dCS Bartók DAC
with Headphone Amplifier
The Bartók is a beast. If you judge the quality of a product by its heft, then this is the Koh-I-Noor diamond of DAC / Headphone Amps. It’s huge, it’s heavy, but every facet of the sound sparkles.
What makes them sound so good? Firstly, Cambridge-based, digital specialist dCS (Data Conversion Systems) don’t use off the shelf DAC chips. They develop their own bespoke digital signal processing engine. This means their products are exquisite, unique, and very expensive.
The Bartók is both a DA converter (DAC) with a network streamer (similar to the one inside their reference Rossini) and headphone output. It has a Class A amplifier with a balanced output on the front, and it also has an exceptional build quality.
Transparent & Natural Sound
When listening with a pair of headphones, that matches the quality of the Bartók, there is real clarity and detail to the sound. The music has excellent separation, which is balanced with a beefy sound that has punch & attack. So drums sound great when listening through the Bartok, and vocals have a transparent, natural sound.
Compared to one of its rivals, the Chord Electronics DAVE, the Bartók is more powerful, it also has an additional balanced output, and contains a streamer.
The Mosiac app is very user friendly, and you can also adjust the filters to suit your musical tastes. You can access Roon / Spotify / Tidal / & Quboz streaming services.
The dCS Bartók is big, it’s expensive, but it’s still value for money! I’m sure its namesake, the maverick Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, would be happy to have his music played through one.
McIntosh MHA200 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier
Coming in at nearly a fifth of the price of the Bartók, the McIntosh MHA200 vacuum tube headphone amplifier is handmade in the USA, and its transformers are wound in-house.
McIntosh has created the more compact MHA200, which is driven by pairs of 12AT7 & 12BH7A valves. One valve amplifies the incoming audio signal, whilst the other produces the power to drive the output to the headphones.
Unlike the Bartók, it doesn’t contain a DAC, but does have more headphone outputs: a 3-pin balanced XLR connector, a 4-pin balanced XLR socket (for balanced stereo) and a 6.35mm jack input.
It’s unfair to compare the sound quality of two headphone amps, as the warm vintage valve amp is almost the polar opposite to the transparent sound of the hefty Bartók. Probably best to compare the two for yourself by booking a demo.