Moon Audio (link) is a North Carolina-based, primarily online dealer of all things high-end headphones. Drew Baird, Moon audio’s founder and president brought the largest collection of high-end headphones and headphone electronics to the show. They inventory just about everything, and move an enormous amount of product, which is how I assume they got their hands on a dCS Bartok Apex DAC (link) with the optional headphone amp section so soon after its release.
Also on active display, the dCS Lina headphone stack (consisting of the Lina DAC+streamer, Lina Clock, and Lina headphone amp).
Reporting by Jameson Mourafestis
I’ve been eager to compare dCS’ newest headphone focused products, and for this in-the-field comparison, I chose a supremely capable and enjoyable headphone that I’m intimately familiar with, the Meze Elite (link). I was surprised to find that each system/suite of dCS electronics is tuned quite differently.
Many of you are familiar with the gorgeously designed Meze Empyrean; it’s easy to drive and its sound is hyper-smooth, laid back, warm, and very comforting, but Meze Elite is a different animal. While it keeps (and improves on) the Empyrean’s wonderful spatial qualities, efficiency, supreme wearer comfort, and looks, it’s far more neutral and resolving with more precise, not at all smoothed over transients making it a much more serious and insightful reviewer’s tool.
This was my first listen to the new made-for-headphones dCS Lina stack, and thinking back to their first headphone-oriented product, the non-Apex Bartok which I’m extremely familiar with, I was immediately impressed and surprised to find that the tuning and overall presentation are almost completely different. The Lina system has more heft and authority. The Lina system sounded like a much more powerful amplifier than its specs and desk-friendly size would imply. Despite being easy to drive, the Meze Elite certainly scales well with more and higher quality power. I have no doubt the Lina would drive notoriously hard to drive headphones like the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC or Hifiman Susvara. It’s has a very bottom-up sound with strong, solid low end performance and a very pleasant midrange that didn’t leave me wanting for more resolution, that is until I tried the Meze Elite with dCS’ new Bartok Apex.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the dCS Bartok Apex make an appearance given that it was just announced a few weeks before the Florida Audio Expo, but I should’ve expected nothing less from Drew. Getting right into the sound, the Bartok Apex’ tuning is very similar to its previous, non-Apex version: neutral and very even, very resolving, great spatial qualities, not wanting for power with the Elite, but not as authoritative as the very best headphone amplifiers. The Apex variant steps up the resolution significantly, enough so that I preferred it with the Elite to the plenty resolving Lina stack. It’s a more refined experience with a more speaker-like spatial presentation, but it does lack the drive and authority of the Lina stack, and I’m left wondering if using the Lina headphone amplifier with the Bartok Apex DAC would give the best of both worlds.
Both the Lina stack and Bartok Apex ooze minimalistic, high end appeal. The touch points are as smooth as glass, and the machined aluminum case is simple and perfectly executed. Lina’s footprint is fantastically small for such a high-end system, and I suspect it’ll only grow dCS’ popularity in the ultra high-end headphone world.