dCS Bartók APEX Network-Attached DAC Page 2

Both balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs are provided, with the ability to use the DAC into a preamplifier at a maximum fixed output of 2V or 6V by setting the volume to '0.0dB'. Alternatively, it can be run straight into a power amplifier using the very high-quality volume control and buffered output to bypass a separate preamp altogether.

sqnote Consistency King
Firmly in the 'hours of harmless fun' category is the raft of other adjustments the Bartók APEX provides, including three settings for the 'mapper' controlling how data is served up to the Ring DAC, and an extensive array of filter options for both PCM and DSD. Having played with them for a good while, I found myself reverting to the default settings with either Filter 1 or 2.

Used both as a DAC/preamp and as a straight DAC into a conventional amplification system, and over a variety of its digital inputs as well as running it network connected and as a Roon endpoint, it's impressive just how consistent the Bartók APEX sounds. That said, a bugbear for me is the limitation of its capability with DSD files. Yes, the Bartók APEX now handles DSD128 with ease, but the world has moved on somewhat, and many of the files I am downloading these days are in DSD256 – not because I'm playing the numbers game, but because that's how they were created. Yes, it's possible to play them by using Roon to take them down to DSD64 or DSD128 – the software will recognise that's the upper limit of the DAC's capabilities – but many DACs will now handle these files in their native form.

Rant over, and that limitation aside, the Bartók APEX is a remarkably accomplished device. Its streaming capabilities work simply and cleanly, with no gremlins encountered whether with the Mosaic Control app or third-party software running on a tablet or phone. And the sound is both weighty and substantial, with excellent bass definition, while at the same time fluid and superbly detailed.

Play an album like Brad Mehldau's Your Mother Should Know set of Beatles covers – and, curiously, one Bowie composition [Nonesuch 075597907407] – and the sound is all about realistic piano scale and the illusion of the instrument being played in the room before the listener. It boogied through 'I Saw Her Standing There', was limpid and soulful on 'Here, There And Everywhere', and simply magical on the album closer 'Life On Mars?'. Indeed whatever you play through the new Bartók, and however you choose to play it, you're dragged closer to the performance and immersed in the music.


Digital inputs span S/PDIF (two coax, one opt), two AES/EBU (on XLRs), one USB-A for external HDDs, one USB-B for computer connection and a network port (on RJ45) – joined by clock I/Os (on BNCs) and variable analogue outs (RCA and XLR)

With Father John Misty's live Off-Key In Hamburg [self-released, Bandcamp download], dCS's DAC slammed through 'Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings' with fine drive and presence – as was the case with the whole album's dense mix, including both a full band and the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt strings – plus excellent clarity in the delivery of the singer's voice.

Rockin' And Rollin'
The same goes for Yo La Tengo's almost improvisational recent album This Stupid World [Matador OLE 1929CD], recorded as live by the American indie rockers and produced for maximum immediacy; here the clean sound of the dCS Bartók DAC drove the groove of the opening track, 'Sinatra Drive Breakdown', underpinned by James McNew's rumbling bass and Georgia Hubley's tight drumming.

Even with the echo-overlaid Stones track 'It's All Over Now', from 12X5 [ABKCO/London Records 844 461-2], the Bartók APEX laid bare the simple nature of the recording, revealing the performance of each of the five with an appealing rawness that goes all the way through to the all-too-short cover of 'Susie Q' at the end of the set.

The way this reborn DAC digs into the depths of a performance and a mix serves well Jacob Shea's atmospheric, dramatic 'The Arctic Suite', the centrepiece of violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing and the Arctic Philharmonic's Arctic [Sony Classical G010004635026E; 96kHz/24-bit download]. The shimmering simplicity of the solo instrument was wonderfully delivered, as was the weight and power of the full ensemble when required. This persuasive balance carries through to the intimacy of Brahms' 'Variations And Fugue On A Theme Of Handel', from Seong-Jin Cho's The Handel Project recital [Deutsche Grammophon 486 3018], where the focused view of the pianist's Steinway had both delicacy and speed, as well as excellent solidity in the lower octaves.

Fertile Ground
If I submit the opinion that the sound of this DAC is precise, I don't mean to suggest that it's in any way mechanical or sterile... Far from it, as illustrated by Jessie Buckley's soulful reading of 'Maybe This Time' from the 2021 London cast album of Kander & Ebb's Cabaret [Decca 4873046]. It's a long way from the all-guns-blazing Liza Minelli movie version, but all the better for that, while Eddie Redmayne's MC is wonderfully lascivious and sleazy, and equally well served by a recording the Bartók APEX revealed to be perfectly set in its small-club location.

Add in that the sound was just as convincing with some highly atmospheric radio dramas – yes, in glorious 320kbps AAC! – and it's clear this latest arrival from dCS is not only a remarkable DAC, but also now firmly in that rarefied group of top-notch network players.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Yes, it's quite a leap in price from the original Bartók to this new APEX version, but the gains in performance are more than commensurate with the uptick. This may be the 'entry-level' dCS offering, but there's no hint of that in a sound as revealing as it is involving, with excellent scale and resolution. Factor in the flexibility, its solidity of build and the clarity of its control app, and this is a very superior unit.

Data Conversion Systems Ltd
Supplied by: dCS Ltd
01954 233950