This Adele album is so energetic sounding! Have it as hires album and thought about getting the LP.
Yes, i am also interested to see unbiased comparisons of the SPP VS. 20/20 - Am in the market to pull the trigger on one of the two
One thing I would point out externally re: relative values between the two:
Which of course doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with SQ. And while I’ve not heard it up against the 20/20, the SPP handily beat the Insight in a friend’s system. FWIW.
So I have been breaking the SPP in using a set of attenuating reverserse RIAA cables and 33k ohm dummy loads that I made, this is fed from my Sony Tuner which I purchased specifically for component run-in. I have a Day Sequerra FM Refernce for real FM listening Out of the box the SPP surprised me a bit, it sounds good from the get go. I now have 125 real music playing hours on the SPP.
It definatley started sounding better at 50 hours and again at 80 hours. At this point the overall difference from new I hear is a slight bit of roughness I heard early during vocal crescendos is now absent. The soundstage has improved in width and the overall sound is very reminiscent of my Luxman EQ 500.
My system is complex and a little different. I designed and built over a four year period my main speakers. They weigh 205lbs each and are a three way active design. I amplify them with a set of Acosutic Reality Thaumaturges ($25k), a Reimyo PAT 777 ($27k) and a Graaf Modena OTL. The rack is the Bassocontinuo Accordeon, my pre is a Wyred 4 Sound STP E. I replaced my MFA Ref and MFA Baby Ref TVC attenuators with the STP as I thought it was more transparent although the Music First Audio units were exceptional which is why I owned both of them at the same time. I use an AMR DP 777se dac, an AMR CD 77.1 modified with a Philips TDA 1541 Double Crown chipset.
My turntables are a Garrard 401 and an Artisan Fidelity NGS with a Kuzma 4 Point and modified Technics EPA 100 mk2. The phono stages consist of an AMR PH 77 with Bendix 6900 tubes and a Audio Magic Ultimate SHD Bees Was fuse which I have found to be head and shoulders above all others I have tested including the SR Blue fuses. The second best fuse I have heard are the AMR MKII Gold units.
My Luxman EQ 500 has been upgraded with Pavane Black Treasure (4) MKII 12ax7’s, 2 Bugle Boy NOS 12au7’s and NOS EZ81 rectifier along with an Audio Magic Bees Wax fuse.
I know this is a LOT but I wanted to do justice to this review and I wanted you to know my listening experience
I have placed an Audio Magic Bees Wax fuse in my SPP and while I feel PS Audio did choose a decent stock fuse, it does not compete with the Bees Wax fuse for sound quality nor would I expect it to based on my experience with that aftermarket fuse.
My favorite phono stage is the AMR PH 77 and then the Luxman EQ 500. They are both large sounding, very dynamic and have huge soundtages and a gravitas that simply must be experienced. They portray a tactile sense that very few stages, I have heard can match.
The Stellar SPP sounds JUST LIKE my Luxman minus the tube magic. It does sound tube reminiscent:) and it is definatley NOT embarrassed. The SPP doesn’t have the corporeal power or presentation of the big tube units but it sounds fantastic In it’s own right. It is one of the best sounding solid state units I have ever heard and that includes the Dan D’agosino Momentum Phono Stage. I have heard the Pass XP 25 and that one simply left me unmoved and actually I wanted to simply turn it off, the SPP has a beautiful musical flowing quality to its sound. A great deal of what I love about my AMR and Luxman. I listened to the unit with my Calamightly Sound modified Denon 103.3 (micro ridge stylus, boron cantilever, malachite body, silicon damper and angle adjusted SRA) and my London Reference. I did side by side near real-time comparisons with my Luxman and AMR. Yes the more expensive units are better but again, the SPP is impressive and defiantly held it’s own.
I wrote James and told him PS Audio should be PROUD!!!
I am impressed and that is simply not easy to do at this stage of my audiophile path.
Bravo gentlemen for making one of the top 3 SS phono stages I’ve heard, the others being the SPL Phonos and the iFi iPhono 2 although the SPP is better than the iPhono but at 5 times the price I would hope so:) The SPL Phonos just does things dynamically with the London that I’ve not heard another stage do.
This is a golden age for phono stages when a company can build something that sounds as good as the Stellar at that kind of price. Build wise, sound wise, I actually don’t know how they pulled it off.
Thanks for the pics as I’ve considered this but as said the SQ will make or break purchase decision. I do like the simplicity of the 20/20 and Ron’s design. At same time I’m very keen on the SPP but not very excited about the blue light show out the the rear vents when lights are turned down. Is there any way to tame this? - perhaps i’m a bit old fashion when it comes to flash.
As I’m younger, one would assume that I like the flashiness. And well, you’d be right. I think it’s pretty darn cool. Though the vents are there for utility, the SPP doesn’t get terrible hot. You can stack other gear on top of it to help suppress it. I don’t want to say all systems, but in most, you won’t need to worry about RFI if you do stack.
God bless you!
Feel that totally. Lot of the opposite approach in the world. So little of the Audiophile Blather ultimately matters - and I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool Audiophile - other than How It Sounds To You In Your System. There is no one else who can tell you otherwise, unless you have a friend who is experienced with your system who you feel Knows More Than You, and can offer a different opinion. And then - that is still their opinion, independent of their experience.
SQ is how this Pre was approached in the long run, despite having started out being about absolute measurements. Creating a design with crazy-good numbers with feedback can be done by anyone out of EE school. This shit Utimately requires Ears. And a Point of View.
And re: the lights - this aspect has perhaps been overemphasized. My 13-years-older buddy (I’m about to turn 63) was just over, who said, “I like the lights”. It is easy to fasten onto specific details based on a specific use case, and specific first Impressions.
Yeah - put this on the top of your rack (why you would do that in the long run, I dunno, as it is mostly a nondescript, set-it-and-forget-it sort of device - a phono pre) and with a given proximity to a lot of white walls, one’s aesthetic might be offended. I have admitted to not being a full-on fan of LEDs. Love being able to turn them off entirely.
However, these are actually performing a sonic function in this device. I would suggest putting it on a lower shelf where it arguably belongs, and digging the blue light squirting out to the side on occasion, when the lights are low.
Let me begin my review of the Stellar Phono Preamplifier by thanking Darren, Paul and James for letting me do some beta testing once again. Given the quality and integrity of this company and the tremendous value of their products, it’s a privilege to be able to evaluate these things early on and participate in the larger conversation of how these components compete in the high end world.
This has been the most interesting component ever for me to evaluate. I have on hand 3 other phono stages, one of which I have been very happy with, while the other two are respectable for what they cost and how they fit into a variety of systems—just not mine. I bought the Parasound Zphono to go with a Rega Planar 3 I purchased for my daughter—a future gift that is still in my house. Of course I bought the PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter when it came out—on faith, and also because of its ADC functions. But my day-to-day phono stage has been my Linn Linto.
A few words about my analog set-up, which may help explain some of my comparisons below. The Linn LP12 is the first high-end kit I purchased, sometime in 1985. Fifteen years ago, when the Valhalla board croaked, I installed a DC power and motor kit from Origin Live (thanks to Art Dudley, who had reviewed it favorably) and installed a used Ekos tonearm. Shortly after that I bought a used Linto, which I’ve used on and off until today. Four years ago I decided to update the turntable, work done by Stan Zelden at Shelley’s Stereo in Woodland Hills, CA. Given the number of highly-reviewed turntables in the last 15 years, I couldn’t be sure that the investment might not have yielded better sound if I’d chosen instead to buy a different turntable. This point to a problem for all analog rigs, but especially so for the LP12, for which there are a variety of updates since it first was introduced, viz. to try ‘em, you gotta buy ‘em. After I quit resisting my emotional attachment to the damn thing, I went for it. Stan replaced the insides with the Kore sub-chassis, new bearing and suspension, new motor and a Lingo III to power it, and then a Linn Krystal MC cartridge. The Ekos arm (first iteration) was tested for bearing integrity and passed. I sprung for another dust cover and called my Sondek “new”.
After 15 years with the Linn Linto, I’ve been even more impressed with it since mounting the Linn Krystal MC—though it did well with the Benz Ruby I used prior. I figured that the Scots likely make their products to play well together, and I’ve not been persuaded otherwise by this combination.
As others have reported, my initial impressions of the Stellar Phono were also highly favorable. It’s always a great day when a new kit arrives at one’s door, of course! The packaging was as good as I’ve seen, the unit itself quite hefty, the fit and finish excellent. The term “audio jewelry” has been used by some to describe certain, inevitably expensive, high end components. OK, this is not that. The Stellar casework is unassuming, efficient and well-executed. There’s a certain integrity to this design, which fits well with the purpose of serving up the best possible musical experience.
I swapped out my Linn Linto and installed the Stellar Phono in short order, keeping the single-ended Audience interconnects already in place (the Linto lacks XLR connectors). I set the gain to max and proceeded to spin one album after another for a couple of evenings, not really paying attention to sound quality except to note that the Stellar sounded fine. I did notice some treble grain and blurriness about the instruments and voices during the first few sides, but sometime after the 5th album this was gone.
Now came a full day of listening and comparing. The comparisons, then, starting at the “bottom”….
Parasound Zphono: touted to be a great entry-level phono stage. I’d tried it with the inexpensive MM cartridge on the Rega Planar 3, and it sounded good enough, all things considered. Although it has a MC setting, it’s difficult to believe that it would fit well with the better cartridges of that sort, and so it turned out with my Sondek/Ekos/Krystal system. Compared to the Linto, the Zphono has a forward perspective with little front-back sound staging. The background is not quite as quiet. Bass is muddy, and instruments are less distinct in space. In my system, it had a fatiguing quality to it. This was not as much the case when I’d tested it with the MM cartridge on the Rega.
NuWave Phono Converter: this is a major step up from the Zphono. The cartridge loading and gain options allow a good fit with the Krystal. Images are much better defined, with the right-to-left soundstage nearly competitive with the other phono stages below. As others have noted, though, the NuWave doesn’t really open up the performance. There’s a sense of constriction in the bloom of instruments and voices. The silk in Kandace Springs’ voice (“Soul Eyes”) isn’t, er, silky. Charlie Watts’ hit on the toms (Rolling Stones, “Tattoo You”, esp “Slave”) feels like there’s a blanket over it. And yet it’s apparent that everything is there in each recording—just not “there” as much. When I’ve really paid attention to the music, I’ve wanted the Linto to do the work, not the NuWave, despite how much I like its options and flexibilities.
Linn Linto: this is a design more than 20 years old, $1500 new when it was released. It is quite literally a little black box with a power switch on the front and no other knobs or switches to play with. It’s designed for low-output MC cartridges, with only RCA connections. And it’s magic! It weighs less than it looks (the much smaller Zphono is nearly as heavy) and is filled mostly with air. One of its peculiarities is that it has no cartridge-loading circuitry, which design choice is said to optimize the already very low output from most MC cartridges. Well, I don’t really care that much about the engineering so long as the kit sings, and sing the Linto does.
Keith Jarrett “My Song”: Jan Garbarek’s tenor sounds full, nuanced. Bass is tight, defined. Instruments are distinct and yet perfectly related to one another.
Beck “Colors”: the studio wizardry of “I’m So Free” is present in all it’s glory. Punchy bass, sound extends outside the speakers during certain passages, Beck’s voice remains distinctly placed regardless of where he puts it in the mix at different times. Surround sound!
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”: The MoFi 45RPM version is the best I’ve heard. The Linto lets me hear why. Even with the hard-left-and-right panning of the two saxes, the band sounds all of a unit. Miles’ horn on “All Blues” is full and nuanced. The drum kit has presence and pop, with lovely cymbals. The piano sounds more life-like than on prior editions (CD or LP, including the Mosaic box set of Miles and Coltrane).
David Crosby “Here If You Listen”: I’m not sure CSNY ever sounded as good as this foursome! Pick any of the many instruments or voices in the mix, there’s no trouble keeping track of several at once, scattered as they may be R-L and F-B. Lovely, natural dynamics.
Kandace Springs “Soul Eyes”: warm, detailed presentation with full bass, silky vocals and plenty of nuance on “Talk to Me”.
So, for me, the Linto is what the Stellar Phono is up against.
During my critical listening to the Stellar Phono, I noticed noise from both speakers, a hissing, crackling sound that increased with the volume knob and seemed to disappear if the RCA inputs from the turntable were removed. After trying a variety of things—different placement of the turntable, different cables to the BHK Pre, I emailed James at PS Audio and asked for some direction. “RFI” was the answer from Darren, via James. I eventually tried pulling out the tp-link ethernet power line adaptor that I use to stream from my Mac Mini in another room. I’d never encountered noise before in my system—including whenever the Linto was in use—so I was a little slow to recognize this as a potential problem. But sure enough, the hiss and crackles stopped. I subsequently noticed an occasional high-pitched hum that also came through the speakers with the Stellar engaged, and found that it occurred when my neighbor across the road was driving his car past my house. More RFI. I think it’s important to point out these experiences, as they may occur with other users. Of all the audio components I’ve owned, the Stellar is the first to demonstrate this vulnerability. Fortunately I was able to identify the causes and remove them.
With that problem solved, and after 15 albums and repeated switching between the Linto and Stellar, I’ve found the Stellar to be very good at what it does. The two phono stages are more alike by far. Still, what distinguishes the Stellar is some additional bloom of voices and instruments, with a slightly deeper soundstage. There is negligible background noise—ie, I can’t hear any—and from this silence comes music with startling micro dynamics, tonal balance from top to bottom, and an effortless presentation of whatever’s hidden in the grooves.
Kandace Springs “Soul Eyes”: warm, detailed presentation with tight bass, silky vocals (the nature of her voice), with a nice sense of depth as well as side-to-side sound staging.
Dominic Miller “Silent Light”: this recording of acoustic guitar, reminiscent of the classic ECM sound that Manfred Eicher gets from his Norwegian team, demonstrates detailed micro-dynamics, which are key to both the guitar and percussion that are featured here. The differences between nylon and steel strings is readily heard. This is an album of quiet nuance, and the Stellar does it justice.
Lyn Stanley “London Calling”: Wow! Alive, multidimensional soundstage, snappy bass and lovely, rich midrange. I imagine I can hear every nuance of Lyn’s voice. The top-notch band gets a top-notch recording—typical for Stanley’s projects—and once again the Stellar lets it all get off the groove and into my ears.
Radiohead “Moon Shaped Pool”: detailed front-to-rear and side-to-side soundstage; tight kick drum and bass. Excellent micro dynamics make each strike of the kick drum felt on “Identikit”. Three dimensional once again! What a band!
David Crosby “Here If You Listen”: what a record! The complicated arrangements and separation of tight vocal harmonies is readily apparent, with excellent dynamics. The production values of this record are exemplary, and it’s hard to believe that it could sound better. Voices and instruments are distinct yet blended in a complex weave of sound.
There is no respect in which the Stellar Phono is inferior to the Linn Linto. It certainly sounds at least as good, and subtly better on most recordings, particularly the depth of the soundstage and sense of space around the voices. So, from a purely sonic perspective, the Stellar edges past the Linto in my system. In modern US dollars, adjusting for inflation over 20 years, it seems reasonable to think that both these units are made to the same price point. I have to say that the new Stellar Phono makes the aged Linn Linto sound like a classic and enduring value. Like my Sondek and Mark Levinson pre (alas, not being reviewed today), I’m keeping it.
The Stellar Phono, however, is laden with well-designed features that the Linto lacks, making it a compelling value in the end. I appreciate more than ever how system matching is critical to good vinyl playback. The Stellar Phono seems capable of working with any cartridge I might use in the future, given its easy load and gain adjustments. It offers balanced outputs, thus opening up more options for cable matching. It’s backed by the PS Audio team in Boulder, which fact alone is a meaningful contribution to the Stellar’s value. If I were building my vinyl system from scratch today, I’d make the Stellar Phono part of it. As it sounds so good in the system I already have, I’m gonna keep it.
Linn Sondek/Lingo III/Kore/Cirkus/Trampolin/Ekos/Krystal MC
PS Audio Power Plant 20, BHK Pre, BHK 300 monoblocks, DSD Sr, DMP
Mark Levinson 326s pre
Quicksilver Audio V4 monoblocks (KT 120 tubes)
Quad ESL 2905 speakers
Audience AU24SE power, interconnects and speaker cables
Audio Sensibility power and Interconnects
Pangea AC9SE power (monoblocks)
PS Audio Power Ports
Dedicated AC lines, custom-designed (on a budget) and dedicated audio room
And re: the lights - this aspect has perhaps been overemphasized.
Perhaps… and the pic shown in previous post do not do it justice… I saw a pic last week (in text) of new tile installed in a bathroom and looked very poor, but when I saw it in person… it looked pretty dam good. Hope my local dealer brings one or more in for inventory and it would be best for me to judge then. I’ll buy the other one he brings in … He He
hthaller, who is a local whom I have met, is a good guy, a good listener with Very Nice Gear - was trying to make a point earlier about the “lights” by posting those photos. Bear in mind - on the subject that actually matters here - that he is Seriously Suggesting that this Pre competes with his Pass Pre at X times the cost.
He did an admirable job of taking a photo that would suggest to the Most Light Sensitive Amongst Us that this device is going to be like the 4th of July in our Rooms (apologies to non-US users - perhaps “New Year’s Eve” for some Euro-users) but it ain’t all that bright. And many dig it. If it is not on the top shelf, it is subtle at worst, and fun.
EDIT: Signed: PS Audio Apologist-in Chief, and Pal of Darren, so Feel Free to Ignore Anything I Write ; )
Just thought that with all the chatter about the LEDs, it would be helpful for some to see that all the chatter was about.
Not that it matters, but I kinda dig the glow the SPP gives off, but I’m aware that some prefer their gear to by heard but not seen.
Thanks for the detailed review MG! Sounds like you’ve been having fun the last few weeks. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands and with your setup, I can only imagine how great AMSP sounds.
So, here is my wrap following a 3-week test drive. Previous comments are in post #’s 132, 156, and 172
I do like the SPP. A lot. But I somewhat reluctantly returned it today. IMHO it offers a lot of value for the money (yes, folks, even at full retail). I could find no glaring shortcomings with it, and it serves the music extremely well. And in the big scheme of things the differences were not that huge. But ultimately I felt the SPP did not extract the same level of detail from the grooves as my Pass XP-15. And for better or worse I’m cursed as being a detail-oriented listener
In my final analysis, I feel that both phono sections offer a truthful presentation - although from different perspectives - with the difference being “air.” The best way I can put it is as follows: Suppose you are listening to an ensemble in an intimate setting – say a small club. Low ceiling. Packed with patrons. The performance is “there” with you and palpable. It seems you can almost reach out and touch the performers. Now transport the same ensemble to a larger and more “lively” venue. The performance is still “there with you,” but so is a sense of the venue and surroundings – instruments playing in a “live” space. Which is not to say that I don’t perceive depth and width in the SPP soundstage. It’s definitely there, but there is less reverb off the walls kind of thing. I don’t think either perspective is “wrong.” It depends on what you prefer your reality to sound like. I suspect that a big reason for what I’m hearing is the lower noise floor (~10 db) of the XP-15 and it’s dual mono design. Just a guess – I’m not an engineer.
FWIW, it’s roughly analogous to the differences I hear between Magneplanars and electrostats like the Sanders or Martin-Logans. Or between the XA .5 and XA.8 lines of Pass amplifiers. In each case, a trade-off between immediate presence and impact vs a more revealing presentation but at the same time one that is slightly more diluted with “air.” Tough thing to describe, but that’s the beauty of an in-home trial.
But, wait! Hold on there, Skippy! Perusing the forum just before posting this I spotted a post by tj-sully in another thread that included an interview with Nelson Pass. From around the 10 - 14 minute mark, Nelson describes the differences between the Pass “point 5” and “point 8” circuits. https://youtu.be/-Prz6IpHlSg. Turns out that in the .8’s, Pass allows some negative phase 2nd order harmonic distortion that most listeners perceive as “…an apparent expansion to the sound-field.” Positive phase 2nd order harmonics moves the perception of the sound-field in and makes it more intimate. Bingo! So here’s another possible explanation. Thanks, Nelson. It’s fascinating how a small detail like that can alter the perception of what we hear. BTW, he points out that they still produce the .5 products for people who prefer that perspective on the sound.
If I was shopping for a phono pre-amp coming from a phono stage integrated with a pre-amp, getting into vinyl for the first time, upgrading my first budget phono pre, I think the SPP would be virtually impossible to pass up. I’m pretty sure you’ll have to spend significantly more to better it. I think it’s also very well worth it to audition the SPP if you already own a decent phono pre in the over $5,000 category. After all, 30 days of listening comes at no cost and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Over my time as an audiophile, I have owned tubed gear (Audio Research, Conrad-Johnson, DIY) and a hybrid amplifier (Counterpoint) but have gravitated over time to neutral-sounding solid-state devices as the sonic gap with tubed circuits narrowed. It’s been my experience that tube/SS hybrid circuits can sound fantastic in pre and power amps, but that low-noise solid state circuits (especially running in class A) have an advantage for phono stages. I’ve dealt with tubed phono stages and my observation has been that it’s easier (read: “less costly”) for SS designs to achieve low noise levels that will stay consistent over time. Just one audiophile’s opinion. YMMV, of course.
It goes without saying that BHK is a legend among designers, and is working on a BHK signature tube phono stage. Absolutely no disrespect intended, but my unsolicited advice to Paul and PS Audio would be to turn Darren loose with an unlimited budget before going too far down that path. He’s earned the chance to make a grab for the baton.
Great review hthaller… appreciate your head to head analysis.
After digesting that, I may want to buy a BHK… On second though…“No, My wife would kill me”
Not to worry Paul & Darren - the Pass XP-15 is not on my buy list
Looking forward to local dealer receiving SPP’s
Mediate whilst preparing yourself for an infinite wait, grasshopper…
Thanks. And fdreed is right. Factory direct only from this point forward.
13 posts were split to a new topic: Stellar Turntable?
Is it possible to connect the output of the SPP to the aux input of the NUWAVE and do a recording?