RMAF 2018: dCS Bartok DAC with head amp speaks to the youth of today

I came up the dCS ladder of kit honestly. Starting out with a dCS Bridge (streaming hardware with Swiss-army knife connections) and Debussy DAC which was then superseded by the company’s legendary Rossini streaming DAC (both of which I wrote on HERE), I feel as if I have firm grasp of their sonic signature (or lack thereof) and innate musicality which all their designs seem to possess.

So, when I was told that their Debussy replacement, the $13,500 USD Bartok DAC (with dCS patented Ring DAC, built-in streaming and $2,500 USD optional headphone amplifier, which I wrote about HERE) was going to be showing at CANJAM inside the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I made sure it was my list of “must-hear” booths this year.

Coming up to the Bartok station which was nestled into the huge Focal spread at CANJAM, I had to wait my turn for some time before I was able to get some listening in via a pair of Focal Utopia headphones. But I was cool with that because I was interested in seeing the reactions to the Bartok/Utopia combo of those ahead of me before I had my chance to experience it firsthand.

The middle-aged man browsing cloud-based files was in absolutely no rush to finish his session with the Bartok, taking a good 10 minutes to critically listen to several tracks before resignedly leaving the station to make way for two impatient teens who were crowding him and couldn’t have been more than 15 years old and took another 20 minutes taking turns listening through the Bartok.

Laughing and talking in their burgeoning audiophile-tinged exchange with one another (“…the bass is killer!” “Wow, dynamics are incredible!”) and neither hesitated to tell me that the Bartok/Utopia combo “ROCKED!” when I asked them what they thought of the set-up. Both seem to think that the sound was very well-balanced with excellent bottom end and drive. A description that would come out of my mouth if I was asked the same question.

When I finally got to have the Bartok all to myself I immediately queued up FKA Twigs (nee Tahliah Debrett Barnett) “M3LL155X” to see how this combo would handle the outrageously dense electronic cacophony the cut is filthy with. The result? No congestion whatsoever, excellent clarity between every instrument – be it analog or electronically-created – and Barnett’s vocals with deep, 3D multi-plane imaging that never gave the impression of distinct horizontal or vertical vertices, but rather that of an ever-expanding sphere where all frequencies were realizing their full wavelengths.

Panama’s “Destroyer” was up next and I was impressed at the raw power and drive of the Bartok’s built-in head amp that was pushing the Utopia cans to sing for their supper with what felt like limitless headroom on big dynamic swings. Hyper-detail to every instrument in the cut that never strayed into etching and low notes that gave the impression of room-size impact in their presentation. Balance across the frequency spectrum was, like all dCS gear I’ve spent time with, a key contributor in my opinion to the cohesive, holographic and incredibly musical presentation this pair gave up in Denver.

Look for a full Bartok review both here on InnerFidelity and AudioStream when finalized, shipping units become available.

Data Conversion Systems Ltd
Data Conversion Systems Ltd Unit 1, Buckingway Business Park, Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, CB24 4AE, United Kingdom
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Justakid90's picture

no average independent youth can afford a $15000 setup. Maybe $1500. Sure, they liked the sound, but they can't afford the system. IT's like them walking into a $1M setup and saying "wow this looks and sounds awesome!". We can only hope they will become successful enough to afford one later in life.