Stellar M1200 Mono Beta Test

I cannot speak to your system or preferences only mine. However, I chose the M1200s (with my BHK Pre) for the monoblock balanced design and their intense power handling. I feel confident as I inevitably change speakers down the road or ask more of my system the 1200s will handle it with aplomb. Plus they sound absolutely fantastic. Lastly, class D with a tube input stage? I mean that is just plain cool. Now if we could only SEE that tube . . . :yum:

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Having heard the BHK250 & liked it you had a good idea where you were going, so your situation is very different. First, BHK300 is basically two separate BHK250s & have similar sound characteristics. Second, PS Audio has return guarantee & third, 15K (or whatever you paid for them) is a long way from 45K. I also have BHK300’s. You made a great choice.

The M1200s had 100 hours on them when I started listening and taking notes today. They have definitely improved over the last three days. That said, The choice of a 48 hour burn in was a god one. Right out of the box, well after 15-20 minutes for the tubes to warm up, it was clear the M1200s were very special. I can’t see anyone being disappointed with the way they sound when they arrive. The fact that they get better is just icing on the cake. Tomorrow I’ll start posting my impressions with different types of music.

You all hit it out of the park with this one.

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The IcePower modules will hit full stride when you get further past the 200 hour mark and the longer they are powered up helps too.

In that case, the M1200s are even more impresive

Just read the bad experience I had with the NCORE (Hypex) amps with the built-in input stage. You’ve mentioned for years, the input stage feeding the Class D Amps is critical to the sound of the amp. Be it FET or Tube based. Ya, one could tame a Factory Class D Amp module with DSP EQ if your feeding normal Speakers or like I have in my rig by replacing the Bose Analog EQ’s with MiniDSP’s. But I agree, an “Analog Cell” is what make the M700’s/S300 (to replace the borrowed NCORE’s) so special.

Back when PS Audio sold through Dealers, none in the Phoenix, AZ area sold the Stellar Products. I did the same leap of faith and bought online through Amazon & HiDef Lifestyles last year. A day later “The Stellar Stack” was available direct on the PS Audio website. Now I have 3 M700’s and the SGCD was traded in for a DSD Sr.plus the difference in cost.

Is the DSD Dr. your only source? If not, what are you using as a preamp?

Balanced mono is a plus…I actually was able to score a bhk250 to demo for a week-now all I need is a m1200 and m700…thanks

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M1200s Review.

This review will list a key set of tracks I always tend to listen to in a new system and my experiences with those, a couple criticisms, and final impressions.

After 100ish hours of burn-in I sat down and gave a listen to some of my favorite tracks. My music taste is perhaps a bit different here than some, I’ll have tracks from alternative rock to electronic to Leonard Cohen to prog rock. Not traditional review stuff so purists be forewarned. I chose songs which are sometimes difficult to handle in terms of musical complexity (dynamic, mid-range clutter, instrument placement, etc.). I also chose a few songs which can really be difficult to listen to sometimes at high volumes given certain systems.

These amps were compared to a PrimaLuna HP Integrated and M700s from PS Audio.

As a recap my system is:
Source: Dedicated laptop running JRiver with Revelation Audio Labs USB cable.
DAC: Direcstream w/ Windom.
Preamp: BHK Signature with Mullard tubes.
Amps: M1200s.
Speakers: Golden Ear Triton Ones.
Cabling: AQ XLR and AQ speaker.

I started with Steven Wilson’s Happy Returns from Hand Cannot Erase 96/24. This song can be difficult to listen to on the crescendo, not so here. I was pleased with how musical and engaging the song was, and easy to listen to on high volumes. I noticed the song came in earlier than I had previously heard before, I placed the backup vocals for the first time, and heard breath on the voices which was new for me. It was a musical and engaging experience and the soundstage was wide and immersive.

Next was Beck’s Heart Is a Drum from Morning Phase 96/24. This song’s midrange can often be muddied on some amps (my primaluna for instance muddies this up). I noticed clear picking and strumming/string vibrations on the guitars, could clearly pick out instrument placement, and what is typically muddied on my Primaluna here was clear and holographic. The timing and musicality of the amps were really shining here. Really enjoyable. Loved it.

FKA Twig’s Pendulum from LP1 44/16. Clear and dynamic, excellent highs. Extremely wide soundstage, wider than I’ve heard with this song. I was struck with how tight the bass was as this can typically be smeary, it was taut and clear. The vocals here sounded lifelike and breathy, where on my other amps they could often sound lost in the song and overly bright.

Leonard Cohen’s Boogie Street from Ten New Songs 44/24. Deeply placed vocals, rich and beautiful sounding voices (this is a duet). Cohen sounded larger than life here but also very much in the room. The highs here called attention to themselves in a way I hadn’t heard before, and wasn’t sure I entirely liked - but is perhaps the fault of the recording itself (more on this later).

Radiohead’s Everything In It’s Right Place from Kid A 44/16. I was quite pleased hearing this track on the M1200s. It came alive in a way that I hadn’t experience before. It was IMMERSIVE, the vocals were precise and melodic and I could hear breath on the voice. I could almost “see” the music. The soundstage was high, wide, and holographic. However, here again, I noted occasionally the highs could occasionally be a bit of an attention caller, and slightly aggressive.

I listened to a few more tracks; Billie Eilish’s Everything I Wanted 44/24 had deep and tight bass with a clear and wide soundstage, I heard vocals here I had never heard before; Thomas Barrandon’s Chase 96/24 was a lot of fun, excellent pacing, placement, and separation; and finally The Weeknd’s As You Are 44/24 had some of the punchiest bass I’ve ever heard from this song, a natural and smooth vocal, but again here the highs were a touch bright.

I have two criticisms about the M1200s, so we will start there and then move to the positives (which far outweigh the negatives). One is sonic and the other aesthetic. Sonically, I found the highs would occasionally call attention to themselves in not always the most pleasant manner - the highs sometimes dominated the track to the slight detriment of the mids. This did not happen in every song, and they never became too bright or harsh, but they weren’t quite as silky smooth as I am used to (I previously had PrimaLuna tube amps and m700s). Very occasionally I could hear a touch of light grain in the highs, and it reminds me of the sound of some tubes I used to have - also Chinese – and that issue changed when I swapped them out. I have some new tubes on order and will update when they are in.

My aesthetic complaint is this: it’s a $6k class D set of monoblock amps – BUT WITH TUBES! I would love to see that tube and have it be more accessible for changing. Otherwise the spartan look is nice.

Finally, if I could describe the positives of the M1200s in their total in my system, they would be that the M1200s are extremely holographic; presenting a wider, higher, and deeper soundstage than I have ever heard before in my system - it was startlingly good. Bass is tight, punchy, and deep. The midrange, the most important aspect for me, was rich and pleasant. The M1200s have a wonderful sense of timing and musicality overall - they truly immerse you in the music, in a wraparound fashion. I heard things I had never heard before in my favorite songs. I found them engaging, absorbing, and easily the best pair of amps I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in my system.

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You are correct, the DSD Sr., is my Preamp as well. Works great with the M700’s.

Thanks for taking the time to provide great context and details.

Cheers.

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Thanks for the thoughtful review! Can you share with us what your source(s) are… that is, stream or CD or ripped or LP?
Thanks!!

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These are AIFF files run on a dedicated laptop with Jriver via USB (no other programs run on this). Tracks were not streamed, and came largely from Qobuz/Musician or Label direct order/Blu Ray rips/cd rips all rips were checked for consistency by dbpoweramp.

Physical tube change review - did this to go through that process while still in beta. Not a review of sonic differences - that is forthcoming.

I have some concerns about changing the tubes. I am not inexperienced with tubes, have changed aplenty. I also have the BHK pre (uses same 12au7). Changing tubes there is a breeze.

-The accessibility to the tubes can be tough, if you have large or thick fingers it will likely be difficult. Visually lining up pins isn’t easy either (you have to look through the grate on the side or try from the top).

-The tube sockets are very tight and not quite the quality I would expect. It was difficult to get the stock tubes out, and made me nervous putting them back in. I had to rotate and finagle a lot to get them started, the connectors can get a bit out of sync with the surrounding ceramic socket;

-the board started flexing a fair bit as pressure was applied (more than comfortable) - to move them in further and seat them. I thought they might break.

I don’t want to write about negatives but I need to be honest. It did make me nervous with how expensive these are to potentially break them on a tube change. Perhaps it was just my units or due to a first time tube change.

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Thanks good review i like most of the music you used i also love electronica, FKA Twigs etc. Look forward to hearing the amps

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Thanks for the fantastic review above and like you, I enjoy a decent amount of electronica and modern (maybe slightly over mastered) music. It isn’t always the best stuff to listen to critically but it can be a heck of a lot of fun because of the frequency range that is produced and (I’m stealing your word) holographic presentation.

It’s similar to CGI in a movie. Not everything in our imagination can be produced by stunt doubles and makeup. Sometimes an instrument can’t reproduce the melodies and harmonics the composer has in their head. Even though it’s purely digital, an amateur artist using Protools to overdub some vocals can be damn cool.

BTW, Everything In It’s Right Place is one of my test tracks too.

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This is also the one thing I wondered about regarding BHK pre owners and the fact that you even get used BHK300s for a similar price as the M1200. Has no one compared, do many prefer new vs. used, is it because the 6k price as any PSA MSRP is not real (due to deals etc.) and it’s finally quite cheaper than a used BHK?

Not doubting how good the M1200 is, I guess the BHK300 must be definitely better sounding, so that’s why I’m a little puzzled.

We do not recommend rolling your own tubes in the M1200 without the use of the little tube puller we sell separately (and that also comes as standard with a set of fresh factory matched tubes). It’s also important on the M1200 (or any tube based mono block
amplifier) to make sure the tubes you use are a matched pair.

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Enjoyed your honest review. Your aesthetic gripe is my only issue with most PS gear. But man, it sounds sooo damn good! Like you, I have tube gear, a PL HP AMP paired with a BHK preamp. when that thing is all lit up, it looks killer! I thought of posting a question out of curiosity, how important is the aesthic aspect compared to the way a unit(s) sounds? Would you rather have something that looks absolutely stunning in every way with very good proformance, or an eyesore with an absolutely divine listening experience? Just to be clear, i am being general, not stating these are eyesores, just giving extremes.

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