Stereophile's Products of 2023 Digital Source Component of the Year

Digital Source Component of the Year

dCS Bartók Apex D/A Processor
($20,950–$22,950; reviewed by Herb Reichert in Vol.46 No.8 review)

Finalists (In alphabetical order)
Benchmark DAC3 B D/A Processor ($1890; reviewed by John Atkinson in Vol.46 No.3 review)
CH Precision C1.2 D/A Processor ($36,000–$43,500; reviewed by Jim Austin in Vol.46 No.2 review)
dCS Vivaldi Apex D/A Processor ($46,500; reviewed by Jason Victor Serinus in Vol.46 No.3 review)
HiFi Rose RS250A Streaming D/A Processor ($2695; reviewed by John Atkinson in Vol.46 No.10 review)
Lejonklou Källa D/A Processor ($8495; reviewed by Alex Halberstadt in Vol.46 No.3 review)

The Apex redesigns of the D/A processors from British manufacturer dCS involve revisions to the proprietary, massively oversampling, 5-bit, R-2R Ring DAC topology and an all-new analog output stage, with individual transistors on the board replaced with compound pairs. The first dCS processor to feature the Apex upgrade was the Rossini, which was our Digital Source Component of 2022. The Apex upgrades to the flagship Vivaldi and lower-priced Bartók were both eligible for the 2023 awards, and it was the Bartók—base price $20,950; a headphone output adds $2000—that won the category.

The original dCS Bartók was Herb Reichert's "top-level, system-anchoring digital source" after it was introduced in 2019. As well as the upgraded Apex Ring DAC and output stage, the new Bartók features a bigger power supply, which HR credited with appearing to put less artificial digital-mechanical grunge between him and the files he streamed with the dCS Mosaic app. "When I switch back to the 'old Bartók'," he wrote, "it seems less clear and refined." He concluded that with the Bartók Apex, he felt like he was listening "to recordings at a rarefied level of harmonic insight. ... With my amps and speakers, the Apex's most obvious improvement was how much less digital it sounded. It mixed an R-2R naturalness, such as what I get from the HoloAudio May and Denafrips Terminator Plus, with a muscular, free-flowing dynamic that kept my attention focused on musical content."

Notes on the vote
We were concerned that with two dCS digital processors making it into the second round, these would split the vote. The Bartók Apex, however, emerged with considerably more votes than the more expensive Vivaldi Apex, which in turn got a few more votes than the similarly expensive CH Precision 1.2. Props to the Benchmark DAC3 B and HiFi Rose RS250A, whose prices are fractions of those of the other finalists.