I have been putting together a new 2 channel stereo system, and recently got a pair of Ascend Sierra Towers with the RAAL ribbon tweeter upgrade. They’re 92db efficient 4 ohm speakers (20W min - 300W continuous max, 500W peak max)…and now i need to lock down the rest.
I had been just about set on the SGCD and S300 with an audiolab 6000cdt transport…but then i waffled in the face of several factors.
the negative review of the SGCD on Audio Science Review…( I’m not an engineer, so most of their “evidence” meant nothing to me, but it did cast doubt. The oft-trumpeted shade thrown on class D amps…they sound harsh or thin…and the presence of products like the audiolab 6000A integrated which uses a better version of the ESS Sabre DAC while being less expensive. Then there is the “don’t get an integrated DAC cause it’s harder to upgrade” argument.
So, I’m asking those with actual experience…are you happy with the sound of your SGCD and or S300 amp? Right now i’m using an old Onkyo TS-DX575x receiver and most likely, anything i’m looking at would be an upgrade…but i’m looking for the best sound for the around $2500. Thoughts? Advice? Warnings?
These kind of questions are not easy to answer. The type of music you listen to and personal taste will come into play, as well as matching with you speakers. I have the SGCD and started with an S300, but upgraded the amp to the M700 monoblocks. The SGCD and S300 go together very nicely and have a good, clean, uncolored sound (the M700 monoblocks do achieve more refinement). I do not trust ASR’s negative or positive reviews of PS Audio’s (or anyone’s) stereo equipment, as listening to music was not part of their reviews. What will matter is how they match up with your speakers. I cannot comment on that.
Of course, depending where you are in the world, one of the great things about PSA is the ability for a 30 day in home trial, which is the only way to know how it will match your speakers.
I started out with the S300 and SGCD. Loved them both. When it came time to upgrade, I could either get the M700’s or the DirectStream Junior DAC. PSA recommended that the DAC would be a better upgrade. I loved the SGCG, and love the DSJ even more. At one point I compared the S300 to a lower end Prima Luna Tube amp, the same price range as the S300, thinking tubes would be more pleasing. Honestly, the S300 whipped the Prima Luna. And the M700’s, FWIW, are Stereophile class A rated, all of which caused me not to worry about class D amps. The M700’s will be my next major upgrade one of these days.
Its worth you giving the S300 & SGCD a try.
I own a Stellar Gain Cell DAC driving active monitors, it sounds fantastic and looks good too.
Depending on the firmware (control chip) it has two quirks:
- one is it does not display bit rate and sample rate or music format when utilizing the USB input
- in some configurations with the HT bypass function activated, audible thumps may occur when switching to and from the dedicated HT channel
None of these issues influence the sound quality and if you do not utilize the HT bypass the second issue will not even occur in any case. PS Audio could fix this by reprogramming the control chip, but they told me that it’s not on their priority list and that if somebody did not like it they can always talk to their dealer for an alternative unit.
I did not feel the need to talk to my dealer and get an alternative and take a financial hit. So I will never use the HT Function and the display is a minor issue once you have the USB source configured, which is kind of a pain without that display.
I generally don’t like Class D sound, SPECIALLY if your speakers are not sensitive (not familiar with your speakers), S300 tries to do better with its input stage but it’s still Class D… so I let owners speak about its sound, my auditions have been OK, not great. BHK amp gets my nod, but that’s at a different price point.
SGCD to me is over-priced, I’d look for a used DS Jr instead for top-of the line DAC performance, or a Chord DAC at the same price range.
I have M700’s driving a set of Tektron Electrons and love them. Originally driving the M700’s with a DS Jr but later added a BHK preamp - mostly for the HP amp. There is a set of m700’s with a SGCD in the for sale section now that is just a little above your price point. I don’t think you can go wrong with the M700’s for the money.
The Gain Cell DAC was my first piece of PS Audio gear coming from lots of other mid-fi gear like receivers and I liked the upgrade so much that I kept it.
From there I added a DS J, then a DS SR, then a BHK Preamp but never sold any of the equipment, just moved it to other systems in my home because I still like all of the pieces. I am now trying to decide if my next upgrade will be a BHK 250 or M700’s.
I’d recommend trying for 30 days and keep it if you like it.
After living with the SGCD/2xM700’s for the past 6 months. I’m still happy with it. I’m running a pair of Series 1 Bose 901’s. What I noticed immediately when compared to my old amps (a pair of McIntosh MC50’s - transistor models & an old Adcom GFA-555II) was that my rebuilt EQ box no longer worked on the “flat” position. I had to switch the treble knob up a notch on the selector dial and engage treble boost in order for it to be compatible with the Analog Cell input. It slightly softens the treble response (vocal sibilances more so) but not tho the extent that things get mushy. No listener fatigue either. Any hardness in the midrange was gone and a deeper bass extension also occurred (especially compared to the little Mac’s).
So , yeah. The amps aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but I kept 'em instead of going the Parts Express Homebrew route and ordering ICE Amps and building a box.
30 day home trial is a good thing.
Try the Sprout100 first, as an intro into Class D and PS Audio implementation. If you then truly feel underhanded, move to the SGCD 300 combo. Two birds, one stone. 30 days of enjoyment and virtually no risk. That’s my advice.
I agree with the sentiment of getting a used DSJ instead of a new SGCD. Having owned both, the DSJ is a large step up, different league. As for used SGCD, I had a difficult time getting $850 for mine, so there are deals to be had and you could put money towards the M700’s if you want to go that route…
Thanks to everyone for your input. I considered investing more money to get to the DSJ or just trying the SGCD/S300 combo to see…but in the end, I decided to try the Audiolab 6000 series first. For those who are curious about my reasons, here they are.
The 6000A integrated and 6000CDT transport are less expensive, even with the maximum trade in allowance on the SGCD/S300 yet the reviews are nearly universal in their praise for the balanced presentation, wide soundstage and nice detail.
The audiolab has a better DAC, the ESS Sabre 9018K2M and better specs for THD, SNR and channel separation. Also the amp is class AB, so there is less question about how it will sound with my Sierra RAAL ribbon towers.
The 6000A can switch between 3 separate modes. You can use it as a full integrated, you can shut off the amp section and just use it as a pure preamp, or run a signal in and use it solely as an amplifier giving me lots of options both initially and down the road.
The audiolab has a nicer remote that can control the preamp, the cd transport and also their 6000N streamer. Less remotes is definitely appealing.
On the downside, it doesn’t have balanced outputs and you can’t rename your inputs…which is a feature I would have loved to have. It’s made in asia instead of the US and I have heard some negatives about initial reliability, but I have also heard lots of praise for their older 8000 series and they got the same designer to do this new line…so that bodes well.
So we will see what happens when the gear arrives this week.
If you can swing the credit card dance, could bring in the PSA gear as well and have a shootout
Written reviews are only worth so much. Only by direct in house comparison will you truly know.
My two cents worth. I own the s300. I had occasion to hook up little infinity R125 bookshelf. I had been using them as surround speakers. But boy the S300 really made them sing. Truly never heard them sound so good. It is a perfect entre into PSAudio.
I own the SGCD/S300 combo and love it . Admittedly I upgraded from a NAD D3045 integrated with Bluesound Node 2 to this stack and added an AurenderN100H/Matrix/LPS source so am using the I2S input . The sound is excellent with great imaging and effortless detail. Next upgrade will probably be to the M700 mono blocks but only after I add 2 RELs to my speakers. My advice is to try it out.
I also fwiw tried the Audiolab 6000 Play streamer/amp combo and found it cold sounding compared to the PSA gear. This was for a second system/room.
I used the s300/sgcd combo with a pair of Salk Song3 BeATs for 18 months and loved it. But i just upgraded to the m700s. The Salks are only 87db so need more power than the Ascends
I had the “Stack” (SGCD/3x M700 and recently an S300 for the surrounds). Loved them all ! Recently traded them in to The Music Room for a Balanced Audio Preamp from 1999/2000 built. This now feeds two Orchard Audio STARKRIMSON Amplifier modules (300W each) and two ICE Power ASP-1000 (1000W each) into my modified KEF 105/3’s.
While the STARKRIMSON’s lack Bass (depending in your Speaker load), they thrive better in the upper midbass/midrange/treble area than the M700’s. The Stellar Amps though will drive ANYTHING and sound very good (i’.e - no listening fatigue). They made me a believer in Class D (nice work Darren Myers on the all important input stage).
While I can’t afford the M1200’s, I can just imagine how good they based on my own “Hybrid” (Class A Tube Preamp “input stage” feeding Analog and Digital Class D Amplifiers).
I also have the SGCD/S300 combo and am very pleased with it. A big thanks to the designer of the SGCD for another reason. I have collected many sources over the years and so am using most of the inputs. The three analogue inputs are used by my stereo turntable, my mono TT and my cassette player (in playback mode). The coax inputs are used by a Cambridge CXC transport and an old Sony DVD recorder that plays all the disks that the Cambridge won’t. The optical input is used by a Startech Bluetooth music receiver for the iPhone/iPad and the USB input is used by a laptop running JRiver so I can play music files.
The XLR outputs are used to drive the S300 and the RCA outputs are used to drive my backup integrated amp (doesn’t everyone have one) which powers the speakers in the backroom/kitchen. So I think I am getting my money’s worth.
Yep, I love having those three analogue inputs as well.
That and ability to rename all of the inputs has been awesome, as I have inherited a lot of different analog media from my grandfather RIP.
Real to real tapes, cassette tapes, and all of those LPs and 78s!.
*So I have reel to reel input,
*I have my record rig input
*I have my mono 78 input
*the cassette player goes into an a to d converter into coax,
*The other coax is my streamer
*And my PC goes in via a toslink
My s300 and SGCD are part of my, what I would consider, pragmatic audiophile lifestyle.
At the moment my life revolves around listening to new music via Tidal, and then buying the records.
Or listening to my many many CD rips from when I was still a teenager to now.
But that’s the beauty with a vinyl rig. You can dramatically season to taste the front end to suit your end of the speakers. And the s300 is very neutral, and suits my little DALI Menuets and B&W sub perfectly. I finally got it working perfectly in my room, with great tone, decent imaging, and a soundstage that pushes all the way back and to the sides.
So yeah I love my stellar gain cell dac and my s300. At the end of the day you have to dip your toes in at some point, and figure it out in the end. It’ll cost you a little bit of money but you can be happy.
And remember comparison is the enemy of happiness.
PS, yes everyone has a backup integrated! Mine is the marantz pm5003.