Sprout to Strata Upgrade

I have had the Strata for a little over a week now with about 150 hours of burn time on it now and I wanted to share some thoughts about it here with you all.

A few of you have been sharing my journey in to the land of audiophilia and I am excited with this next, big step. I have been trying to find some reviews that mentioned the Sprout vs Strata and though I got some insight in to that in the forums (thanks Jamesh and Paul, Caleb for your talk on the phone), I just wasn’t finding the details I was hankering for. I hope to share those details from my own experience now. Just a review of my rig:

Elac UB52 bookshelf speakers
Stellar Strata (previously Sprout100)
Cambridge Audio CXC Transport
Blue Jeans speaker cables
Murrow Audio MAP1 power cable feeding the Sprout

So this all started with a pair of Paradigm Studio 20s driven by an Onkyo DS939 HT receiver six years ago.

I had gotten my setup with the Sprout to about as far as I thought I could given the not so perfect space I have to work with. I wondered if the Strata could really make that much of a difference given said space. In one word. Yes. In another, darn near revelatory.

First, I listen to ALOT of classical. So, let me say, right out of the box, I first noticed cellos. When I heard them with the Sprout, I knew that was the cello section playing. But with the Strata…the whole character of the cellos changed. I had no idea what I was missing. The body of the cello just filled out; filled with warmth.

The next thing I noticed was new details in the bass. I could now tell the distinct difference between what the basses were playing and what the cellos were playing. But it got more detailed than that. I could tell when basses were bowing versus when they were plucking. Maybe I had a hint of that on the Sprout. But now, with the Strata, I KNOW it is happening. And this is through the UB52s without a sub.

In general the details that come out just grab me all time. Darn…that clarinet is really holding that note a long time. Jacqueline Du Pre is really bearing down on that cello. There is an excitement to the music and performances that I was aware of with the Sprout. The Strata hits me full in the face with that.

A Mahler crescendo: with the Sprout the sound came together…not so much in a big mush, but I didn’t get any detail. Now, I can hear all of the instruments coming together and increasing their volume. And I don’t lose the details of the individual instruments to create the explosion of music. The first time I heard it on Barbirolli’s Mahler 5th, I realized another aspect of the music I have been missing.

Like I said previously, a big aspect is the excitement of the performances really coming through now. I always thought that Mehta conducting Tchaikovsky was so dang fast. But with the Strata their is a bigger immediacy and excitement to that performance. I didn’t feel that with the Sprout. I got chills yesterday listening to “All At Once” by Bonnie Raitt.

So…if you are wondering about the move from the Sprout (which is still an amazing little box that I love) to the Strata, I can tell you that it is worth the investment. Especially if you can take advantage of PS Audio’s most generous trade-in program. I was able to trade-in to move up and that really sealed the deal for me.

My next moves: once I have a good feel of the Strata’s sound, upgrade the stock power cord on my CXC transport to the Morrow MAP1 and buy a MAP3 power cord for the Strata. Then…well…watching for those bookshelf speakers to arrive. Patience always pays off for me. :slight_smile:

Thanks again, PS Audio. Well done.

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Nice review. I love it when someone gets a piece of gear that allows more detail to be heard in string sections. Cellos and basses are capable of such warmth, and a good recording reproduced through good gear is an almost tactile experience. You can hear the “woodiness” of the instrument, and in many cases the grip of the bowhair on the strings. Congratulations on the acquisition!

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I completely agree with your observations about cellos—I experienced that too as I upgraded from 20 year old NAD gear to PSA gear last spring. Cellos came alive and filled the room

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Update:
Two weeks now and in some 180 hours.

Noticing the depth of the soundstage is really really nice. Besides classic CDs, I also like listening to live shows from the Live Music Archive. I am finding I am getting a very nice sense of the various rooms where these were recorded with a real nice depth to the sound.

Though I had connected the Strata to my home network last week, yesterday was the first day that I tried streaming to it. Newbie Notice! I have no real experience with streaming other than what I did via Bluetooth to my Sprout. I don’t subscribe to any streaming service. Given that, I must say I like the streaming on the Strata very much.

I used the PS Audio app and was able to stream from my Amazon Prime account and liked how the metadata displays on the Strata’s screen. I did notice that the PS Audio app could not connect to Spotify. It sent me directly in to the Spotify app and I could not select the Strata as an output device. But with a bit of finagling I was able to get any app on my iPhone to output to the Strata. For using the basics of file resolution, I thought the music from Spotify and my Live Music Archive app is very nice.
From the Live Music Archive app, I got a sense of the body of acoustic guitars I have never heard before (like the body of the cellos I mentioned before). I could stream any music homed on my iPhone to the Stata.

I tried other apps on the phone and am happy as the connection to the Strata is staying quite stable.

So, where I was pretty happy with the Strata from my first post, I am downright loving the unit now.

The musicality of the unit, the amazing soundstaging (again on my little Elac UB52s)…I just get happier and happier with it each day.

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Just re-read your review and decided to pull the trigger on a Strata during this May sale. I have been running my Sprout as a DAC/pre for a pair of M700s in the master bedroom. The M700s will soon be moving to the family room and I really don’t want to give up that great sound with my Elac UB-52s (got those on your previous suggestion) and a REL T5i. Thanks for your review and update!

Bravo!
:slight_smile: Did I mention today how much I love my Strata?

And that sale is really really good. The sale price still beats what I paid with my trade-in. Let me/us know if the upgrade is noticeable to you too. Though…driving M700s with the Sprout, that will be an interesting comparison. I had been thinking of starting my upgrade journey with the Sprout as a pre for an S300, then the Strata came on the scene. I have to admit, I like the simplicity of the integrated.

Hopefully find out more soon. Supposed to arrive on Thursday. At least that is what FedEx says… :grinning:

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The Strata arrived last Thursday as promised in great shape. Quite a step up from the Spout. Right out of the box it has a clear open sound that recalls my SGCD and M700s. And I really enjoy having multiple digital sources connected simultaneously - MacBook Pro (2009) with AQ Forest USB, Denon DCD-600NE CD with AQ Forest Optical and the bridge with PS Connect app on my iPhone 12. Break-in continues.

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