New Bartok on it's way, couple of questions

For reference, I will be using the Bartok with a McIntosh C53 pre-amp and MC462 Amplifier, thru XR50 speakers (they have a 81dB sensitivity, rated at 75-300W).

I was excited to hear the Bartok at my local dealer with a similar (1 generation older) McIntosh system but there was something that I learned since ordering the unit… Apparently you can output either 2v or 6v via the balance out… I assume this is an either/or choice and not a variable 2-6v…

Anyway, I guess I’m curious what folks are using and why? And more over, does anyone know if the McIntosh preamp can handle 6v? And what is the advantage / disadvantage of either assuming I am able to do both?


Welcome Sam.

The Bartok actually provides four output level ( line level) settings: 0.2V. 0.6V, 2V and 6V. These are fixed, not constantly variable.

Which you choose depends on a host of things; the average level that your recordings have been mastered at, the input sensitivity of your preamp ( if you use one), the “law” of the volume potentiometer on the preamp , the input sensitivity of the power amp(s) especially if you do not use a pre-amp, speaker sensitivity and how loud or soft you like to listen and so one. So you can see that there is no “right” answer.

In general most people will choose an output level that places the most used range of the pre-amp volume control when the Bartok is set to 0.0dBfs output to be somewhere between from around 9:00 o’clock to 03:00 o’clock. I am not suggesting that you would use all of this range in practice but that the lowest setting of the volume control should be above its physically lowest setting where non-linearities can occur, nor at such a high level that the equipment receiving the output of the pre-amp can be driven into distortion.

If you do not use a preamp and have the Bartok control volume then you do not set the Bartok to 0.0dBfs but to a sensible listening level. However digital volume controls work by discarding bits so I would aim not to have the volume control set much below -20dBfs to maintain resolution.

As well as the above there is simple personal taste. I would start by using the 2V line level output as this was historically the standard voltage level chosen for CD players and most amplifiers etc. will at least have been designed with this level in mind. However, as I said , some prefer other settings.

6V provides the theoretical best S/N figure but with many set-ups this will place the usable part of a pre-amp’s volume control in a difficult to use position or, as you suggest, may overload the input it is connected to. It is probably most useful with no pre-amp and with tube power amplifiers of low input sensitivity. As always YMMV.

Enjoy your new Bartok. I know that however much you enjoyed it at your dealers you will find it even better in your own system.



Thanks Peter, for the very good and thorough explanation… I asked my dealer, turns out he had it set to 6v… and apparently my McIntosh C53 can handle upwards of 8v input… seems like it would be beneficial from a dynamic range perspective to go as high as I can, but I will take into account what you said and play with it when I get it… (which between the dCS and McIntosh stuff could be over a month! :joy:)

Just to say that the dynamic range that the Bartok derives from the recording will be the same whichever line output setting you choose. BTW when I referred to the best S/N ratio using 6V this is theoretic and mainly of interest for measurement. Noise from Bartok as a practical consideration should be inaudible at any of the settings in normal use.

However if you prefer to use 6V that is, of course, your choice.

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curious …

Do you know if this DAC uses a digital volume control or an analogue one?

Digital volume control.

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you mentioned 6v provides best S/N .how did you derive that?is it some formula or published spec to come to that conclusion?

As a further note … my dealer insists it’s better at 2v, which he says is the normal balance input voltage… but the dynamic range argument is logical… I’d love to know what dCS’s position on this is? Do they monitor these forums, thus far they’ve been completely non-responsive to my email I sent last week… which is a bit alarming considering I just ordered a $16K for a piece of equipment.

you would not be overloading your power amp even at 6v, if you would be attenuating /lowering the gain appropriately in the preamp to drive your power amp.because no way with even 6v or for that matter 2v you cannot reach the upper echelons of your volume control in the preamp, which will saturate your power amp for sure.

the question mostly comes down to the sonic preference based on your listening, whether 6v with preamp attenuation is better versus 0.2v with unity gain or positive offset OR the middle approach of 2v

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Published spec.

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FWIW, I have a Bartok and Mc462 power amp. The Bartok is set to 6v.
I’ve just finished inserting a preamp (2 actually: ARC LS26 and Allnic L1500) for the past 2 months.
I went back to the Bartok-amp setup as I could not hear any significant audio difference.
Maybe the preamps weren’t in the same league as my other equipment, but for me, my curiosity has been satisfied.
Obviously, I’m only doing digital.

Interesting. As you could not hear any significant difference between direct connection and two different pre-amps then logically you could not hear any significant difference between the two pre-amps either as any permutation of the three components into the power amp must have sounded the same. Is that correct?

Correct. Brand new Allnic, slightly older ARC, nothing added. I was expecting a warmer tubey sound but I couldn’t hear any, except for a slight degradation in audio quality., in my experience.
Not saying preamps don’t add anything, just saying that I could not hear it.

Well, I admit that I am surprised especially considering that one pre-amp has a Jfet input stage followed by 6H30 triode tubes, the other being all tube using either E816f or D3a pentode tubes . Even ignoring the direct connection aspect I would not expect those two pre-amp designs to effectively sound the same. But if that’s what you found then that’s what you found.

What sort of music did you listen to when you were carrying out the comparison?

I listen to everything except classical. Ran them thru some new Us&Them from Roger Waters last week. The ARC was a marked degradation.

Thanks for the answer. Now I get it. I just couldn’t figure how two dissimilar pre-amps could sound the same but now I see that they didn’t.

It is surprising how diverse ideas of optimum sound are. Still it means that it keeps an unbelievable number of different manufacturers in business considering the comparatively small number of audio enthusiasts that there are. That is if compared to the number of golfers, car freaks or even mechanical watch enthusiasts.

chacun à son goût !

Toujours un point de vue intéressant!
You’re the best.
Thanksgiving over here. Turkey time.

If it helps, I’ve a Bartok and have it set at 6v. I’ve a Audio Research VT80 poweramp and a Ref 3LE preamp. My impression was that the Ref 3 improved the size of the soundstage over what I had with just the Bartok and VT80. The soundstage without the Ref 3 is still very good, it just isn’t as large, in my system.


What I read on the DCS FAQ section is that you should set the output voltage such that you don’t have to turn the volume of the DAC below -26dB … as apparently the resolution of the signal is degraded below that level… something to think about.