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Stellar Beta Tester Reviews
Topic Rating: +11 Topic Rating: +11 (15 votes) 
January 26, 2017
3:21 pm
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Welcome to the Stellar Beta Tester’s review forum. As soon as you receive your new Stellar amp or DAC and form an opinion, post it here. Short, long, detailed, whatever, let us know what you think, what you’re comparing it to, and how we did.

If there are questions, bugs or suggestions you want to ask, report, or suggest, head over to the Stellar Questions, Bugs and Suggestions forum instead.

Let’s do our best to keep the two separated. The reason for this is simple. Customers wishing to make purchasing decisions based on customer reviews want a clean and unedited group of reviews they can read without skipping through a lot of details, questions, and suggestions for future updates.

Thanks and let’s have some fun, reviewing and reporting on what I believe to be one of the most exciting and miraculous sounding line of audio products I’ve ever had the pleasure of being involved with.

The following users say thank you to Paul McGowan for this useful post:

Elk, oddeophile, uncola

Co-founder and CEO of PS Audio. Hobbies (other than audio) include cooking, artisan bread baking, writing The Carbon Wars, hiking and inventing stuff. Infinity IRSV, MG Audio Designs and Audioquest cables, five P10 Power Plants, DirectStream DAC, NuWave Phono Converter, Clear Audio Master turntable, Lyra Cartridge, BHK Monos and BHK preamp, LANRover USB Transporter. I live in Boulder Colorado with my wife Terri, both of us are vegetarians for many decades. If you want to see support my first shot at writing a novel go here.

February 2, 2017
4:01 pm
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My pair of black Stellar 300’s turned up today.

The system pre-Stellar is an Oppo HA-1 DAC/preamp/headphone amp fed digital data through a MiniDSP Dirac room correction box. There is a 4-way SP-DIF switcher  (the MiniDSP doesn’t have enough inputs) fed from a NuWave Phono Converter outputting data at 24 bit 96KHz from a Linn LP12 with n old Rega RB300 arm and an Ortofon 2M black.

The power amps were the monstrous Parasound 2250v2 machines; these lack XLR (balanced) inputs, so RCA connections were needed.. About 400W a channel into the speakers, which are the original (i.e, quite old) B&W 800D, with an impedance of 4 ohms. The speakers were driven bi-amped – so the right channel drove the woofers, and the left the mid and tweet.

The listening space is about 20×20 feet (but not square) with 10 ft ceilings, with a 20×15 ft kitchen and a 15×11 dining room opening directly onto that space. I’d always been a little disappointed with the bottom end of the B&W’s with the Parasounds, and invested in a pair of even more monstrous Rhythmik Audio powered subwoofers – 15″ aluminum drivers. These were driven off the XLR outputs of the Oppo, adjusted by ear for phase and level, and then a separate run of the MiniDSP/Dirac done. Yep – crossing the subs over at about 30Hz produced noticeably more substantive bass when it was actually present.

A key problem with the Parasounds was the presence of an audible ground loop (evident on the amps before them, too), which was tamed – completely removed – by the use of one ebtec Hum-X magic ground-loop remover.

The system really sounded rather good. 

So, at risk to back and sundry body parts, I hefted the Parasounds out of the way, hooked up the two Stellars (using a cheap’n’nasty adapter to split the feed from the preamp to the two channels), turned off and disconnected the subwoofers and fired up Mino Cinelu’s eponymous album. Orginally a CD, I’d transferred it into my current music server (an Olive ONE…) where it’s played back through a wired SP-DIF connection.

Goodness! Despite the slightly lower power of the Stellars, I was able to get 90+dB levels in the (largeish) room. And, for the first time sans subwoofers, there was solid chest-impacting bass. 

Next up was Blue Nile’s A Walk Across the Rooftops; Heatwave is a perennial favourite. Again, from the Olive, transferred to digital through the NuWave Phono Converter. Ooh – goodness, even on casual listening there was a bit more going on than I remembered.

Now I have to drive away and do some errands, so the machinery is left playing Best of the Shadows – you know, there’s a bit more going on in there than I’d noticed before, too. And, begum, there’s actual bass.

Bottom line – straight out of the box, these Stellars make my system sound better. Better bass; making the twiddly bits a bit clearer, no ground loop. All good.

More when they’ve had a chance to settle in a bit more.

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Dirk
February 2, 2017
4:54 pm
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Glad to hear that they are driving the 800’s well!cool

I look forward to hearing how the amps evolve during break in. 

Thanks for sharing Pete! 

February 3, 2017
11:17 am
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I moved a couple of posts that addressed potential flaws, etc. to the bugs/suggestions subforum.  If your post disappeared, this is where you will find it.

We need more reviews here!  What do you think of your Stellar amp and/or DAC after you have had a chance to listen? 

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Paul McGowan
February 3, 2017
2:24 pm
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can’t wait to do so, but seems not shipped yet

February 3, 2017
2:42 pm
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This tends to slow the review process a bit. :)

Welcome!  It will be fun to learn what you think.

February 4, 2017
4:36 pm
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Okay, so I am new to this sort of thing, hope this helps!

Picked up my Stellar S-300 stereo amplifier on Thursday, have had it running since Friday evening.   My system is a bit eclectic, making the most of old school equipment.  I have a Melos Maestro preamp feeding the Stellar S-300.  Sources include an old-school Rotel RCD-955AX cd player used as a transport for a PS Audio NuWave DSD.  Also running a Dual CS-5000 turntable with Grado Reference Platinum cartridge and custom phono preamp.  Interconnects are a mix of Kimber and Audioquest.  The S-300 feeds the Alon Model 1 speakers with Zu Audio WAX cables and IBIS bi-amp jumpers.  The whole system receives fresh power using a PS Audio Premier power regenerator.

Right out of the box, the S-300 presented a sound stage larger than previously experienced with the older Rotel amplifier.  Control was tighter, base was tighter, and the overall experience tighter.  After about 3 hours, I adjusted speaker placement to take better advantage of the expanded sound stage.  Fun stuff!

One thing surprising, the experience was not strained at all, the sound is very relaxed, not overly bright.  After approximately 6 hours, the unit is settling in nicely, both vinyl and digital sources are benefiting from the Stellar.  I have other systems to reference back to (not just getting used to the new sound), and am looking forward to reporting back as to how the burn in continues and settles in.

I was VERY surprised at which of my listening selections showed the most improvement – in several cases, it is actually quite remarkable.  Once the unit gets settled in, I will switch from single ended cables to Audioquest balanced cables to deliver from the Melos preamp to Stellar and see what happens then.

That is all for now ….. Thanks to everyone at PS Audio for all their efforts here! 

February 4, 2017
6:26 pm
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I received my Stellar GCD Beta (black) a couple of days ago.  Here is my initial test setup…

– Macbook Air using JRiver and DSD files; David Elias and others…

– LanRover from MBA to USB input on GCD

– Initial listening with headphones; B&W P7s

Build quality thoughts…

– I just happen to have the GCD sitting in some moderate sunlight for a few minutes in the living room before wiring it up.  Sunlight is very revealing and the top of the black GCD shows some tooling marks on the aluminum panel.  Picky, yes, but just being honest.  Also, the edges of the top and bottom aluminum panels show small bare marks where the silver aluminum shows through the black.  All-in-all, I don’t actually care about any of this.

– The volume resolver is not detented.  It is VERY smooth and responsive, but I would prefer some tactile feedback.  When using an extremely light touch on the resolver, one can feel faint notches in the rotation, but I don’t believe these are meant to be felt.

– The display is beautiful.  Is it an OLED?… whatever it is, it is color saturated, clear and crisp.  Very nice.

– The overall look and feel of the component is every bit as good as the Direct Stream series of products.

 

Initial listening…

– I started listening to David Elias’ Crossing album.  IMHO, this album is one of the best recorded acoustic albums I have ever heard.  The GCD’s headphone output is clean and clear.  Good treble and midrange details with tight, clean bass.  With the GCD volume set to 18 and with JRiver paused, there is an ever so slight hiss coming through the headphones.  However, it is VERY faint and takes some mindful listening to hear it.  Not really an issue, but it’s there.  

– Without going into more detail about the sound, I find the GCD to be very good.  Just my initial impression.  Not that I expected anything less.

– I just happen to have a set of Woo Audio WA7 FireFlies (the newest version from after March 16, 2016) sitting next to where I’m testing the GCD.  By pair, I mean the tube power supply and the DAC/tube headphone amp… hence, two units.  I don’t know if this an apples-to-apples comparison, but I couldn’t resist moving the USB output of the LanRover to the input of the WA7s.  The GCD has not been run but a few hours, so some break-in time is needed.  In comparison the WA7s have been run for dozens of hours.  

– The WA7 combo has more detail and warmth compared to the GCD.  There is a slight muffled nature to the sound from the GCD in comparison.  Voices are bit more forward and three dimensional with the WA7s.  Again, I don’t know if this is a fair comparison or not, but the WA7 combo costs about the same as the GCD, but the WA7 combo is not an input selector and “preamp”, so-to-speak, as the GCD is.  So, there is much more to the GCD and it fills an interesting product niche, in my opinion.  

I will report more as I test the other digital and analog inputs of the GCD, as well as the analog outputs to a power amp or powered studio monitors vs. the headphone output.

Cheers…

Gene

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Elk
February 4, 2017
7:07 pm
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I’ve listened to a couple of albums now (via JRiver as described above).  The sound is already coming alive… in fact, it’s faaaantastic!  I’m currently listening to Robert Cray, Strong Persuader (high rez FLAC file).  The detail and punch are just what they should be.  His voice is clear and centered, surrounded by nicely balanced treble and bass.  Another wonderfully engineered recording and the Stellar GCD shows it off in fine fashion.  The clarity has improved and the veil has lifted.  Wow, this is going to be fun!

Cheers…

Gene

February 4, 2017
8:52 pm
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S-300 stereo amp. Replaces Belles 150A Hotrod. S-300 more dynamic, less tubby and more revealing. Space & timing is very good, more hours on unit will help with warmth? So far, I’m very positive about this amp. I have played jazz, rock, and folk remastered cd’s I am familiar with to establish a baseline, so for the S-300 is delivering. 

February 5, 2017
6:57 am
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Gene said
I received my Stellar GCD Beta (black) a couple of days ago.  Here is my initial test setup…

– Macbook Air using JRiver and DSD files; David Elias and others…

– LanRover from MBA to USB input on GCD

– Initial listening with headphones; B&W P7s

Build quality thoughts…

– I just happen to have the GCD sitting in some moderate sunlight for a few minutes in the living room before wiring it up.  Sunlight is very revealing and the top of the black GCD shows some tooling marks on the aluminum panel.  Picky, yes, but just being honest.  Also, the edges of the top and bottom aluminum panels show small bare marks where the silver aluminum shows through the black.  All-in-all, I don’t actually care about any of this.

– The volume resolver is not detented.  It is VERY smooth and responsive, but I would prefer some tactile feedback.  When using an extremely light touch on the resolver, one can feel faint notches in the rotation, but I don’t believe these are meant to be felt.

– The display is beautiful.  Is it an OLED?… whatever it is, it is color saturated, clear and crisp.  Very nice.

– The overall look and feel of the component is every bit as good as the Direct Stream series of products.

 

Initial listening…

– I started listening to David Elias’ Crossing album.  IMHO, this album is one of the best recorded acoustic albums I have ever heard.  The GCD’s headphone output is clean and clear.  Good treble and midrange details with tight, clean bass.  With the GCD volume set to 18 and with JRiver paused, there is an ever so slight hiss coming through the headphones.  However, it is VERY faint and takes some mindful listening to hear it.  Not really an issue, but it’s there.  

– Without going into more detail about the sound, I find the GCD to be very good.  Just my initial impression.  Not that I expected anything less.

– I just happen to have a set of Woo Audio WA7 FireFlies (the newest version from after March 16, 2016) sitting next to where I’m testing the GCD.  By pair, I mean the tube power supply and the DAC/tube headphone amp… hence, two units.  I don’t know if this an apples-to-apples comparison, but I couldn’t resist moving the USB output of the LanRover to the input of the WA7s.  The GCD has not been run but a few hours, so some break-in time is needed.  In comparison the WA7s have been run for dozens of hours.  

– The WA7 combo has more detail and warmth compared to the GCD.  There is a slight muffled nature to the sound from the GCD in comparison.  Voices are bit more forward and three dimensional with the WA7s.  Again, I don’t know if this is a fair comparison or not, but the WA7 combo costs about the same as the GCD, but the WA7 combo is not an input selector and “preamp”, so-to-speak, as the GCD is.  So, there is much more to the GCD and it fills and interesting product niche in my opinion.  

I will report more as I test the other digital and analog inputs of the GCD, as well as the analog outputs to a power amp or powered studio monitors vs. the headphone output.

Cheers…

Gene

Thanks, Gene! Great initial review. Very thorough

Co-founder and CEO of PS Audio. Hobbies (other than audio) include cooking, artisan bread baking, writing The Carbon Wars, hiking and inventing stuff. Infinity IRSV, MG Audio Designs and Audioquest cables, five P10 Power Plants, DirectStream DAC, NuWave Phono Converter, Clear Audio Master turntable, Lyra Cartridge, BHK Monos and BHK preamp, LANRover USB Transporter. I live in Boulder Colorado with my wife Terri, both of us are vegetarians for many decades. If you want to see support my first shot at writing a novel go here.

February 5, 2017
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Stephen said
S-300 stereo amp. Replaces Belles 150A Hotrod. S-300 more dynamic, less tubby and more revealing. Space & timing is very good, more hours on unit will help with warmth? So far, I’m very positive about this amp. I have played jazz, rock, and folk remastered cd’s I am familiar with to establish a baseline, so for the S-300 is delivering. 

Thanks! Keep us up to date with your progress and descriptions.

Co-founder and CEO of PS Audio. Hobbies (other than audio) include cooking, artisan bread baking, writing The Carbon Wars, hiking and inventing stuff. Infinity IRSV, MG Audio Designs and Audioquest cables, five P10 Power Plants, DirectStream DAC, NuWave Phono Converter, Clear Audio Master turntable, Lyra Cartridge, BHK Monos and BHK preamp, LANRover USB Transporter. I live in Boulder Colorado with my wife Terri, both of us are vegetarians for many decades. If you want to see support my first shot at writing a novel go here.

February 5, 2017
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I received my S300 amp on Friday.  The front of the amp does not bear close scrutiny due to scuffs but, from a listening distance is not visible.

On to the listening….. Initially, the sound had no bottom end and sounded THIN.  At that rate it was on a fast track for a return if it didn’t open up with some more time.

I recently purchased a Marantz AV8802A which has balanced connection capability.  This was one of my motivations for purchasing the S300.  

I decided to remove my MIT single ended cables ($600 for comparison purposes) and switched to the balanced connections (Mogami XLT $80) which are the only balanced cables I own.  HORKY FINORKY!  and WOW! simultaneously!!!!  Suddenly, the amp exploded with detail, bottom end heft and specificity of instrument placement.  Once again, WOW!  I had no idea an amplifier could be such a significant difference.  This literally kicked sand in the face of my Outlaw 140 watt per channel amp.  I had no complaints with that amp either.  I was very pleased with it prior to this.  It’s a great home theater work horse.  2 channel music listening?  No comparison.

Speakers: Martin Logan ESL

 

I’m very pleased.  Now if only the cosmetics were right…..

February 6, 2017
7:52 pm
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Elk said
I moved a couple of posts that addressed potential flaws, etc. to the bugs/suggestions subforum.  If your post disappeared, this is where you will find it.

We need more reviews here!  What do you think of your Stellar amp and/or DAC after you have had a chance to listen? 

While I appreciate being accepted as a Beta Tester, but I gotta admit I am very cranky that i paid immediately and while PS Audio wasted no time to hit my credit card, today I get a “not gonna ship” message?????? 

ELK you gotta get real about wanting reviews when the company is unable to hold up its end!  IMHO you should direct your focus internally and work on resuscitating PS Audio’s Stellar reputation.

February 6, 2017
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Tom, I am sorry you are frustrated.    This complaint came up previously and Paul nicely addressed this issue here, et seq.

Please understand I am not affiliated with PS Audio.  I am just a lowly volunteer.

February 7, 2017
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Hi all, sorry for the rant … i was told last Monday that the items were shipping that day or the next and this Monday i get “oops” it is several weeks out… reading the great comments added to the frustrating delays, things sorta boiled overembarassed

February 7, 2017
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Hi Tom and sorry about that. It is indeed frustrating to get conflicting information. What did you order?

Co-founder and CEO of PS Audio. Hobbies (other than audio) include cooking, artisan bread baking, writing The Carbon Wars, hiking and inventing stuff. Infinity IRSV, MG Audio Designs and Audioquest cables, five P10 Power Plants, DirectStream DAC, NuWave Phono Converter, Clear Audio Master turntable, Lyra Cartridge, BHK Monos and BHK preamp, LANRover USB Transporter. I live in Boulder Colorado with my wife Terri, both of us are vegetarians for many decades. If you want to see support my first shot at writing a novel go here.

February 7, 2017
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I asked for the Stellar GCD and the M700’s .. my best/favorite “past” system had a GCC, so i am anxious to see this latest incarnation!!

February 7, 2017
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I would have thought the GCD would have shipped already – but I know the M700s won’t be released for another few weeks – they are just coming in now.

The following users say thank you to Paul McGowan for this useful post:

Elk

Co-founder and CEO of PS Audio. Hobbies (other than audio) include cooking, artisan bread baking, writing The Carbon Wars, hiking and inventing stuff. Infinity IRSV, MG Audio Designs and Audioquest cables, five P10 Power Plants, DirectStream DAC, NuWave Phono Converter, Clear Audio Master turntable, Lyra Cartridge, BHK Monos and BHK preamp, LANRover USB Transporter. I live in Boulder Colorado with my wife Terri, both of us are vegetarians for many decades. If you want to see support my first shot at writing a novel go here.

February 7, 2017
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“Suddenly, the amp exploded with detail, bottom end heft and specificity of instrument placement.”

Hello,

It will be greatly appreciated if anyone has insights into why I would experience such a significant difference when switching from single ended to balanced connections.

Thank you in advance.

February 7, 2017
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Hi drewmb1,

Is this the first time you are running balanced to an amplifier? What is your source and preamp? 

Is the XLR cable the same brand as the RCA?

February 7, 2017
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Hello Darren,

Yes, this is the first time I’ve owned equipment at this quality level:

Marantz AV8802A processor/ pre-amp

Stellar S300 Amp

MIT single ended cables ($600 for comparison purposes)

Mogami XLT $80 which are the only balanced cables I own.

 

Sincerely,

 

Drew

February 7, 2017
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So far so good! I’m only 75 hours in and I’m absolutely loving my Stellar Gain Cell Dac!! Expansive soundstage, beautiful dynamics, crisp and warm, musical sounding, detailed, sharp looking in black with a gorgeous display, and able to expertly handle everything I’ve thrown at it. From Seal to Chopin, Hebie Hancock to Bach Solo Cello Suites, Adel to the Beatles, and the Who to Frank Sinatra, it all sounds amazing. Voicing of every source is equally well implemented. Streaming, cds and vinyl each sound, well in a word, “Stellar”. Did I mention I love it!!!

My system:

PS Audio Cell Gain Dac
KEF R700’s
Rega Apollo R CD Transport
VPI Scout Jr. Turntable/Ortophon 2M Cartridge
PS Audio CGPH Phono Preamplifier
Parasound A21 Amplifier
Auralic Aries Music Streamer
Anticables 3.1 Interconnects & Speaker Wire
PS Audio AC5 Power Cables
PS Audio Dectet (coming soon)

February 7, 2017
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Hi Drew,

Unfortunately, I can’t give you an answer to why the balanced cables are sounding better in your system. 

Does it boil down to noise rejection? The preamp that is used? A different harmonic distortion profile? These are all possibilities but not necessarily the correct questions. 

In the end, it’s so important to trust your ears. When you’re enjoying the music more, you can be confident that you’ve gone in the right directionlaugh

February 7, 2017
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Hi Folks….  Craig from Boulder here with a preliminary setup and early listening review of my new Stellar Gain Cell DAC.  I picked it up from Kevin Jackson Monday at PS Audio here in Boulder.  Kevin gave me a gracious tour of the shop, introduced me to many folks including Paul, and I was impressed with busy, happy, involved and open atmosphere.  The PS museum includes samples of my well used and great sounding PS Audio 200C amp.

I am in the process of bringing my old analog stereo system into the digital age and moving away from a large vinyl collection with all the attendant futsing around and storage issues.  But I still want to hear great music for music’s sake.  I’m particularly interested in SACD sources.  My current listening room is just our large living room with high ceilings, no walls behind the speakers, a window wall 2 ft from the right side and the left side opening into an open dining room.  Listening position is mid room and mid between the speakers.  Carpeting, high ceilings and openness can give a good experience without excessive room resonances. There is some high frequency reinforcement from the right side window wall, but, the listening position obscures much of this.  The system before the Stellar GCD was:

Dunlavy Audio SCIV.A speakers

PS Audio 200C amplifier

Sonic Frontiers Line 1 tube preamp

Oppo 103 transport for CDs, SACDs, Tidal streaming, etc

Sonos Connect for internet sources

Essence HDACC DAC

SOTA Saphire turntable with Meridian arm and nondescript Ortofon cartridge.  Little to not at all used in last 15 years.

Yes…..it’s all antique, but it can still rock the house.

Setup included experimenting with all the ways to get all the sources best connected to the GCD.  All digital sources are now into the GCD except SACD output from the Oppo which must still rely on the Essence DAC for D to A given Sony/Philips licensing….(and that I don’t have a PS Audio Direct Stream Memory Player).  Currently the non-SACD output of the Oppo player is spdif coax to GCD input 5 and the Sonos is coax to i/p 6.  SACD input is balanced analog 1 via the Essence.  So all digital inputs are using the GCD DAC and preamp….SACD only the GCD preamp.

My first impression is that the GCD is notably better than my old Essence/Sonic Frontiers combo.  When the old pre and the Essence are out of the system the image is more precise, less veiled (cliche, I know but absolutely true!), detail is more right in front of me, less smeared.  What that does to the soundstage is impressive, not necessarily wider, but placement is more precise and the front to back depth is enhanced.  The second big first impression is of the bass…fullness and extension with precise placement of, especially, acoustic, stand up bass.  I listened to Holly Cole Trio/Don’t Smoke In Bed, both CD and SACD(through the Essence DAC into GCD analog). (this CD sold me some Thiel CS3.5 speakers 20 year ago). Piltch’s acoustic bass showed that balanced bass extension and presence in spades!  Holly’s voice was sweet, defined with no sign of digital screech/grundge. The piano was as close to “in the room” as I have heard here.  The SACD version of the same album was very good….but, missing some of the clarity that the GCD imparted to the plain old red book CD.  The difference, I think,  is which DAC is doing the DACing here. The Essence is upsampling LPCM 88.2 to 192K, then pushing it through whatever DAC is in there.  The analog preamp part of the GCD is doing a great job with what it is getting from the Essence, but, I have to say, the red book CD version using the GCD DAC and preamp sounds better than the SACD through the Essence DAC thence to the GCD preamp section.  This is depressing, given what I had hoped for from SACDs…..but, gives me inspiration to, someday, get a transport that will feed native DSD to my GCD.

That experience with improved sound from the GCD DAC vs the Essence is upheld with internet digital sources: Crisper, more precise soundstage with front to back depth.  It’s harder to know what you are really getting from Tidal and internet radio, but, the observations based on CD/SACD sources seemed to hold up.

That’s all I have for initial listening tests.   More to come with further listening.

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Dirk
February 8, 2017
8:49 pm
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The more hours I spend with my system with the S300 in it, the more I realize what was missing. This amp has depth, and clarity my previous one, I truly believe, never had. Every listening session is more revealing than the last, it’s breaking in nicely. The S300 has yet to sound strained, or compressed. Good stuff!

February 9, 2017
8:46 am
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[ I apologize for the length…I’m paid by the word]

I received shipment of the Stellar Gain Cell DAC yesterday and want to share a few impressions. More detailed listening and usability notes will come later.

Packaging was of high quality, though the remote and batteries were out of their bag and wandering free in the box. Given that the box was outside for a few hours in February in Minnesota, I gave the unpacked GCDAC an hour or so to acclimate before hooking it up.

Hookup was uneventful, apart from my perennial struggle to see and navigate behind my equipment stand.

I connected the Oppo (see The HARDWARE Store at bottom) to the GCDAC by both TOSLINK and coax. I don’t presently have a way to use USB (my PC is a distance away; I only have Ethernet near my audio system). I connected the GCDAC to the SP3 using an Audioquest Jaguar IC, in this case RCA terminated, using 2 channel bypass. At some point I will try XLR/balanced, but will have to scavenge to do that. I plugged the GCDAC into a regenerated power outlet on the P500, using the cable provided. When everything is on, the P500 indicates a draw of 130W, which is well below the capacity.

I let a recording that I’m not overly familiar with play for a few hours, paying little attention to the sound.

My primary point of comparison is the DAC in the SP3 as fed by the Oppo. I seldom use the Oppo’s DAC, for no particular reason (haven’t compared them). I haven’t had an outboard DAC since a Bel Canto DAC 1.5, years ago. Until recently, my primary digital source was a Bel Canto PL-1a.

LISTENING parameters:

I’m going to use the word “voice” when I mean both human voices and instruments, for brevity (despite my pay structure). Direct comparisons with my reference (SP3 decoding) are a bit challenging in that switching from the GCDAC analog input in 2 channel bypass to the HDMI input takes a few seconds. I think the challenge is less the few seconds, and more the drama of HDMI handshaking and the distinct mechanical clicking sounds.

If I hear a difference, I will report it. If that difference strikes me as better, I’ll note that too. Since I’m not comparing the GCDAC with a Close’n Play, I expect differences to be subtle. I don’t expect to report a lot of night and day differences. This is all well engineered, soundly performing equipment.

It’s also set up well and in a good sounding room. I’m not claiming that I adhere to every tenet of Jim Smith’s “Get Better Sound”, but I have a copy and I am not violating any major principals.

Initial LISTENING impressions:

Playing some familiar recordings and favorite pieces, I found the GCDAC slightly laid-back compared to the SP3, enhancing the sense of depth and taking a bit of glare away. This didn’t come from a lack of detail or sparkle, rather a more relaxed presentation, and a more pronounced sense of space. Imagine the music coming from a 3D space with individual voices suspended by layers of fabric. Compared to my reference, the GCDAC removed glare from the voices, and the fabric was both stronger, anchoring the voices more firmly and distinctly in place, and more transparent. The sense of transparency manifested as a sharper focus of each voice. The “fuzzier” fabric of my reference gives voices an artificial glow, as you might see from a street light on a foggy night. When the fuzzy fabric is replaced with the transparent, it reveals more of the true nature of the voice. A fuzzy glow may look/sound “nice”, but it’s not real (unless added in the recording or mastering process).

I have a few Reference Recordings CDs of the Minnesota Orchestra playing in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. I was a subscriber for several seasons and still attend occasional symphony concerts there. I am very familiar with the superb acoustics. Over several iterations of hardware, I’ve been able to clearly discern the sense of space in Orchestra Hall through playback of these exceptional recordings. I expected to hear the same with the GCDAC. I did, but it was a more open hall with a more relaxed sound. It didn’t make me want to struggle to hear what was recorded; it let me listen.

Overall, my initial impressions over a few hours are of a clearer sense of space, a more transparent presentation of the voices and a more relaxed setting with a reduction in fatigue causing glare. I haven’t happened across an abysmal recording suddenly rendered magical…yet.

More to come. CV

The HARDWARE Store:

Oppo BDP-105d (latest firmware) / disc + Tidal HiFi

Bryston SP3

Bryston 6B SST2 (front Left, Center, Right)

Bel Canto S300 (surround amplifier)

Revel Ultima Studio, Voice, Embrace, Sub30

PS Audio P500 Power Plant for Oppo, SP3, Stellar GCDAC

Audioquest cables (Jaguar, Pike’s Peak, other)

Pangea power cables

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Dirk

Oppo BDP-105d | PS Audio Directstream Jr

Bryston SP3 | Bryston 6B SST2 | Bel Canto S300

Revel Ultima Studio, Voice, Embrace, Sub30

PS Audio P500 Power Plant | Audioquest cables (Jaguar, Pike's Peak, other)

February 9, 2017
9:05 am
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Another good review….. very insightful !

February 10, 2017
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I received my S300 about a week ago now and have about 50 hours of operation on it now. For the break-in I’ve set up a playlist of Blues, Rock, Jazz, and Alternative music.  I’ve left in on the whole time even when not playing music.  No noise/hum issues at all, it’s been dead quiet. 

My system consists of:  MacMini/Jriver MC22 setup, going through LanRover to utilize an ethernet network from my home office to listening room.  LanRover Receiver connects to a Cardas Clear USB to an iFi Micro USB-Spdif converter to a Dodson 217 DAC mk2 that feeds my Ayre K-3x with phono.  Cables are all XLR.   Auditorium 23 speaker cables to my Speakers: Unity Signature 1’s.  

I’ve stepped in to check on the s300 progress after each day and have found it’s still improving.  It’s gone through a couple of major changes especially around the 30 hour mark.   It’s tonal balance has gone from lean sounding to being about perfect to my ears.   Voices sound full and natural, pianos, well they sound like pianos, with great tone, decay and texture.  Very natural sounding,  no straining or over exaggeration.  The sound stage is impressive, being wider than the speakers yet focused and non-wavering.  The sound stage height stretches just above the height of the speakers.  Depth is about average (my speakers have always brought the venue/musicians to me, but never from deep behind the speakers, I call it a more “live” presentation).   Bass is really improving to the point of being the best I’ve heard from my speakers, real bass with texture!   As of now, I’m mightily impressed yet still hoping it continues to improve. 

February 10, 2017
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A few weeks ago I was viewing the PS Audio web page and noticed the new Stellar products.  I noticed the Beta Tester page as well.  I was one of the original five beta testers of the HCA-2 about 15 years ago.  I still have it.  It is my only amp.  I was excited about a new generation of PSA class D amps.  My current system is about 15 to 17 years old, so I decided now was the time for an upgrade.  I decided to participate as a beta tester of the Stellar S300 and the Stellar Gain Cell DAC.  I would have chosen the M700 but there were none available.  I was interested in the S300 as a replacement for the HCA-2 and the GCDAC as a replacement for my preamp.  I purchased a Direct Stream Junior DAC from PSA and found a dealer with a ‘new in box’ Perfect Wave Transport that I also purchased.

The DSJ arrived first.  Even though I am 64, I was like a kid at Christmas.  I opened the outer brown cardboard box and removed the inner white cardboard box.  I opened this white box and looked in.  There was the DSJ wrapped in a plastic bag.  It was suspended in the center of the box between two plastic sheets each fastened at the perimeter to a cardboard border.  The remote was sealed in bubble wrap with the batteries which were sealed separately.  There was a plastic bag with the owner’s manual, a couple sheets of some other info, and a pair of white gloves.  A power cord was also included.  It was an excellent job of packaging and an excellent presentation of the DSJ.  I removed the DSJ from the box and then from the plastic and set it on the table.  It is a great looking component.  A quality look that is expected from a fine piece of audio gear.  A few days later the PWT arrived.  The experience with it was the same as with the DSJ.  Well done PSA!

Two days ago the GCDAC arrived.  I was as excited for this as I had been for the DSJ and the PWT.  As before, I opened the outer brown box and then the inner white box and looked in.  I was very surprised.  The packaging/presentation was not what I expected.  There was no owner’s manual, no white gloves, no power cord.  The remote was not sealed in the bubble wrap and had almost worked itself free.  The batteries had been rolling around in the box.  The emotional excitement I had felt with the DSJ and the PWT was replaced with disappointment.

I removed the GCDAC from the box and then from the plastic.  This was not the same quality look as the DSJ or the PWT nor the HCA-2.  The top of the unit had a significant scratch.  The flat-head screws did not fit flush with the top of the unit.  The screws were not vertical and therefore the heads were angled and protruded from the top of the unit.  The beveling for the screw heads to recess into was too shallow.  Some of the black screws on the back of the unit around the inputs and outputs were not screwed in all the way.  The edges of the frame were not evenly polished and there were blemishes in the finish (similar to what I’ve seen in other posts).  Disappointment and surprise art two good words to sum up my feelings.

For me listening to good music can be an intensely emotional experience.  That is why I love it so much.  The interaction with high quality components that reproduce the music can have its emotional aspect as well.  The emotional experience with the GCDAC was as low as the experience with the DSJ & PWT was high.  Based on my experience with PSA products to this point, it is my expectation/opinion that the GCDAC contains high quality parts and will provide excellent, enjoyable performance.  If that is the case, then these components deserve and customers deserve a nicer house for them to live in.

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