I’m beginning to believe that “PS” stands for Pretty Spoiled. At least, I’m beginning to feel that way. Last year, I reviewed the Sprout 100 and fell in love with what it could do. Now, I’ve just spent the last few weeks immersed in the Stellar Gain Cell DAC Preamp and S300 Amplifier. The time has come where I must write this article, button everything up, and send everything back home to the wonderful folks at PS Audio.
I’ve long been a man of bold statements. For the past few years, things have happened in my life that have seen me change my mind from those positions. Not too long ago, I swore I would never be married again, that I would be a bachelor for the rest of my days. But then the perfect woman walked into my life. I was a committed beer-swilling fool until I discovered the right wines and single malt whiskeys and began experimenting. Similarly, I shot my mouth off regarding my beloved Rotel 955 CD player, and the highly regarded DACs built into it. Who needs a DAC when you have a classic like this? And so, when I unboxed the PS Audio gear, that is how I began to burn it in, using the analog input. That’s where we’ll begin.
My first impression of the Stellar components was that they were sleek and gorgeous. Simple, with little to no controls on the front panels. Elegant blue lighting, silver panels, and single black stripes make for a timeless look to these components. They have a weight and heft to them that immediately signals quality before you even plug them in.
Using the analog stage of the Stellar preamp provided wonderful results. The preamp and S300 amplifier work together to provide beautiful staging with more than ample headroom. I never got the feeling that the amp was working hard at all to drive my Mission 775 towers. They were dynamic and effortless, and I was absolutely happy, still content with the analog stage in my Rotel CD player. But then…
It came time to utilize the DAC in the Stellar Gain Cell Preamp… and my whole view changed.
I was playing Pink Floyd’s two-channel CD of “The Endless River” as my demo while I went back-and-forth between the analog input and the coax digital input. The difference was truly remarkable. The soundstage opened up immensely, the dynamics increased greatly, and instruments came alive. There’s a place in track 2 where David Gilmour gives an acoustic guitar a series of single full strums. This was where the DAC in the PS Audio really showed its merit. Suddenly, this guitar was so much richer and fuller than it was through the Rotel’s analog output. The sound stage became noticeably wider, as if I had moved the speakers another few feet apart. The room itself became bigger-sounding.
It also seemed to bring out so much more in the amplifier, as well. I was now hearing so many more dynamics. Cleaner dynamics as well. Nothing was louder, per se, but the louder passages were more present, and the quieter passages sat back more. I felt like the S300 amp was breathing more. The whole system was working better.
Switching over to something a little more driving- Elvis Costello’s “My Aim is True,” the PS Audio stack brings out the almost primitive nature of this recording. The guitars are so wonderfully raw on this album, and they come through perfectly through this setup. Elvis’ voice is set back in the mix but is still placed right where it should be in the sound stage. I’m utterly engrossed in this disc now.
Changing gears a bit… A few months ago, I bought Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Cosmic Messenger” on CD, as it’s one of my all-time favorite albums. In that time, I’ve played it on all the various configurations of my two-channel system down here in my little listening room. I was anxious to hear what the PS Audio stack would do with it. This time I wouldn’t even bother with comparisons but would just let the Stellar Gain Cell DAC do all the magic. And magic it did! As I expected, the disc sounded huge right out of the gate, much bigger than it had before. The bass hit harder, and the sound stage was far more open. The 1978 recording sounded fresh and new, much more alive than I’d ever heard it. I went for my favorite track, “Ethereal Mood,” and dug a little harder into the volume. Instruments flowed from the Mission towers in near liquid form into the room while the percussion stayed crisp and tight. Ponty’s electric violin came from all reaches of the listening space. It was downright emotional.
Next, I went more modern, reaching for one of my favorite newer releases, The New Basement Tapes “Lost on the River” from 2014. Track 1 instantly came pounding forth with power before I could take my seat again. The S300 is an amazingly clean and powerful amplifier, with beautiful definition, and it really showed through on this disc. I skip forward to track 4, “Spanish Mary,” to hear what this whole system would do with one my most treasured songs. Rhiannon Gidden’s voice is haunting, being placed perfectly center in the sound stage here. Instruments sound far left and right, with deep bass coming from underneath. Again, this is magic at work here. This goes beyond specifications that I can quote to you, or things that you can measure in a lab, it’s about the presentation of music in the way the engineer imagined it, and perhaps beyond.
That’s exactly how I’d like to conclude this whole article. 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.
PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell preamplifier
PS Audio S300 power amplifier
Rotel RDC-955AX CD player
Mission 775 loudspeakers
Audio Art SC-5 speaker cables
Monster Cables interconnects