Stellar Gain Cell DAC - initial impressions

My Stellar Gain Cell DAC, hereafter referred to as “SGCD” - Arrived Thursday 2/2. I let it sit out, not plugged in, at room temperature until evening of 2/3 to make sure any condensation had dissipated – it had a “cold trip”.

For cosmetic and operational issues (it has a few) – see my post in the “Stellar Beta Questions, Suggestions, bugs forum” thread.

System Context: Wyred4Sound DAC-2, Aesthetix Calypso, Decware Torii, Audio Nirvana open baffle full-rangers, augmented with Hawthorne Audio Augie OB bass drivers. Also have Martin Logan Vista’s, Decware DM-945’s, Velodyne 12” digital drive sub, Cary SLI-80, Crown XLS-2500 used for bass duties, Emotiva XPA-5, a vintage Theta Digital player, Sony ES SACD player, Emotiva XMC-1, Audioquest DragonFly, and a bunch more stuff, too numerous to mention (I really need to have an inventory reduction sale in a big way!!). I use all PSA power cords (various vintages up to and including AC-n’s), everything is plugged into a PSA Perfect Wave P5, plugged into a dedicated 20 amp outlet.

As time permits, I will listen to the SGCD in several different configurations. But at the outset I ran the SGCD’s balanced outputs into my Calypso (yes more circuitry in the signal path – I know - blasphemy!! However “gain riding” can produce some interesting/desirable sonic results to my ears), the Calypso driving the Decware Torii, the Torii driving the AN full-rangers – IME, there is no more resolute speaker than a wide-bander with NO passive crossover in the signal path. If it’s good enough for Nelson Pass – it’s good enough for me. The source was redbook CD stored on a hard disc. I’ll venture to other formats as the beta test continues. But I have to face the facts, I own almost a 30 year collection of CD’s - I’m not going to go out and replace them. So anything that ‘advances’ the 16/44.1 sound - I’m all in. The connection to the SGCD was via 75 ohm SPDIF cable. A few hours in, I decided to bypass the Calypso and its tube editorializing (a good thing) and ran the SGCD straight into the Decware to “isolate” the SGCD as much as possible.

First impressions

Right out of the box, the Stellar GCD is “stellar” (sorry I couldn’t resist) at resolution, most noticeable in the highs, more space/air around cymbals, brushes on a snare, etc. This is more evident from the balanced outputs than the single ended outputs. I know this is a worn out audiophile cliché, but on reference material I’ve heard at least hundreds of time, some new details were revealed or brought out and more noticeable. Not in a highlighted or hyped up way – you just ‘notice’ them as they add to the realism of the sound.

After a few hours run time, the sound smooth’s out across the board. Most noticeably in the mids. It’s taking on a very “organic” and natural, musical if you will, overall sonic signature. I hear no aggressiveness or forwardness to its overall sound. Listening for hours produces no fatigue. Soundstage depth has improved with some hours as well. As Paul has often touted, the image should be “behind the plane of the speakers” – with the SGCD – it is. Lateral imaging of the SGCD is as good as anything I’ve heard in my room. I suspect this is probably only limited by my current room acoustics, which I think are my last sonic frontier to conquer – next project.

The SGCD has almost enough mid-bass weight/warmth to allow listening to the full-rangers without bass augmentation – almostwink. But it’s very good in this regard. I will probably use the Martin Logan’s run sans sub eventually to more fully evaluate this aspect of the SGCD’s performance.

So far, I find little to criticize about the SGCD’s sound – nothing actually (only operational and cosmetics flaws). It is very, very good sonically and worthy of anybody’s time to audition. Of course, system synergy, your rooms acoustics and most importantly your individual sonic preferences will determine its ultimate place for you.

Stay tuned… more to come, as the beta testing period continues.

A very good review…!

Yes, a good thoughtful presentation. Thanks!