Bartok 2.0/Bartok Apex test : convincing enough?

Thanks to my retailer, Hifidylle from Brive-la-gaillarde, France, who has lent me the Bartok Apex and the Rossini Apex at the same time, and let them be installed at my home for a few days, I had the opportunity to compare my Bartok (2.0) with the new Apex model. At home! the best place to make a proper assessment!

Want to skip the long intro? Go to 1.-

I feel the need to say a few things about me as a listener…

I own the non-Apex Bartok (2.0), the Gryphon Diablo 300 amplifier and the Triangle Magellan Quatuor speakers (SW3 version). I am a classical music lover, and I am mostly fond of Russian or northern European composers from the late XIXth-early XXth, but open to every period, as well as every genre of music. As far as music reproduction is concerned, my needs are simple : realism and emotional connection to the music ; that is why I feel attracted by dCS, I share the same goals…

When I listen comparatively, I try to be careful of my attitude, especially when I listen to a new device: sometime expectations make us miss the point, we focus on the differences, and completely forget the music, which should remain at the center of our attention, especially when we have to decide which device is the best for us… Besides, alongside paying attention to the listening conditions (setting up the same output voltage, the same filters and mapping, checking the sound volume, the same cabling and source material), I decided, for most of them, to listen to a few recordings I know best, as well as those I am not intimate with. I’ll give the list at the end of this feedback.

At last I have to say that I have NOT listened to the Rossini Apex before I have written this. One variable at a time…

Sorry for this long introduction, but as music listening contains a good amount of subjectivity, I find it important to set the scene when it comes to personal reviews.


In a nutshell : there is with the Bartok Apex obvious audible differences. But they are subtle. Subtle in the most noble way; but subtle nonetheless. First, it is more resolving: greater details, better instrument timbre and separation, better timing, which leads to a better perception of rhythm and pace; these qualities altogether are especially obvious with percussion. Second, the harmonics are richer, the low frequencies better textured and better highlighted, which makes a better sense of realism in the overall reproduction of the music.


I am not enthralled. It is just as if there was something from the non-apex Bartok which has been forgotten, left aside. I find no rational and relevant explanations for this. No matter what, when I come back to listening to the non-Apex Bartok, most of the time I feel more connected to the music, the emotions are more easily triggered. A great paradox, because normally the qualities that the Bartok Apex bring should even more so be heart warming. I can’t explain. It is as if all the enhancements have been made at the expense of microdynamics. When I go back to listen to the Apex, I naturally notice the improvements as noted above, but I have difficulties connecting. Very strange.

I had been trying to set a neutral attitude towards the new model. (Everytime I went to listen to the Apex, I tried to convince myself that it is the same device I am used to listening to, and then I let myself react to positive or negative inconsistencies). I want to listen to the music, and not force myself into noticing any differences…

I may put forward one assumption as to why I could not connect:

  • It seems my retailer has been the first to receive the Bartok Apex from his distributor. My retailer ask them if the Bartok apex was broken-in. They say yes, but as they are businessmen, they may have lost the meaning and the importance of burning-in such a device. If they assumed that 10 hours is enough, I can easily explain the enigma… I asked my retailer to let me keep it for a longer time, or have it later in the month, when we are sure that it is properly broken-in,

Upon my reservations, my retailer granted me another week of testing (and I thank him very much). I let the device on and playing day and night during 6 days, that makes more 140 hours of burn-in. I estimate the total time of burn-in totalling 180 hours since I first plugged-in and played it at my home.

Just to try and avoid any psychological and psycho-acoustic bias towards a new and supposedly better/worse DAC, I devised a single blind A/B test, that I performed this morning with the help of my brother. At the end of this long post, you will find the testing material.

I was in a good mood and quite awake and focused this morning. I felt confident that thanks to the burn-in, I would hear a significant and bigger difference between the two.

But I was wrong…

As I did not know which DAC was playing, though the differences were subtle as I said, I much prefered the Bartok non-apex. The latter was to me more dynamic, more engaging; there was for sure a slightly better definition (especially in the middle to low frequencies, the percussion is nice to hear), and separation between the instruments with the Apex, but I liked the way they blend in with the non-Apex.

I am conscious that such A/B comparison needs more time, with a lot more music samples, different listening time and day, and if possible with the same kind of procedure (or even A/B/X blind test). But I did not have the means for this, I wish I had…

I may elaborate those assumptions to explain the differences :

  • Some elements of my equipment may not be resolving enough to allow the apex version to shine at its best. I reckon that I have, for the DAC and speakers, poor cabling. Will a change of DAC power cord counterbalance the lack of micro dynamism? I am dubitative about the relevance of this assumption, but it is worth considering.

  • My ears may not be trained enough to fully appreciate the apex version. I take this assumption as possible. I am not trained as a critical listener, and God! forbids me to become one! I do not seek intellectual satisfaction when enjoying works of art.

  • My expectations may be too high about how much difference there should be between the two. (and my expectations had better match my income by the way… :slight_smile: . The question remains : how high an expectation should be for a 7000 £ upgrade of a 15000 £ Bartok?

  • last, I venture myself questionning the relevance of upgrading the Bartok with the exact same card as the Rossini or Vivaldi, which we know the power circuitry is way better and/or different. I reckon this assumption is bold, my aim is to trigger some response of yours. I am open to any views or explanations.

I am now looking forward to listening to the Rossini Apex. I think it will tell me how much I am right, or wrong, about the Bartok upgrade…

I will then have to decide if I will keep enjoying my non-apex until I save (a lot of) money for a future Rossini acquisition, or if I trade less thrill for more refinement…

So, do we have to conclude that the upgrade is not worth getting? I am not going to answer this as a general rule ; but I will definitely consider acquiring the Rossini directly from my non-Apex Bartok (one day…:). To me, my sensitivity and my taste, as well as perhaps for my current level of equipment, the Bartok is not worth upgrading.

Thank you for reading this long feedback. Here is my equipment and the listening material I used, and the testing procedures I used:

Test écoute 1 (En).pdf (191.6 KB)

My equipment and music played for the test.pdf (35.6 KB)


Thanks for the fantastic review, I really appreciate it!


Yes, very interesting to read, thank you. I have an original Bartok too and am very happy with it, but haven’t heard the new version.


This is an outstanding and candid review, and I am thankful to have read it.

If you are not a native English speaker, I can say that I am amazed by the quality of your writing, which very few native English speakers could have managed! : )

I’m eager to hear the results of your Rossini v Bartok comparison @Diego_Fr.



Thank you @Diego_Fr for the detailed, honest and reflective commentary. As there isn’t much out there yet on the Bartok APEX this is meaningful input. It implies that sometimes when there is an upgrade, and improvements, they can also change the character from the original in other ways too. One step forward, one step sideways.


Thank you @keiserrg , this is heartwarming; as a native French speaker, I have been working hard to reach that level of command (“command of a language” = expression mostly used in th US by the way :slight_smile: ), but I have to say I took far more time to write this feedback than any native would take… :slight_smile:

I can shortly speak about the Rossini Apex, I did not have much time to listen to it. Of course there is no match between the Rossini Apex and the Bartoks. The former is sweet and powerful at the same time, lovely timbre, the bass is exquisite and precise; I clearly see the limitations of my system with it, I wish I had better speakers and cables to enjoy more of it. But overall and personnaly, I think it could be worth considering acquiring it someday. I may lose a bit of rawness that my Bartok offers, but the sound of the Rossini is so peaceful and authoritative at the same time, it is a mature piece of gear…