Once they provided to ship me the PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC, I admit, I hoped for considered one of their DirectStream DACs, each as a result of I discover their philosophy intriguing and I’m kinda wanting round for a brand new reference DAC (as a lot as I really like my previous Wolfson, it’s getting lengthy within the tooth, and doesn’t help the upper decision codecs comparable to 24/384 kHz or DSD 128 and past, and I really feel it’s time to transfer as much as a discrete element DAC). That being stated, just like the Sprout, the Stellar Gain Cell DAC is a return to PS Audio’s roots, most efficiency for minimal expenditure, and stresses what I think about to be probably the most missed and most necessary function of a DAC the Preamp (IE: the analog part). It issues little how nicely your DAC recreates the unique analog sign, if the analog part isn’t capable of cross that sign in a musical means.
The Nuts and Bolts of the PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC:
PS Audio begins by taking all enter alerts into the Gain Cell DAC in Native Mode, (with out upsampling) and feeding them immediately into their proprietary “Digital Lens”, a simplified FPGA often known as a CPLD (Complicated Programmable Logic System), which discovers pattern price and format, reclocks all incoming knowledge, reduces jitter, waveshapes knowledge output to the DAC chip, and makes use of excessive velocity/low gate rely logic to scale back propagation delay for quicker throughput.
The output of the Digital Lens is fed to a 32-bit ESS Sabre Hyperstream structure DAC chip which is in flip fed by way of a passive filter to scale back transient distortion (the Stellar provides a selection of three totally different digital filters to accommodate the listeners choice).
The guts of any piece of audio gear is the facility provide and PS Audio has reduce no corners on this regard, operating their giant analog transformer by means of seven regulators, correctly bypassed excessive velocity switching diodes, and an enormous 15,000 mFd of storage capacitance.
The output stage is a totally balanced, direct coupled, Class A, hybrid array (using each discrete semiconductors and ICs) with an prolonged bandwitdth of -3dB at 60 kHz feeding immediately into the Stellar’s Gain Cell, that’s voiced to optimize each DSD and PCM.
PS Audio’s Gain Cell, invented by Paul McGowan, is their distinctive method of coping with quantity management, quite than introducing one thing into the audio stream that may degrade the sound, they use a Gilbert Cell variable achieve amplifier (which means the achieve of the amplifier modifications slightly than the power of the output sign).
The Stellar incorporates a full analog preamp in its design with analog inputs (Three RCA Single Ended and 1 XLR Balanced) bypassing the digital circuitry on their option to the analog outputs (1 RCA Single Ended and 1 XLR Balanced). Additionally included are two set off outputs for exterior amplifiers.
For Digital inputs you could have one optical, two coaxial, one Asynchronous USB (able to 24/192 kHz PCM, in addition to, DSD64 and DSD128 by way of DoP), and one I2S for greater pattern charges and Native DSD transmission (PS Audio provides transports with I2S output together with an SACD participant).
In look the Stellar is elegant and minimalistic, with a rolled aluminum chassis and solely two controls on the entrance panel, quantity and choose, together with a single ended ¼” headphone jack. It’s giant by Private Audio requirements, however is normal audio element measurement, 17” x 12” x Three”.
Whereas the entrance panel controls contain a multi layer menu system, the distant management provides direct entry to many options for on the fly use together with: separate On and Off, HT (House Theater bypass), Quantity Up/Down, Dim (show off), Stability Rt/Lt, Mute, Filter (digital), Part (absolute part reverse) and In 1-9 (direct quantity enter choose).
It’s potential to preset a most output for each line output and headphone output independently (100 on the quantity management is +12dB, line degree is 76 on the quantity management) and there’s a selectable fastened line out (Word: this impacts the headphone output as properly so it isn’t really helpful to toggle this with headphones related).
The Sound of the PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC:
Having heard the Sprout, I just about anticipated the Stellar to be the perfect sounding implementation of the ESS Sabre DAC chip I’ve heard, however I didn’t anticipate it to sound nearly as good because it does. I started my listening exams with the Stellar in DAC solely mode, operating by means of my two Questyle CMA800R Headphone Amplifiers in twin mono balanced driving the MrSpeakers ETHER C Move Orthodynamic Headphones. One small observe, house owners of the PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC will need to spend money on a I2S bridge if they’re going to use it with a pc. Whereas the USB arrange is fairly straight ahead, and works properly, the added bandwidth required for DoP could make issues tough (I skilled a clicking throughout DSD playback and was pressured to vary cables), and also you gained’t have entry to playback of pattern charges greater than 192 kHz operating USB.
The actual check for a DAC is its efficiency with 16/44.1 kHz, so I started with that, choosing the Robert Shaw efficiency of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite”. The musicality introduced by the mixture of the Digital Lens and PS Audio’s analog part was unprecedented, offering a laser flat, impartial tonal stability, with extension deep into the subsonic in addition to the ultrasonic. The element was such that it produced an enormous soundstage with the person devices portrayed individually in their very own area, with their very own particular person timbre and sense of air. And the musicality was astounding. Even the harshest of devices, resembling trumpet or violin have been put forth as a honeyed best. Switching as much as the 24/96 kHz vinyl rip of the identical recording provided virtually negligible enchancment because the slight uptick in decision was sullied by the essential problems with vinyl so good was the Stellar’s copy of 16/44.1 kHz, which is reward certainly for a Sigma/Delta DAC.
A full run-through of Sure’ “And You And I — I. Cord of Life, II. Eclipse, III. The Preacher the Teacher, IV. Apocalypse” from Shut To The Edge in DSD, bore out the complete which means of Digital to Analog Converter with an emphasis on Analog. Once more the musicality was such that you simply have been transported to the studio, and listening to the performers not the recording.
A fast cable change (to single ended) and interesting the Gain Cell awarded me with a straight from the DAC sound with superb dynamic vary and musicality. A take heed to “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” by Genesis (Foxtrot – 16/44.1 kHz) revealed deep managed and uncolored subsonic bass and excessive readability within the mids and highs. Huge is the phrase I might use to explain the sound of the Gain Cell, with none noticeable change in tonality, there’s an elevated sense of presence to the music.
Regardless of the copious ranges of energy out there (Even with the ETHER C Flows I used to be capable of attain excessive volumes with it set round 50 to 60 relying on the recording), the noise flooring was low sufficient to comfortably pay attention with the Nobel Katanas, actually the musicality and epic sound stage made it very troublesome to return to plain headphones, Dario Baldan Bembo’s rendition of “Non Mi Lasciare” (16/44.1 kHz) was soul wrenching.
Copy of piano was spot on as was evidenced by enjoying “Wedding Rain” by Liz Story (Strong Colours – 16/44.1 kHz), providing a wealthy delicate but resonant Steinwayesque timbre in a immense live performance corridor.
Swapping out for the MrSpeaker AEON Move Open Headphone offered a enjoyable poppy setting for “Getting In Tune” (The Who – Who’s Subsequent – 16/44.1 kHz) warmly enhancing the interaction between Nicky Hopkins’ piano, Entwistle’s bass and Keith Moon’s percussion.
Even the 1MORE Triple Driver Over-ear Headphones (which I used to burn within the Stellar) reproduced Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” (Single model – 24/192 kHz) with unprecedented honeyed musicality.
PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC – The Conclusions:
The PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC works exceptionally properly on each entrance, as a DAC, as a Preamp and as a Headphone Amplifier. This can be very linear in tonality, virtually honeyed in musicality, it is likely one of the most analog sounding DACs I’ve listened to. But the decision, even with 44.1 kHz, is so excessive as to current an epic soundstage. This can be very forgiving of each hardware and software program (sonically, as said earlier, I did have some USB cable points with the DoP), but it could actually present world class efficiency from excessive decision information on reference high quality Headphones.
I consider it to be the top of what might be achieved with a Chip based mostly DAC, and would label it a reference DAC if not for the truth that PS Audio produces a DAC that they contemplate to be larger efficiency.
As a Headphone Amplifier you’d be onerous pressed to discover a headphone that would not be pushed single ended by the Gain Cell, and I’m pleased to put it amongst my favourite strong state amplifiers.
All in all, an epic effort and absolutely deserving of wholehearted suggestion.
120V T250V-1.6AH (1.6A Sluggish Blow)
230V T250V-1.0AH (1.0A Sluggish Blow)
Schuko (CEE7/7) (230V model)
UK (BS1363) (230V model)
1 stereo pair
Digtial audio inputs
Suitable with DirectStream Transport SACD handshake for DSD playback
DSD64 (DoP) DSD128 (DoP)
Analog Audio Outputs
(Analog Balanced) 1 stereo pair
One 1/four″ headphone connector entrance panel
100KΩ Balanced XLR
200Ω balanced XLR
10Hz – 100KHz +Zero.1/-Three.0dB
Adjustable (in setup) to any degree