Roon seemed easy to navigate. I didn't change any filter settings but it looks like those options and several others were accessible through the Roon app. I was able to access some music stored on the network as well as Tidal and Qobuz. I was interested to see that the Bartok plays MQA files (which I have not had any prior experience with). I was sitting next to the Bartok and didn't think to check if I could switch between the headphone output and pre-amp output of the Bartok through the app which would be a nice feature. I guess I'll have to google that one. I was happy to see that the Bartok remembers the volume setting for each output - so switching to the pre-amp output set the volume to line level while switching back to the headphone output changes the volume back to whatever it was set at previously. Again, a very nice feature for me. There were no other inputs connected to the Bartok, but I was told that it also remembers the volumes for individual inputs. I guess this isn't as important in my book, but it would be a nice feature nonetheless. All in all, the Bartok really does seem

    *These impressions are geared toward the headphone output of the Bartok. I spent about an hour listening to my Utopias and only about thirty minutes to the speakers.

    I have a few go-to tracks that I use to pick out specific qualities, but I generally listen to mostly classical and jazz with some folk, rock, rap, and other genres thrown in there. The first thing that struck me about the Bartok is how immersive the sound was. I found that even at lower levels I felt fully enveloped in the sound. The Reference Recording of Stravinsky's Firebird conducted by Eiji Oue filled the space around my head and presented a wider sound stage than I'm used to out of my Utopias. The next thing I noticed was how detailed and impactful the bass was. I was easily able to pick out individual plucks of a double bass in some of my favorite jazz recordings. I was able to get a sense (at least as much as you can get through headphones) of the impact of a kick drum. Again, even at low listening levels the bass was detailed. When I turned the volume up it only got better. This leads to the third thing I noticed about the Bartok. At high levels the highs weren't sharp or sibilant. High hats and horns that are sometimes fatiguing at higher levels were still very much present, but not as sharp as on some setups I've heard. One of my go-to tracks is Young Jeezy's Put On. Honestly, it's a terrible song that takes me back to my college football days when we would play this during pre-game warmups. The song has some low bass notes that are below the range of many headphones and speakers. It also has some rather sibilant "city"s in the first 30 seconds or so. On some setups it can be a bit piercing. It was very controlled on the Bartok.

    I'm not all that great at describing sound or conveying my thoughts in this regard which is why I won't go into more detail than I wrote above. I will say that I very much enjoyed my time listening to the Bartok. I spent the first fifteen minutes or so working my way through some of my normal go-to tracks. But for the rest of the hour I just sat there listening to some of my favorite music with my eyes closed and a huge smile on my face. The sound was just that good. I quickly let go of making mental notes and trying to compare this unit to my home setup and just enjoyed playing one song after the next. The final half hour of my time spent listening to the Bartok in the two-channel setup was purely for enjoyment. I wasn't listening critically. I was just listening.

    So where do I go from here?
    I chatted with one of the sales reps for about an hour after my demo and he showed me around a few other rooms. I felt myself losing interest in the other setups and only thinking about the Bartok. How realistic is it that I could add this to my system? It's wayyy over budget for me. I'd have to sell off a lot of gear to help fund it. After thanking the staff for their time and their hospitality I got in the car and made my way back home. The severe weather left me with several hours of delay on the drive home to reflect on my listening and weigh my options. I am now seriously considering selling the DirectStream DAC, HeadAmp, and maybe a few other items to put towards a Bartok. It would not only be a nice way to downsize and simplify my setup, but also be a noticeable step up in sound quality. Now I just need to find someone willing to give me a great deal on a brand new product that is selling faster that dealers can stock them.
    Tekunda and Deftone like this.
  11. Tekunda
    I just played the song Young Jeezy - Put On on my rather humble setup (Clear HP and Questyle CMA 12 to find out if I could hear any sibilance.
    Even on full ear piercing volume I could not detect sibilance. The "city's" in the first 30 seconds sounded very sharp, like naturally you would expect it in that kind of song, but not sibilant. So I guess it's time to put up my Questyle CMA 12 against the Bartok. (just kidding of course, or....?)
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2019
  12. koven Contributor
    8+ hours round trip and only stayed 1 hour? :p
  13. DVass13
    About two and a half hours total: 1 hour listening with my Utopia headphones, half hour through their two channel setup, and another hour just chatting and checking out some of the other listening rooms.
  14. tmarshl
    I had a similar experience. I was fortunate to get a loaner dCS Bartok for a weeks's review. I was impressed enough at the end of the week to place my order. Glad that I did. I also ended up selling my PS Audio DirectStream DAC with Bridge II and another amplifier to help fund the purchase.

    I have no regrets at all.
  15. thyname
    Does anyone know whether the USB input #1, which is the USB type B connector, is able to do MQA? Or is MQA available only through Ethernet and USB #2 input?
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