As a new dCS customer, I thought I would share my thoughts on my new Bartók and how it compares to my out going Esoteric K-05X DAC. I will say my findings are biased by the fact that I’m a classical music lover and violin maker. My findings may not hold true for others who listen to different types of music and may prefer a more voiced sound signature.
I have owned an Esoteric DAC for over 15 years - they have always been reliable products. It has taken me many, many years however, to be able to articulate the issues I have with the Esoteric house sound. JVS at Stereophile described the Esoteric sound as “… a bit yang: stronger in force than in sparkling liquidity”. As a classical music listener, what I hear is a voiced frequency response that is tipped up around 100Hz, mid forward and an emphasis in the lower treble at 5kHz ish (similar to every Esoteric product I’ve ever heard). Sadly this isn’t the kind of thing that ever shows up in DAC measurements. The Esoteric sound can be thrilling and I can see why many like it, it demos well and is vastly better than most chip-based DACs I’ve heard. But with more listening than ever during the pandemic, this stridency really started to get to me.
My current dealer retired and my new dealer (who caries both Esoteric and dCS) suggested I try the dCS Bartok. After two weeks of intensive listening, here are my initial thoughts about the dCS and how it compares to the Esoteric sound.
- The Bartok appears to have a very even frequency response (no part of the spectrum is emphasized). The Bartok is more resolving than the Esoteric but without the Esoteric’s strident forwardness.
- The dCS ring DAC ‘renders’ audio in a very natural way - there is a cohesive clarity across the entire frequency spectrum, but it seems to be much more than that. The way sound is rendered tonally is natural and far closer to what I hear in live music. Even many CD rips that I thought could never measure up to high res recordings, sound excellent and in some cases very close to high res equivalents. The bottom two octaves in particular, are rendered in a very realistic way. Crapy recordings sound worse than ever however!
- The dCS sounds massive with real scale, weight and dynamic contrasts are simply more realistic sounding. I actually hear depth - something I’ve never heard in any DAC in my home.
All in all, the sonic impression is akin to the very best analog setups I’ve heard and far closer to live music than I thought possible. Needless to say, I’m a happy dCS customer.