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Stellar Beta Tester Reviews
Topic Rating: +11 Topic Rating: +11 (15 votes) 
February 10, 2017
10:36 am
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Kurt said
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. 

Kurt, what amp were you using ?

UpToneLPS-1/ISORegen/microRenndu/USB>PSA DirectStreamDAC>PSA BHK SignaturePreAmp>qol>NCore400 w/P.I.Audio mods>Sophia3's/JL f112's; SonicTransporter/Synology 412+. VPI TT>PSA NPC; OPPO 103D/Vanity HD; AppleTv>Integra80.2>HT mode BHK; Epson 5030 Video; Seven PSA PowerBases; Iconoclast TPC XLR IC's;Three P.I.Audio DgiBUSS's, power cables & UBERBUSS; AirPort Extreme. Dedicated 16x23X10 room w/ ASC treatment/double walled/2 ply Iso-Wall Construction.

February 10, 2017
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Rogerdn, I have had a few amps through, but the ones I enjoy the most are PSE Studio 5 monos and a Museatex STR 55 (upgraded).  I’ve also tried Krell, Plinius, VTL, AudioMat and Ayre amps. 

February 10, 2017
11:02 am
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Kurtkwk, I’d be interested in your S300 impressions.

UpToneLPS-1/ISORegen/microRenndu/USB>PSA DirectStreamDAC>PSA BHK SignaturePreAmp>qol>NCore400 w/P.I.Audio mods>Sophia3's/JL f112's; SonicTransporter/Synology 412+. VPI TT>PSA NPC; OPPO 103D/Vanity HD; AppleTv>Integra80.2>HT mode BHK; Epson 5030 Video; Seven PSA PowerBases; Iconoclast TPC XLR IC's;Three P.I.Audio DgiBUSS's, power cables & UBERBUSS; AirPort Extreme. Dedicated 16x23X10 room w/ ASC treatment/double walled/2 ply Iso-Wall Construction.

February 10, 2017
1:29 pm
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Just a quick note.

Sitting here listening to the 72-hour-old GCD playing Fragile from the Kenny Barron Trio. Served up via Roon and upsampled to DSD128.

There is a lot going on in this track between the piano, bass, and drum kit. I can hear and differentiate it all. Precise, deep soundstage. I can hear drummer Victor Lewis’ light cymbal and snare taps clearly, and they are coming from the right place. Awesome.

More later.

Speakers: Thiel CS-1.5, MartinLogan Dynamo sub DAC/Pre: PS Audio Gain Cell DAC Amp: Odyssey Khartago
Server PC: i5-3570K 3.4MHz running Roon  Endpoint: Sonore microRendu
Cables: Cardas Golden Cross interconnect, Speltz Anti-Cable speaker wire.

February 11, 2017
4:48 pm
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Old setup–Belcanto dac 1.5, Belcano ref500s, 

remaining setup

psaudio nuwave phone convertor

VPI classic-with

https://www.musicdirect.com/phono-cartridges/soundsmith-vpi-zephyr-high-output-moving-iron-phono-cartridge

using the xlr analog output to the xlr analog input on the gain cell

Dynaudio Focus 260  Dynaudio powered sub running off of the line out from the gain cell

 

win10 based all solid state pc w/jriver

all cables and power cords are excellent quality

most of my files are FLAC

1st impressions

with in a few moments the bass was more controlled and seemed deeper–not only from lp but digital as well.

I find music I am familiar w/ significant improvement all aspects of the sound, instrument separation is better,  i am not setting the volume so high (I believe the Gain Cell is responsible for this)  The VPI is the star of the system.  There are sounds in the grooves of my lp’s that have suddenly emerged. Dave Brubeck, Robert Glaspher,  Donald Fagen, Steely Dan, Snarky Puppy, Stan Getz, Chuck Mangione, Allman Brothers are being rediscovered.    

When running netflix or amazon prime video I find that I can here what is being said better.  Gun fire during a movie was startling at first it was so real

When using youtube for music i am just blown away at the improvement in the sound.  As stated above the percussion and low notes are deeper and more full than with the belcanto setup.  

Update February 11

As things start to burn in I continue to be pleased w/ the detail of the sound.  Both Duncan and Jeremy suggested I hook up the NuWave to the gcd w/ the digital hdmi connection (proprietary to psaudio) as other customers report liking this digital setup.   IMO it did not sound as good as the xlr analog connection.  Low notes and percussion were not as detailed.   This deficit was even more noticeable w/ headphones (Sennheiser HD-400  Very Very Very old).   The ability to run straight analog is brilliant by combining the best of the past and present.  I have been hard pressed to here a digital recording that sounds better than the 60lb VPI.  

I have also noticed all the same improvements running Jriver.  The gcd is reveling more than the belcanto dac 1.5.  

Fit and finish is not as solid as the NuWave. Some of the screws were not seated well on the amp and when in sunlight it looks inconsistent.  Although the sound is great it seems to missing that feel by hitting the lower price point.  

All in all i am very pleased 

Cheers all,

Stephen

February 13, 2017
2:31 pm
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Craig in Boulder here again.  My beta experience with the Stellar GCD is going very well.  Overall, I’m pleased with the performance in my particular system.  See previous post for hardware.  I am glad to say that my unit is well put together and is not exhibiting the construction issues that others have noted.  The screws are straight and properly seated.  The display fits well in the front panel.  The case is certainly not fancy nor highly engineered, but what’s inside is performing Very Well indeed.  One comment on the black case of my GCD, (it’s serial 48, I think).  The case is brushed aluminum with the brush grain front to back.  The brushing is a bit deep which results in the roughness that others have noted.  Wiping the surface right-left-right can have the effect of a nail file.  So, when dusting the top I swipe front to back with the grain.  

As for current listening, it is still Sonos Connect for internet radio, the Oppo transport for CDs and SACDs and for Tidal online streaming. I am using filter #1 primarily. I find myself digging further back in my CD collection and finding renewed enjoyment in old favorites.  Many are digitally mastered (or 20 bit remastered) from the time when that was a new thing.  Many selections from Sheffield Labs, DMP, ECM, Telarc and GRP make for good critical listening.  My previous impressions (vs my previous preamp and DAC) are reinforced: excellent bass extension, deeper front to back soundstage, more precise placement and crisp percussion.  On some older and less well recorded/mastered AnalogAnalogDigital jazz, that kind of precise imaging may never be there but my listening enjoyment is still enhanced: improved dynamic range, crisper transients and that extended bass.

More to come with further listening.

February 14, 2017
8:20 pm
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That’s a  BIG Ten Four and an AMEN!

February 14, 2017
8:57 pm
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S300 Stereo Amp never ceases to amaze & enlighten me. I hear greater clarity & detail from all the cd’s I’ve played through it. Dynamics, detail, and accuracy. I am very well pleased.

February 15, 2017
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Part of the fun of being an audiophile has involved discovering the leaps in quality that trickle down from the most expensive, barrier-breaking gear to the more affordable (alas, rarely cheap) products that manage to convey 90% of what the best has to offer. PS Audio has a history of providing high-value gear that challenges products costing significantly more. In the last few years especially, I’ve been amazed at what this team has put out, especially since the break-through Direct Stream DAC. I’ve had the privilege of beta-testing their BHK Signature pre-amp, the more recent Direct Stream Memory Player (yikes, what a performer that is!), and now the new Stellar S300 amp. I’ve also got the Stellar Gain Cell DAC/Pre on hand, and will have some comments on that unit soon.

 

For now, though, some observations on the new stereo amp.

 

Packing: The amp arrives in the standard double box, but PS Audio has found a method of packing that uses interlocking cardboard to suspend the amp inside. It arrived perfectly intact. Getting it back in (should the need arise) would seem a bit tricky, though.

 

Fit and Finish: As PS Audio’s website suggests, the casework has been designed with high design efficiency in mind. Two aluminum panels (mine are black) make up the top/front and bottom/front. The sides and rear are powder-coated steel. The simple industrial design is appealing, and it’s simplicity conveys that the real goods are inside.

 

The rear panel includes 2 speaker taps for each channel. The speaker taps are high-quality metal, as nice as I’ve seen on a high-end amp, allowing spade, bare wire, or banana terminations. Inputs are supplied in single-ended and balanced configurations. There’s a power switch, and a warning sticker: connect the power cord FIRST, THEN flip the rear switch. As is typical of all recent PS Audio gear, the front logo is the On/Standby switch.

 

Connections: I’ve done most of my listening with single-ended Audioquest (about $200 the pair) interconnects from the preamp, mimicking the kind of set-up most buyers will use for this amp. However, I have to mention that the Stellar S300 performed a bit better when I used Cardas Golden Reference balanced cables. Just the same, all my comments on sound quality are based on sessions with the single-ended cables in play.

 

Break-in: Out of the box, one notices a fair amount of grain, even a slight shrillness in the lower treble. This improves within several hours, and nearly disappears after about 100 hours. I played digital content on repeat for several days before doing any serious listening. An additional 50 hours or so yielded a subtle but noticeable improvement in sound quality. At the time of this review, I’ve had the Stellar S300 in my main listening room for almost 2 weeks.

 

I’ve been through a number of amps in the last 25 years, especially so in the last 7. Most recently I obtained a pair of PS Audio BHK Signature 300 monoblocks, which are the finest (and most expensive) amps I’ve ever owned. I still have on hand a beloved pair of Quicksilver V4 tube monoblocks, and a pair of Mark Levinson No. 434 monoblocks. Prior to these, I’ve owned stereo amps by Parasound, Sonic Frontiers and Mark Levinson. I remember well their sonic qualities and shortcomings.

 

When it comes to amps, I’m ever in search of certain traits: macro- and micro-dynamics, a sense of space around the instruments (what some refer to as “air”), depth of sound-stage as well as width and height, and tight, solid bass. I’ve learned over the years that this is a tall order for an amp, and compromises of one or more of these characteristics are common.

 

Although I’m clear that compromises were made to produce great sound at the price point of the Stellar S300, it takes a bit of work to focus on them, so musical is this amp! The bass is as tight as I’ve heard in any of the other amps I’ve owned with the exception of the BHK Sig. The soundstage is as dimensional as I’ve heard from any amp, and better than the other stereo amps I’ve owned. The definition of voices is very good, with plenty of space around the instruments of a jazz combo, and accurate characterization of grouped instruments in an orchestra. The Stellar S300 is so good at these feats that most of my listening sessions with it have found me lost in the music, and not wondering if I was missing out on some quality that my more expensive amps might provide. OK, so there’s no happy glow of those beautiful Golden Lion KT88s in my Quicksilver amps with their tube warmth and midrange purity; and the delicacy and thunder of the BHK Signatures aren’t there. But, 2 minutes into whatever is playing, I quit thinking about all that!

 

So, where are the drawbacks? Well, minor as they are, they’re where you’d expect them to be. The upper midrange and lower treble aren’t quite as effortless and smooth as with either the Quicksilvers or the BHK Signatures. There’s just a little bit of grain left, though, quite honestly, it’s hard to distinguish when you start listening to the music. The Stellar S300 does not provide the ultimate in macro-dynamics, though, again, it’s not all that obvious. Finally, I don’t know just how good the bass really is. My Quad 2905s provide high quality bass down to about 35 Hz,  and the Stellar S300 gives them all the support they need. So, in my room, the bass is nearly as good as I’ve heard (again, the BHK Sigs provide a bit more). I can’t know, however, how more bass-proficient speakers might sound with this amp. For that, I await comments from other users.

 

A word on value. About 8 years ago I bought the Mark Levinson No. 434 monoblocks. They went for $8000 the pair, and they looked and sounded as good as I’d come to expect for that kind of money. I was happy! They are still very good amps by today’s standards. When I think about how much performance PS Audio has managed to put into a stereo amp that costs less than 20% of what the Mark Levinson’s cost, however, I’m simply amazed. It doesn’t look as expensive, but it’s performance leaves little to forgive.

 

Most of what I’ve always searched for in an amp is there in the Stellar S300. Although I’m very happy with the BHK Signature 300s—and I still sometimes miss the colorations and dimensionality that go with my tube amps—I can’t help thinking that, if I’d happened upon this amp earlier, I might not have sought out the much more expensive amps.

 

I guess that’s how this game goes! We audiophiles are ever looking for the next meaningful improvement in our systems, or are dangerously curious about the magic in a component that’s captured our attention. When I’m listening to the Stellar S300, I’ve found myself not thinking about any of that—just the music.

The following users say thank you to mggm56 for this useful post:

Dirk, Peanut Butter, jdaun

PS Audio: DMP, DSD Dac/Bridge II, BHK Signature Pre, BHK Signature 300 Monoblocks, PWP 5; Linn Sondek/Kore/Ekos/Kristal/Lingo/Linto; Mark Levinson No. 326s Preamplifier; Quicksilver V4 Monoblocks; Quad 2905s; Audience AU24SE interconnects and speaker cable, Audience Powercord SE, Pangea Powercords; QNAP NAS, Mac Mini 2014, MacBook 2010, JRiver 21.

February 16, 2017
2:05 am
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 Another excellent review:

 “”When I’m listening to the Stellar S300, I’ve found myself not thinking about any of that—just the music””. 

That last line says it all about P S Audio equipment !

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

swb1509@gmail.com
February 16, 2017
9:53 am
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Mggm56.   Great review, your’s is one of the best I’v read on this amp, very helpful and objective.

UpToneLPS-1/ISORegen/microRenndu/USB>PSA DirectStreamDAC>PSA BHK SignaturePreAmp>qol>NCore400 w/P.I.Audio mods>Sophia3's/JL f112's; SonicTransporter/Synology 412+. VPI TT>PSA NPC; OPPO 103D/Vanity HD; AppleTv>Integra80.2>HT mode BHK; Epson 5030 Video; Seven PSA PowerBases; Iconoclast TPC XLR IC's;Three P.I.Audio DgiBUSS's, power cables & UBERBUSS; AirPort Extreme. Dedicated 16x23X10 room w/ ASC treatment/double walled/2 ply Iso-Wall Construction.

February 16, 2017
11:46 am
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Current setup –

  • NAD M12 digital preamp, with BlueSound streaming card (streaming FLAC and Tidal HiFi)
  • Battery powered Signature 30.2 LFPV amplifier with tube input stage, by Red Wine Audio
  • Sterling Silver Iris 15″ coaxial open baffle speakers, with 15″ powered open baffle subwoofers, by Hawthorne Audio

Switched out the Red Wine amp for the S300.

Initial impression – out of the box, the S300 treble is detailed, but somewhat bright and grainy. Clearly some burn-in required.  Background is quite black. Put your ear up against the speaker cone, and you’ll hear a very very very slight hiss, but no more than with the battery powered Red Wine amp, and less than other solid state amps I’ve auditioned.

Let the S300 play unattended for 24 hours. Treble grain mostly gone now, and the bass has kicked in – OMG. The S300 bass digs much deeper, and with greater detail, than the Red Wine. Night and day. The S300 also exerts incredibly tight control over these 15″ woofers!

Let the amp run another 72 hours. About 100 hrs total now. Wow. Everything seems well integrated now. Treble grain almost entirely gone. Bass seems to have settled down a bit, and still digs deep with an iron grip. It all gels together.

The Red Wine’s strength was it’s liquid, non-fatiguing presentation. However it also obscured a great deal of detail, especially at lower listening levels.

The S300 delivers a non-fatiguing presentation, with excellent bass control, and gobs and gobs of detail, all emerging from a black background. And it does so even at very low listening levels (living in an apartment, ability to listen at low levels late in the evening is important to me.)

With the Red Wine amp. I had the powered subs crossed over around 70 Hz, at a higher output, to augment the Red Wine’s lower bass output. The S300 delivers such powerful, detailed bass that the powered subs are almost unnecessary.

I eventually added the subs back in, but crossed over around 45 Hz, and at a lower level, just to provide that low end that you feel almost more than you hear. Just to be clear, the subs are making up for the bass shortcomings of the open baffle speakers, not any shortcomings of the S300.

I give the S300 two thumbs, way up!   Anyone want to buy a Red Wine amp?

February 18, 2017
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Gain Cell DAC and S300 Amp Review:

After more than 60 hours of burn in on both units, I felt it was time to critically audition the equipment.  Let me start with my point of reference:

  • Power Plant:  PS Audio P3
  • Source:  MacMini, dedicated for music running Audirvana
  • DAC:  PS Audio NuWave DSD
  • Pre-Amp:  Linn Majik Integrated pre-amp/amp
  • Power Amp:  Linn LK140 (140 W/channel @ 4 Ω)
  • Speakers:  Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy series 6
  • Subwoofer:  Linn Majik 126
  • Interconnects and power cords:  All custom PCOCC

First impressions:

Like all of the the PS Audio equipment I have owned (P3, NuWave DSD, Digital Link III) the build and finish are premium.  The aluminum chassis on both the GCD and S300 are solid and beautifully built.  I really like the volume control on the GCD.  The action is smooth and makes it easy to get you to where you want to be quickly.  The back panel on both the units are clean and intelligently laid out.  The speaker cable terminals on the S300 are beefy and solid and provide a number of connection options.  All that being said, there were a few things that need to be improved.  The tolerance on the power buttons on the front of the units are not as secure as the power button on my P3.  There is some play when you touch the button, no big deal though.  There is a gap between the display window and chassis on the GCD.  I am sure that these issues will be addressed moving forward.

The initial sound was bright, cold and compressed.  Burn-in is a must!!

Post burn-in (60 hours):

After letting the equipment burn-in, there was a vast improvement from the starting point.  The sound stage opened up and got warmer.  I listen to a variety of music; everything from classical to jazz; to trip-hop; to hardcore; and pretty much everything in between.  I have recording in DSD, 24/192 PCM and regular 16 bit.  Most of my standard 16 bit PCM is trans-coded in FLAC and I do use up-sampling in Audirvana (2x factor).

As compared to my point of reference, the S300 did not perform as well as the LK140.  Comparatively, the bass was anemic and the highs were overstated.  The mid-range/vocals were clear but thin (might be a product of the bass reproduction).  Even with the improvements that followed the burn-in, the sound stage was not quite as open as my LK140.  The S300 might make a great companion to a bookshelf set-up or a speaker system that has a more narrow frequency response range.  Not so much for the Watt/Puppy. 

The GCD is awesome in concept, I love the integration of a high quality DAC with a pre-amp.  However, I use a LG TV as my monitor and there is significant RF overlap between the two.  I also have this problem with my P3 and just put a cardboard box in front of the window.  No good solution for the GCD.  The performance of the DAC is similar to the NuWave DSD.  I didn’t notice any difference.  On the pre-amp side, there are some need improvements.  There is a lot more noise when compared to the Majik.  There is audible noise as you increase the volume and I can hear a pulsing as I increase or decrease the volume, without sound, as it moves through the volume levels.  There is also sound at volume level 0, weird.  There are many connection options but I do wish that there were 2 USB inputs.  I have two MacMini, one for internet/movies and one dedicated to music.  Like with the NuWave DSD, I connected the music machine via USB and the regular computer via optical.

All things said, I congratulate the PS Audio team on developing the GCD.  It fills a hole in the market, one that I have been looking to fill for a while.  I will have to say though, I’m going to hold out for a higher performing integrated DAC/pre-amp.  Between the RF interference with LG and the level of noise I’ll make due with two boxes, the NuWave DSD and Majik.  Thank you for the opportunity to beta test both the GCD and S300.  Keep innovating!!

February 19, 2017
3:42 am
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Gain Cell DAC beta quick review:

The Gain Cell DAC looks great on a rack next to other full size components, is well assembled and my black brushed aluminum unit has no defects. The case is similar to the larger schiit audio cases like the ragnarok or yggdrasil. The screen is a nice blue with a black background that matches my odyssey kismet amps.

Image Enlarger

Gear used for review include: Laptop with usb and Jriver wasapi and flacs hosted on a NAS, HD800 headphones, Vinshine Audio Dac-r2r-ref with soekris dac inside, Odyssey Kismet monoblocks, Philharmonic Audio New Philharmonitor speakers.
Interconnects are bluejeans audio rca, speaker cables Grover Huffman Empress. PI Audio Group Minibuss ac filter/power distributor, Supra diy shielded power cables

Albums used: Eva Cassidy Lives at Blues Alley, Cowboy Junkies – Trinity Session, Radiohead – In Rainbows, Thundercat – The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam

Dac quality: I expected a modest downgrade from my Vinshine Audio dac since the Vinshine uses the current super trendy r2r architecture instead of the currently downtrending delta sigma type of dac chip. This might only be the trend in the headphone world, I’m sure delta sigma dac chips are still overwhelmingly in the majority in the general audio world. I was pleasantly surprised that the dac was on the same level as the r2r Vinshine dac. Treble is extended and detailed without any noticeable fatigue causing harshness. My benchmark to check for treble harshness is Musica Nuda – Lascia Ch’io Piango a soprano aria that causes poorly designed dacs to emit ear destroying distortion. No problem handling it at all. Mids great. Bass goes low and is tight with no flab. On Radiohead – House of Cards the kick drum is rendered fully with all the little vibrations from secondary impacts after the strikers initial impact clearly audible.
I’d characterize the dac as having a forward, lively front row sound. The funky bass guitar on Thundercat – Them Changes is more dynamic, impactful and energetic using the gain cell DAC. The soekris is more like being a few rows back. The soekris also has a blacker background in general with slightly better seperation of instruments and soundstage. But it’s not night and day better, just noticeable with repeated comparison. The gain cell DAC’s soundstage width and imaging are also excellent.
The only cons are a very slight background noise (I can only hear it using headphones, not speakers, using the headphone out) which I think is from dirty usb power from the laptop. The Soekris has a completely black background which I think is either from the amanero usb input or the galvanic isolation on the internal i2s interface the amanero plugs into. Unfortunately I don’t have any other sources to try out right now except usb. The usb port I’m using was chosen after a comparison of all the ports on a few pcs I have. The noise probably wouldn’t be noticeable if you didn’t have another dac with a really high quality usb input to compare to. It’s really a non-issue, very faint.

In general I prefer the soekris slightly due to no usb noise and the blacker background but they’re extremely close and I doubt I could tell the difference if you switched dacs on me when I left the room. Diminishing returns are in effect at this level of equipment quality.

Preamp quality: the Preamp function is flawless with 100 very fine steps that change at a slow but reasonable speed when the remote volume up/down button is held down. My other preamp is a Hattor active preamp from poland with dual burson supreme sound v5 opamps which also has 12db of gain and a balanced 64 step resistor based attenuator controlled by relays to only put 2 resistors in the path at once. The gain cell dac was just as transparent as the Hattor, which is known for transparency and perfect left/right volume balance due to the precise resistors used for attenuation. The Gain Cell dac includes more inputs and outputs and this versatility is appreciated vs the smaller Hattor. In general I prefer the gain cell dac’s preamp to my Hattor which is a high compliment as the Hattor is audiophile minimal in design and is a two box design with a seperate linear regulated power supply box.

Headphone amp quality: A real bonus that should be advertised more. This headphone amp is superior to the Lehmann headphone amp in my Vinshine soekris dac. A step above in all ways but especially bass which can be a little loose and slow with the Lehmann using my HD800. It was as good as the Schiit Jotunheim I borrowed using the single ended 1/4″ jack on the Jotunheim.

When I get a source that has more types of digital output, I will try them and re-evaluate with coax or hdmi i2s input used.

I’m definitely keeping the gain cell dac and will be using it for my future secondary setup. Maybe with coax or i2s input it will become my primary dac!

youtube links to songs mentioned
Musica Nuda – Lascia Ch’io Panga – test for treble harshness 
Radiohead – House of Cards – test for bass texture from kick drum 
Thundercat – Them Changes – test for dynamics/energy 

TLDR version: As good as my Vinshine r2r dac in general, but less noise filtering on usb and I slightly prefer the character of my r2r dac in general so going to second setup until I get a better source with non-usb inputs to try out.(have something pre-ordered already of course). Preamp and Headphone amp extremely good and should be mentioned more in marketing!  

bonus review:

PS Audio Company review:  I changed from the S300 stereo amp beta to the Gain Cell DAC beta and never before have I experienced an audio company respond so quickly and professionally.  I got email responses in less than 5 hours, the people responding knew all the details of my order and my money was refunded almost instantaneously.  I’m someone who usually buys from boutique one-man-show type companies with multiple months of build time so this was refreshing and I was so amazed when they took care of me so quickly.  I’m currently waiting over 4 months for a refund from LH Labs so I have to give PS Audio an A++ grade.

February 19, 2017
2:41 pm
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Craig here…..  I see that PS Audio has posted a Quick Start Guide for the GCD and a manual for the S300/M700 in the Resources section of the website.  Thanks!

My experiences with the GCD continue to be excellent.  I have experimented with all digital inputs except the USB as I currently have no music server in the vicinity.  I have run the balanced analog input from an offboard DAC that is receiving HDMI digital from my Oppo transport when playing SACDs only.  All CDs are coax digital to the GCD.  As mentioned before, CDs through the whole GCD are sounding as good or better than SACDs through the Essence DAC and just the preamp part of the GCD.  I would love to try SACDs through the I2S input if I had an appropriate transport. 

I figured out how to label the inputs in the display through the setup menu. You use just the input select button and the volume knob.  Hint: the up carat apparently exits the labeling process.  There is a blank just to the left of the up carat that selects a space in the label.  The rest of the family will appreciate being able to read which input plays which source.

More listening to come……

February 20, 2017
1:20 pm
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I mentioned in my review of the Stellar S300 amp that I had also been allowed to do some beta testing on the Stellar Gain Cell DAC (GCD). It has been in my music room for a little over 2 weeks today.

 

Evaluating this particular product is a more complicated affair. As it combines a high quality DAC with a preamplifier, I’ve realized over the weeks that a serviceable review must focus not just on the unit as a whole, but it’s respective DAC and preamplifier functions. So here goes!

 

Fit and Finish: Two aluminum panels (mine are black) make up the top/front and bottom/front. The sides and rear are powder-coated steel. I’ve noticed some comments by other beta testers about cosmetic blemishes and imperfect casework. I have no such complaints—design esthetics aside, my unit seemed well-assembled with reasonably close tolerances. The volume knob, which doubles as a selector for some menu options, is light but smooth in it’s operation. The front source button is difficult to see from my sofa, but it’s easily found when you approach the unit. Besides the headphone jack and logo/power button, there’s just the sharp blue read-out to look at when playing music. It tells you the current volume setting and, in smaller letters, the source. By holding the source button depressed for a few seconds, you can access another menu for various settings, including balance and phase. The supplied remote (a temporary solution, pending replacement when the intended remote is ready) allows you to change source, volume and balance on the fly. The volume control works beautifully, with imperceptible gaps between SPL steps.

 

Break-in: Out of the box, I heard a hard brightness and moderate amounts of grain from midrange to treble. I listened for all of 10 minutes, then played a USB file through the DMP for 4 days straight while I was out of town. So, it got about 100 hours of break-in before I gave it another and longer listen.

 

Source material: Mark Isham’s “Blue Sun” (CD) especially, but also a variety of jazz, solo piano and orchestral CDs; John Abercrombie’s “Up and Coming” and Sohn’s “Rennen” (vinyl); various jazz and piano discs via J River on my MacBook to USB.

 

I hooked my Linn system to the first analogue input and enjoyed a number of albums, especially the two listed above. I also used another analogue input to listen to digital through a different DAC, the Light Harmonics Pulse S, about which more later.

 

By the time I’d resumed listening after 4 days of break-in, the grain and brightness were gone. Although I found the upper end of the sound spectrum to be favored by this preamp, the lower mids and bass were fine, and I mean “f-i-n-e”!. The Stellar GCD preamp section favors a slightly more forward presentation compared to my Mark Levinson No. 326s, which is a bit more laid back (but oh so deep!) than many high end preamps. In fact, the Stellar GCD presentation is remarkably similar to that of the PS Audio BHK Signature Preamp, which I’ve been using for the last 4 months. Voices are well spread across the sound-stage, with about as much depth as the BHK Sig will give. Macro- and micro-dynamics are good as well. As one might guess, what the Stellar GCD does well, the BHK Signature Preamp (and Mark Levinson No. 326s) does just that much better, especially in providing a slightly fuller sound. This was readily apparent after I switched back to BHK Signature Preamp. However, while listening to the Stellar GCD, I never found myself missing the more expensive units.

 

This preamp calls no attention to itself, and it will let you hear how good your front end is, which is the briefest and perhaps greatest praise I can give it! As a preamp I consider the Stellar GCD to be uncommonly successful, and that’s before taking account of it’s price-point. At it’s MSRP of $1700, it’s a solid value and borders on being a steal—and that’s without any consideration of the DAC section!

 

The DAC section of the Stellar GCD is the heart of this unit. It is certainly versatile, with the many input options. And it is relatively unique, too, in offering an I2S input. This permits connection to the DMP’s I2S, allowing transmission of DSD content, as well as the superior sound that the DMP can get out of Red Book CDs. The Stellar GCD sounds different when listening through I2S vs. S/PDIF or USB—and for the better. Content over I2S yields a subtly larger, better defined and more dynamic presentation. If you have a disc player that will allow I2S connections, that alone may have you considering this DAC as a top contender.

 

Fed a digital signal through S/PDIF or USB, the Stellar GCD performs at a level one would expect of a DAC around this price point, which is very good indeed! In my experience, most truly good DACs will give you a decent soundstage and definition of instruments in space. As they get better, you hear improvements in bass, digital hardness, dynamics and overall ease of listening. The Stellar GCD gives high-quality bass, though not as deep as the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC does at the lowest octave. There is still the tiniest bit of digital hardness compared to the DSD. Dynamics are equally good between the two units. Although the Stellar GCD is certainly easy to listen to—and I’ve done so for hours at a time, many times over—the DSD is simply better, as it should be given it’s cost.

 

I’ve owned the Benchmark DAC 2 HGC ($1995) and the Light Harmonics Pulse S DAC, which I obtained through their Indiegogo campaign 2 years ago. The current LH offering gets the “X” designation, but I believe is virtually the same DAC design: dual mono, femto clocks, etc. I also have the outboard LPS power supply from LH. So the rough cost of this LH DAC system is at least $1600. The Benchmark is a great unit, and meets my expectations for a product of this sort, viz DAC with preamp capabilities and headphone amp, not unlike the Stellar GCD under review. I was using it to power my desk-top system (with active speakers). But I’ve had it in the “big” room a few times.

 

So, how does the Stellar GCD’s DAC function compare to either the Benchmark or Light Harmonics Pulse? The Benchmark always struck me as being a slightly less dynamic and easy to listen to, with ever-so-slight hardness in the midrange compared to either the older PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC or the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC that replaced it. Regardless of the Stellar GCD’s shortcomings noted above, it is still better than the Benchmark DAC 2.

 

With the LH Pulse, the comparison is more nuanced. Light Harmonics exceeded expectations when they came out with the LH Pulse DAC. Honestly, I’ve never owned a better DAC under $2K. I’ve now spent a few hours going back and forth between the Stellar GCD and the LH Pulse. (I’ve got the LH plugged into the second set of analogue single-ended inputs, so I simply move the coax cable from one unit to the other and switch inputs on the GCD.) Maybe, just maybe, there’s a little bit more air in the LH presentation, maybe a little more ease, I think—and then I play the same content on the Stellar GCD and say “nah, couldn’t be! This sounds great!” So, I’d say the Stellar GCD is virtually neck-and-neck with the LH Pulse S. That is high praise!

 

As a package, then, the Stellar GCD gives you a preamp that sounds fantastic for the price, and also a DAC that sounds fantastic for the price! One chassis, no additional interconnects needed, as simple to operate as anything you might already own. It’s a tremendous value, and a component that will give deep musical satisfaction. Yes, I’m keeping it!

PS Audio: DMP, DSD Dac/Bridge II, BHK Signature Pre, BHK Signature 300 Monoblocks, PWP 5; Linn Sondek/Kore/Ekos/Kristal/Lingo/Linto; Mark Levinson No. 326s Preamplifier; Quicksilver V4 Monoblocks; Quad 2905s; Audience AU24SE interconnects and speaker cable, Audience Powercord SE, Pangea Powercords; QNAP NAS, Mac Mini 2014, MacBook 2010, JRiver 21.

February 20, 2017
2:32 pm
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I received my Stellar 300 Amp about a week ago. My system is modest: Cambridge Audio CXA 80, Cambridge Audio CXC transport, Ohm Walsh Tall 100’s with 2.1 Anti Cables. The 300 replaces the 80 watt amp in the CXA 80 and is connected with low quality single end cables. (the balanced Anticables await the Gain Cell DAC still on it’s way.)

The 300 made an immediate difference in the overall sound of the system, beyond just the additional power. The Ohm speakers create a broad and deep soundstage, but with the 300 instrument placement and clarity were clearly improved. Bass was more specific and apparent while the mid-range was richer with greater texture. Treble seemed heightened as well, though without strident overtones. I listen mostly to jazz and classical pieces on CD and through Tidal over a Sonos system. The extra quality power showed enhancement with Tidal as well.

I have to imagine withe Gain Cell DAC in place it will be whole new ballgame.

February 22, 2017
6:38 am
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STELLAR DAC / PRE 

Hits: 

Feel…it has a minimalistic elegance to it.

Large number readout can be seen across the room.

Auto dim for lights. Time is adjustable for how long.

Board layout in the cabinet, no jumpers used on the circuit (pet peeve of mine is to open up a piece of kit and find jumper wires making point to point connections because of design or lack thereof) none here.

 Misses:

 Display of signal info would be nice.  Resolution and word size.

Hopefully the packaging is prototype.  The cardboard supports in the box gave way and the DAC had ability to rock up and down, looks as if the anodizing got rubbed thinner in some areas on the lower part of the faceplate.

 No external port for upgrades? 

 Note in review the THUMP caused when activating an input to HT.  Not good…Posted under separate cover in Bugs sub-forum.

 The volume indicator does time out and display goes dim, just as it should.  But for some reason, it sometimes turns back on all by itself.  I have been trying to catch the cause and it may be an incoming signal causing outgoing volume to be high enough to trigger something, causing the display to reactivate.  Seems to happen more often when volume is greater than 15.  Incoming signal from Transporter via BNC to DAC Coax, and when using the HT input.

 No App?…to paraphrase Mr. Scott…”A remote…how quaint…”

 There is a small white light from left to right under the display, the plastic that colors the display is either not sitting correctly or does not cover completely.  Or the display goes to far down and misses the plastic on the bottom.

 The little piece of paper over the IEC connector will get lost, and forgotten.  Please consider printing the warning over the connector or near to it…red would be nice…or have a lockout in place.  If this is protection for the Stellar, it should be high priority and future should be considered (we old guys lose things and forget…).

 Sonic Hits:

 Bass-more subterranean than warm or thick.

 For those that crave absolute resolution, it is reproduced with stunning results.

Phase relationships are very well delineated.  When engineered to reproduce depth, or a sense of venue, the Stellar serves it up and you can hear in 3-D.  Height, width, and depth are reproduced from what was originally provided.  Nothing augmented, just a very real perspective.  

 Noise floor?  Cant find one.  Very high volume with feed from Transporter (no data sent to DAC) and dead silent, full gain @ 76 no noise, not a sound.

 Sonic Misses:

 The resolution and high frequency reproduction is more “laboratory” than I am used to.  With the Pass Labs X-1 I have this nice warm bass, more like tubes than solid state when compared to the Stellar.  This is not necessarily bad, I prefer the greater detail and 3-D wrap around of the music (when engineered to do this).  Sometimes the soloist can sound ‘dis-embodied’…whereas many times you can experience the perceived ‘chest’ of a vocalist, the Stellar can reproduce this with such an ethereal presentation that the performance seems “out of body”. 

 Prior Experience:

 I have actually used PS Audio’s Gain Cell technology for many years.  Having a GCPH (Gain Cell Phono), I am familiar with the sound (of lack thereof) of the product, although the DAC may incorporate new technology…I don’t know.  My system, in its various forms, has always performed best when using the GCPH direct into any given amp I have had.  I do not recommend this practice unless one is extremely familiar with their electronics and operation.   The current GC technology coupled with the DAC and Pre function is a joy. I had used a Placette Passive volume and input switching device.  This had the greatest transparency I have ever experienced.  I loved it and used it for many years.  Then, I will never forget the “wow” when I first setup my first higher end active, a Pass Labs X-1.  Now, with the Stellar, I have the clarity and transparency of a passive, and the oomph and strengths of an active preamplifier, with an outstanding DAC incorporated.  All the clarity I crave and bottom end I lust for, with proper imaging, dynamics and performance size.

 Preparation:

 Picked up late evening at Fed Ex depot.  Return home, open box, remove device.  Inspect and open top to see the innards.  I don’t usually do this, but I want to do a proper review. 

Got it plugged in and operational.  Connect to Transporter and let it play, for over 24 hours at medium signal (30 ish volume on Stellar).  All warmed up (actually it never got above room temp).  After initial connections and 24 hour The Stellar was plugged in and allowed to warm up with a low volume output from Transporter to the DAC at a medium volume setting, producing a low level listening environment for one week.

 Used in Evaluation:

 Logitech Transporter SE, W4S BNC to RCA coaxial cable, Netgear NAS with 2 TB WD Black.  Various downloaded, transcribed CD and Records.  Mitchell TechnoDec table with Goldring Eroica MM cartridge via PS Audio GCPH Phono Pre with Gain Cell(s).  ML 13A Expression speakers driven with Sanders ESL amplifier via Nordost Red Dawn XLR or as noted in review. 

 Independent 20A circuit homerun to panel.  Hospital grade outlets, 14AWG to outlets, to PS Audio Juice Bar.  Standard (provided) AC cord. 

 After the break in period I slightly clanged the configuration of connections.  I have an HSU 15” sub connected via RCA off the Stellar.  This is where the Stellar showed its strength in sub low-end power, subterranean bass is completely presented. 

 Listening:

 There I was, sitting on the couch, with Al DiMeola on a stage, sitting on a taller stool, performing Fugata from Flesh on Flesh.  There was a height to the image that was awesome, heard the fingering on the neck of the guitar so precise it was spooky real.  The delineation of transients was excellent, no smear at all…started instant, ended same.  FLAC 96/24 @ 2808 Kbps VBR.  Download.

 Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 5   Best soundstage I have experienced with this download.  Overall softer presentation, with that awesome resolution, very realistic.  44/16 WMA 674 Kbps VBR converted to 705 Kbps FLAC by Transporter (Logitech Music Server). Download

 Joni Mitchell Hissing of Summer Lawns.  Edith and The Kingpin, 44/16 778 Kbps converted to 705 FLAC by Transporter.  I had to look at my record player…it wasn’t moving…years ago, I had played this on my Kenwood KD-600 and recorded it with a Marantz CD recorder.  From the CD I ripped the data to my NAS…and here it was, sounding like a record.  Yes, it was a re-issue so it is very quiet and nicely pressed…and it really showed by sounding very organic, very analog.  Most impressive…I had to bring up the info file to verify it was the digitized record.  Piano, drum kit, voice, all appeared and sounded like I were listening to the record itself.

 Listening to live performers in Turandot revealed movement of performers, not just left and right but with correct center and size, with depth in relationship to other performers on stage.  This is a 3-D presentation which tells me that the Stellar is getting out of the way of the music and is less subtractive in its function. More like an expensive passive device than an active one. 

 I have had music and HT running via the Stellar for weeks now.  The above examples are just the smallest tip of the larger iceberg…I could write page upon page of review, but the consolidation of information provided should be enough to whet the appetite.

 Overall:

 The sound of performances; singers, instruments, unamplified music, were both behind speakers, yet sometimes appeared above the soundstage.  This was entirely recording and engineering dependent.  Well focused, properly sized, and to what are my personal expectations based on my listening experiences.  

 Regarding true live and non-reinforced performances; the venue doors swing open and you enter, it is almost a revelation. The lack of anything between you and the musicians, their instruments, is like waking up from a nap in the sun.  It is bright, clear, resolute.  This Dac-Pre recreates these experiences.  The Stellar gives you that cooler day, sparkling clarity, cold when you take a deep breath…and dry…not thick or warm.  This is a day you could see for miles and miles.  This is the clarity the Stellar is capable of, extreme resolution, deep into the music, stable images, extreme placement of performances. 

 Tympani sound is awesomely reproduced; the skin is heard and resonant with correct decay.  The Stellar does not provide the weight/heaviness of some mid-low to mid-bass.  It is not to say it sounds thin, just not any type of bloat in the bass. I would rather have the doors open and be overwhelmed with the live presence of a performance, clarity and wrap around of the venue that flows from the Stellar.  I had actually had to double check that the HT surround was not active and that my rear channels were off. 

 FWIW:

 WAF…yup…I got one, for 35 years now.  She too has been on our audio journey.  We have attended the CES when it was bungalows outside of the Sahara.  I have attended most of the last 32 years of it, and she has been with me many times.  She has always been my best counsel, guiding me away from anything harsh, bright, boxy or hard sounding.  She has always moved me to the organic and whole, natural sound.  While I was focused on the sound of the Stellar, adjusting, changing, testing, replaying endlessly, she walked through the room. She stopped and announced…”really clear, like a curtain of sound, but not overwhelming, voices sound right:..Delineated, precise, not harsh, smooth, easy to listen to…even though I don’t care for the music (opera)”.

Worked for me…

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jmunger1
February 22, 2017
8:19 am
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 Yet again, another well documented, detailed and interesting account of a Stellar product….. These Stellar – Beta guys are delivering….   

February 23, 2017
6:37 am
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I just wanted to take a moment to provide feedback on my first real system.

 

I grew up listening to a lot of live performances in person.  Maybe not rock concerts or quiet clubs.  But in stadiums or fields with Drum Corps.  

As I go back to my mind and listen to those in person events, I remember the clarity of the air and then the crack of the sounds.  Until now, it has always been difficult to reproduce that memory.  That clarity.  Until now…

I do do not have a true high end audiophile system, but the introduction of the S300 has brought me a step closer.  Adding the unit to my Hsu Research Speakers and Oppo HA-1 it has provided the same clarity as using a pair of Audeze headphones to listen to.  But I am not longer tied to a chord.  I can relax in a comfortable chair and close my eyes to see that moment again.

I have been quite impressed with the unit and must say I am happy I have invested into the PS Audio world.  Thank you Paul and team for a fine product and bringing my memories back to life.

February 23, 2017
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Thanks! Nice note.

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 26, 2017
11:43 am
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Hello All,

I’ve been running a Stellar GCD and S300 amp for a few weeks now.  I reviewed the GCD in an earlier post.  So, I’m back to comment on the S300.  Physical casing and build issues aside, as they were posted in the questions and suggestions form, I find this to be a very competent and wonderful sounding amp so far.  Here is the setup…

– GCD being fed by a MacBook Air connected via LanRover to the USB input.

– Running JRiver on the MBA and playing mostly DSD files of light rock, folk and alternative, with much of the selections being acoustical instruments with minimal processing.

– Balanced interconnects between the GCD and S300 with gold-plated connections.

– Sewell Silverback speaker cables (nothing special, as these are temporary for now) from the S300 to a pair of Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 speakers.

– I typically run an SVS SB-1000 subwoofer with the Sonus Fabers.

A quick note on the GCD… I find it to be as wonderful a piece of equipment as ever.  It’s sounding better after dozens of hours of playing.  The sound is crisp, articulate, with all the detail and imaging I would expect from a PSA product.

The first thing I noticed from the S300 is a slight tweeter buzz in the left channel.  It seems to be coming from the balanced interconnect.  I will change it out as soon as I get another.  The sound is forceful and detailed.  The 1.5s produce a very good image just as they always have.  Voices are clear and three dimensional, but slightly set back.  The highs are detailed and crisp with no hint of harshness or exaggeration.  There is a very smooth balance between the mids and highs with a seamless flow.  The bass is very much there, punchy and tight, especially considering the presence of the SB-1000 (which has its own amp).  I find SVS sealed subs to be some of the best on the market and the SB-1000 is no exception.  The mid bass is a bit bloated, but I find that to be more a characteristic of the 1.5s and not the S300.  I’m going to try plugging the ports on the 1.5s and see if that presses the bloat.  Overall, the S300 sounds very nice and compliments and completes my test system very well.  

Another aspect of the Stellar products that I really like is the physical size of the components.  They are relatively small.  I like the fact that they are the same width as typical separates but short in stature.  The GCD and S300 stacked make for a beautiful looking combination and consume minimal space for such a powerful system.  Not bad.

That’s it for today.  Enjoy your day.

Cheers,

Gene 

February 26, 2017
11:57 am
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Gabriel said
But in stadiums or fields with Drum Corps. 

Welcome, Gabriel!

A drum corp alum here.  If only we could reproduce the power and dynamic range of a full horn and drum line at full tilt. 

February 26, 2017
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Craig in Boulder here……  This is not a critical listening report (more of that later).  It is just a demonstration of my commitment to my new Stellar GCD.  I firmly decided that it is in my system to stay and that it is has better performance as a preamp (DAC too) than my existing preamp….so, yesterday, I sold my Sonic Frontiers Line 1 tube preamp to a good friend in town.

With the same source material, and doing real time A-B comparos, the GCD has noticeably  better definition, depth, placement, treble accuracy, bass extension, and therefore musical enjoyment than the SFL1.  I am happy!

February 26, 2017
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Stellar Gain Cell DAC Review

 I got the SGCD in early February, but my unit had an issue with playing 352khz files so it went out for repairs. Now that the repaired unit is back and working fine, I would like to write a review about the SGCD.

My current setup:

  • Source:
    • PC: Windows 7 Pro 64bit – Foobar2000
    • CD Player: Oppo BDP-105D
  • DAC: PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC
  • Amplifier: Triode TRV-88SE Integrated Amplifier using Pre-In (Power Tubes are replaced to EL34 from KT88)
  • Speakers: Zu Audio Omen MkII upgraded to Zu103NDG1-16 Driver
  • Interconnects Cable: Cardas Quadlink 5-C(DAC-AMP), AudioQuest Diamondback XLR(Oppo-DAC)
  • Speaker Cable: QED Reference XT40
  • Power Cable: PS Audio AC3

I originally owned PS Audio’s Digital Link III and Nuwave DSD DAC products. My previous DAC was the Nuwave DSD and I was happy with the sound. I was looking for a preamp, though, so I decided to replace it with the SGCD.

 

My impression of the SGCD’s sound is that it’s very realistic; it provides thick and powerful vocals, detailed sound, and makes me feel like I’m on a wide sound stage. I listened to “Norah Jones – Come Away With Me -Don’t know why” (FLAC:192khz/24bit); The vocals are focused at the center and are coming more forward. Each instrument is well separated. I also tried the DSD file “Bill Evans – Some Other Time – Some Other Time” (DSD 5.6Mhz): the sound was very smooth and relaxing. The sound is detailed but it is not the kind of that sound that makes you tired after 10 minutes. I also tested with SACD – “Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6; Nutcracker Suite” (conducted by Seiji Ozawa). It gives a much better, fuller sound stage than when I connect directly to my integrated amplifier.

 

I was already pleased with the sound of the Nuwave DSD DAC, but am now more pleased than ever with the amazing quality of the SGCD DAC with its fantastic quality pre-amplifier. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the DAC is also a great fit in my household due to its slick appearance and convenient features (backlit volume display, remote, etc). Many thanks to the PS Audio team for another amazing product.

February 27, 2017
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PS Audio GCC 250 (Cullen Modified), Oppo BD 103D, PS Audio NuWave DSD, PS Audio LAN Rover, Intuitive Design Summit speakers, Cardas digital cable, Mosaic cables, Pangea power cables.

I’m familiar with the Gain Cell Technology. My PS Audio GCC 250 is a Gain Cell amp. I have enjoyed it for years. Since I already had a DSD NUWave Dac installed directly into my PS Audio GCC 250, I wasn’t expecting to hear a big difference, if any. I installed the Stellar GCD.  WOW! I was shocked. What an improvement! The soundstage was much deeper and wider. Pinpoint imaging. The music sounded almost live (voices sounded like the performers were in my room).

After 2 weeks of listening the sound has only improved. The sound is clean. The bass is extended, detailed, with a lot of punch. Bass drums sound real. Digital edge is gone on most music.

What most of us are looking for in the music we listen to, is the emotional evolvement  of the music. The PS Audio Stellar GCD has taken my system to a whole new level. Thank you PS Audio.

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Peanut Butter
February 28, 2017
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Stellar DAC review

My current unit is an Audio-gd NFB-28. It’s been slightly modified – I separated the L/R output wiring which was tightly bundled together. (This gives better channel separation and dynamics compared to stock). I use it as a main volume control and switching center: a preamp/dac combo. It takes analog in from my tuner, but most of my sources are digital. There’s a PWT for CDs and hi-res files burned onto DVDs. There’s an old Squeezebox Classic for internet streaming, and a Sonic Orbiter too. Occasionally I’ll connect a laptop via USB. The DAC feeds two Rane electronic crossovers in triamp mono mode, feeding four channels of ICE power amps to Analysis Audio Omega planar magnetic/ribbon panel speakers, supplemented with 2 Audio Concepts (ACI) powered subwoofers.

I swapped the GCD into the system and have been listening to it for about 3 weeks straight, switching back to the NFB-28 during the last couple of days. To cut to the chase – the GCD is a keeper. My one-word lasting impression is: S W E E T. This thing is SOOO easy to listen to. There’s oodles of detail, but always presented in an effortless way that the NFB can’t quite capture. The GCD is also superior in how it portrays the soundstage. It’s bigger than the NFB-28 and every bit as dynamic. Most of my listening was done comparing the GCD via the PWT through the I2S input, vs. a standard digital coax to the NFB. Granted, this puts the NFB at a disadvantage, but why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of the best connection between the two PS units? When I used the same coax to the GCD, the differences between them were smaller. However, I still preferred the GCD’s sound slightly. It’s a tiny bit leaner in the mid-bass than the NFB from about 100-200hz, but it’s a small enough difference to not change my overall impression. Now, keep in mind my modded NFB is performing at a higher level compared to a stock unit. This is why I’m confident that the GCD is the superior performer. Then there’s the added bonus of remote-controlled absolute polarity, and L/R balance, sorely missing on the NFB.

I did not do much headphone listening, but I can say that I didn’t miss a thing sonically using the GCD’s headphone output compared to the NFB. The character I’m describing through the main outputs is equally apparent through headphones.  I suspect further critical listening would reveal more, but I don’t listen this way enough to care. (I used Sennheiser HD-580 for my testing).

This DAC did surprise me with how little componentry is inside – there’s a lot of empty space in the enclosure. It could easily be ½ the size. I suspect there’s some rationale with keeping the same aesthetic appearance with the amps, and maybe even some cost advantage if you buy enough of one size box.

A word about parts – some folks have raised concerns regarding the DAC chip. It’s not the latest and greatest in the ESS family, and according to the manufacturer, is intended for portable (!) applications. I myself had concerns about the voltage regulators, as I’ve modded lots of electronics over the years and am especially sensitive to what I consider lousy sounding ones. The GCD uses what I consider to be the worst choice! (The LM79/78 15 series). I’ve swapped enough of these out to be able to detect their negative sonic character (or so I thought). Well, I am happy to report that I hear none of those characteristics with this DAC. PLEASE do not listen with your eyes, or your preconceived notions of how something will sound based on a few parts! There’s more to it than that, and I’m glad there is.

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uncola
March 2, 2017
2:00 am
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My impression in one word: stellar!

Other than their light weight, small size and efficiency, I have to say that I am very impressed in the progress of Class D amps’ sound after those years. Especially considering the price, S300’s performance is really outstanding. It’s very energetic and crisp, has very decent control and momentum. What I like most are its amazing vivid clarity and detail, this is not the kind of slow, warm, laidback and dull amp. Yes, maybe it lacks the last bit of extension at both ends of frequency extreme. It’s a tiny little bit on the forward and cool side of neutral, but definitely not aggressive, artificial or edgy. It’s textured and colorful with very wide soundstage. And the punchy bass! If this is the one and only amp I have on a desert island, I can live with it happily ever after. Soundwise, it’s that good.

I like the aluminum finish. But there is still something can be improved. The grove in the middle at the front and the ventilation holes on top can be smoother. I really support the idea of MADE IN USA. So I hope it can better any products in the world, like those come from Germany or Japan.

I don’t know if PS Audio will introduce a Stellar Integrated Amp in the future or not. I think it’s a pretty good idea to combine the Stellar DAC-pre and power amp in a relatively compact package with the price around $1,500~$2,000. It competes very well against three of the best in the price range I can think of: Parasound Halo (a little more expensive), Schiit Ragnarok and Rogue Sphinx (a little cheaper).

 

My system:

MSB Analog DAC and Platinum DATA CD IV Transport

Pioneer CT-05D Cassette Deck

PS Audio BHK Signature Preamp

Pass Labs XA30.8 Power Amp

Audio Research VSi75 Integrated Amp

Esoteric MG-20 Speakers

Kimber Kable Silver Streak and PBJ Interconnects

MIT Shotgun S1.3 Interconnects and Speaker Cables

PS Audio P5 Power Plant

JPS Labs The Digital AC-X, Audience powerChord SEi, PS Audio AC10 Power Cables

March 3, 2017
5:43 pm
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windowman can you post those pcb pics you said you had on your phone?  I think it was you.  I still can’t get the case open :P

I’m trying the gain cell dac out with my backup amp this week, it has mosfet output transistors which according to paul mcgowan’s recent blog can soften the sound a little.. my main monoblocks are BJT which are detailed but I guess can be hard and bright?

March 4, 2017
11:08 am
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Yes that’s me. I’ll get to it later, they’re on my PC and I’m on an iPad now.

You can’t determine sound quality based on simply looking at parts, or knowing what devices are used. there are no shortcuts (or substitutes) to listening.

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