DCS Bartok v Meitner MA3 v Esoteric N05XD

Anyone able to compare 2 of these?  Or lucky enough to hear all 3?


I spent a week with the Bartok and owned the Bricasti for a while. Haven't heard the Esoteric.


At the same time I had the Nagra Tube DAC and a Matrix X Sabre 3. I have also owned the Chord DAVE/M Scaler and a number of others.


I kept the demo Bartok for a week but knew within minutes it would be returned to the store. Very impressive sound, big, deep and quite realistic sounding. But a little colourless, a little slow, and a bit too smooth. I found it lacked dynamics and excitement where the music called for it, and was ultimately not particularly engaging. It was great hi fi but, to use a term that many people hate, I did not find it "musical".


The Meitner is much cheaper, and I found it better than the DCS. Better dynamics, no irritating artifacts (as the Chord DAVE had), but over time there was something about it that didn't quite gel with me. Tonally it was a little on the lighter side, and there was a slightly "processed" quality to the sound. I initially was very impressed with it, but over time I liked it increasingly less and eventually sold it. However, between the Meitner and the Bartok, I would unhesitatingly choose the Meitner.


But as I mentioned above, around the same time I had bought the Matrix X Sabre 3, which is much less expensive than any of the other DACs I have mentioned, although still not "cheap". I'm sure you could see where this is heading, but I much preferred the Matrix DAC. After a year or so, I still have it and am very happy with it. To my ears it does nothing wrong, has no irritating artificacts, has a natural sense of dynamics and tonal colour, and is very engaging and non-fatiguing.


Obviously, this is all down to personal preference, so take it with a grain of salt since everyone hears these things differently.

@rossb u just identified the holy grail of this audio hobby for me. That is, to find great gear without spending the absolute top dollar. And as u nicely point out, not spending top dollar does not mean cheap on an absolute sense.

@acurus I agree 100% with @rossb . I had a Bartok in my system a while back and I found it almost unlistenable, especially in the context of your query. I owned multiple Meitners in multiple systems and loved it. The sound, the functionality, it was just terrific. Then I heard the Bartok Apex in my system.


Its almost like the Bartok Apex was made by a different company and with different sonic goals. I’ve owned alot of dacs (including Nagra as well) and up until the Bartok Apex, I had settled in with a Totaldac D1-Tube-Mk3. The Apex anchors my system today. With that said, yes, everything is system dependent. The Meitner is an amazing dac at its pricepoint but it is not in the same leage as the Bartok Apex. The original Bartok wasnt either.


Regarding Esoteric digital, if that is something you lean toward then go that way…it isnt for me and Ive never been able to listen to Esoteric for longer than a few minutes at my dealer, let alone tempted to bring one home. It can, however, effectively cure a dark system instantly. The Matrix Rob has is very good…very natural in an R2R kind of way….the Merason sound also leans that way for very little $$.

I don’t have the Esoteric N05xd, but I do have the N01XD. Very analog sounding. The XD version is a big improvement from the previous series.