MSB vs dCS Bartok

Thinking about the MSB Premier vs dCS Bartok in a active ATC speaker rig.

I want to consolidate my system down from a Naim NDS/252 front end. 
So as a one box DAC/streamer/preamp. which should be better ?

They don’t compare on price point. Can you be more specific on your reasons for both choices?

I recommend reaching out to @thyname and @mikelavigne for their advice and perspective on MSB.

I have auditioned the Bartok. If I leaned dCS, my entry point would be the Rossini (for SQ reasons).
a fundamental difference between the MSB approach and the dCS approach is bit perfect verses up-sampling. my opinion is that bit perfect is the way things are going and that it allows you to get the best possible performance from the recording’s native resolution. of course, it’s not really quite that simple......but to my ears it does make a fundamental difference (less digital signature) and has musical consequences.

the MSB Premier, as far as i know, cannot do streaming by itself. but i do believe it can be spec'd with a high quality volume control. you will need a CPU of some sort as a Roon end point. but honestly i’ve not done any extensive MSB listening beyond the Select II in my own system.

i would recommend trying to demo both units. if you ever get to the Seattle are you are welcome to demo my MSB for whatever that is worth. i love my Select II.

i hope that helps.
I assume it is to downsize to a “one box” solution. Then use this for preamp. duties as well. Both are great devices & no wrong choice with either. Though I suspect the MSB “may” have a better integrated volume control. 
The reason for these 2 are:
1. both can be used to stream from an existing server setup I have.
2. both have preamp/volume control function.
3. legendary upgrade support from both companies.
4. both support XLR analog out (need that for my ATC active - only has Balanced XLR in).
5. both are supposed to be superb units - near the top for DAC sound quality.

However, the Naim 252 preamp. I have is excellent and I am not 100% sure “all in one” for DAC/streamer/preamp. has got there yet for total sound quality. Except perhaps for the extreme high end units from these 2 companies and a few others for several thousand $$$$ more than even these expensive units, then by all accounts they seem to not need an external preamp. at all.
+1, @tomic601, I agree the Bricasti DAC should be on your list.

My Bricasti M21 DAC is in my main audio system and it is truly outstanding. It offers both a sigma delta conversion and a ladder DAC. I switched back and forth and decided the ladder DAC sounds the best. I previously owned the Bricasti M1SE DAC and the M21 DAC sounds much better. I was very impressed.  My source is the Aurender N10 Music Server.
rfc OP
MSB vs dCS Bartok

This could be more like R2R Multibit vs Delta Sigma, as the RingDac in the DCS is said to be very much like delta sigma but for a couple of bits of R2R thrown in, much like the Hybrid "advance segment" chips Texas(BB) has out for a while now PCM179** series, as they are the differences you’ll be hearing, as both will have excellent output stages, jitter figures ect ect

BTW My money's on the MSB for the best PCM Redbook 16/44/24/96 or DXD reproduction, but if your doing DSD then you should A/B the two, as some of the Discrete R2R dacs are said to be converting DSD very good also. 

Cheers George
I was just at an audio show. Many rooms used dCS players but mostly Vivaldi and it sounded great.

Another contender that I heard and have heard before is the Kalista Dreamplay Stream. It sounds wonderful.
I had the dCS Bartok home for a demo.
Loved how it sounded, easily beat my Naim NDS into my Naim 252 preamp.

Not so sure about direct into my ATC 40A active speakers. It was good, really good. I needed more time to play with the Bartok settings to find a correct balance. 
Looks like I will make to change to the Bartok, if need be, I will add a preamp latter. 
After a long time of reflection I think the MSB Premier is what I need.

By all accounts the way it connects directly to a power amp and bypass the need for a preamp is second to none.

My only concern is I have like 80% rock, pop, blues in my collection. I really do like the way Naim plays rock music in a propulsive way.
Does MSB have that similar propulsive way with rock ?
Does MSB have that similar propulsive way with rock ?
Oh yeah, R2R has a great boogie factor and drive, makes you think it DR is far better than DS, even if the specs show the opposite.

Cheers George

I have ATC SCM 20ASL speakers which are extremely revealing and I use them with my JL Audio dual F112v2 subs through a JL Audio CR1 crossover.

First I had a Naim Nova which sounded very good, and I listen to probably 80% rock from mainly the 70's and 80's but also love stuff like Kraftwerk to Yellowman and just recently started getting into Classical.

Naim has a great in-house sound (PRAT) signature especially for rock, but I knew I could do better, like you the Bartok piqued my interest, so I arranged a home demo, sounded great and decent incremental improvement over the Naim, but in my opinion for two and a half times the price of the Nova it was not a real contender, then luckily one day on one of my frequent visits to my local dealer I got a deal I could not refuse on a rather special Streamer/Dac/Pre-amp, and for not a great deal more than the Bartok.

Said Streamer/Dac/Pre-amp promptly taken home for a demo, quickly hooked up in my system, and I knew absolutely straight away I had something special, just everything I had been searching for in so long.

Product being the T+A SDV 3100 HV, at the same time I bought a Sablon Audio RJ45 ethernet cable which for the price as to be one of the best purchases I have made, everything just fell into place, next and last on my list to buy is the EtherRegen.

Hope this helps.

Good luck and hope you find audio nirvana like I did after a long and sometimes frustrating time.
Thank you for an excellent post and thoughts on your choice.
Unfortunately T+A is unavailable in my Country. 
I think dcs Bartok offers ridiculously good value in the crowded price bracket it’s situated itself in. If I had the good fortune to be considering a dac, I would also be considering the aforementioned Bricasti dac as well perhaps the Berkeley Audio Alpha Series 3.

Have you seen the Stereophile review for the Bartok? The measurements for the thing are amazing 
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I haven’t received the Bartok I have ordered but it’s received universal high praise in all the audio journals. From what I gather it’s darn near a Rossini but lacking the more sophisticated power supply. I would love to hear of a blind test comparing the two units without external clocks. 10k price difference. FWIW
RFC the T+A products are generally available all over the world they may not have a proper distributor in your country but you may be able to get a sample sent to you.

In terms of that rhythmic punchy quality nothing sounds like a Naim, you can dramatically increase a system's punch by using Critical Mass footers which are amazing.

Have you considered perhaps upgrading the Naim gear? Also if you are using Naim interconnects they are not very good.

Custom Din cables can be sourced from better companies.
Dave and TroyAudio Doctor NJ Naim, T+A, Critical Mass, ATC dealers
Post removed 
I have by luck engaged with a new dealer who can source Merging Audio products - Merging+Player+Power. Which is essentially a 2 box DAC/Streamer/preamp with an outboard power supply. 
Anyone have any knowledge about Merging Audio ?
the MSB Premier, as far as i know, cannot do streaming by itself. but i do believe it can be spec’d with a high quality volume control. you will need a CPU of some sort as a Roon end point.

What do you mean here? The Premier takes the same digital input modules as the Reference, Select and even the entry level Discrete. Including the latest Ethernet Renderer V2. I have a Premier and I have the Ethernet Renderer in it and it works great with Roon.


What do you mean here? The Premier takes the same digital input modules as the Reference, Select and even the entry level Discrete. Including the latest Ethernet Renderer V2. I have a Premier and I have the Ethernet Renderer in it and it works great with Roon.
you need a Roon core + Roon end point.

an MSB dac cannot work as a Roon core to my knowledge. the Core is where the music is managed. typically you would have a (1) laptop, (2) dedicated server, or (3) a NAS with it’s CPU used as the core.

i used my MSB Select II with the Renderer v2 as the Roon end point, but still used a dedicated server for the Roon core.

if you somehow used only your MSB Premier as the Roon Core + End point then where were your files, and what did your remote communicate with to change music selections? those functions are related to the Roon Core.
I see what you mean now. I was confused because in your reply it seemed as though you were making it a "con" that the MSB can’t do streaming by itself, yet left out any references to streaming on the dCS (which has the same situation as the MSB). It sounded like you were knocking the Premier, which was even more confusing because you own a Select which has the same streaming module.

To clear some commonly misused terms up, folks usually refer to endpoints as a "streamer" where a Roon core or core+NAS would be the "server" in this case, the Ethernet Renderer is a "streamer." Search "audio streamer" on Google.

Moreover, you don’t have to use the MSB Ethernet Renderer module with Roon at all, you can also use it with any DLNA compatible "controller," including apps such as mconnect on iOS devices. There is no "server" required in this model if you don’t need to stream files locally, just the streaming endpoint and a controller, and it is quite possible to stream Tidal and Qobuz directly to any Ethernet Renderer V2-equipped MSB DAC with a DLNA controller straight from an Internet connection (no computer/server/HDD/NAS required).

The same also applies to dCS.

re:volume control - There is also no additional option for a high quality volume control other than the standard volume control that comes with all Premier and Discrete models. The optional pre-amp module with "constant impedance passive volume control technology" is only available for the Select and Reference DACs. The Discrete and Premier include "standard volume control."

To the OP: the Premier has been a great unit for me - I have the Femto93 clock and dual discrete power supplies. I’ve been so impressed and happy with the unit and support/communication from MSB that I’m entertaining an upgrade to the Reference. I highly recommend MSB.
I have made a choice and that is.........
MSB Premier, standard issue, no upgrades. It should be here and up and running in 4 weeks.

Cannot wait.
Post removed 
I have made a choice and that is.........
MSB Premier, standard issue, no upgrades. It should be here and up and running in 4 weeks.

Cannot wait.
👍✔ You won’t listen to another non R2R Multibit dac again.

But then you’ve had a taste already with the Naim NDS it used the last best chip R2R dac from Burr Brown the PCM1704 as did the unobtainable Naim 555.
This MSB your getting is even far better than those again

Good choice, I’m jealous, I’ve just got the old msb discrete and it nailed my Linn CD12, also PCM1704 based.

BTW: defiantly make sure you get the volume control for the Premier dac, it will sound way better direct into your amp without the Naim pre in the way. then you can sell it

Hybrid Volume

The Premier DAC comes equipped a high-performance XLR or optimized RCA output module that’s fully shielded. This user-replaceable module provides a bufferless 150Ω output impedance suitable for driving any amplification. Proprietary advanced hybrid analog/digital volume technology allows for a clean and immersive listening experience you have to hear to fully believe.

Even the remote look better than mine

Cheers George
Congrats on your choice! Please update us with your impressions once you receive it!
Post removed 
Got the MSB Premier, clocked in over 120 hours.

Honestly, not that happy at all. It’s OK and not bright.

But It’s not as dynamic compared to the Naim NDS /252 preamp I had before. It’s soft with vocals, bass is not punchy enough.

I do have the basic set up, just the:
MSB Premier DAC and only 1x Discrete Power Supply.

Will / should it get much better with and extra Discrete Power Supply and the Ethernet Renderer Module ?  Or do I need a quality preamp to make it sing ?
Or perhaps MSB is just not for me.  
Thoughts ?
rfc OP
But It’s not as dynamic compared to the Naim NDS /252 preamp I had before.

Somethings not right, this is what a HiFi-News review by Ken Kessler had to say about the Premier’s dynamics.

Ken Kessler
"The Byrds’ 12-string jingle-jangle, is disarmingly well-recorded, and the MSB Premier extracted everything it could from the lush harmonies.

While The Hollies and The Beach Boys vie for the title of ’best harmonizing in a rock group context, The Searchers were no slouches either. This cover of the sublime PF Sloan composition treats the listener to dynamic swings and passages of sublime delicacy countered by the anger of the message. The Premier moves with the music so skillfully, so suavely that I was driven to A/B it with the LP.

The Premier? So lusciously liquid and resonant I was hard-pressed to accept the total absence of glassiness."
This is from the lab test.
" Tested via its balanced XLRs in variable ’Low Output’ mode, and with the volume set to ’100’, the Premier delivers a maximum 1.675V from a moderate 36ohm source impedance."
1.7v is very low, did you try the "High Output Mode" which is some 3.6v output?

Cheers George
It’s OK and not bright. But It's not as dynamic (compared to the Naim NDS /252 preamp) I had before. It’s soft with vocals, bass is not punchy enough
@rfc I have a similar -- identical -- experience right now with the Select. Midrange is fine, and there seems to be a bloom in the lower mids. It would seem that I am missing high frequencies and the bass is not punchy, it doesn't go very low -- basically, I'm missing resolution. Adding the reclocker (Ideon Master Time) made an important improvement as did changing to a single-core power cord (tightened the sound). 
I am probably doing something wrong and /or I am not used to R2R sound?

Hi George, yes it’s set up with the “high output”. I suspect that I really do need the Renderer Module. Using an Analysis Plus digital coax cable , not sure it’s the best was to deal with the digital signal. 
I can only assume that I perhaps have not had enough “break in time” , although unlikely, as it’s had well over 100 hours so far.

Its totally smooth and a non fatiguing sound that is pleasant. Just lacking the urgency and upbeat sound of great rock music that I love. If all I had was jazz, Country, Blues, or classical music then life would be great. Unfortunately I have a vast rock/pop music collection and I am getting nervous that I have made a huge mistake.

In hindsight that dCS Bartok was really in another league to this MSB Premier, well for my music taste anyway.
i’m very sorry for your plight. i’ve definitely been there. suggestions from a long((very) time gear trading audionut.
1. don’t judge for a couple of weeks
2. if you’re still not happy i would suggest NOT pouring more money into it. if you don’t like the basic machine the upgrades won’t fundamentally change the character of the sound.
3. if you bought it new and your dealer is a good person and has other lines, figure out what might be better suited to your tastes. they generally don’t like the situation but your unit is new. be firm that if he/she won’t take it back for something else then you feel duped. now i’m way ahead of myself not knowing the dealer or your system but darn sure let him/her know you’re not happy. the sooner the better and seriously don’t add anything to the machine until you’re happy with the base unit. you didn’t ask for my advice so toss it if it has no merit.

4. do NOT count on it sounding better going direct. i’ve personally never found that i would be happy long term with that. there’s always some intangible element missing that makes music special. imho
rfc OP
Hi George, yes it’s set up with the “high output”

Then try the "low output" also hope it has enough volume level for you.

As if with the "high output" if you have to turn back the volume level too much, then this could be "bit striping" the digital resolution and could be what your hearing, a loss of resolution .
Just as Wadia says with their dacs direct to amp, max output level setting with dac volume controls.

If then on the low setting you find you don’t have enough level to go loud enough even full up, then you’ll either have to put in your Naim pre, or better still you could leave it on the "high output" setting, volume up and set at just a little below full (100?), so your not "bit striping" and then use a passive volume control between dac and amp to adjust your volume

Going direct is never easy, but if you get it right, you’ll be rewarded with the most transparent, dynamic, uncolored sound .

Cheers George
1) Give it some more time to break in

2) Get a second Discrete power supply. It makes a difference. If you have the money, Powerbase is best

3) Always use a preamp (or an Integrated Amp with a good preamp stage). A DAC is not a preamp, regardless of what they say

4) Everything is user dependable. Not everyone likes the same thing. MSB may or may not be what you like

Good luck, and enjoy the journey 
A DAC is not a preamp, regardless of what they say
Sorry but this need correcting and is a furphy ( ), the output stage on most dacs today (except tube ones) is every bit as good as a preamps output stage sometimes even better, as in the MSB case.

Cheers George
Sorry George, my experience has been different. And I actually own MSB

As for output settings. It should be set to “high” when not using a preamp or integrated amp. From the manual:

Output (Output Level)

• -6dB output level with a 150Ω output impedance. This setting is
recommended if you decide to use an external preamp

High (Default)
• Standard output level with a 300Ω output impedance

It may simply be that the OP does not like how MSB sounds. Which is perfectly normal. I am not a fanboy. We all like what we like. Cheers!
Sorry George, my experience has been different. And I actually own MSB
So do I, and get to see inside them and some of the circuits and what they consist of.

  It may simply be that the OP does not like how MSB sounds. Which is perfectly normal
You assume too much, he hasn't explored all the options yet as I've laid out, if you bother to talk to Jonathan Gullman (MSB) he will say the same. 

I am not a fanboy. We all like what we like. .
That's very obvious.
Oh I like MSB. I merely have the Discrete (with dual power supplies and the ProISL USB module), and have zero interest in upgrading, although I wish I had the cash for the Premier. 

And... I know Jonathan, and Vince Galbo, very well. 
And... I know Jonathan, and Vince Galbo, very well.
As do I, so now then can you ask them, (just don’t tell them your not a fanboy.)
To the options I laid out for the OP to try first, then ask the main one.
"is the output stage of the Premier dac as good to drive a poweramps direct as a preamp such as the Naim."
Or maybe I should just get Jonathan to answer here.
Seriously... what do you expect them to say?
I stand by my statement on the preamp. My experience. One man’s experience. Take it for what’s worth. Or don’t. We can agree to disagree. Cheers
We can agree to disagree.
No, because the OP has not yet tried all the options yet I laid out, to get all cons out of the equation.
Then if you saw, I did say to install the preamp back in as a last resort.
Agree on that. He should definitely give it a chance. Like in more time, and trying additional setting, and modules. Heck, now that I am rereading this, I don’t even know what input module he got
Thanks guys.
I have the “stock” MSB Premier 1x Discrete Power Supply - nothing extra.

I will play around with the settings George, I will even try the TOSLINK input as well. Just to make sure I have exhausted all options. I’ll even try and borrow a quality preamp. I have the Mola Mola Makua in mind.
Just get the Mola Mola  Makua with the DAC it's  Roon ready so you get it all in one box. 
I have asked that question today.
Awaiting the reply. Only issue is almost all high end audio manufacturing is shut down, UFN.

What stock dealers have now is it, for quit sometime I would imagine.