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Are There Audiophiles Willing to Spend $29,000 on the dCS LINA?

dCS unveils a trio of products for the ultimate in headphone listening; a Network DAC, Master Clock and Headphone Amplifier.

dCS LINA Headphone Amplifier, DAC, Master Clock System

Yes — there are. We suspect the dCS LINA will be a huge hit.

Just like there are people willing to spend $100,000 on a Porsche or $200,000 on a Ferrari, there are headphone enthusiasts who will probably look at the dCS LINA and think it’s a bargain compared to other products from Sennheiser and HiFiMAN.

There are very few brands in high-end audio that deserve to be compared to the world’s best automobiles (versus expensive) but dCS is certainly one of them.

The British manufacturer was founded in the 1980s and got its start making signal converters for the British Navy; the brand transformed itself into one of the most important brands in high-end audio digital playback; you can find their products at almost every Head-Fi event or CanJam and you might be quite surprised by what you find.

dCS pioneered the Ring DAC circuit in the early 1990s and has offered it in their lineup ever since; audiophiles have long praised the sonic and engineering excellence of their products but the price of admission has remained incredibly high.

When dCS introduced the Bartok, it was “affordable” by dCS standards but still commanded almost $20,000 USD when it was introduced in 2019 (inflation has not been kind)

Despite the price, the Bartok has become popular in headphone circles as an end-game DAC and any quick search of a headphone related forum will likely find reference to it.

The demand for the Bartok has been very high; a number of high-end publications use it as their point of reference when reviewing DACs and headphone amplifiers and the company was quite busy during the pandemic fulfilling orders — which is even more impressive when you consider how bad the economy was and how much money people had to spend on food and other expenses.

It is because of that, that the new dCS LINA exists. When the Bartok hit the market, it had the option to add a headphone amplifier and that option sold more than expected. Headphone users were driving a good portion of their market. Adding to that, some were adding the dCS Rossini master clock to their Bartok and were claiming significant gains by doing so. Again, dCS was not unaware of what was happening and plans for the LINA line took shape.

dCS LINA Headphone Amplifier, DAC, Master Clock System Stacked
Top to bottom: Network DAC, Master Clock, Headphone Amplifier

The first thing to know is that the dCS LINA is not a single product; the trio of products includes the Network DAC, ($12,750 USD), headphone amplifier ($9,100) and the master clock ($7,300). Each component is capable of operating independently which allows the buyer to spread the cost out over time if buying the whole system or to cherry-pick only those components they desire rather than shelling out the $29,150 to buy all the components at once. (There is no pre-order discount for buying all-three pieces as per typical dCS sales procedures).

The DAC and headphone amplifier combination is roughly the cost of the Bartok and for good reason; it utilizes all the same components in a smaller package.

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The full ring DAC and FPGA processing system is there in the Network DAC; only the engineers figured out how to split it up onto multiple boards and make it more compact.

This means the DAC is programmable and should allow dCS to tweak it and improve the service life of the device via software updates rather than requiring the owner to ship back to the factory.

The other interesting thing I found in the notes is that the DAC is listed as supporting Roon,  Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz, and Tidal; the DAC offers 32-bit/384kHz PCM support, DSD64 and 128, and MQA support built in.   

dCS LINA Headphone Amplifier, DAC, Master Clock System Angle

The headphone amplifier is the same excellent solid-state designed amplifier used in the Bartok which dCS labels as a Super-A system. In actuality, this is a hybrid class A/AB design that offers most of the advantages of class A with the efficiency of an AB or B type amplifier for lower heat generation. 

Some will turn up their nose at the fact it isn’t a true class A design but I wholly recommend listening first as it is astoundingly good; possibly one of the best available from any manufacturer.

The master clock is well, a clock, but adding it to the DAC does give it a fixed reference signal that helps reduce jitter and distortion. This is the same technology again that we saw in the Rossini Clock in a smaller box and again at a lower entry price.

To me, the big announcement here is that all the pieces of the Bartok system are now available as individual components and if your only interest was the DAC (either because you already have a great head amp or because you want it for a 2 channel setup) the price of entry just got lowered from roughly $20k down to $13k for a dCS RING DAC.  Likewise, if you wanted a master clock to add to your Bartok, the LINA clock is considerably less than the Rossini option that was available to date. The headphone amplifier is the new piece of the puzzle and isn’t something that dCS has sold as a stand-alone unit before so I hope to get a chance to try it out at T.H.E. Show coming up next month.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ORT

    May 30, 2022 at 2:02 pm

    Some might say that those who buy this set up have (or after purchase, “had”?) more money than common sense. I think not because if you have there wherewithal and the want (no one really “needs” this stuff, LOL!) then then buy what you desire.

    Within reason, we all have the “right” to buy that which we want. In this case, few have earned the money needed to make such a lofty purchase. Those that have can do as they please if it pleases them. What about “trust fund babies”?

    Yup. For what ever reason(s), they were bequeathed their cache of cash and in truth only they or perhaps a loved one can pressure them not to jump off this precipice of pulchritude and pesos!

    That last one was to ensure the pusillanimous think me pretentious. 😉

    I think this is some pretty bitchin’ kit but alas, ’tis missing a pair of VU Meters and not quite enough PLLs, aka Pretty Little Lights.

    To those that can afford to affront those that can not? Go for it. The last time I checked the ride of life is not solar powered. Sooner or later our tank will run dry so fill your heart with memories to take when vacation time comes.

    In all ways and for always, be well Sir Jennings of Minion!


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