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GainCell DAC/Preamplifier

Full featured analog preamplifier and DAC

Built in Boulder
All units handmade in Boulder, Colorado

The Stellar Gain Cell™ combines the benefits of an exceptional analog preamplifier and a full-featured DAC. Fully balanced analog circuitry from input to output, the Stellar Gain Cell builds upon years of research and innovation in the art of Class A analog amplification and state-of-the-art digital reproduction. 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.

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Stellar GainCell Preamplifier

Product Description

The idea of building a no-loss analog preamplifier with its own built-in cutting edge DAC was the basis of the Stellar Gain Cell™ design imperative. Add any analog or digital source to Stellar’s input, a power amp and speakers to its output, and music filled with rich textures and toe-tapping energy surprise and delight even the most critical Audiophile.

At this instrument’s heart is the analog Gain Cell™. Developed in the early 2000’s by PS Audio founder Paul McGowan, the Gain Cell™ elegantly solves the fundamental problem facing preamp designers. Volume control. Nearly all analog preamplifiers use additional sonically-degrading elements inserted in the signal path to control volume. These impediments to the signal path’s purity range from simple potentiometers to exotic stepped attenuators, relays, solid state switches, ladder networks, transformers, light dependent resistors. All share intrusive elements in the signal path. The Gain Cell eliminates this problem without additional circuitry in the signal path by varying its gain in response to front panel controls.

Integrated into this analog preamplifier is a stunning, Bob Stadtherr designed, digital to analog converter. 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.

Together, the Stellar™ Gain Cell preamplifier and DAC make musical magic.

This product qualifies for our risk free in-home trial in the continental United States when purchased directly from PS Audio. And, trade in and save. Let us repurchase your old equipment at its full and original retail price. We’ll give it a good home and make sure you have the best power in the world. Just click the green Trade Up and Save button above these words to take advantage.

  • Class A balanced analog preamplifier
  • Full function DAC
  • Class A headphone output
  • Remote control
  • Fixed or variable DAC mode
  • 2 output 12 volt triggers

Analog preamplifier

  • One balanced analog input
  • Three single ended analog inputs
  • Analog Gain Cell stage
  • Fully balanced input to output
  • Balanced XLR analog output
  • Single ended RCA analog output
  • Home theater bypass
  • Direct coupled without any capacitors in output signal path

Digital To Analog Converter

  • Four digital inputs
  • I2S input
  • Digital Lens technology
  • Native Mode
  • Three user selectable digital filters
  • Compatible with PS Audio DMP for SACD playback in DSD
  • DSD direct through I2S
  • 192kHz asynchronous coax input
  • 384kHz asynchronous USB
  • 96kHz asynchronous TOSLINK input
  • Single and double rate DSD
  • CPLD input (FPGA) lowers jitter, waveshapes, reduces propagation delay
  • Native mode standard
  • No added Sample Rate Conversion
  • High current class A hybrid output stage
  • Passive output filter lowers transient distortion
  • Direct coupled without any capacitors in output signal path
  • High bandwidth output stage -3dB 60kHz
  • Low jitter clocks
  • High Current oversized analog power supply
  • 7 voltage regulators
  • High speed power supply diodes
  • Massive 15,000 mFd low ESR capacitors
  • ESS Hyperstream


Home Theater HiFi

Yonki Go

The PS Audio GainCell preamp/DAC is a winner in every respect. It is an excellently built versatile preamplifier that can handle both the analog and digital signal switching equally well. Not only that, but it can also serve as a very capable headphone amplifier. Its audiophile quality is obvious in every aspect of its sonic performance. Transparent, great tonal balance, and good dynamics are some of the nice traits of the sonic characteristics of the GCD

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The Sound Advocate

Howard Milstein

The Stellar GCD is a fine sounding, preeminently convenient preamp/control unit that contains a top-quality DAC; ultimately bringing forth fine stereo image localization and stability from the loudspeakers employed in the listening sessions as well as good depth perspectives and ambient detail.

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James Longman

Achieving the highest possible performance while having the price in mind is a very difficult task but PS Audio completed it without taking any shortcuts and without making any ‘’rotten’’ compromises. Sure, Stellar Gain Cell preamp/DAC will never be as good as their BHK signature preamp or some other much more expensive preamp/DAC but it can definitely outperform any DAC/preamp combo device in its price category. Every true music lover will appreciate the performance and musicality of this amazing DAC/preamp.

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The Shoestring Audiophile

Michael Lawrance

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 yourself.

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Gary Alan Barker

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 individual timbre and sense of air.

And the musicality was astounding.

The PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC works exceptionally well on every front, as a DAC, as a Preamp and as a Headphone Amplifier. It is extremely linear in tonality, almost honeyed in musicality, it is one of the most analog sounding DACs I have listened to. Yet the resolution, even with 44.1 kHz, is so high as to present an epic soundstage. It is extremely forgiving of both hardware and software… yet it can provide world class performance from high resolution files on reference quality Headphones.

I believe it to be the pinnacle of what can be achieved with a Chip based DAC, and would label it a reference DAC if not for the fact that PS Audio produces a DAC that they consider to be higher performance.

As a Headphone Amplifier you would be hard pressed to find a headphone that could not be driven single ended by the Gain Cell, and I am happy to place it among my favorite solid state amplifiers.

All in all, an epic effort and fully deserving of wholehearted recommendation.

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Rafe Arnott

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, elicit both an emotional and physical reaction whenever I played music through them and their lack of digital pretense and healthy dose of analog spirit was a listening experience which I embraced.

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The Audio Beat

Guy Lemcoe

“…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 would be rewarded with music free of noise, artifact or boredom. Used together, the Gain Cell DAC and M700s represent an intelligent, cost-effective entrance into high-end audio’s top tier….

“The PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC and M700 mono amps took my system to a level that, with some recordings, was eerily close to the real thing. Paul McGowan and his crew in Boulder should be beaming with pride over the superlative performance of these components. Those making a first purchase or those seeking to upgrade must audition these electronics or risk having spent hard-earned money foolishly elsewhere.”

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Michael Lavorgna

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, I'm not talking about "considering its price", I'm talking about very good sounding. The same holds for that headamp which made my AudioQuest NightOwls sing (not screech). Overall, music is presented as nicely round without any glare or etch which can be a thing when shopping in this price aisle… PS Audio has gone and done it—the Stellar Gain Cell DAC/Preamp offers more performance than the sum of its part and price might suggest. This translates into a DAC/preamplifier that serves all of your music well, which should keep you listening for as long as time allows.

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Steve Guttenbergh

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!

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Positive Feedback Magazine

Tom Gibbs

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!

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Inner Fidelity

John Grandberg

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.


Doing the math shows us how much value PS Audio packed into their Stellar DAC—despite it being on the "lower end" of their lineup. It truly is a multi-function marvel. If you have use for all three aspects, or even just two out of three, the Stellar DAC merits serious consideration.

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Daily Audiophile

Mark Wieman

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 get for the price–especially when you consider the Stellar is both a DAC and a preamp. It provides outstanding, modern digital conversion as well as clean analog source selection and volume control. And it does so without adding noticeable noise or veiling, and without removing detail, depth, or tone color. Aside from a couple usability quirks, its operation was flawless, and the build quality is exceptional. Highly recommended!

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HiFi Pig

David Blumenstein

The Stellar DAC/Pre-Amp/Power Amplifier filled my listening room with 3D sound, and they matched well with each of my speakers; the floor standing Audio Physic Tempos, the stand mounted Platinum Audio ST 1’s and the low-to-the ground Mission 727s. I was surprised how different they made each sound and I spent a great deal of time swapping out my Parasound Halo 2.1 integrated amplifier, Bel Canto s300 integrated amplifier to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself. And, yes, I was hearing something new and more evocative from my usual suspects.

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Martin Appel

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.

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Audio Fi

J. Loh

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. But if you’re looking for insights into the high-end from mid-level equipment, this may be the easiest and most affordable ticket there. Highly recommended!

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It's just better, plain and simple

Troy Baldwin

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.

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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

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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!

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A revelation

L Couplin

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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