Beta Test Impressions for New Stellar Phono Preamp!

Thanks for the feedback bluedun! Glad it’s behaving nicely with your BHK gear.

I must say that I’m a little bummed out that I don’t need a new phono pre. I’d love to test the SPP! Alas, I have the Gold Note PH-10 with dedicated power supply that I have been immensely happy with and cannot justify trying the SPP. I love my Stellar M700 monos and have full faith in Darren’s amazing ability to design amazing sounding great for a great price. Nonetheless, I read these glowing reviews and wonder what if… :thinking:

Enjoy gentleman!

@amgradmd I’m in the same boat as you. I also have a Gold Note PS10 and am very happy with its performance. The SPP sure is tempting.

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Another Gold Note PH-10 owner! That’s great. I upgraded to the PH-10 from the NPC which is a nice unit, but not in the same league as the Gold Note unit, especially with the PS10. Talk about versatile. Not to mention very dynamic and dead quiet background. The GN unit can handle any cart out there. I actually kept the NPC and use that for vinyl rips through the analog input, which sounds great. Still, I’d love to compare the two, considering there are in a similar league in terms of price.

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Another PH-10 owner and with as little as I spin vinyl lately will stay put but would love to hear it.

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I’ve had my beta unit for about 10 days and have had it in two different systems, but with the same tt and cartridge.
The first system was comprised of a AR tt with low output MC/passive SUT/low power tube amp and single driver speakers.
The second system is an all-PS Audio rack with a P-10 power plant/BHK preamp/BHK 300 mono blocks and omni-directional speakers.
Impressions: as has been reported consistently by other beta testers the Stellar has a wider and deeper sound stage, and presents very accurately with a bias towards being very slightly on the softer/warmer side. With the ability to come up with various combinations of gain and load it is possible to get the Stellar to be dead silent, and I was able to completely eliminate the SUT while using the same low output cartridge.
My routine is to shut down all components when not in use and, as has also been mentioned before when the Stellar powers up it defaults back to the MM setting. Not sure if this is intentional or not, but not a huge deal either. A slightly bigger issue is the inability to stack the Stellar with my other PS components. Due to space constraints I am using the Stellar oriented vertically.
I was waiting for the BHK phono stage, but every time I asked about progress the answer was essentially “later”. SO, while the Stellar is definitely an improvement over my tube phono stage the jury is still out as to whether or not it is enough of an improvement. I think if the BHK suddenly looks like it will be a reality I would be inclined to stick with what I’ve got and wait for the BHK.

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Thanks! No mods, except new terminals and the stands I made from butcher block. Still the best VFM purchase I have made in hifi.

Me too, undoubtedly!

Hi all. Not a frequent contributor, so be please be kind. I’m very interested in this phono stage; I love vinyl and the whole hobby of hunting, cleaning, discarding some times, and keeping at it. And I’ve owned many phono stages over the last 5 years or so. It’s been a bit of a white whale. (Using BHK pre and 300 monos, plus a VPI Classic IV, with the Kiseki Purple Heart). For those of you who have been using the very polite, very accurate, very impressive Sutherland phono stages: I’d love to hear more of your thoughts. For the last 18 months or so I was running the Sutherland Duos. Recently moved to a Gryphon Sonnett. I want my “good finds” to sound their best, and my bad finds to sound exactly as crappy as they should. I don’t want some compromise elixir that makes everything sound good. If others, especially Sutherland alumni, have the same mindset and are trying DM’s new product, I’d love to hear. Thanks much.

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Thanks for this great feedback. I am thrilled we have so many near-identical reports of dead silent performance and warm and rich music. Stellar’s everything we would have hoped for and then some.

I would love to see BHK’s phono stage out in 2020 but it’s more likely to see the light of day in 2021.


I had not listened to one of my fave Beck albums, “Sea Change” on the 4-sided 33rpm vinyl in many moons, as I had come to feel sorta disappointed in it compared to the SACD. Bump Dat Digital Shit! Dayaaam. All Out in the Room in 3D. Wow.:pray:t2:


My intent for the Stellar Phono Preamp (SPP) is to replace a PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter (NPC) which I have had since it was first released (2013!). Prior to the NPC I had an Audio Research PH2. The NPC was a slight improvement on the PH2, which was at least 20 years old at that point (and still fully stock). The main draw for the NPC to me was the ADC, which allowed me to have an all digital system (well, sort of). At the time I was using an Audio Research LS 25, while a very fine preamp, in comparison to running the DS DAC direct to my amp (an Audio Research Classic 60 at the time), no preamp sounded better. The NPC allowed me to continue to use my turntable, which made me happy … for a while. With time, however, the sound was just not that much better than digital to justify the added work of spinning discs. So I let my turntable languish and even considered getting rid of it (siting a turntable in a small room is a challenge). Almost two years ago I got the BHK Pre, but I still rarely used the NPC. Then word of the SPP hit and the buzz was good. I even spent some time talking to Darren at AXPONA to get a better understanding of what he has created. Good stuff and I’m in!

On to the meat of this … first off I will concur with the already reporting Beta testers, the SPP is a wonderful sounding Phono Pre. It certainly sounds better than the NPC, I’m not ready to say a LOT better (whatever that means), but better just the same. Keep in mind the NPC was $1895 at introduction and dropped to $995 after a few years. The SPP will be $2495 and does not include the ADC, so it sure better be an improvement! How is the SPP better? Well, for me it’s more open, with a wider and deeper soundstage with more clarity around the instruments. In comparison the NPC has a light blanket over everything and the soundstage is somewhat closed in. I should also add that there seems to be more extension at the extremes, lots of clean bass (the DCM’s have really surprised me in this respect) as well as nice extension at the high end (though my high frequency hearing is not the best).

Break-in: I left the unit on overnight before I listened to anything. Initial reports indicated it sounded good out of the box, so I figured that would get me well on the way. And yes, it did sound very good out of the box, but the records I was listening to were all ones I either hadn’t listened to in a long time (a year or more) or hadn’t listened to at all, (I have acquired a lot of records over the years, mostly used) so detecting break in was a bit of a crap shoot. I listened for a week and was very happy with everything but then I figured it was time to relisten to the first record I had played, The Bobs “Songs for Tomorrow Morning” which is a very nicely recorded accapella group making all the sounds with their body (I.e., no instruments). There is a fair amount of reverb added, but it’s pretty simple music so easy to hear into the recording. While it had been about a week since I first listened, the second time around the large amount of detail I had initially heard was gone. On initial listen I didn’t think of the detail as a bad thing, just a “huh, that’s interesting” thing and probably part of the recording. On a second listen the detail was reduced and there was a nice warmth to the sound. Even though my hearing isn’t the best, I don’t care for overly etched/bright sounding gear or recordings, so I was in a happy place! Now, I will say I really don’t know how this album (or any other I own) should really sound. I’ve never been to a recording session or even heard a master tape, so I go on what I sense is the “better” sound. I confirmed the slight change in tonal balance with a second listen to some other albums I listened to early on so I feel confident there has been a small change. Should I hear additional changes I will report back.


  • On initial unpacking I was surprised at how heavy and solid the SPP is. I haven’t owned or handled any other Stellar line product, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Consider me impressed, they are very solidly built.
  • On initial listen I discovered this unit does have a lot of gain, there are three levels to choose, and I preferred the Low gain (keep in mind I am using balanced connections to the preamp). My cartridge is about 0.5mV output so I was a little surprised Low gain was the best. For reference, while listening in the 80-85 dB range I had the BHK Pre at 40-42. This is a little on the low side for best sound (if I recall correctly, Paul has said 53 and above is the sweet spot of the BHK Pre). I’m not real concerned about this since most of my listening with other sources is usually lower!
  • The NPC, in comparison, has 21 different gain settings! I should point out the NPC does not have separate inputs for MM and MC cartridges, but still 6 gain settings versus 21? Perhaps Darren could comment on the choice of gain options. (Just to be clear, this is not a problem, just a comment.)
  • On a related note, I initially thought I could use the MM inputs for lower gain, but I think that will eliminate the variable resistive loading options that a MC needs. For the MM input the load is fixed at 47k (too high for low output MC).
  • The SPP remote will also turn the NPC on/off (actually mute/unmute), but doesn’t seem to have an effect on the rest of the PS Audio components. That’s a good thing! It’s been reported the remote for the DS/DMP/Pre would turn the NPC on/off, that’s ok except when you inadvertently turn off the rest of your system when you just want to turn off the NPC!
  • And finally, to state the truth, a crappy LP will still sound crappy, but now you can hear the crap much better! The SPP does not turn a sows ear into a silk purse … sorry.

My system:

VPI Aries 2 Extended with JMW 12.5 arm, Shelter 901 Cartridge, Single Motor Flywheel, Periphery Ring Clamp, Center Weight and Gaia feet

PS Audio
BHK Pre Amp
BHK 250 Amp
DMP Player

DCM Time Window (in temporary use, I’m still getting to know them)
Vandersteen Model 5 (after my now one year old cat calms down … almost there!)

AudioQuest Niagara balanced
Between DS and BHK Pre (0.75M)
Between Phono pre and BHK Pre (5M)
VPI Phono cable between arm and Phono Pre (1M)
Generic speaker wire that came with a Vandersteen subwoofer since speakers are temporary

One system note that delayed this report a couple of days. Last week I was hearing some steady state, low level, white noise from the speakers. It wasn’t obvious at the listening seat, but it was a new sound. I fiddled with inputs and muting and concluded it was the preamp. I presumed it was the tubes and continued on, a little white noise shouldn’t change this evaluation. On Friday some new noises, sort of muted popping, started coming out of the speakers, hmm, this isn’t good. I did not have a set of matched tubes on hand so I searched through my stash of old tubes and found several GE 12AU7A. Of the first two I tried, one was noisy, but I found a third and was good to go. No idea how well these tubes are matched or how they sound (I don’t recall anyone mentioning these in tube rolling posts), but there’s no white noise and no obvious decline in sonics. I did order a set of PSVanes from Amazon (sorry PS Audio, next time I’ll think ahead) and they arrived yesterday, I will install later today to see if any major changes occur. (Postscript: I did just check the tube hours and I am just under 5000)


My recent experience of that kind was comparing the Miles/Amandla SHM SACD with the 180g Rhino LP. Unbelievable.

I use my NPC to make digital recordings of my records. The program that I use to record the records has it’s record level fixed and so I use the 21 different levels of gain to set the recording level on the computer. This is odd but the instructions for the program say this is how it must be done.

I see the Stellar Phono Preamp fits nicely into the Stella stack.

Well, that’s interesting! I plan on keeping the NPC just in case I decide to record some of my LP’s. At this point in time that process doesn’t excite me, but I may have a change of mind. I may even use the SPP into the NPC analog input to do the recording.


As it should, it uses the same case!

Unboxing the new PS Audio Beta Phono Amp I found the packaging to be one of the best in the business.The unit is built like a tank, solid craftsmanship and it perfectly matches my other silver PS Audio components in size. I disconnected my Sutherland Engineering Phono Amp and connected the PS Phono Amp to my Rega RP3 ( just ordered a new RP 8) and to my PS Audio M700 and SGCD stack. I decided to start off my initial listening with my original pressing of Santana’s Abraxas (one of the great percussion recordings). My initial reaction was that I begin to hear small percussion and background sounds I hadn’t heard as clearly as I did on my Sutherland! The bass was tight and present but not overpowering and the mid and upper-ranges were precise and with straightforward clarity. I moved next to the recording of the remastered Jimi Hendrix Axis Bold As Love and when Little Wing and If Six was Nine played the Phono Amp shone like a bright star, Jimi never sound better. I finished my first initial listening with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Box Set:Texas Hurricane remastered in 45rpm. It was fantastic to hear such a superb recording of Little Wing though the Phono Amp with soundstaging sounding if I was in the studio listening right in front of them. My ATC SCM35’s are smiling! So far my impression of the Phono Amp is that it sounds like it’s twice the price, its soundstaging, clarity and warm tone I feel will breath new life into my vinyl collection. I can’t wait to continue listening and tweaking the unit and my system to newer heights. I now find myself in my listening room picking vinyl and eagerly anticipating to hear new sounds from my favorite recordings. More to come as listening continues. Thumbs up Darren & Paul!!!


My current system consists of VPI Scout 1.1 turntable; cabling is all self made solid silver wire, Denon DL-103r moving-coil cartridge with aluminum body cap. Previous Phono preamo was the Jolida JD-9 upgrade. Also PS Audio DST, PS Audio DSD, PS Audio BHK250 Amp, PS Audio P5 power. Currently switching between Magnepan LRS speakers and Merlin VSM’s.

Out of the box the Stellar Phono Preamp sounded amazing. The soundstage was wider that it has ever been using the Jolida. The clarity of the performance of this unit made some of my LP’s sound different and much more revealing than I had ever heard in my 40 years of listening.

Voices sound very natural. The bass came through beautifully and very tight.

I highly recommend this preamp and will comment more as I listen more. I have to break this in a little more before I give more impressions. I can’t wait…


Glad to see a 20/20 user in here! I’ve had the 20/20 in my system and I love it. But the SP has my attention, so I’m very curious to hear about how they compare. I’m looking forward to seeing your feedback. :slightly_smiling_face: