Stellar Gain Cell DAC, what dac chip is used


#1

I have been looking throughout the descriptions, features, specs and reviews for information regarding what DAC chips are used in this component but there is no mention anywhere that I can find.

Thanks in advance.


#2

ESS Sabre 9010.

I read on one of the reviews that PSA tested multiple chips, even more expensive ones, and the 9010 sounded best in their implementation.


#3

Thats interesting, do you recall which review that was? I missed it apparently.

Thanks


#4

https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/ps-audio-stellar-gain-cell-dac


#5

Thanks for the link. Good information and review.

I looked up this particular chip on the ESS Sabre site, interestingly its a DAC chip designed for the mobile market, i.e. iPhones etc though the specs are good.

Here is a link for anyone wanting to look at this in depth:

http://www.esstech.com/index.php/en/products/sabre-digital-analog-converters/sabre-hifi-mobile-dacs/sabre-hifi-stereo-dacs/es9010k2m/


#6

For kicks I compared my Dragonfly Red which has a higher end ESS 9016 chip and ran from Mac into Stellar Dac Preamp inputs.

With Dragonfly it sounded like a completely different system… in a bad way. Not open, lacked dynamics, too much congestion… felt much less alive.

The DAC is truly only a very small piece of the pie.

Also, FYI if you have the opportunity to convert your PCM to DSD on the fly via Audirvana I highly recommend.


#7

Good info CXP, and thanks for that.

I have owned 3 DAC’s over they years that implemented the ESS Sabre DAC chips and initially I liked them but quickly grew tired of their sound. Two of them had the 9018 which was their top dog at the time, and the other the 9016. It is my understanding that Sabre has voiced most of the chips for this in house sound that seems to emphasis the upper mid range or something along those lines. But their latest incarnation the 9038 found in the Oppo 205 does not have the typical “house” sound, or so I have read from others.

Regarding Audirvana, I do have that, but rarely use it anymore. For years I listened exclusively to a computer based music server but eventually got tired of the hassle of dealing with computers when I used them all day long. So most of my listening comes in the form of vinyl these days but I do have a large collection of digital music, thus the interest in finding a more satisfactory way of listening to that library from time to time.

I don’t disagree the DAC chip is only part of the equation for how a component will perform and sound, not withstanding what Sabre has done to voice some of their chips. Its interesting to see how PS Audio has apparently come up with a much different solution.


#8

FYI I do not perceive any significant emphasis from the Stellar DAC.

Could be the Analog stage with the passive filtering.

There are significant SQ characteristics though whether you use usb straight from Mac, go through a USB regenerator, or like I do, use an Ethernet to USB device like the UltraRendu.


#9

I have never heard of USB regenerators, new one on me, let alone an ethernet to USB device, well other than a router that might have both USB and ethernet inputs, i.e. Airport Extreme or similar. I’ll have to look into this.


#10
cxp said

Also, FYI if you have the opportunity to convert your PCM to DSD on the fly via Audirvana I highly recommend.


In the last few weeks I have upgraded to A+ 3 but had to do this on my Mac Book Pro rather than my aging older Mac Mini. In the process I have also made an effort to implement your suggestion of converting PCM to DSD on the fly in A+ but can’t seem to get it to work. I have tried this over USB as well as HDMI and all I get is a feint hiss with an extremely diminished volume of the music beneath the hiss, almost inaudible unless your ear is right against the speaker.

There doesn’t seem to be much info in the manual on how to implement this properly either. My MBP only has 4 thunderbolt/USB-C ports, none of the conventional ports of previous years. Initially I found many if not most of the peripherals that convert to USB or HDMI also cripple their capability with reduced bandwidth etc.

So how did you get this to work?

Thanks


#11

@routlaw

my initial hunch is that you are sending native DSD which is not compatible. Make sure to send over DoP and make sure to send over DSD 128 / Filter 7th order C type. Filter C is my preference so you can play here but DSD128 for sure; any higher and the DAC is incompatible and DSD 64 will not sound as good since the noise will be closer to the audible band.

Make sure exclusive / Integer is on.

Update : under active Audio device - - native DSD Capability - select DSD over PCM standard 1.0.


#12

@routlaw

another note, I prefer Izotope for the upsampling FYI. I have a thread with my settings in another thread.

http://www.psaudio.com/forum/stellar-forum/pcm-dsd128-conversion-in-a-amazing-sq-improvement/


#13
cxp said

@routlaw

my initial hunch is that you are sending native DSD which is not compatible. Make sure to send over DoP and make sure to send over DSD 128 / Filter 7th order C type. Filter C is my preference so you can play here but DSD128 for sure; any higher and the DAC is incompatible and DSD 64 will not sound as good since the noise will be closer to the audible band.

Make sure exclusive / Integer is on.

Update : under active Audio device - - native DSD Capability - select DSD over PCM standard 1.0.


Thanks cxp for the info.

No I don’t even have any native DSD files just PCM at this point, but on my version of A+ 3 there is no setting that specifies DoP, and worse still all options other than DSD 64 are chalked out, though I do have the options to try all of the various slopes like C 7th order etc. Definitely I have exclusive and integer mode on.

Oh well. Regardless I will take a look at the settings link provided in your second message.


#14

@routlaw

the DSD setting is how you are sending the newly converted PCM to DSD stream. You can’t send native DSD. This might be why the program is getting confused, I think you still have auto detection.

If none of that is showing up then you may have to redesignate the SGCD as your active device, it sounds like it reverted back to your Mac.


#15

@cxp, Actually I don’t even have the SGCD, apologies if I misrepresented that. I do have a DSD DAC however, but have just learned that apparently it does NOT do DoP which is most likely the culprit. I can use my Oppo outputting either DSD or DSD>PCM to this DAC via HDMI without issue, but not my computer apparently. Did not know until now that some DSD DACS will not allow DoP.

Thanks as always though for making an effort to trouble shoot. I looked at your other thread link, wow, has this stuff ever become complex. Makes vinyl look simple and easy. I started fooling around with computer based audio as a server back at the turn of the century, it was fairly easy to do then though the capabilities might have been sorely lacking. Having been away from it over the last few years I’m a bit taken back at how the complexity has ramped up lately.

This begs the question, can computer based music servers really be that much better (or as good) than spinning disc on a really good setup like the PSA Direct Stream DAC and Memory Player or even something less ambitious?


#16

Computer-based audio can be as simple or complex as you prefer, from turn-key single box servers to systems you design and build yourself.

The sound quality of servers varies. For example, many find Roon compromises the sound. Dedicated single purpose servers often produce excellent quality sound. The DMP possesses superb sound.


#17

@routlaw

No worries. I don’t think there is a benefit to doing the DSD conversion in Audirvana for you; I suspect what Ted does in the DS is a better conversion for PCM than what Audirvana does.

If you want to experiment using Audirvana just use PCM and don’t upsample or do anything special, let it go out as native as possible.


#18

@cxp, understood and tend to agree.

Interesting though a number of people appear to be using A+ to interpolate up their files on the fly with PCM only and claim to get good results. My own experiments are a mixed bag of pluses and minuses. I need to experiment with this more just out of curiosity if nothing else. Regardless there is most assuredly a difference between going out native files vs up res’ing them.

Thanks


#19

@routlaw

Using Audirvana to up-res the PCM will change the sound but you are opening a can of worms. There are going to be compromises… you will be introducing ringing into the equation since you have to use a filter. This is going to change the sound. The DS already upsamples all the way… adding another step is going to add in aliasing artifacts and ringing or phases shifts.

For the SGCD I strongly believe this is worth the effort due to the chip sounding noticeably better with DSD (converted from PCM). Here because of the up-sampling done in the computer I am removing/altering the upsampling parameters that would go on in the DAC. I have better control of the filter slopes and other features.

One of the main issues with upsampling is there are guaranteed tradeoffs. I find it absolutely necessary to use very low slopes to keep the ringing down but this comes at the price of aliasing being introduced. In the SGCD I am fine with tradeoff; for the DS you would either be introducing tons of ringing or introducing aliasing. In the DS, all of the upsampling and DSD conversion is fine tuned for best phase/impulse response and minimal ringing. My concern would be that any additional processing is going to gum up that good work and add artifacts for very minimal benefit.