Follow-on to M700 review - the amazing Stellar Gain Cell DAC!


#1

Based on my success with the M700’s replacing my older Ayre 200 wpc amp, I decided to try the SGCD. TheGain Cell DAC had a lot to live up to - I have a 10-tube BAT V5i Pre and a tube California Audio Labs Alpha tube DAC to replace.

The PreAmp

I have several sources I routinely use: 1) 2) Sony HAP Z1-ES 1 TB hard driver player (using unbalanced RCA) 2) Marantz UD7007 Universal player (using the balanced inputs & the coax input an an additional option) 3) Xfinity TV (using the optical input) 4) MacBook pro using either BitPerfect or Amarra through USB

  1. First off, the Sony HD player converts everything to DSD, then does the D-to-A conversion (kind of like the PS DS). Interestingly, it’s analog outputs single ended/RCA sounds the same as Balanced, so I’m keep it hooked it up RCA. The Sony sounded very good through the SGCD – even better than through the 10-tube BAT. The BAT was always very musical, but I now realize it had too much bass bloat, and help make everything sound kind of similar. Through the SGCD I got more detail, along with rhythm and pace and sound stage distribution. Everything was in more focus, yet INCREASED musicality. I am now listening all over my musical catalog since I got the SGCD.

  2. I tried the universal Marantz player both single ended and balanced to the SGCD, and the balanced sounded WAY BETTER. I may have lost some of the glow of tubes, but not much really.

DAC

  1. I also have the Marantz hoked up via COAX input to the SGCD. This gives my music more detail and a little better focus, and depending on the source track, COAX could sound better than the balanced outputs. It gives me a choice.

I tried all three filters, and actually didn’t notice anything I could mention… I did notice later that Filter 1 seems to be less fatiguing after an hour of listening, so there it stays

  1. Xfinity – I use to have my cable go HDMI into my TV, then PCM digital out to my CAL Alpha tube DAC. That sounded good for years. Now I have the optical going into the SGCD, and I am getting better bass and much clearer vocals from TV – with all the impact of fully balanced - SCORE!

  2. Finally, the USB output - from 16/44 to 24/96, 24/192, and DSD – all sound AMAZING through the SGCD. In many cases it sounds much better than the Sony HAP Z1-ES’s analog outputs.

Overall, I’m keeping SGCD… and thinking of trying a DS in the future. The SGCD is an amazing value for a fully balanced preamp, with a killer DAC inside of it.

Things I wish it did:

a) if the HDMI input could also be configured to accept PCM BITSTREAM from a regular HDMI cable, like from a BluRay player. I understand it is really a I2S digital input, but it would be so much better it it could also be used for a regular player

b) showed the bit rate in addition to the word length

c) holding the volume down would make the volume go down faster, like when I go from a non-compressed CD with volume of 50 to TV where 15 is loud enough

That’s it! Thanks to everyone who developed and built it!


#2

Do you have another optical source to test? Another TV, a blu ray with optical out maybe?

I am suspecting the signal integrity of the optical.