Stellar GainCell Preamp & S300 amp vs. Stellar Strata

The Stellar GainCell Preamp & S300 amp together are nearly the same price as the upcoming Stellar Strata all in one amp.

I realized the power output is a little different, but when used well within the available power capacity, I’m wondering how they will compare sonically when not using the internal DAC?

Basically why would a customer choose one over the other? Assuming the features, the additional cabling for the amp/preamp combo, or 2 boxes vs 1 box were not issues?

I’ll let you know soon :slight_smile:

One big thing for me is streaming… I’m tired of the Ethernet rabbit hole and chasing better SQ using streamers that are very susceptible to noise and cables.

I just went through the same conundrum…

…and ended up pulling the trigger on the S300+Stellar pre-amp. I like the additional 100watts headroom and have my own streamer (which I can upgrade separately when the time comes…).

So happy I did pull the trigger as enjoying my new office system as I type and have absolutely no FOMO. :wink:

This is a great question and I do have a strong opinion on. Yes, you’re right on the feature side of things, but I’ll expand beyond that.

I want to get this out of the way first. When we say something like, “the BHK 300s sound better than the new M1200.” Yes, of course they do, they should. By no means is that saying 1200s are bad amps. This is obvious, I just want to make the point early.

The way I would describe the Strata is it’s a very fun integrated. I listen to a lot of different music, and not all of it is mastered/recorded very well. From the likes of Radiohead, Funkadelic, Kings of convenience, 90s hip-hop, through to Nick Drake, Nat King Cole, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Bill Evans (no particular order). Sure, some of these artists have some damn good recordings, but let’s be honest, some of Radiohead’s stuff is pretty rough around the edges, but I still absolutely love it. Kid A is one heck of an album and is one of my most played of all time. Strata makes Kid A sound amazing! All of it. Even some of the rougher tracks. When listening to Strata, all music sounds good. Throw on L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole, you better believe your toes will be tapping.

However, Nat’s lush baritone voice may be lacking a bit of that richness. The backing trumpet might seem a little too far away. The imaging might seem a bit blurred.

This is where the GDAC and S300/M700s really start to shine. The imaging is more focused, it’s deeper and easier to believe you’re in the audience. Nat’s lush voice suddenly sounds like it’s coming from a center channel speaker. That trumpet solo has the impact it should, and you can hear the slight mistake you’re pretty sure he makes when it was his time to shine.

This system is quite revealing. When you listen to well recorded albums, you are simply engulfed in the music. Listening to albums like Kid A is still an incredible experience, but instead of completely enjoying the music, I’ll subconsciously put on my audiophile hat and start critiquing minute details I would otherwise ignore when listening through the Strata.

To go back to my original point, this is not to say either are bad. Obviously both are darn good and are just simply different.

Sorry for the long winded answer. I love both systems and have a pretty strong opinion about them. Hope it helps.


Thanks James.
FWIW, I always thought Kid A was a good sounding album. Pablo Honey, not so much.

That’s what I needed to know about the sound differences. So the Strata is the fun, kick back, don’t analyze and just enjoy kinda sound. :slight_smile:

Good point. Pablo Honey is much more rough.

Well said, I guess I could have just written that and gotten the point across. :laughing:

Not sure this should be for another topic…but I am guessing there is a “stellar” difference between the Strata and Sprout? Would love some details there too, James.

Have all of the comparisons in house been conducted with the Perfectwave Transport?

I’m curious how differences widen or narrow with different input combinations and setups.

No, the only PWTs that we still have at the shop are test fixtures in the lab.
If you meant DMP then yes, absolutely. The three major sources we use during the listening tests are Audirvana through USB, the DMP, and Darren’s phono pre. And of course with the Strata, its on board streamer.

My preference is vinyl by a fair margin. Seems as though you really can’t go wrong piping a good pressing through the Stellar Phono.

The streamer in the Strata is quite good too. Plenty of detail to the sound with a good full range presence.

I get the question quite often how the Sprout100 compares to an old stereo receiver. Receivers are great for workshop or garage jukeboxes but really aren’t providing the audiophile experience we’re after.

The Sprout100 provides an introduction to this audiophile experience. No more blankets of music coming at you. The speakers begin to produce instruments instead of a wall of sound.

As you’d expect, the Strata takes it a few steps further. The strata has great full-range sound with detailed highs, and non bloated lows. This is where I think the Sprout does fall short sometimes.


James…my experience thus far with the Strata vs S300 comparison is exactly as you describe: The Strata is magnificent at making most recordings I have tried sound palatable or great (fun!). The S300, I have to say, is a significant step above in terms of focus and clarity, but I think it requires more careful matching with preamp and DAC to get the best results. The Saga to me sounds like the issue of synergy between parts is very well resolved. A lot of listeners are going to enjoy it.

But I still prefer the qualities of the S300 as an amp to build with. It’s a masterly design.

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I might be the first to call it for Strata. On my end I think Strata beats SGCD vs. S300 handily.

Timing, harmonics, musicality all improved. SGCD/S300 has maybe spaciousness by a touch but its blurred in timing. I think this comes down to my streaming setup - Ultrarendu/Ultradigital just can’t match the WiFi integration and synergy.

Easier to listen to Strata on my end, effortlessness much better.