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Stellar Beta Tester Reviews
Topic Rating: +11 Topic Rating: +11 (15 votes) 
March 4, 2017
11:41 am
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March 5, 2017
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GCD review

When I started this Beta test, I hooked up the GCD to a current system that I am familiar with (my bedroom kit). This consists of a Cambridge Audio Azur 851D DAC PRE, Emotiva XPA-2 amp and Emotiva T1 towers. The interconnects and speaker cables are Blue Jeans, the power cables Pangea. The room is treated to some extent with absorption an diffraction panels. The seating position optimized for the room. Yes, the MBR is large and accommodates a listening room away from other areas.

I noticed in the first few days, the GCD has a grain and an edge to the sound. I also noticed that there was a tilt toward the high frequencies and a leanness to the lower end. This first appeared to be added detail but later became tiring. I felt the need to stop listening after 30+ minutes and I switched back to the Azur 851D. This went on for days, so I left the unit powered on for two weeks while I was out of town. When I got back, the sound had changed for the better.

The sound is now easy to listen to for hours but still lacks warmth and musicality. I find myself going back and forth between the GCD and Cambridge but ending on the latter every time. In comparison, the GCD is clean, tight, solid state but unable to pull me in. The Cambridge has a musical sound the works well with the rest of the system.

Briefly, I introduced a Vincent SA-T7 DAC PRE but quickly learned this would not be a fair comparison. Even the Cambridge could not compare favorably, so I continued with the Cambridge and GCD for the remainder of the review.

I spent some time using the GCD as a DAC PRE, DAC only, PRE only and found that the sound of the unit tends to follow the analog stages. Feeding it analog from another DAC resulted in the same analog sound. The DAC seems to have little influence on the overall sound. Using the GCD as a DAC feeding an analog PRE resulted in the sound following the preamp.

Testing balanced and single ended resulted in the expected results. The balanced outputs seemed ever so slightly quieter but not by enough to be meaningful to someone with a SE amp.

The CGD kept coming up short in comparison with the Cambridge so I decided to migrate to the TV system. This consists of Emotiva mono amps, preamp, Definitive Audio studio monitors and supercube 8000. The source a bluesound node 2 with MQA. 

Swapping back and forth with the Emotiva Preamp using analog inputs from the node 2 and the coax input to the GCD indicated a close race. The GCD is slightly dryer and leaner than the analog output of the node 2 through the Emotiva PRE.

The final test was the most pleasing. I spent some time using the headphone amp to very good results. Every headphone I plugged into the jack sounded as it did on any SE HP amp I have in house… perhaps even better than my tube amps.

Main system: PC S/PDIF out; Emotiva ERC-3; FiiO X-5; Vincent Audio SA-T7; Parasound Halo A21; KEF R-500; SVS PC-12+ subwoofers (2); Blue Jeans and Audience Ohno interconnects; Pangea Audio AC cords; Vibrapods and SVS Soundpath isolators; APC and Furman power conditioning; PS Audio Noise Harvester; room treatments...

Mini system: PC S/PDIF out; Emotiva ERC-3; FiiO X-5; Cambridge Audio Azur 851D; Emotiva XPA-1L G2 monoblocks; KEF R-100; SVS PC-12+ (2); Blue Jeans and DIY interconnects; Pangea Audio AC cords; Vibrapods and SVS Soundpath isolators; APC and Furman power conditioning; PS Audio Noise Harvester; room treatments...

Computer Audio: PC S/PDIF out to Sennheiser HDVD 800; PC USB to Jolida Glass FX Tube DAC III W; KEF X300A; Pangea Audio AC cords; Cyber Power UPS; PS Audio Noise Harvester; Too many headphones to list...

March 6, 2017
7:01 am
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KEFnOff said

GCD review

…The sound is now easy to listen to for hours but still lacks warmth and musicality…

Interesting that after a few weeks of listening I am having the same experience. Lots of detail and depth, very smooth, great bass. Not much warmth. I have been attributing it to the Kimber PBJ interconnects I have been using, so I have a set of Cardas Golden Cross on the way this week.

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.

March 9, 2017
2:09 pm
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Stellar DAC review

 

I placed the GCD in my system about a month ago, fired it up, and was impressed with its sound quality right out of the box. The first thing that hit me was a greater degree of top-end, probably a 3db increase in the high frequencies. My first thought was “Oh crap, this is going to be bright”, but I quickly realized the cymbals were clean and airy. The highs were definitely more apparent, but not brittle or sibilant in the least, having plenty of decay. I feel the Stellar DAC plays this part of the frequency range, actually, with quite a bit of finesse. Accurate, yes. Present, yes. Aggressive, no. I quickly came to appreciate this part of the Dac’s signature.

Typically, in my experience, with an increase in the top-end, comes the dreaded increase in the upper mid-range also. Like most people, my ears are able to hear the 3k-5k frequency quite easily, and listener fatigue can set in when this frequency range is too present. With the Stellar Dac, this part of the mid-range is not over-bearing at all. It is very natural sounding to me. Voices are clear but not edgy. Trumpets and violins don’t get shrill. I’m really happy with the mid-range signature of the Dac.

I’ll admit, I’ve got some “bass-whore” in me. I like a good amount of defined, punchy, accurate bass. Without it, I lose interest in most any type of music. It’s what I listen for at the beginning of seemingly every song I listen to. If Bob S. and Paul M. didn’t get this right, this Dac would be a “Fail” for me. Luckily, I feel they nailed the signature of the bottom-end, also. It is deep and low without bloat. It has good definition. Like the mids and highs of the Dac, the low-end is superb. Actually, the bass is quite musical. To say the Stellar Dac is musical in the bottom-end specifically, is quite a compliment, since that area of the frequency range has to be fleshed out properly in order to be musical, while not effecting the mid-range negatively.The Dac is able to present plenty of quality low-end without sacrificing the critical mid-range. I’ll bet most Dacs in this price range can’t pull this off.

Synergy-wise, the Stellar Dac does a heck-of-a-job in my system. I feel the Dac is able to convey the mood of the recording that it’s asked to reproduce – and does it effortlessly. I use a computer front end and bi-amp my Eggleston Works Andra IIIs with QSC class A/B amps. The sound is lively and engaging. The sound stage doesn’t “cry uncle” and collapse or get jumbled-up when the volume goes up to reference level and beyond. It remains wide and accurate, and the performers keep their individual space up in the front of the listening room. When Mark Knopfler sings “Wherever I Go” with Ruth Moody, they are now split up a bit, and side by side, as they perform in the center of my sound stage. They no longer somehow occupy the same space, defying the laws of physics. I’m guessing that all the attributes of this Dac are, at the foundation, stemming from a properly designed and implemented power supply. To be quick, musical, and controlled at the same time takes some good engineering.   I’m impressed. This Stellar Dac has found a good home.

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March 9, 2017
2:40 pm
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A fellow bass whore!!music-078_gif103_gif I love it! Thanks. What a great review.

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.

March 10, 2017
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I wasn’t paying any attention to the Stellar products at first so pardon me if I should know the answer to this question. Is anyone beta testing the M700s? My plan was to get a pair of BHK300s at some point down the line but the M700 could be a nice bridge until that happens. I’d like to “hear” what the testers have to say about them.

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March 10, 2017
3:58 pm
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We haven’t yet shipped the monos. We’re not happy with the top covers – and we want to get those right first.

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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.

March 11, 2017
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spons said

KEFnOff said

GCD review

…The sound is now easy to listen to for hours but still lacks warmth and musicality…

Interesting that after a few weeks of listening I am having the same experience. Lots of detail and depth, very smooth, great bass. Not much warmth. I have been attributing it to the Kimber PBJ interconnects I have been using, so I have a set of Cardas Golden Cross on the way this week.  

The Golden Cross warms things up in the midrange, refines the treble, and also allows more information to be rendered overall. My system is sounding great now with the Thiel 1.5’s replacing the MMG’s. Wife is happy that the MMG’s are now going to the basement system or Audiogon.

The only downside is that I now need to go to the trouble to pack and send my trade-ins to PS Audio since the GCD is a keeper.

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.

March 12, 2017
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Paul McGowan said

We haven’t yet shipped the monos. We’re not happy with the top covers – and we want to get those right first.  

If you are looking for additional beta testers for them let me know what I would need to do to get involved.

Main Rig: DirectStream w/Bridge II, DirectStream Memory Player, BHK Signature preamp with Tungsrams, BHK Signature 300 monoblocks with Tungsrams, Legacy Whisper, Equitech 3A, Kimber BiFocal XL, PSA AC-12 & Extreme Plus PCs, Various Kimber, Morrow and custom ICs, Mac Mini SSD running JRMC or MConnect w/MinimServer on a QNAP NAS. Headphone Rig: Woo Audio 22, Beyerdynamic T1 with Moon Audio Black Dragon balanced. Office setup: Mac Mini, PWD Mk. II, Schiit Mjolnir, Senn HD600 with balanced Surf Cables, Jitterbug, Regen, Audioengine 2+ and S8, Schiit SYS passive.

March 15, 2017
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I’d hoped to submit an elegant, fact-based, positive review, comparing my S300s with my Parasound 2250v2s.

The amps are about the same price, and dump about the same amount of power into 8 to 4 ohm speakers.

But fate intervened. We’re combining households and things needed to be moved around. The music has moved from a large 20x20x10 space (with extra space openly connected) to a significantly smaller space (13x13x10) (no, neither are actually square..). And the TV-watching kit had to move in with it. So the furniture had to change, and the elegant aluminium-and-glass stuff we got is much too shallow for the Parasounds.

So the Parasounds have gone on consignment to my local hifi dealer (get in touch with Audio Systems of Austin TX if you’d like to buy them) and now I can’t do any comparing.

But my initial reactions still hold: overall, I get a firm impression of hearing somewhat more in the music and I am completely certain that the bass is notably better. Different room, true; smaller, true; but the Dirac live room correction (sorry Paul) shows the system as having useful output down to close to 20 Hz – without any subwoofers (they need to go, too: anyone like a pair of Rythmik Audo 15″ powered sealed box servo-driven subwoofs?), whereas before it was flat to sorta 30-35, and the subwoofs made a big difference (the Dirac Live equ showed the system with useful response to 15 Hz or so).

So subjective review only – I like them, and I prefer them to the power amps I had before (the Parasounds). And this across a range of music, and now DVDs and even TV…

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March 24, 2017
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Just added the singxer su-1 kitsune tuned edition into my chain to convert usb to i2s.  It makes a huge improvement.. dac sounds twice as good now

April 6, 2017
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windowman99 said

Inside pix…Entire-inside-Stelar-DAC.jpgImage Enlarger

ESS-Chip-and-5532-opamp.jpgImage Enlarger
main-board-rear-half-Stellar-DAC.jpgImage Enlarger
main-board-rt-side-with-power-inlet-Stellar-DAC.jpgImage Enlarger
  

I am wondering if the final production line will look the same as the images?

It does not look attractive, it might be irrelevant to sound quality but the view of internal components leaves a huge impression on potential customers. 

April 7, 2017
6:24 am
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The final production units are more finished inside in that they are better coated but the actual guts are identical.

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.

April 7, 2017
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Looks perfectly fine to me.  Logical layout of the parts, no stray wires, etc. That, and parts quality, are all I care about when it comes to the internals.  External appearance does matter, although the sound is what I really care about.

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April 7, 2017
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+1

If it looks basically tidy I’m fine with the inner guts.  I find seeing inside interesting, but it is irrelevant to my purchase decision. It would matter omly if there was clear sloppy workmanship, such as tin whiskers everywhere.

April 16, 2017
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Stellar S300 Amp Review

I was intrigued by the idea of this amp, as I have been using a Class D amp for a number of years now – a DIY Hypex nCore 400 stereo amp – one power supply and two amp modules in a single box. The parts for this DIY project cost $1,800 in 2012. So here we have an amp with one of the popular B&O ICE modules instead of nCore, and an Analog Cell that is supposed to make the digital amp sound better. I don’t know what the ICE amp sounds like without the Cell, so I can’t say what it does – or does not do – to the sound.

My comparisons were primarily with the system below, but I listened on three different sets of speakers: ACI Sapphire XL, Quad 988 and Harbeth SHL5 Plus. Each were auditioned with and without the (2) JL Audio Fathom f112 subs, and/or the subs were adjusted for the difference in gain between the amps. Most of the listening was with subs. I also ran the speakers and subs directly from the DSJr. for part of the time to take the DEQX out of the equation (it is currently only acting as an analog preamp – no EQ – and allows for XLR input and output to both mains amp and subs).

Changing speakers or leaving out the DEQX did not make a difference in my impressions of the amp.

Putting an analog stage in front of a digital amp struck me as a good idea on paper, and has the potential for making it sound better – as I assume the tubes do in the BHK amps.  It is not an expensive amp in the Audiophile Grand Scheme of Things, though of course that should not necessarily be a factor.  Awesome advances being made regularly – many by PS Audio. My thought was that with the economies of scale and OEM parts cost for PS Audio, this amp could outperform my more costly DIY.

I had thought of doing this backwards – that is, starting with conclusions and working back to first impressions, as to a degree, for one reason or another, the early impressions should be thrown out. But I’ll go ahead in chronological order. Just bear in mind that my first impressions were very negative, and they colored my perceptions of the amp throughout the beta.

Out of the box, the Stellar was very nearly unlistenable. I had been listening to a lot of piano music, jazz and classical, as the things the DMP/DSJ combination does for that instrument are wonderful. With the unbroken-in Stellar, louder piano note transients were distorted. The gains in resolution and timing from the DMP were blurred to such a degree that I quickly gave up and left the Stellar running with a CD on repeat overnight. After another couple of days, I was in contact with Duncan and Darren, looking to return it to see if the unit was defective in some way. It had improved somewhat, but was nowhere near what I had hoped for.

One thing that was very noticeable about the S300 vs. my amp was that the gain was significantly higher with the Stellar in the chain. This is despite the fact that the S300 is rated at 300w into 4 ohms, while the nCore spec is 400w into 4 ohms. I have no way of knowing why this was the case. It led me to test taking the DEQX out of the chain to see if that had an effect. However, my impressions of the sound are the same with or without the DEQX.

I returned the unit, and the PS folks listened to it, informed me that it was not defective but needed more breakin. They ran it in to where they thought it should be, which apparently takes as much as 200 hours. They then returned the SAME unit to me a month ago at their expense to get my opinion of it.

I can’t recall hearing a piece of audio gear change so significantly. Anyone doubting the need for burn-in on some devices should hear this thing change. Had it sounded like this to start with, I would have had much less of a negative first impression of it.  It had mellowed significantly WHILE I first had it (maybe 40 hours of burnin).  I also have the impression that no one else had noted it being as harsh sounding out of the box as I did.

Sound post burn-in

When I got the burned-in unit back I had the Harbeths in the system, and so the SQ thoughts are primarily based on listening with those.

Others have noted revealing high end and solid bottom. My notes have consistently been that the low-mids are lean and the treble is overly revealing. Another way of putting it is if you imagine a flat response line, I see this amp’s response as being tilted toward the higher frequencies.

For me, a larger issue than the response tilt was that the mids sound congested – a word that came to mind more than once was “furry”. The effect of this on imaging was that, compared with my amp, the sound of the Stellar emanated more from the speakers themselves, and on a line between the tweeters. When I switched back to my amp, the imaging was more solid yet more relaxed – and larger. If I were to make a 2D drawing of the comparative imaging, my amp’s is like a Venn diagram, with two large circles drawn around the speakers, intersecting in a large area between the speakers. The S300 I visualize as a narrow horizontal oval with the tweeters in either end.

So, post breakin, the initial harshness had mellowed considerably, but it still had this congestion in the all important midrange, particularly in louder/dynamic passages, which was the main irritant when I first heard it.  On the PS Audio page for the amp, it states, “music’s inner details are preserved even in the most complex orchestral crescendos.” It is during louder passages that I hear this congestion the most, whether it is solo piano or an orchestra.

When I would switch back and take an equally hard look at it, my amp wasn’t perfect or full-on magical. Nits that I had noted on the S300 were present on my amp as well, but usually to a lesser degree. Even with its faults, comparatively my amp is more musical and has smoother, more open midrange, and more dynamic ease (without even getting into the top and bottom).

As noted earlier, highs are louder/more prominent on the S300, which may be why the rest of the spectrum sounds recessed. This could make it a better match with either a “laid back” sort of speaker, or an owner who likes to hear a lot of detail. Things like string squeaks, clicks, picks and strikes are hyped on my system, so that I hear more of that sort of thing than the body of the string’s/instrument’s sound. For example, listening to the Dire Straits Brothers in Arms SACD, on the acoustic guitar intro to “The Man’s Too Strong” the guitar sounds overly spanky, with unnatural transients. The Harbeths, I appreciate, can be fairly revealing of this sort of thing, as they are descended from monitor speakers – but I’ve been listening to monitors most of my life. When I tried the S300 out with the Quads, the issues I have were even more noticeable, as they are midrange champs.

It seems that the better the recording, the more obvious the differences are. During Paul Simon’s “Stranger to Stranger”, I felt the need to switch back to my amp to check if it sounded as different as I thought. As before, with my amp there were more mids — vocals more naturally forward in the mix, tonal balance and transients more natural.

I realize I’m going at the Stellar from a sonic analysis point of view, rather than “how music sounds” on it – but I have repeatedly tried to leave it in the system to “get used to it”, and I can’t. I keep hearing its sound signature rather than the music, and I found that puzzling, being at odds with the claims – and my hopes. Every time I have listened to this amp for any length of time, I reach a point where I feel the need to go back to my amp just to check that I’m not imagining things.  And, sho ‘nuff, I ain’t. (for me, on my system. YMMV.)

This is not at all to say that the Stellar sucks, or that my amp is a paragon of virtues. The task for the beta testers was to compare with one’s current amp. The Stellar and nCore have more in common than either have with other amp topologies. They are both powerful class D amps, and so share some overall traits – solidity, clarity, detail and the dynamic ease that comes with high power.

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April 16, 2017
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Very well written review badbeef!  While I’m sure Paul (and the rest of PS Audio) will be somewhat disappointed I think he will admire the effort you put into this and the fair shake you gave it.  I’ve been reading the beta reviews and was wondering if the Stellar might have been very close to the BHK, but your review brought out aspects that I think would have turned me off.  I’m sure the folks who are happy with their Stellar are just fine, the BHK is the next step in the journey.

Vandersteen 5, BHK 250 Signature amplifier (on PowerBase), BHK Preamp, DirectStream DAC, Bridge II, DirectStream Memory Player, NuWave Phono Converter, VPI Aries Extended/JMW 12.5/ Shelter 901/SDS, SolidSteel Equipment Rack, AudioQuest Niagara interconnect, Goertz MI-2 speaker cable, PS Audio and homemade power cables, and Noise Harvesters.

April 16, 2017
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+1

SOTA Sapphire TT with OriginLive arm - NuWave phono preamp - DS DAC + Bridge II - Synology DS213 NAS running MinimServer - DS Memory Player - BHK Signature preamp - BHK 250 amp on a PowerBase - PowerPlant 5 - Von Schweikert VR IV-jr speakers bi-wired with Analysis Plus Oval 9 cable

April 16, 2017
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I do appreciate Mark’s efforts and open honesty. It’s appreciated. I would have to guess what he experienced is a lack of synergy. I can tell you straight out what he heard is not representative of how it sounds. I’ve listened extensively to the product and it is neither harsh nor clouded in the midrange – and that on quite a number of systems.

Synergy is a tough call and there’s no doubt BHK is a big, big step better than Stellar. But I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater based on this review – nor my words either. I can guarantee you this. If Mark or any one of you were to show up at my front door and ask for an audition, you’d not have these same comments.

Which says to me it’s synergy.

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.

April 16, 2017
11:44 am
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So, the Stellar has good synergy with the IRS?  Kind of an economical mismatch, but not unheard of.  I will say the IRS was not analytical in any sense of the “bad” connotation.  Lots of good detail there was (and still is)!  Were the Stellar products auditioned on lesser gear?  I know there were lots of systems in the PS Audio offices, though not sure they were set up for serious audition.

Vandersteen 5, BHK 250 Signature amplifier (on PowerBase), BHK Preamp, DirectStream DAC, Bridge II, DirectStream Memory Player, NuWave Phono Converter, VPI Aries Extended/JMW 12.5/ Shelter 901/SDS, SolidSteel Equipment Rack, AudioQuest Niagara interconnect, Goertz MI-2 speaker cable, PS Audio and homemade power cables, and Noise Harvesters.

April 16, 2017
11:46 am
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Paul – It certainly seemed mysterious to me, which was why I sent it back the first time – I didn’t want to waste either of our times if it wasn’t right for some reason.

re: synergy: That is why for part of the time the chain was: P3/DMP/DSJ/amp(s)/speakers.  During that period I also swapped the ICs out, trying Mogami XLRs instead of the Transparents.  My impressions didn’t change significantly with any of the changes I tried.  I guess you could say I spent the whole time trying to disprove my first impression, which is why I noted it in the review – it wasn’t a typical situation.  I believe in cognitive bias, and admit I had it up front.

I would also say that this was in no way the sort of thorough and careful months-long review you would expect from, say, a magazine reviewer.  One user’s subjective opinion only.

I realized partway through the process that the added gain of the S300 relative to my amp meant that the subs needed to be adjusted each time I swapped amps, which is another reason the first impressions need to be thrown out.  I attempted to give the S300 the benefit of the doubt, so to speak, by making sure I tried higher and lower overall volume levels, as well as higher and lower sub levels.  I also listened without subs.

I would not suggest that anyone make a decision on any piece of gear based on anyone’s review – especially mine.  PS Audio will let you audition their gear in your system for 30 days, and take it back if you don’t like it.

If we came by for an audition, though, what would we be comparing it with?  Not trying to be a PITA, just sayin’.  I will be in Boulder in the fall (if not before) for work, and I can bring my amp – though I expect you will have compared with similar amps.

I truly hate to cause you consternation, as I am a fan of your work (see below).  But I’m just trying to do my job to the best of my ability given the time frame and compensation ; )

P3, DMP via I2S (PS Audio HDMI) or Bill Ernst-modded Mac Mini running Roon via galvanically isolated USB chain (or ethernet to Bridge II) to DS Junior, Mogami XLRs, Hypex nCore 400-based amp, Harbeth SHL5+ or Quad 988's with JLAudio f112 subs.  Analog:  VPI Scout, JMW 9 arm, Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC, VTL TL 2.5 Phono Stage or PS Audio Phono Converter, I2S to DS Jr.

April 16, 2017
11:54 am
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Badbeef, I would recommend you stop in at PS Audio.  I was there last Monday and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The folks there are real nice and it’s fun to see the people you chat with on the forum and the environment where all our (certainly my) favorite electronics are made.  To hear your amp on their system would just be a bonus.  Just to see the (monolith) IRS is worth it, those speakers dominate a room …

Vandersteen 5, BHK 250 Signature amplifier (on PowerBase), BHK Preamp, DirectStream DAC, Bridge II, DirectStream Memory Player, NuWave Phono Converter, VPI Aries Extended/JMW 12.5/ Shelter 901/SDS, SolidSteel Equipment Rack, AudioQuest Niagara interconnect, Goertz MI-2 speaker cable, PS Audio and homemade power cables, and Noise Harvesters.

April 16, 2017
12:01 pm
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pmotz – been planning to for a while.  Totally intended to last fall, but got busy with work.

Can you imagine me coming into the Lion’s Den with my HYPE-x amp?  It would be an interesting test of cognitive bias, for all of us, at least. ; )

I should state that I don’t have any great love or affiliation with Hypex – I was simply asked to compare, and I did.

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P3, DMP via I2S (PS Audio HDMI) or Bill Ernst-modded Mac Mini running Roon via galvanically isolated USB chain (or ethernet to Bridge II) to DS Junior, Mogami XLRs, Hypex nCore 400-based amp, Harbeth SHL5+ or Quad 988's with JLAudio f112 subs.  Analog:  VPI Scout, JMW 9 arm, Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC, VTL TL 2.5 Phono Stage or PS Audio Phono Converter, I2S to DS Jr.

April 16, 2017
1:24 pm
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Interesting, I have the same NCore except with some custom noise tweaking.

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April 16, 2017
1:46 pm
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This reminds me in a way of the ongoing discussion we are having in the MQA thread.  Compared to what?  

Paul – when you listened to this amp in a number of systems, did you then listen to various other amps in those same systems, and decide the S300 was better in all cases?

P3, DMP via I2S (PS Audio HDMI) or Bill Ernst-modded Mac Mini running Roon via galvanically isolated USB chain (or ethernet to Bridge II) to DS Junior, Mogami XLRs, Hypex nCore 400-based amp, Harbeth SHL5+ or Quad 988's with JLAudio f112 subs.  Analog:  VPI Scout, JMW 9 arm, Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC, VTL TL 2.5 Phono Stage or PS Audio Phono Converter, I2S to DS Jr.

April 16, 2017
6:28 pm
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What I am not clear on is the lack of synergy. Where is it? The system was at times pure PS Audio, the only variables being the ICs and speakers.

I would think the DS Jr would match up well with the amps. Anyone slowly building a system, might leave the amps for last. Buy the best DAC and preamp you can afford, then move on to amps. I know in my system the next thing I would upgrade is my amp. This is hypothetical as I can’t afford to upgrade anything.

I would think the DS Jr and the Stellar amps would be a somewhat common path, especially the monoblocks. Unless you don’t like your preamp and DAC, the Stellar preamp/DAC would not be a direction to go in. Only someone building a system from scratch would consider the GCD and then for convenience. I do realize that all in one units are gaining in popularity, but personally I would never buy a 2 channel preamp with a built in DAC. Especially when you can use the DSs as simplified preamps. 

I don’t recall, have any of the beta testers compared the GCD to the PSA DAC it replaced? I have read many positive things about the old DAC. 

So any clarification on this lack of synergy would be helpful.

And I do agree with the Beef, that with PSAs 30 day trial, all you have to lose is shipping one way, so an at home audition is the thing to do. The Stellars may be ideal in your system. Make up your own mind. Legacy is selling amps again, and they are Class D. The last amps they sold were made by Coda, and were Class AB. That leads me to believe that Class D is worthy of consideration. 

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April 17, 2017
6:43 am
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The S300 and M700s were all voiced and auditioned extensively on the IRSV. They were driven by the GCD because we figured most people would want to pair the combo. We also did final checks using the BHK preamp, but mostly, the GCD was used.

We also spent time on the Elacs as well as Era speakers and then loaned them out to several in the community to try on their own – I am not sure what equipment they had.

I am not arguing with Mark’s conclusion – but I know these amps to be good sounding – excellent, in fact. So if they don’t match what we hear, that leads me to believe synergy. What else could it be? I am certain if I attended Mark’s listening session at his home, I would have heard exactly what he reported and would have likely reported the same thing. And the opposite is likely true. If Mark had attended any of our sessions here on the ultra-revealing IRSV powered by Stellar, he would have had a huge smile on his face as anyone else would.

In any case, that’s why we have our in-home trial. And why we pay shipping costs both ways. And why we don’t sell your trade-in until after 30-days. Just in case you’re not happy with the purchase because of system synergy or any other factor. We don’t ask why you’re returning it, we just want to make sure you’re delighted to keep it and would prefer to have it back if you’re not.

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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.

April 17, 2017
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I have to give props to Duncan, Darren and Paul for their openness.  I offered to drop out of the beta when I returned the amp the first time, as I could not imagine it changing enough that I would want to keep it.  They sent it back to me at their expense in order to get my thoughts on it anyway, knowing I was not likely to give it a good review.

P3, DMP via I2S (PS Audio HDMI) or Bill Ernst-modded Mac Mini running Roon via galvanically isolated USB chain (or ethernet to Bridge II) to DS Junior, Mogami XLRs, Hypex nCore 400-based amp, Harbeth SHL5+ or Quad 988's with JLAudio f112 subs.  Analog:  VPI Scout, JMW 9 arm, Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC, VTL TL 2.5 Phono Stage or PS Audio Phono Converter, I2S to DS Jr.

April 17, 2017
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Thanks Mark for the well written and detailed review.

I’m surprised you didn’t enjoy the Harbeth and S300 combo since I have the S300 driving some P3esr’s here at the office and it’s an absolute joy to listen to. What’s interesting is that a small nit pick of mine regarding the P3esr is that with certain electronics they can sound closed in and slightly lacking in resolution. The S300 opened them up and made them sound the best I have ever heard them. Unfortunately, I don’t have much experience with the HL5’s to know how the two speakers differ in presentation. 

April 17, 2017
11:23 am
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Darren – this brings up some interesting points. I mention this because I found this to be a fairly challenging task vs. the DSJ and DMP betas, and it calls many things into question for me with respect to reviewing components. Please understand that I’m mentioning this stuff in the spirit of, “Isn’t this an interesting problem?”

If the new component is clearly better in a number of ways than what you’re coming from, it’s pretty easy, everybody’s happy and few question it.

If I had at first listened to a broken in S300 and you had simply asked me to let you know if it “sounded good” with any of my speakers without comparing it to anything, I would probably have said yes. I would also speculate that if this were the first high quality Class D amp I had heard in my system, I would have been very impressed.

But it wasn’t my first Class D, and the entire time I was focused on the question, “Is it better – or do I like it more – than my amp enough to replace it?” Very different questions.

What amp were you using before on your Harbeths that the S300 “opened them up” comparatively? You don’t have to answer – it’s a rhetorical question – I would assume that if you were using a BHK to run them, your experience would have been different. I’m trying to get at the difficulty of knowing exactly what it is one is hearing, and why.

The only common element in the scenario you outline is the S300. You and I are different, you designed the S300 and I didn’t, the P3esr and SHL5’s are different (and Quads and ACI’s), our rooms and associated components are different, etc.

If everyone agreed on a single component it would be impressive indeed. Having an opinion in this area and expressing it is asking for trouble!

P3, DMP via I2S (PS Audio HDMI) or Bill Ernst-modded Mac Mini running Roon via galvanically isolated USB chain (or ethernet to Bridge II) to DS Junior, Mogami XLRs, Hypex nCore 400-based amp, Harbeth SHL5+ or Quad 988's with JLAudio f112 subs.  Analog:  VPI Scout, JMW 9 arm, Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC, VTL TL 2.5 Phono Stage or PS Audio Phono Converter, I2S to DS Jr.

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