When I signed up to cover dCS at High End 2019, I was thinking BIG DIGITAL. You know, a very expensive system in a big room with one, or several, six-figure dCS stacks. That room existed, with Wilson Audio Sasha DAW loudspeakers and Dan D’Agostino amps, featuring a notably pure and clean sound that you would probably expect from such esteemed companies. I sat in that room, took notes, and I was duly impressed. There was only problem–Lee Scoggins already covered this room in depth, and I’m not sure what else I could add. But there’s just one problem.
This is not the dCS room at High End 2019 that blew my mind.
I mean, it was great sound and all. Absolutely nothing to criticize. But there was another dCS room, downstairs in the big halls of the MOC, and that’s the one that I’ll always remember. This room featured several dCS Bartok network streaming DAC/headphone amplifiers ($15,500), ostensibly the entry level dCS product, with WyWires cables and assorted headphones. By assorted, I mean almost every imaginable one out there that might be paired with something as audacious as the dCS Bartok. You could pick your favorite headphones, plug it into the Bartok and then stream off of Qobuz. That sounded like a particularly great idea to me, so I grabbed a pair of HIFIMAN HE1000s ($2450), currently one of my favorite headphones, and I was off to the races.
Do you remember the film Primal Fear with Richard Gere and Edward Norton? Remember how Norton’s character used to say that he “lost time”? Creepy alter ego murderer aside, that’s how I felt the moment I cued up Qobuz in that High End 2019 booth and started listening to all sorts of electronica. (The Qobuz playlists seemed to favor these genres, so when in Rome.) Suffice it to say that I lost time. I didn’t want to leave. I just wanted to stand there–well, sit really, but the room lacked the beanbag chairs I sorely needed–and listen and listen and listen to this amazing headphone rig. The sound was utterly smooth and non-fatiguing, and I simply couldn’t believe the size and space of the soundstage in my head. You know how we audiophiles talk about a pair of speakers that can seemingly knock down the walls of a listening room? This dCS/HIFIMAN/WyWires rig knocked down the walls of my cranium.
Over the last few years I’ve had several dalliances with high-end headphone rigs. A couple of years ago, I was really happy with the Unison Research SH/HIFIMAN Edition X system that I had rustled from my company’s inventory. In the spring issue of The Occasional, I discussed how I fell in love with the Inspire Dragon/Focal Clear rig. The dCS Bartok is far more expensive than either of those systems, but it also unearthed a world of headphone sound that I didn’t know existed. I’ve always been the type of audiophile who clearly prefers loudspeakers over headphones, but dCS, HIFIMAN and WyWires have clearly muddied those waters. Give me that system at High End 2019 and a subscription to Qobuz, and I’ll change the way I listen to music from now on–at least until the next big thing arrives.