Stellar GCD vs. PCA-2 with HCPS

Good day, all.

Has anybody else on this forum compared the Stellar Gain Cell DAC with the PCA-2 preamp and High Current Power Supply?

On June 24, I happily took delivery of the Stellar Gain Cell DAC, shipped directly from our friends in Boulder. I removed from my hifi system a modest DAC (by which I am always pleased – the Audio Alchemy DAC in the Box) and the PCA-2 preamp with the High Current Power Supply.

Nice to lose boxes! Great to control my digital source – the PerfectWave Transport (which I have owned since January 2017) – with a single remote control.

First impressions of the GCD were favorable. Yes, there seemed to be more there there. But things sounded a bit harsh, too rapier-like.

I own the Sheffield/XLO burn-in disc, so I began playing Track 8 on the PWT’s song repeat whenever I was not listening to music.

My Mrs. and I took a 3-day vacation to Burlington, VT, around the 4th of July and, as you might expect, the GCD sounded much better on our return. (Endless repeat of Track 8 occurred during our absence.)

Yesterday I decided that I would not be lazy about this in-home evaluation and so I unhooked the GCD and returned the PCA-2/HCPS and another modest DAC (Entec 203.2) to the system.

I have to say, after 90 minutes of listening to the PCA-2 back in the system, that I might be keeping it and returning the GCD! (FWIW, that’s not at all what I expected. . . .)

My main complaint with the GCD – a lack of gain adjustment. (If there is a way to do this, please advise!)

For example, CD tracks that play at a volume of 70 or 80 through the PCA-2 top out at a volume of 40 or 50 with the GCD.

I could get used to that, sure, but am I not losing something there? I recall a Paul’s Post about attenuation and volume controls that said something like volume 100 = full gain. Thus, it’s preferred to use the upper numbers of your volume control.

OK, the gain cell is a different technology. Maybe the lesson I learned above doesn’t apply to the GCD?

But is there a way to tailor the volume control for the mating of the GCD with my amplification and speakers (HCA-2 power amp, for now, and Buggtussel Amydala speakers)?

This volume-control puzzle isn’t just a digital thing in my system. Same sort of thing happens with my analog source, a VPI Scout/Ortofon Quintet Black played through another modest but good performer, the Audio Alchemy VAC in the Box.

With my analog source through the GCD, I reduced the gain of the VITB from 60dB to 50dB and that helped, but still the volumes on LPs through the GCD are 50 or 60 when the usual with the PCA-2 is 70 to 90, depending on the LP, of course, and how hot it was cut.

If nothing else, it seems that I’m losing a good bit of precision with the volume control of the GCD. (Again, please advise if I missing something here, which is very possible!)

I’ll probably make myself do another round of A/B/A, unhooking the PCA-2 after another day or two, putting the GCD back in the system.

Any advice from this forum about what I’ve described above would be most welcome.

Cheers, y’all, Chaz

The GCD does not use a digital volume control and you are not throwing away any data but setting the volume lower. You should be fine. The question is what components sound best in your system.

Steve is right. These are very different technologies. The GCD is actually changing the gain of the amplifier - the analog amplifier - and whatever setting you have it at for best sound will be uncompromised since there really isn’t any loss whatsoever using this technology.

I have found only the BHK Signature to be a better sounding volume control (and it uses similar technology). I am sure there are great devices out there, but you’d be hard pressed to get as revealing and rich sound at any volume level; as you will with the GCD. Use it at any setting with confidence.

One thing you might want to try is using the GCD just as a DAC, with your old preamp. The Audio Alchemy is really old technology. As Paul told you the numbers mean nothing, but you may find a combination of the original preamp with the GCD as the DAC might be the best of both worlds.

Are you using the I2S input with your PWT?

Thanks to Steve and Paul and Jeff.

Great to know that the GCD is not throwing away data even though I’m having to set the volume control lower than with the PCA-2.

Jeff, yes, with the PWT and GCD in the system, they are connected via I2S.

Interesting idea to route the GCD through the PCA-2. Inquiring minds should want to know. However, I’ll admit that adding a box to the system does give me pause. I will report back here if I decide to do it. . . .

I also realize that the PCA-2 is old tech compared to the GCD. Still I’m trying to decide which sounds better in my system. Not an easy call so far.

I remain somewhat surprised that nobody on the forum seems to have done an A/B of these two preamps.

Thanks again, y’all. I’m learning that, for me, replacing capable gear like the PCA-2/HCPS (not to mention my long-in-the-tooth DACs!) is not as simple as saying, Oh yeah, I’ll take that new guy (the Stellar GCD).

Anybody want to go to the Hifi Room and help me swap wires and connectors :wink: ?

Further comments are welcomed, also.

Best regards, Chaz