Stellar Gain Cell DAC/M700 combo-100 hours in

My journey in audio eventually led me to tubes-my first high end amp/preamp combo was an Adcom GFA-545 with a GTP-400 tuner/preamp. After listening to the systems of friends and developing my own listening skills it became painfully obvious how bright and fatiguing this combo was, so they were eventually replaced with a Dynaco tube preamp and a McCormack power amplifier, which was a big step up but still didn’t have that magic that we are all looking for. Their eventual replacements were an Audio Research LS-16 line stage along with an original Music Reference RM9 amplifier-now, this was more like it! A nice, musical sound with great bass and dynamic drive, but still sweet enough on top-a must if you are like me and your library has a lot of classic sixties rock and pop, like the Zombies and the Animals-great records but obviously pretty hot on top. All was bliss, until the RM9 developed a nasty hum in one channel-fortunately, I found a great local McIntosh repair tech who was able to diagnose the problem and replaced several parts on the circuit board. Back to bliss for 9 months-then, more noise and another trip schlepping 60 pound beast back to Mike and a few more resistors and capacitors were replaced. 14 months later, back to Mike and a couple more parts were replaced. This brings us to last December, when the beast developed yet another hum in the right channel-by this point, I had really become weary with the care and feeding this beast required, and I this frustration along with the fact that I had been hearing a lot of solid state gear at hifi shows that really impressed with their musicality had me thinking it might be possible to replace the RM9 with something that gave me the sweet highs and big soundstage that I craved, but without the hassles. At both RMAF and Newport the last several years, the PS Audio gear really stood out, and after reading all of the positive reviews about the Stellar gear I decided to take the plunge (I really loved the BHK stuff, but that was beyond my budget.

The primary sources for my system are a Project Xtension 10 turntable with a Parasound Halo Jr phono stage and Denon DL-301 Mk II cartridge for analog and an Elac Discovery music server for digital. The phono stage has XLR outputs and is connected with Audioquest King Cobra cables to the balanced inputs on the SGC (my first foray into using balanced cables) and the music server is connected by digital coax to the SGC. Speakers are Vandersteen 2Ce Signature II. I hooked everything up last weekend, and the sound impressed right away-perhaps a bit bright on top, but I reminded myself of the consensus re: break in and left the music server playing on shuffle mode with the volume set on 1 both at night and while I was at work. Thursday night, I settled in for some serious listening. Wow! Incredible soundstage and detail, and the brightness I heard had pretty much vanished. Everything from the Beatles to Diana Krall to Mercury Living Presence classical titles sounded rich, full and detailed. My wife remarked that with past gear changes I’d claim improvements that she couldn’t hear, but this time even she could easily hear the improvements.

I’m a happy camper-kudos to the design team!


I too am a “tubeaphile”. For my office system I had been using a Counterpoint hybrid amp. The sound was great but the wait for it to warm up and the fear of another repair led to my purchase of the Stellar S300. The sound with my less than “stellar” CD transport and Oppo DAC was harsh and uninvolving .I returned the S300 for the M700 pair and concurrently ordered a PWT and Stellar GS DAC. What an amazing difference. Older CD’s that were an assault are now very listenable . There is no warmup needed from standby. When summer comes my office will be cooler. I never gave the S300 a fair chance since I was auditioning with the old digital front end. For a system that you can buy, plug in and just love the music I think the Stellar is a remarkable achievement !

I believe the Oppo Dacs are partially responsible for the negative connotation with ESS Sabre being harsh.

You may be correct. My office set up used an Oppo HA-1 headphone amp-dac and California Audio transport. I tried the PWT and Stellar GS in my main system replacing an Oppo universal player and was blown away. This combo rivaled my analog front end. I had stopped buying CD’s because of the irritating sound, focusing on SACD instead. I think this is a work around for the harsh sound of the Oppo DAC.With the PWT/StelarGS combo the SACD advantage seems eliminated .

My work setup is an AQ Dragonfly Red (ESS 9016) with Uptone Regen, AQ Carbon to Windows PC, using Tidal Exclusive and it sounds quite good.

Not on same level of Stellar but still very listenable and enjoyable.

I have an Oppo BDP-103 that I use for SACD and blue ray playback only, agree that the sonics are on the bright side. It will be interesting to compare the Elac Discovery’s DAC’s with the SGC, I’ll hook up some cables this weekend and give it a try. The Elac is very much on the warm and inviting side of the spectrum-I really like the way they voiced that unit.

When you say bright, are you using coax or optical out of the BDP? Just curious if the power supply is partially at fault.

I use the Oppo via either RCA in, or HDMI out to my NAD receiver for multichannel SACD and blue ray (I use the unity gain proccesor loop on the SGC), so I’m hearing the Oppo DAC with the former and the NAD with the latter.

Analog XLR output seems to solve the brightness on my Oppo BDP-105. RCA analog output brings it back no matter what cable I seem to use. I stick with XLR on it.