Anyone interested in a dCS preamp/ headphone amp?

I am interested to know whether anyone would like dCS to offer a standalone preamp, optionally combined with a headphone amp.

And if yes, what should it offer? What should it make so special, that it would clearly compete with what is already on offer from different brands?

  • First, it should seamlessly match the current line-up at unity gain, from their balanced and unbalanced outputs. For me personally, at 6V out.

  • Its case design should match the Vivaldi, Rossini and Bartók.

  • Optional modular inputs, optional extra line in’s, phono MM/ MC, HDMI, what else?

  • Stereo out, extra mono out(s) for sub(s)?

  • What type of attenuation? High spec pot meter, relay gain control?

  • Fully balanced, separate L + R transformers, both for line out(s), and headphone out?

  • Selectable gain stages for optimal matching with power amp(s)?

  • Tone control? Level meters?

  • Should it be named the dCS Praetorius? Michael Praetorius (probably 28 September 1571 – 15 February 1621) was a German composer, organist, and music theorist. He was one of the most versatile composers of his age, being particularly significant in the development of musical forms.


There is an existing thread where the possibility of a headphone amp has been discussed. Not precisely specified as you did, and not as a preamp.

Personally, I think the headphone amp would be nice and maybe the recent development of dCS around their headphone technology shows it is a good timing for launching the discussion again.

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Thanks Chris,

I had forgotten about your topic, otherwise I would have posted there.

So, there is wider interest in anyway a standalone dCS headphone amp. I personally would prefer if it was also a preamp. If such a product would exist I will upgrade to Rossini, possibly even Vivaldi.

Ok we need two products, one as you described it. And one like Pass Labs HPA, simple, but not so expensive, in the NBridge price range :wink:

@PAR’s posts motivated me to purchase a Phonitor 2 recently, which excels at both for very little money. I am unfamiliar with other high end pre/head amps so cannot compare. A dCS premium priced one would need to blow the doors off to compete … but I wouldn’t put it past them :slight_smile:.

Far be it from me to ever throw cold water on wish list requests. I think they are fun, and they can be very intriguing, especially for learning about how others build their systems. So please don’t take this comment as a negative against having the discussion. But please do count me as someone who would rather not see dCS go down the requested path. I like dCS’s focus on the digital domain. Yes, Bartok is a superb marriage of digital and analog—and the product that first attracted me to dCS—but that functionality is a narrow use case. However, the thought has occurred to me, and I am sure others, that dCS dipping its toe into headphone driving is just the first step of expansion. I rather hope not. I like the clarity and purity, the near-single-mindedness, of the dCS identity. I find the statement “this is all they do (in audio), and they are very good at it” very appealing.

Granted, there are other highly regarded, high end makers with broader analog ranges like CH Precision and Meitner/EMM. And one can probably make the argument that their wider product offering establishes a larger industry footprint, and perhaps a steadier economic foundation. I do not know whether a broader product line affords greater stability or whether it forces a company to invest in many more capabilities at even greater risk. I literally have no clue about the economics of high end audio, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a joke in high end a bit like the one I have heard elsewhere:

Q: How do you make a million dollars in the _______ industry?
A: Start with a billion dollars.

In reality, and for all I know, expanding the product line may be prudent or even essential to dCS’s long-term success. And I suspect the company has analyzed the possibility extensively. That I would love to hear about.


No interest here. I don’t use headphones.

Yes, extending a successful brand is a dangerous business pursuit. Often the hallmark of a takeover by e.g. private venture capital, failures are common. Such failures also damage the perception of the product that made the brand famous in the first place.

dCS sits at the top of the tree so any brand extension would need to be at that level. I would imagine it hugely difficult to offer anything with a realistic USP in the upper end of the amplifier world considering the existing competition. I would also imagine that the size of the world market for highly expensive amplification components is probably over served at the moment.

However restricting the consideration to headphone amplification they do now at least have both a track record and Expanse as a USP. Speaking of the latter have we all read the following?:

Tried to but received this error message:

AccessDenied dcsltdtx0000000000000759495f4-005ffc6b90-604235a-fra1a604235a-fra1a-fra1

The Expanse white paper is here:

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Serves me right. I should check the link before posting. But in this case it wasn’t possible as the forum software told me that it could not show a preview but the the link would appear OK in the actual posting. Huh!

Apart from brand and marketing politics, which I happily let to dCS themselves, I imagine a jump into the future, with a dCS preamp, which has several digital and analogue opportunities, like digital room correction, headphone amp with Expanse, maybe a phono stage, and what not.

Anyway, electronically, making a preamp together with a headphone amp is relatively easy.

BTW, I am very happy with my current Benchmark HPA4, which is a preamp together with a headphone amp.

Pete, Greg,

you are certainly right with what you say on the branding, even though Linn did it well, with one foot on the analog and another on the digital, they have success with both.

In a different industry, BMW built motorbikes before making cars…

However the point is that dCS has it already inside the Bartok, it is more a matter of splitting components, like they do with Rossini and Vivaldi.

But the marketing and branding may say it is not a good idea…I must admit that if I have to choose between the launch of the dCS phone amp and the Vivaldi 3.0 upgrade I choose the latter :slight_smile:

It’s just an errant colon at the end of the URL you pasted, Pete — works fine without that.

I mentioned this in my original comment. But I think that what Erno started with is far more than the modest, excellently executed analogue excursion we see in Bartok. Bartok is still, first and foremost, a DAC, as shown by its availability with and without the headphone amp. And I believe a world class preamp would require more than what is inside Bartok.

What I find most intriguing about Expanse is that there is no reason it cannot be included in all the DACs. I have a significant investment in my headphone rack, which is where my MSB DAC is located. I have tried a variety of cross-feed solutions, both hardware and software, and invariably have found most of them wanting, with the exception of certain recordings that seemed to benefit very much. I also think it is difficult to make a universal cross-feed system that will work equally well with all amps and with all headphones. The dCS approach is very intriguing to me and inasmuch as the entirety of the Expanse calculus is performed digitally, I see no reason why we could not see it across the full lineup. But like Chris, I sure would like to see what Vivaldi 3.0 looks like. And where dCS might take Vivaldi’s successor. There, I could definitely get behind Praetorius.

Thanks Ben. Colon removed.

Sorry, copyrighted already for the dCS preamp :grinning:

I could definitely be intrigued by a dCS device that included something as sophisticated, or even better, than the Legacy/Bohmer room correction. It is a superb experience. I suspect it could be made even more so by eliminating one of the ADC conversion stages.

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Such an interesting question, Erno.

My use cases are pretty simple (no other inputs, no subs etc.) and are both already satisfied with a headphone amp version of the Bartok:

  • Direct connection from dCS DAC to a power amp
  • Listen on headphones (XLR and 1/4" sockets would cover me) without adding another box

BUT. I would like to do those same things “better”. I think your post is coming from a similar place. (Are we ever actually satisfied in audio?! :crazy_face:)

The areas where “better” is possible for me:

  • the sound when going direct from DAC to power amp being preferable — or at least as good — as the sound I get when I add a good preamp (the Allegri Reference, Pass XP-30, EAR Yoshino and the Benchmark HPA-1 are all examples that have some of us grinning more widely)
  • being able to go up the dCS range and still have access to a headphone jack or two, as well as Expanse

The first of these improvements is contentious — I know there are people on this forum and at dCS who already prefer the sound of going direct. I really wanted to be part of that group. Perhaps I would if I had a Vivaldi stack rather than the Bartok…or if I didn’t mind spending so much on a preamp.

As for the second, I love the approach that dCS has taken with having the headphone amp as an optional extra for the Bartok. I’d like the same for the Rossini and the Vivaldi…or their replacements. I’m not keen to add another box just for headphone listening.

Short version: I don’t need (or even want) a preamp, in other words, I want better sound when I go direct to a power amp, and I want optional little holes in the front of the entire range.

(Please :yum:)

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Doesn’t interest me either, but i do run a pre amp and headphone amp.
For me keep on developing what you do now, would love to see more updates for all the range going forward, especially sound performance upgrades.
Vivaldi 2 box, dac, streamer and upscaler in one box, clock in the other, like the rossini, is what i would like to see, as i just dont have room for the 3 box set up, nor do i want that many boxes.