Bartók with Headphone Amplifier : which headphones and cable are you using?

I am very happy with my Bartók since last February, as well as a DAC, a streamer and a headphone amplifier. So much so, that I added the Rossini Clock.

I have the Focal Utopia headphones, and started to use them with the stock single ended cable.

Recently I switched to a balanced cable to connect the Utopia to Bartók, and was very pleasantly surprised by the big leap in SQ. The output volume raised by 5 - 10 dB, so I had to correct that, but the overall dynamics, transients, and 3D sound stage improved a lot. I upgraded the Utopia stock cable with the Crystal Cable Portable Dream Duet, a custom made cable from Holland. Crystal Cable is a sister company of the well-known Siltech. Terminated with a Neutrik 4-pin male XLR to the Bartók, and Lemo’s to the Utopia. This excellent cable is very thin, consists of monocrystal silver wires, and does not have the heavy weight of the stock cable on the Utopia. Actually it seems to have no weight at all. Only impact.

So I am very curious to hear from other Bartók with HA owners what headphones and cable they are using, and how they like the combination.

And in case you did not read it yet: the most comprehensive review of the Bartók with Headphone Amplifier is here:



I don’t own a Bartok (but ordered a Rossini + Clock) but a few years ago I upgraded the Standard cable of my Sennheiser HD800 with a Stefan Audioart Endorphin cable (= more ‘solid’ sound and bass).

It seems they also have dedicated cable for your headphone (and there is a special action :slight_smile: :



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Hi Renaat,

Thank you for your reply. I am sure you will be very happy with your Rossini + Clock.

If there would be a Rossini with headphone amp I would buy it. But the Bartók + Rosssini Clock comes as close as it gets.

I have owned the Sennheiser HD800 S, and then switched to the Focal Utopia headphones. A huge improvement, I can say. I just got my new Crystal Cable for it, so I am not yet in the market for another one, but thanks for your recommendation. The Crystal Cable Portable Dream Duet however is in a more high-end category.


I don’t own a Bartok (yet), but I have demo’d one with my Focal Utopias and custom balanced cable and was very pleased with the result. The Bartok is top on my list for my next upgrade.

Has anyone used a Hifiman Susvara or a Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC directly connected to Bartók? What is your experience?

Both are very inefficient, so do they shine on Bartók?

I prefer the Heddphone headphones; I use the balanced cable. I also like RAD-0 headphones. Both are somewhat heavy and clamp a little (the RAD-0 more so).

Hi Erno,
Yes, I did the comparison for about a week.
The Bartók is capable of driving both (although for the Susvaras you will need to go high gain).

They are 2 very different headphones in terms of sound style, so if you are interested on them, you really need to hear both as they are indeed excellent, but so different.

That said, the Bartók is able to drive the 1266TC much better than the Susvara. Susvara still sounds marvelous, mind you, but you can definitely sense that an external, more powerful, amp would take to Susvara to new heights. They will still play loud enough straight from the Bartók, but they won’t go to deafening levels as the 1266TC very gladly will.

In the end, I kept the 1266TC and returned the Susvara as I felt I needed an external amp to fully do justice to the Susvara.
Happy with the 1266TC and the Bartók? Massively!
Still missing the Susvara for certain types of music for which their sound profile would be better? Yeah, that too.

They are so different that they complement each other perfectly. Susvara + external amp are on my wish list for sure. But I could never replace the 1266TC with the Susvara. I would miss them too much and put myself in the opposite place of where I am now.

The transparency, energy, super extended (but very controlled) low end, massively detailed imaging and wide soundstage of the 1266TC versus the buttery smooth, involving music and although much more discreet fully present low end of the Susvara that envelops you in a very soft musical embrace that excels with vocals.

Listen to both of them, at your own risk :wink:

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Addon: I didn’t like the Abyss original cable as it’s too stiff so that it becomes uncomfortable. I replaced it with a Forza Audioworks Noir Hybrid HPC that I am very happy with.

Other headphones I use with the Bartók and where the integrated amp does a great job:
Audeze LCD-3, AKG K812
Stealth Sonics U9 (IEM), just for the fun of driving IEMs out of the Bartók :smiley:

Hi, Indeed, the Susvara does need a dedicated amp. I use an Audiovalve amp to drive my Susvara and it sounds so good…I had and still have many headphones and amps over the years but nothing comes close to this combination…but when dCS build a headphone amp…I shall try it :laughing:

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Thank you @Skywatcher and @ChrisK for your very useful comments!

I definitely will try both, on my Bartók, and on my Benchmark HPA4, and then I probably end up with both, ánd maybe another headphone amp, whether the dCS Praetorius, or …, and go from Bartók to Rossini.

My bank will hate me :grinning:

There’s also the RAAL-requisite SR1a + one of the two available amps (that don’t require a full amp). It’s really hard to go back after using this. I don’t use it with the Bartok at the moment; it’s a separate headphone-only system in another room.

But Expanse with the Bartok and Heddphones is really great too!

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Thanks Andrew, I will try to find a shop here to demo the Heddphones as well.

The Susvara is a reference class headphone with the right amp. I have listened with Bartok, and was surprised that the Bartok did as well as it did. But the Susvara truly deserves a top-notch headphone. Not an Abyss fan. The SR1a is a fantastic headphone, but it also deserves the right amp, and that is the RAAL HS1a/b.


Violectic V281, running direct from the xlr’s.
Sounds wonderful into my sennheiser hd800s as it adds an extra bit of warmth and weight, without losing any of the fantastic sound stage and details

Hello everyone. Regarding my new headphones.

I’ve had my Bartok for three months now and am very happy with the performance. I’m using the internal preamp and connecting directly to power amp and speakers. Currently from RCA to Quad 606 and ESL63, and from XLR to ARC300.2 and Monitor Audio PL100s.

Last week I got some Sennheiser HD800S headphones. Straight out of the box with the standard 1/4” jack, the experience is so poor I want to send them straight back, but the dealer won’t take them as I’ve used them. This is a completely unexpected and massive disappointment. So what’s wrong?

I’ve noted in this forum the steer to use a balanced cable (Sennheiser supply their own version in the box but charge extra for one to fit the Bartok). Does a balanced cable make such a difference?

And do the headphones improve with burn in?

I’m ready to put these things on eBay and forget headphones. But I’ve already invested in the headphone version of the Bartok plus the headphones themselves so feel very disappointed and not convinced that further investment in a balanced cable will make sufficient difference. Maybe it’s because the sound I’m enjoying on speakers is so good. That’s not so bad!

Yes. You need to give them at least 60 hours of real use for basic burn in.

I bought a pair a few weeks ago and if you look through the threads you will find me saying that I was unimpressed ( and that was after several days of use). I subsequently bought a new headphone amp that can really drive them . I do not just mean meet the minimum required specifications for electrical matching. Frankly they are now providing me with the most fun that I have ever had from headphones - I bought my first pair of cans in September 1967!

Note that I was not using a Bartok to drive them unsuccessfully before ( I am a Vivaldi user). However I could easily drive HD 600s ( same impedance) with that other amplifier. It seems that the HD 800S ( and the HD 800) are a pig of a load .However dCS claims that the Bartok will drive almost anything short of electrostatics.

As for balanced cables my new headphone amp is single ended only. The Sennheiser balanced cable with 4 pin XLR connection is quite expensive but not unreasonable when you look at the cost of many other aftermarket balanced cables. I am nevertheless unconvinced that balanced cables make much difference to the headphones per se. However, in many setups there may be a difference in sound between the single ended and balanced outputs on the driving amplifier. The XLR and RCA line outputs on the Bartok and on other dCS DACs use different circuit designs. Whether or not that is also the case for the headphone outputs I do not know.

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Just curious if you have also adjusted the output level of the Bartok, perhaps using the 0dB or -10dB will make a difference for you. These are settings from the mosaic app

We all have different ears, musical tastes — and equipment! — but unless you and I differ markedly on those first two, I wouldn’t do anything too hasty with your HD800Ss.

I have a Bartok and a pair of HD800S 'phones, and they’re fantastic together. I don’t get the impression at all that the Bartok is holding the Sennheisers back. I use the 4-pin XLRs that the headphones came with, rather than the 1/4" cable, but I’m with Pete in thinking that the same cable with different terminations shouldn’t make much of a difference, if any. Far more likely that the internals of the amp driving the headphone output is different, and I don’t know whether that’s the case with the two holes in the front of the Bartok.

Perhaps worth adding: if I’d listened to the HD800S after a few months with the Meze Empyreans (my other headphones), I’d have thought that the Sennheisers were broken. They’re such different headphones that there’s a period of OHGOLLYTHATSOUNDSTERRIBLE before my head realises what’s happening. Could that be something to do with it for you too?

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You may have been lucky as they now do not supply a cable with an XLR-4 connector as standard. The HD 800S comes with one cable terminating in a 6.35mm stereo TRS jack and one with a 4.4mm 5 pole TRRRS jack. The only audio sources I can think of that use that connector are high end portable DAPs but the HD800S is not really suitable for portable use IMO. If you want the XLR-4 cable it’s an extra circa. 250 gbp the last time I looked.

I am seeing an increasing number of 4.4 sources. The little Matrix Mini DAC I have been trying out has such an output, and it performs remarkably well on my ZMF Vérité C headphones. For those in the States, I highly recommend Moon Audio for whatever adapter they may need, balanced or SE. A Moon Silver Dragon SE->4-pin XLR adapter 3 foot/1 meter in length is USD$180.