Conventional dual-active bridge topologies provide galvanic isolation and soft-switching over a reasonable operating range without dedicated resonant circuits. However, scaling the two-level dual-active bridge to higher dc voltage levels is impeded by several challenges among which the high dv/dt stress on the coupling transformer insulation. Gating and thermal characteristics of series switch arrays add to the limitations. To avoid the use of standard bulky modular multilevel bridges, this paper analyzes an alternative modulation technique, where staircase approximated trapezoidal voltage waveforms are produced; thus, alleviating developed dv/dt stresses. Modular design is realized by the utilization of half-bridge chopper cells. This way the analyzed dc-dc transformer employs modular multilevel converters operated in a new mode with minimal common-mode arm currents, as well as reduced capacitor size, hence reduced cell footprint. Suitable switching patterns are developed and various design and operation aspects are studied. Soft-switching characteristics will be shown to be comparable to those of the two-level dual-active bridge. Experimental results from a scaled test rig validate the presented concept.