dCS didn’t discontinue their long-running and Debussy DAC for nothing. In its place comes the Bartók, a D/A converter that contemporises the entry point into the Cambridge company’s range of über high-end hardware: the Ring DAC™, FPGA-centric DSP control board, all powered by a single transformer; plus Class A headphone amplifier with balanced and single-ended outputs that attracts its own transformer; plus a network streaming board. All up: £11,999. (Lose the headphone amplifier option to save two grand).
On physicality, the Bartók enjoys none of the outgoing Debussy’s fascia-sculpt but what it lacks in outward aesthetic seduction, it more than makes up for in size and weight. The black beast (also available in silver) hit the top of my Kallax unit with a thud. At almost 17kg, it’s no flyweight. Its 43cm depth will challenge some DIY hi-fi racks.
We introduced the Bartók during its August 2018 Hong Kong launch (here) but new for 2019 is dCS’ in-house designed control app, Mosaic. Available for iOS and Android devices, it allows us to circumvent the Bartók’s somewhat befuddling hardware menu system – for filter selection and headphone gain among others – but also natively stream Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer. Outside of the wonderfully fast and elegant Mosaic app, we look to the Bartók’s Roon Readiness, Spotify Connectivity and Apple AirPlayability.
End users preferring their own choice of network streamer can connect it to the Bartók via a suite of digital inputs: AES, coaxial, BNC, TOSLINK and USB. The slimline USB-A socket is for direct hard-drive connection, media selection and playback coming from the Mosaic app. Hi-res support puts decoding ceilings at 24bit/384kHz for PCM and 128 for DSD. Yes, it does MQA.
The back panel’s balanced XLR and single-ended RCA sockets are for connecting the dCS DAC to a loudspeaker system but remain untested by yours truly. As established in January’s Chord/Audeze video and continued in our Meze Empyrean coverage, the focus for this series of reviews is high-end headphone listening where DACs offer internal headphone drive:
And it seems dCS are on the same head-fi page, needing this review unit back in the UK in time for CanJam London and scuppering any opportunity for a loudspeaker-centric follow-up.
This review glass is still half full.
Further information: dCS