GainCell DAC

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GainCell DAC

The Stellar GainCell DAC combines the benefits of an exceptional analog preamplifier and a full-featured DAC. It's affordable excellence.

GainCell DAC

The Stellar GainCell DAC combines the benefits of an exceptional analog preamplifier and a full-featured DAC. It's affordable excellence.

The analog preamplifier is the heart and soul of any high-performance audio system. It’s the point in a system where music’s magic can be won or lost. For more than 45 years, PS Audio has been building preamplifiers that honor the music and preserve the magic. The Stellar Gain Cell DAC is no exception. It features fully balanced class A analog circuitry from input to output, along with a state of the art DAC that ensures perfect symmetry between analog and digital. Rediscover the wealth of music in your library, with Stellar. Rich, sweet, and always a musical treat, Stellar GainCell DAC is our best value in bringing life to music.

Eligible for up to $570 of credit with Trade-In.
Out of stock


The idea of building a no-loss analog preamplifier with its own built-in cutting edge DAC was the basis of the Stellar GainCell design imperative. At this instrument's heart is the analog GainCell. Rather than using additional sonically-degrading elements inserted in the signal path to control volume, the GainCell eliminates this problem without additional circuitry in the signal path by varying its gain in response to front panel controls. Based on industry leading Sabre32 bit Hyperstream architecture, Stellar DAC features a fully balanced Class A analog output stage with multiple power supplies, independent jitter-reduced inputs, DSD, I2S, and asynchronous USB.


The Stellar GainCell DAC is a full function analog preamplifier featuring a state of the art built in Digital to Analog Converter inside. It is all you need as the basis of a reference quality music system. Add a power amplifier and a pair of loudspeakers and you'll be reveling in sonic bliss within moments. Connect a computer, CD player, or digital source to any of Stellar's multiple digital inputs, or a Stellar Phono Preamplifier to its analog ins, and you've just built one of the highest value music systems in the world.


The preamp
Think of the Stellar GainCell DAC as a complete analog control center with an exceptional performing DAC at its heart. All the features and functions you’d ever want in an analog preamplifier and modern DAC are right here in Stellar. A zero-loss, fully balanced, pure, analog signal path combined with DAC features rarely found at any price level: pure DSD, asynchronous USB, Digital Lens technology, I²S to connect to our best transport, balanced throughout. Replace your preamplifier, your DAC—or both—and be stunned at the level of improvement when the full and rich tapestry of music surprises and delights your senses. Together, or separately, they create an extraordinarily rich, full-bodied musical experience few standalone products can match. The Stellar Gain Cell is the perfect foundation for those unwilling to compromise sound quality. Rich. Lush. Powerful. A music lover’s answer to spiraling cost-no-object equipment without sacrifice. In the more than forty years of PS Audio’s design innovations and breakthrough products, Stellar’s groundbreaking level of performance as our gateway standalone DAC and preamplifier is unmatched for price and performance by their standalone competitors. Taken together, we’re willing to bet you’ve never heard anything quite this good at anywhere even remotely close to this price.
At the heart of the Stellar Gain Cell is its analog preamplifier section called the GainCell, a unique approach to solving a classic problem for preamplifier designers, the volume control. All preamplifiers must provide a means for the volume level to be turned up or down. Typically this is accomplished by inserting a mechanical or electronic element in the signal path which degrades the musical signal to some degree. PS Audio's unique GainCell solves the sonic losses associated with classic volume controls by using a different technology known as a variable gain amplifier. Instead of adding additional circuitry to the signal path to vary loudness, the preamplifier’s actual amplifier stage varies its gain in response to the user’s front panel volume control. This method requires zero additional circuitry in the signal path, thus eliminating the need for additional circuitry that loses musical information. Stellar’s GainCell's sound is rich, full and engaging in ways few preamplifiers can claim. From the quietest micro-dynamics to the loudest macro-dynamic passages, Stellar’s GainCell outputs gorgeous music through either its balanced or single ended outputs or its headphone amplifier. Music takes on new life through the GainCell.
The DAC inside the Stellar GainCell will transform your expectations of what’s possible in resolving all of music's nuance and splendor without a trace of digital harshness. The DAC itself is based on the acclaimed 32-bit ESS Sabre Hyperstream architecture, the output of which is passively filtered to reduce transient distortion. The DAC's output stage is a unique Class-A configuration, fully balanced and direct coupled hybrid array, with an extended bandwidth of -3dB at 60 kHz feeding directly into Stellar’s analog GainCell. The GainCell DAC features a high-resolution USB path based on the same XMOS technology found in our DirectStream DAC, as well as our exclusive I²S inputs featuring a separate clock and data signal from the source. I2S outputs are sent via an HDMI cable and I²S compatible sources can be purchased from PS Audio as well as other manufacturers. We believe that one audition of a simple CD, played through the Gain Cell DAC, will open your eyes to the magic these design efforts have brought. And once you hear what the Gain Cell DAC does on ordinary CDs, we can’t wait for you to hear what the Gain Cell DAC can do for higher resolution PCM and DSD.


The PS Audio Stellar Preamp and S300 Amplifier are a couple of the most musical components I’ve heard in a long time, especially in solid state, and especially in this price point. What we’re really looking for from our hard-earned dollar is the enjoyment of our music and if this were my current market, I would snatch these two components up in a heartbeat. PS Audio continues to impress me with their products, their service, and their attention to detail. The Stellar Gain Cell DAC has certainly forever changed my viewpoint on what a good DAC can do, and I encourage you to audition this for...

Michael Lawrance

The Shoestring Audiophile

It matters little how well your DAC recreates the original analog signal, if the analog section isn’t able to pass that signal in a musical way…. The real test for a DAC is its performance with 16/44.1 kHz, so I began with that…. The musicality presented by the combination of the Digital Lens and PS Audio’s analog section was unprecedented, providing a laser flat, neutral tonal balance, with extension deep into the subsonic as well as the ultrasonic. The detail was such that it produced a huge soundstage with the individual instruments portrayed separately in their own space, with their own...

Gary Alan Barker

All PS Audio components I’ve encountered (or owned) are incredibly well-built and the Stellar line is no exception. They have a weight, look and feel that exudes quality belying their sub-$5,000 USD total cost and puts me in mind of gear I’ve reviewed costing double this price point.

The PS Audio Stellar ‘three-fer’ proved itself to sound far more captivating, powerful, lyrical, musical and possess a humanity to its sonic signature in playback of all types of music than I previously thought a preamplifier and mono blocks priced under $5,000 USD would be capable of. They would, without fail...

Rafe Arnott


“…I could not fault the sound of the Gain Cell DAC -- its neutrality and honesty were captivating, leading to compelling listening. During my time with it and the pair of M700s, I always felt they had total control over whatever music was thrown at them, in whatever format. From the understated nuance of an unaccompanied lute to the bombast of a symphony orchestra going full tilt, the laid-back drive of dub or the pulse of electronica, I not once felt deprived of any of the music’s emotion, rhythm, dynamics or detail. Whether using planar, stand-mounted or floorstanding speakers, I knew I...

Guy Lemcoe

The Audio Beat

Speaking of price, there's nothing about the Stellar Gain Cell DAC/Preamp that says under $2k. This holds for the music it makes which is really great news. Based on my experience, albeit time-worn, I get the impression that PS Audio likes to make music sound highly listenable through its products. You know, the way we want it to sound. The Stellar Gain Cell DAC/Preamp commits no digital crimes against music. It is smooth, well-balanced, and eminently listenable… The preamplifier, as advertised, is very good sounding and there's no reason not to mate Stellar with your amp-O-choice. Again...

Michael Lavorgna


They sounded so good together I couldn't bring myself to try too many other speakers. The sound was rich with resolution to die for.
Magnepan speakers aren't known for their deep bass punch, but here with the two Stellars the .7 speakers' low bass was kicking with "The Legendary Skatalites in Dub" reggae album with really low, feel-it-through-your-toes bass. Austin Wintory's orchestral score for "The Banner Saga" sounded downright huge, and the low bass drums definition was truly stellar!

Steve Guttenbergh


that's its greatest strength: the Stellar Gain Cell DAC allows you to seamlessly, transparently switch between sources, increase gain, and make meaningful sound adjustments, all the while calling zero attention to itself. This unit is not merely a DAC with a volume control: it's the ideal analog preamplifier, and the fact that it includes PS Audio's idea of trickle-down engineering in the form of an affordable, nearly world-class, budget-friendly DAC is the icing. The GCD is a keeper—it comes very highly recommended!

Tom Gibbs

Positive Feedback Magazine

The headphone amp section of the Stellar DAC appears to build on that device. So let's call it an improved version of the GCHA (originally $999), with far lower output impedance for better compatibility. Then throw in a PS Audio NuWave DSD for the DAC section (which is still in their catalog at $1299), making sure to tweak a few things for improved performance. At this point we've already far surpassed the $1699 asking price for the Gain Cell DAC, and that's not even counting the superb analog preamp section designed specifically for this device.


John Grandberg

Inner Fidelity

Let me just cut to the chase. The Stellar exceeded my expectations for sound quality in nearly every respect. The digital inputs produced gobs of detail, great dynamics, proper soundstage, and wide frequency range. Ripped CDs and hi-res downloads sounded astoundingly good via USB input played by my player of choice, Channel D’s Pure Music, on my Macbook Pro. Plus, the analog inputs sounded clean, full, and lively. Exactly like I hoped they would!
There’s no way around it, this is one hell of a lot of value packed into a single chassis. And the sound is as good or better than you are going to..

Mark Wieman

Daily Audiophile

The PS Audio’s Stellar DAC is a well built, quality component with excellent functionality (headphone jack, too) with solid performance at an affordable price. In other words, a true audio bargain.

Martin Appel

HiFi Pig

It is rather amazing to consider how much excellence PS Audio has managed to squeeze into this one product. Would you get better sound, say from a standalone DAC that costs as much as the Stellar? Possibly, but you’d still need to buy a preamp to go with it. And chances are, one with similar flexibility and performance as the Stellar’s won’t be available on the cheap. Factor in the excellent headphone amp section and it’s hard to argue with the appeal and value of the Stellar.

If your system already comprises top-notch gear, this may not represent a significant improvement over the existing..

J. Loh

Audio Fi

Significant improvement

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.

- Swb1509


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.

- Spons

In the room!

The piano was as close to “in the room” as I have heard here. The SACD version of the same album was very good….but, missing some of the clarity that the GCD imparted to the plain old red book CD. The difference, I think, is which DAC is doing the DACing here. The Essence is upsampling LPCM 88.2 to 192K, then pushing it through whatever DAC is in there. The analog preamp part of the GCD is doing a great job with what it is getting from the Essence, but, I have to say, the red book CD version using the GCD DAC and preamp sounds better than the SACD through the Essence DAC thence to the GCD preamp section. This is depressing, given what I had hoped for from SACDs…..but, gives me inspiration to, someday, get a transport that will feed native DSD to my GCD.

- Calord

Wide sound stage

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.

- Rio


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

- Corsentino

I am keeping it!

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!

- mggm56


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.

- Uncola

I'm a bass whore

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.

- Whymustidothis


With any good recording, my system will energize the room with instruments placed front, back, and side to side from my listening chair. The Oppo did a good job with this effect, in general, but I was sometimes having to work to see the images in the sound field. (this was using the HDCD decoding in the Oppo). Next I switched to the Stellar DAC and sat down to listen. On the very first hearing the GCD had impressive imaging of instruments with very good instrument localization and air. It also had very good frequency extension at both ends of the frequency range. The imaging was improved over the Oppo, with easier to resolve instrument placing in the sound field, and a more realistic and solid image outlines. I did not have to work as much to perceive the instrument's location and I felt a better connection with the music on the GCD. I felt like the GCD had better realism that allowed me to get sucked into the music and forget the outside world for a while. For me, this is my acid test of a playback system.

- Mike

A revelation

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.

- L Couplin

This is going to be fun!

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

- Gene

A keeper!

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

- Windowman

It's just better, plain and simple

After swapping the Pioneer SA-8500 for the Stellar GCD I sat down and pressed play and set the volume on the Stellar GCD, closed my eyes once again. I couldn't believe that "One" could sound even better. It's just better, plain and simple. Stellar made the music come to life even more. Everything you want to be better when you're listening to music was better. Throw out any audiophile adverb and whatever it is, it was improved. I'm not using balanced XLR cable connections or audiophile power cables or even a power conditioner. These are gold plated Parts Express RCA connections and copper speaker wires, nothing special. I have to say my favorite track is Fiona Joy. I can see the hammers hitting the strings with each note, amazing. The snare on track two, wow!!! I can literally reach out and touch that snare at the end of my ottoman. How??? I'm in love! I threw in Nils Lofgren next of course. I personally like Some must Dream better than Keith Don't Go. On the Stellar GCD the separation of the two guitars was more separate. The two voices were more separated also. I could pinpoint their locations better. Even CD's that aren't "great" recordings were "purer"? I could hear things I hadn't noticed before. You can distinguish between each instrument and voices so much better, clearer I guess. Looking forward to the rest of the evenings this week to play. I'm also ripping all my CD's to my NAS through my MAC Mini. I'll be plugging that into the Stellar GCD later this week.

- Troy Baldwin

2018 Stellar Gain Cell DAC Product of the Year from Headphone Guru

2018 Stellar Gain Cell DAC Greatest Bits Award from AudioStream

2018 Editor’s Choice Award from AudioStream



Unit Weight 13.5 lbs [6.1 kg]
Unit Dimensions 17” x 12” x 3”
Shipping Weight 17 lbs [7.7 kg]
Shipping Dimensions 23”x 18” x 9”

Power requirements

Input Power Model specific 100VAC, 120VAC, or 230VAC 50 or 60Hz
Power Consumption 20W
Mains Power Input IEC C14
Fuses 100V T250V-2.0AH (2A Slow Blow)
120V T250V-1.6AH (1.6A Slow Blow)
230V T250V-1.0AH (1.0A Slow Blow)
Accessories included US (NEMA 5-15P) (all versions)
Schuko (CEE7/7) (230V version)
UK (BS1363) (230V version)

Analog inputs

3 stereo pair
1 stereo pair

Digital audio inputs

I2S 1 PCM (384KHz max)
DSD64 DSD128
Compatible with DirectStream Transport SACD handshake for DSD playback
Coax 2 PCM (192KHz max)
Optical 1 PCM (96KHz max)
USB PCM (384KHz max)
DSD64 (DoP) DSD128 (DoP)
Format PCM, DSD

Analog Audio Outputs

(Analog Unbalanced) 1 stereo pair
(Analog Balanced) 1 stereo pair
One 1/4″ headphone connector front panel

Analog Performance

Maximum output
12dB +/-0.5dB
20 Vrms
Input Impedance 47KΩ single ended RCA
100KΩ Balanced XLR
Output Impedance 100Ω single ended RCA
200Ω balanced XLR
Frequency Response 20Hz – 20KHz +0/- 0.25dB
10Hz – 100KHz +0.1/-3.0dB
Noise 20-20KHz <-90dBV
S/N Ratio 1KHz >110dB (max output)
Channel separation 1KHz >90dB
Input separation 1KHz >90dB
THD&IM 1KHz < 0.025%
20-20KHz < 0.05%

Headphone performance

Output power @1% THD 300Ω 300mW
16Ω 3.25W
S/N Ratio 1kHz
>95dB (max output)
THD & IM 1Vrms out 300Ω <0.05%
16Ω <0.06%
Output impedance <4 Ω


Volume Control 0-100 (1/2 and 1dB steps, 80dB total range)
Balance Control 24dB each direction in 1/2dB steps
Home Theater Mode Assignable to any analog input
Adjustable (in setup) to any level
Polarity (phase) Control Digital sources only
Filter Control 3 selectable digital filters (PCM digital sources only)
Trigger output (3.5mm 5-15VDC) 2
Remote Control Yes. Infra Red


© 2023 PS Audio, Inc.

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