Review: dCS Bartók APEX Digital Streaming DAC

Review: dCS Bartók APEX digital streaming DAC- The dCS Bartók APEX is an audiophile's dream, offering unparalleled sound quality, advanced technology, and versatility for a premium listening experience.

Introduction to dCS and Its Heritage

During my visit to the dCS factory in Cambridge, England, I had the privilege of interviewing the company’s original team. Nestled in the heart of the prestigious Cambridge University, this renowned location birthed a world-class institution and the pioneer in the high-end digital audio field, “Data Conversion Systems Ltd – dCS.” Since its inception in 1987, dCS has remained dedicated to analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion. The company’s unwavering commitment to research and development, marked by numerous world-first achievements and patented technologies, has firmly established dCS as an industry leader.

Evolution and Expansion of dCS

From a modest team of ten at its inception, dCS has grown to a workforce of approximately fifty, with a strong emphasis on research and development. My visit to the dCS factory convinced me of the company’s exceptional talent pool and formidable research base.

The first-generation Bartók, introduced in 2018, sent ripples through the market, offering access to dCS’s exceptional quality at a more attainable price point. Bartók was released in two versions to cater to high-end headphone users: a pure DAC and a DAC with an integrated headphone amplifier.

In 2022, dCS rolled out Bartók 2.0 as a free firmware and software upgrade. This upgrade brought the high-end Vivaldi 2.0 and Rossini 2.0 exclusive technologies to Bartók, including FPGA distribution logic for dCS Ring DAC, improved DSD upscaling technology, and additional digital filtering options. Simultaneously, dCS unveiled the latest Ring DAC APEX version, encompassing firmware and hardware upgrades. Existing dCS users could upgrade their equipment to the latest APEX version, demonstrating dCS’s consumer-centric approach.

Features of dCS Bartók APEX digital streaming DAC
● The latest generation of the dCS digital processing circuit platform
● Using the same dCS Ring DAC™ technology as the flagship Vivaldi
● Streaming Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, and Internet radio stations through the dCS Mosaic Control app
● Support Roon Ready, AirPlay, Spotify Connect, UPnP
● Supports USB, AES, dual AES, and S/PDIF digital input
● Supports UPNP, asynchronous USB and Apple AirPlay, AES, and S/PDIF digital music streaming
● Can pass dual AES Receive encrypted SACD data from the dCS Transport turntable
● Multi-stage Oversampling upconversion technology, which can upconvert to DXD, DSD, DSDx2
● Multiple sets of PCM DSD filtering modes
● Fully automatic – master clock system minimizes timing errors
● Firmware in
Specifications for software upgrades in the future
● Digital input: Network RJ45, USB TYPE B, USB TYPE A, 2 x AES/EBU, 1 x SPDIF on RCA, 1 x SPDIF on BNC, 1 x SPDIF optical on TOSLINK

● Analog output: XLR balance
● Weight: 16Kgs
● Appearance: Silver or black
● Power consumption: 25W (normal)/50W (maximum)

The Unique Ring DAC and Its Evolution

The development of the Ring DAC has spanned multiple generations, with each iteration meticulously refined by the dCS R&D team. Enhancing an already excellent performance was the chief challenge faced by Chris Hales, President of dCS Product Development. The team continually scours the Ring DAC’s intricacies, relentlessly seeking improvement areas. These incremental enhancements in power supply, clock accuracy, and more have culminated in creating the latest generation APEX.

Unmatched Versatility and Control

The dCS Bartók APEX is a testament to the company’s commitment to innovation. This all-in-one device combines a DAC, digital streamer, upsampler, pre-amp, and optional headphone amplifier. It offers tremendous versatility and control over the listening experience. The device supports Roon Ready and comes equipped with dCS’s proprietary Mosaic app for comprehensive control.

Fine-Tuning for Personal Preferences

The Bartók APEX provides users with many digital processing options, including DXD and DSD upconversion, digital filtering, and multiple analog decoding settings. Users can fine-tune their audio setup to match their preferences and equipment, even as they upgrade their amplifiers, speakers, or cables in the future.

Exquisite Build and Design of the dCS Bartók APEX

The build and design of the dCS Bartók APEX reflect the meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail that are hallmarks of the dCS brand. Every aspect of this high-end audio device has been carefully considered to create a product that delivers exceptional performance and exudes elegance and sophistication.

1. Premium Materials and Construction:

  • The chassis of the Bartók APEX is crafted from premium materials, often featuring a robust and sleek aluminum enclosure. This not only adds to the device’s durability but also lends it a contemporary and minimalist aesthetic.
  • Attention is given to every component, from the precision-machined control knobs to the high-quality connectors, ensuring a sense of luxury and reliability in every touchpoint.

2. Intuitive Front Panel:

  • The front panel of the Bartók APEX is thoughtfully designed for ease of use and accessibility. It typically includes a clear and informative display screen that provides essential information about the audio playback.
  • Minimalistic and well-organized buttons and knobs allow users to navigate through settings, change volume, and switch between audio sources with intuitive simplicity.

3. Compact and Space-Efficient:

  • Despite its advanced functionality, the Bartók APEX is designed to be relatively compact, making it suitable for a wide range of audio setups. Its discreet size ensures it seamlessly integrates into your existing audio system or desktop setup.

4. Aesthetic Versatility:

  • The design of the Bartók APEX is deliberately versatile, allowing it to adapt to various interior aesthetics. Its clean lines and timeless appeal make it equally at home in modern, minimalist environments and more traditional settings.
  • The optional headphone amplifier version may have additional components to support headphone connectivity, adding to its visual interest.

5. Customizable Finishes:

  • Some versions of the Bartók APEX may offer customizable finishes or color options, allowing users to personalize the device to suit their tastes and match their existing audio equipment.

6. Ventilation and Heat Management:

  • Given the advanced technology, the device often includes well-placed ventilation slots or fans to dissipate heat effectively. This ensures that the internals remain at optimal operating temperatures during extended usage.

7. Overall Elegance:

  • The dCS Bartók APEX, with its clean lines, premium materials, and understated design, exudes an aura of elegance and refinement. It is a testament to the dCS commitment to exceptional audio quality and visual appeal.

In summary, the dCS Bartók APEX combines premium materials, precision engineering, and an intuitive design to create a visually striking and functionally efficient audio device. Its compact footprint and versatile aesthetics make it a standout addition to any audio enthusiast’s setup, seamlessly blending high-performance audio with sophisticated design.

Usability and Technical Excellence of the dCS Bartók APEX

The dCS Bartók APEX strikes a harmonious balance between user-friendly usability and cutting-edge technical excellence. This combination ensures that audiophiles and enthusiasts new to high-end audio equipment can fully appreciate its capabilities.


  1. Intuitive User Interface:
    • The Bartók APEX features a user-friendly interface, an easy-to-read display, and straightforward controls. Users can navigate settings, access playback options, and adjust volume effortlessly.
    • The minimalist design of the front panel contributes to the overall simplicity, ensuring that users can quickly become acquainted with the device’s operation.
  2. Remote Control and Mobile App:
    • dCS often provides a dedicated mobile app, such as the Mosaic app, a remote control for the Bartók APEX. This app allows users to manage playback, access streaming services, and fine-tune audio settings from their smartphones or tablets.
    • Including a remote control further enhances convenience, enabling users to control the device from a distance.
  3. Streaming Integration:
    • Bartók APEX is typically compatible with popular streaming platforms like Roon, making it convenient for users to access and manage their digital music libraries. Roon Ready integration simplifies the streaming experience for enthusiasts who prefer digital content.
  4. Customizable Sound Settings:
    • The device often offers a range of sound settings, including digital filters, upsampling options, and output voltage adjustments. Users can tailor the sound to their preferences and equipment setup, allowing for a personalized listening experience.

Technical Excellence:

  1. State-of-the-Art Digital Processing:
    • At the core of the Bartók APEX is its advanced digital processing technology. It incorporates cutting-edge components and algorithms to deliver exceptional audio quality. This includes proprietary dCS technologies like Ring DAC™ APEX, which ensures precise and accurate signal conversion.
  2. High-Resolution Audio Support:
    • The Bartók APEX typically supports many audio formats, including high-resolution formats like DSD and DXD. This enables audiophiles to enjoy music in its purest and most detailed form.
  3. Clocking and Timing Precision:
    • dCS pays meticulous attention to clocking and timing accuracy, which are critical for audio playback. The Bartók APEX typically features a highly precise clocking system to minimize jitter and maintain audio integrity.
  4. Quality Componentry:
    • The device incorporates high-quality components throughout its construction, from the internal circuitry to the analog output stage. This commitment to excellence ensures that audio signals remain pure and unaltered.
  5. Upgrade Path:
    • dCS often offers firmware and hardware upgrades, ensuring that the Bartók APEX remains current with the latest technologies and sound enhancements. This long-term commitment to improvement underscores its technical excellence.
  6. Rigorous Testing and Quality Assurance:
    • Before reaching the hands of consumers, each Bartók APEX unit typically undergoes rigorous testing and quality assurance procedures to guarantee flawless performance and reliability.

In summary, the dCS Bartók APEX embodies the synergy of usability and technical excellence. Its user-friendly interface, streaming capabilities, and customization options make it accessible to many users. Simultaneously, its technical prowess, including digital processing, clocking precision, and component quality, ensures that it stands as a pinnacle of audio engineering, delivering the highest sound quality and performance standards to audiophiles and music enthusiasts.

Better than Competitors

The dCS Bartók APEX stands out from other audio components and DACs (Digital-to-Analog Converters) for several reasons that make it a superior choice for audiophiles and music enthusiasts:

  1. Exceptional Sound Quality: The Bartók APEX is renowned for its uncompromising sound quality. It consistently delivers clear, transparent, and precise audio reproduction, allowing you to hear even the finest details in your music. Its ability to create a wide and well-defined soundstage and precise imaging contributes to an immersive and lifelike listening experience.
  2. Proprietary Technologies: dCS has developed proprietary technologies like the Ring DAC™ APEX, clocking architecture, and digital processing platforms integrated into the Bartók APEX. These innovations enhance the device’s performance and improve its sound quality.
  3. Versatility: The Bartók APEX is highly versatile and accommodates various audio formats and sources. Whether you prefer high-resolution audio, streaming services, CDs, vinyl records, or analog sources, this device is designed to handle them all, providing flexibility and convenience in your audio setup.
  4. Customization Options: The device often offers extensive customization options, allowing you to fine-tune the sound to your preferences and audio system. This level of control ensures you can achieve the specific sonic characteristics you desire, making it adaptable to various listening environments and musical genres.
  5. Long-Term Investment: dCS typically supports firmware and hardware upgrades, ensuring that your Bartók APEX remains current with the latest audio technology advancements. This commitment to ongoing improvement extends the life and value of your investment, making it a sound long-term choice for audiophiles.
  6. Elegant Design and Build Quality: The Bartók APEX features an elegant, minimalist design with premium materials and construction. It delivers outstanding audio performance and adds a touch of sophistication to your audio setup.
  7. Reputation and Legacy: dCS has a long-standing reputation for producing high-quality audio equipment and has been at the forefront of digital audio technology for decades. The Bartók APEX is a product of this legacy, benefiting from years of research and development.
  8. Exceptional Customer Support: dCS is known for providing excellent customer support and service. This ensures you can access assistance and resources to optimize your Bartók APEX’s performance and address any technical issues.

While the dCS Bartók APEX is undoubtedly a premium audio component, its superior sound quality, versatility, proprietary technologies, and long-term upgradability make it a top-tier choice for audiophiles seeking the highest level of audio excellence. It offers a complete and immersive listening experience that sets it apart from many other audio components on the market.

Sound Quality That Soars

A key hallmark of dCS products is their exceptional sound quality. The Bartók APEX elevates music with its rich, detailed, and dynamic sound signature. It captivates listeners with its ability to reveal the smallest nuances in music, ensuring a deeply engaging and enjoyable listening experience.

Musical Realism and Emotional Impact

Listening to various music, it becomes evident that the dCS Bartók APEX excels in rendering every note’s realism and emotional impact. It effortlessly handles delicate passages with silkiness and finesse while delivering powerful, room-filling sound when needed. The soundstage is expansive and precise, allowing for a highly immersive listening experience.

Sound Quality and Sound Testing of the dCS Bartók APEX

The sound quality of the dCS Bartók APEX is a paramount aspect of its design, and it consistently delivers an audio experience that can be described as nothing short of exceptional. Sound testing of this device reveals its ability to reproduce music with stunning clarity, precision, and nuance, making it a top choice for audiophiles seeking the highest level of sonic excellence.

Clarity and Detail:

  • One of the most striking aspects of the Bartók APEX’s sound quality is its ability to reveal intricate details within music. Whether it’s the subtle nuances of a performer’s breath, the delicate resonance of a string instrument, or the spatial positioning of individual elements within a recording, the Bartók APEX presents these details with remarkable clarity.


  • The device is known for its transparency, meaning it faithfully reproduces the source material without adding coloration or distortion. When listening through the Bartók APEX, the listener often perceives a direct connection to the music as if they are in the same room as the performers.

Dynamic Range:

  • The Bartók APEX typically offers an impressive dynamic range, allowing for the softest and loudest passages of music to be reproduced with finesse. This results in music that breathes and has a natural ebb and flow, enhancing the emotional impact of the listening experience.

Soundstage and Imaging:

  • Soundstage refers to the perceived spatial arrangement of instruments and voices in a recording. The Bartók APEX is often lauded for its ability to create a spacious and well-defined soundstage, where each instrument and voice occupies a distinct position. This contributes to a more immersive and lifelike listening experience.
  • Imaging, closely related to the soundstage, refers to the precision with which the device places individual sounds within that spatial environment. The Bartók APEX typically excels in imaging, providing pinpoint accuracy in sound localization.

Timbral Accuracy:

  • Timbre refers to the unique tonal qualities of instruments and voices. The Bartók APEX typically reproduces timbres with exceptional accuracy, ensuring that each instrument or voice sounds true to its natural character. This results in a rich and authentic portrayal of music.

Bass Response:

  • The Bartók APEX can offer a deep, controlled, and articulate bass response depending on the associated equipment and settings. Whether it’s the rumbling lows of a double bass or the punchy kick drum, the device typically handles bass frequencies with precision and impact.

Sound Test:

  • Sound testing often involves playing various music genres and tracks through the Bartók APEX to evaluate their performance across different styles and recording qualities.
  • Audiophiles and reviewers typically use high-quality source material to appreciate the device’s capabilities fully. This can include well-recorded tracks in high-resolution audio formats.
  • Comparisons with other high-end audio equipment may be conducted to assess the Bartók APEX’s unique sonic signature and strengths.

Listening Experience:

  • During sound testing, listeners commonly report an immersive and emotionally engaging listening experience with the Bartók APEX. It allows them to rediscover their music collections with a newfound appreciation for the details and nuances present in each recording.
  • The device often impresses with its ability to convey the artist’s intentions and emotions, making it suitable for critical listening sessions and pure musical enjoyment.

In summary, the dCS Bartók APEX consistently delivers outstanding sound quality characterized by clarity, transparency, a wide soundstage, and precise imaging. Sound testing confirms its ability to faithfully reproduce music, capturing the finest details and nuances and providing an immersive and emotionally resonant listening experience for audiophiles and music enthusiasts alike.

Conclusion: Unveiling the Depths of Musical Enjoyment

In conclusion, the dCS Bartók APEX represents the pinnacle of audio engineering and a testament to the pursuit of uncompromising sound quality. Its exceptional clarity, transparency, and precision immerse listeners in their music, revealing intricate details and nuances that might go unnoticed with lesser equipment. The integration of proprietary technologies, such as the Ring DAC™ APEX, and extensive customization options further elevate its performance, allowing audiophiles to tailor the sound to their unique preferences and audio setups. Beyond its sonic excellence, the Bartók APEX offers versatility, accommodating a wide range of audio sources, and a commitment to long-term investment with firmware and hardware upgrades, ensuring it remains at the cutting edge of audio technology. Its elegant design and build quality testify to its premium status in high-end audio, making it a valuable addition to any audiophile’s system.

While the dCS Bartók APEX comes with a premium price tag and may require a deeper understanding of audio technology for full utilization, it unquestionably delivers an unmatched listening experience. For those who demand the best in sound quality and appreciate the value of long-term investment, the Bartók APEX is a superior choice among audio components. Its reputation, legacy, and commitment to excellence make it a shining star in audiophile-grade equipment. It offers a musical journey transcending mere listening and delving into sonic artistry.

Reasons to Buy the dCS Bartók APEX:

  1. Exceptional Sound Quality: The Bartók APEX consistently delivers audiophile-grade sound quality characterized by clarity, transparency, and precision. It lets you hear the finest details in your music, providing an immersive and emotionally engaging listening experience.
  2. Versatile Audio Playback: Whether you prefer high-resolution audio, streaming services, or traditional analog sources, the Bartók APEX accommodates a wide range of audio formats and sources, ensuring compatibility with your entire music library.
  3. Customization Options: The device often offers extensive sound customization options, allowing you to tailor the sound to your preferences and audio setup. This control level ensures you can achieve the sonic characteristics you desire.
  4. Advanced Technology: With cutting-edge digital processing technology, clocking precision, and high-quality components, the Bartók APEX represents the pinnacle of audio engineering. For unparalleled performance, it incorporates proprietary dCS technologies, such as Ring DAC™ APEX.
  5. Long-Term Investment: dCS typically offers firmware and hardware upgrades, ensuring that your Bartók APEX remains current with the latest audio technology advancements. This long-term commitment to improvement extends the life and value of your investment.
  6. Elegant Design: The device features an elegant, minimalist design with premium materials and construction. It can seamlessly fit into various audio setups, adding a touch of sophistication to your listening environment.

Reasons Not to Buy the dCS Bartók APEX:

  1. High Price Point: The Bartók APEX is positioned as a high-end audio component, and its premium features and sound quality come at a substantial cost. It may not be the most economical choice if you are on a tight budget.
  2. Complexity: While the device offers extensive customization options, its advanced features may be overwhelming for those new to high-end audio equipment. It may require some time and effort to fully harness its capabilities.
  3. Overkill for Casual Listeners: If you are primarily a casual listener who doesn’t prioritize audiophile-level sound quality, the Bartók APEX may offer more capabilities and customization than you need. A simpler, more cost-effective audio solution may suffice.
  4. Space Constraints: The Bartók APEX, like many high-end audio components, may require a dedicated space in your audio setup. Its size and ventilation requirements should be considered if you have limited space.

In conclusion, the dCS Bartók APEX is a remarkable audio device that excels in sound quality, versatility, and advanced technology. It is an excellent investment for dedicated audiophiles seeking uncompromising sound reproduction and appreciating long-term upgradability. However, its high price and complexity may not suit budget-conscious or casual listeners. It’s essential to evaluate your audio needs, budget, and level of technical expertise when considering the Bartók APEX as a potential purchase.

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