dCS Bartok Streaming Network DAC Arrives For Review

I’d previously written in August of last year about the announcement from data Conversion Systems (dCS) that the company’s venerable entry-level $11,000 USD Debussy DAC was being replaced after seven years of winning awards from the hi-fi press by the $13,500 USD Bartók Network Streaming DAC ($15,000 USD with built-in headphone amp).

Think about that: A seven year product life-cycle in computer audio.

Practically unheard of in a part of this industry that sees an almost daily churn in digital advancements in processing, circuit architecture and software codecs, but nonetheless, thanks to built-in software and firmware upgradeability (which allow for more logic capacity) via Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), and the release of the separate dCS Network Bridge, the Debussy became network-capable and owners enjoyed the sonic benefits of almost a decade of further research & development by dCS engineers.

But the time had come for a new, fully-realized hardware-upgraded product in the dCS lineup so Bartók came to fruition after a typically thorough dCS development cycle and is now shipping to those owners lucky enough to have secured the first production batch off the line. It features USB 2.0, AES and S/PDIF digital inputs along with Ethernet for access to online streaming services such as Tidal, Spotify, and AirPlay. Bartók also does the full MQA decoding/rendering and the DAC section is loaded with independent balanced and unbalanced line outputs which can directly drive (2mV or 6mV output available) stereo or mono power amplifiers, so say goodbye to a separate preamplifier if all you’re only jam is digital audio.

As I wrote previously “… [Bartók] features the Rossini DNA of Ring DAC architecture (all incoming data gets oversampled to 5-bits at 2.822 or 3.07MS/s) a custom high-performance UPnP music streamer, the dCS digital-processing (DSP) platform, multi-stage power regulation, dual isolated mains transformers (for DAC and head-amp) and chassis and casework made of aerospace-grade machined aluminium complimented by specialized internal sound-deadening panels. Firmware updates can be achieved remotely as well…” and the unit is Roon Ready.

Also in talking previously with John Quick, the General manager for dCS Americas regarding the headphone amplifier (a first for dCS) he told me that “The Class-A headphone amplifier is new for us, and it’s something we’re really excited about because it’s not simply a tick-box feature or afterthought; rather, the amplifier is a new ground-up discrete design we’re proud to put the dCS name on. We’ve been thinking about this design for some time, and considering the recent growth and quality of offerings in the head-fi space, we thought premiering our contribution in Bartók would be appropriate.”

John Quick goes through setting changes on the dCS Rossini following a previous 2.0 software update before showing me the Bartók menu system.

Initial listening sessions after spending the day with Quick who travelled to my home to help me set-up the new model proved there is a lot of Rossini in Bartók with some of the shared processing platform that was developed for Rossini and Vivaldi evident in the sonic attributions of this latest development from dCS. Check back for a full review in the near future.

Data Conversion Systems Ltd
Unit 1 Buckingway Business Park, Swavesey, Cambridgeshire CB24 4AE, United Kingdom
+44 (0)1954 233950

Everclear's picture

All we need is a couple of active, self-powered loud speakers and we are in business :-) ........

AlaskaDave's picture

This is a big one Rafe. Last year, of course, most of the big names came out with new DAC/Streamers: dCS, Linn, Lumin, MSB, Naim, Exasound, Auralic, Moon (and Snowmass on the PS Directstream DAC). I listened to several of the top units at six dealers on the West Coast. This new generation is amazing, not only in sound quality achieved, but in connectivity options and integrated Roon and MQA. dCS was not on my radar because they started with the Rossini at $24K. Then suddenly the Bartok shows up at $13.5K, which you revealed in August, followed by early show reports. So, try as I might, I can't convince myself to go with anything less than the Bartok. Delivery is expected in 2-3 weeks. I look forward to your review. By the way, how to implement a DAC/streamer is a jungle to figure out. You're probably dealing with router, network switch, cables, maybe NAS, and everything matters (Ethernet cables are the latest frontier). And indication is, a good music server can be a real advantage, but that's another big kick in the cost. You need a server to feed a standalone DAC, but it seems a server can significantly improve even a good DAC/streamer, that by itself can connect directly by Ethernet or USB. And where do you turn for real advice? Nobody is really addressing the big picture. Your reviews and commentaries are lucid and informative: tell us more about your system-building efforts. I think you should update that blog regularly. Thanks much!

Rafe Arnott's picture
You discuss exactly where I want to go and where I will be heading with upcoming pieces: addressing issues like NAS, streamers, servers, standalone DACs, USB, Ethernet... and in general the digital-audio ecosystem and how to thread a cognizant path through what has become a dark forest of sorts.

Thank you Dave!


David Johansen “Frenchette” ! Kudos, I love that album, albeit on LP, much underrated.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Thanks for noticing what was streaming when I photographed the dCS!

Great album!

rugyboogie's picture

Had a chance to listen to the Bartok when the Soundroom had their soiree March 9th. Mark put on a great demo with the team of ARC, Wilson & dcs. Unfortunately we had to leave early for one of my sons b-day.

Archimago_X's picture

Hey Rugy,
We might have crossed paths at that Sound Room demo evening.

Check out my blog post of that event, you might even be in one of the photos!

bernard.aubin44@gmail.com's picture

Just ordered one. It should arrive in 2 months, trading in my DeBussy. Very anxious!

Rafe Arnott's picture
From preliminary listening between the DeBussy and Bartok, the Bartok gives more of everything the DeBussy does that I love.
Ejlif's picture

this review. I have wanted a Rossini but can't quite bring myself to spend that much. How awesome you have both and can tell us what the differences are and if they are worth 10K +

Ejlif's picture

What ever happened with this review?