dCS Audio have been at the top of the digital playback mountain for awhile and those of us who have been fortunate to audition their digital components have walked away dreaming that one day we’ll have the financial resources to afford one of their state-of-the-art DACs. Their Ring DAC technology is ahead of the pack and that includes Chord; another British manufacturer that specializes in DACs and considered one of their primary competitors — at least in the desktop headphone system category.
The ring DAC uses a resistor array and is in some ways similar to a ladder DAC and has some of the same caveats including the need for extremely tight tolerances and very tightly matched resistors.
This requires a lot of the work be done by hand and helps account for the premium price commanded by dCS products. Their flagship Vivaldi APEX retails for roughly $150,000 USD for a complete system.
Stepping down to the Rossini brings the price down to a mere $110,000 USD.
Both of those remarkable systems are out of reach for 99% of the planet and having heard what dCS products are capable of — I almost wish I had not been given the opportunity to listen because I know what I am missing.
Back to reality.
The Bartok is a bit more attainable and packs all the functionality of the dCS ring DAC, streamer, pre-amp, and upsampler into an $18,000 component; the headphone amplifier will run you an additional $2,000 USD.
$20,000 is a lot more attainable than $100,000 but clearly a huge spend unless you are very committed to digital playback and high-end headphones.
With the Vivaldi and Rossini models having been upgraded to the new APEX version of the ring DAC though, some have argued the Bartok is now a step down model, rather than a sibling to the higher end products.
dCS have announced the new Bartok APEX DAC which will be available with or without the headphone amplifier retailing for $20,950 USD; the headphone version will be $22,950 USD.
The APEX upgrade includes the reference supply that feeds the DAC which helps lower output impedance, enhancing the filter of the ring DAC, improving the symmetry of the summing stages for more precise control, introducing an all new output stage, replacing the individual transistors on the board with compound pairs, and redesigning the board layout to accommodate all the new goodies.
For APEX, the dCS engineering team is said to have made extensive changes to the Ring DAC’s hardware. With the exception of the resistor array, which remains unchanged, the latest-generation Ring DAC hardware is all new.
- Modified reference supply that feeds the Ring DAC, resulting inlower output impedance
- Enhanced the filter, summing and output stages of the Ring DAC
- Improved the symmetry of summing stages
- Created an all-new output stage
- Reconfigured the main Ring DAC circuit board
- Replaced individual transistors on the board with a compound pair
For those keeping score, that brings the Bartok’s ring DAC to exactly the same level as those found in Vivaldi and Rossini APEX models.
The result is a marked improvement in both measurements and listening experience according to dCS engineers. We have reached out to dCS for a review sample and hope to have a full review of all the new Bartok APEX in Q2 2023.
The official release is Feb 7, 2023 with a major launch event set for February 10th.
Be sure to tune in to hear interviews with dCS’s Managing Director David Steven, Director of Product Development Chris Hales, and Technical Director Andy McHarg as they discuss the new Bartok APEX this Friday.
The other really cool thing about dCS is they don’t leave current owners out of this new feature set. Beginning in March 2023, current Bartok owners can have their existing units upgraded to the full APEX specification. The price of that upgrade will be announced soon.
For more information: https://dcsaudio.com/products