I’m no pro, or hot-shot, just an afficionado, but this is my hopefully helpful impression a few weeks after purchase…The advertising is compelling and accurate. The equipment unleashed not only my massive FLAC, but also mp3 library potential (100K plus, bragging, haha). Yes, mp3s are enhanced and totally listenable now, esp. those over sampling rates of approx… 256. (I’d recommend the filter #3 on the DAC for this). This is an unexpected bonus and perfect for anything but the most picky critical listening sessions.
My recent equipment comps were Musical Fidelity DAC and PrimaLuna Prologue, as well as Emerald Physics monoblocks, coupled with Martin Logan Motion 40s (rated 300W each) and Dynamo sub. (Even at very low amp volumes, the sound clarity fills the room. Wow.)
Well, sorta comparable anyway…Nothing I’d tried seemed to fill and control the ML speakers til now. My previous amps just sorta flatlined at 70dB (room volume 8 ft. away) and couldn’t sound musical with depth and vibrance beyond that. Their relative limitations made lower volume listening rather disappointing too. These were a combination of design and power limitations, not present in the Stellar units. Yes!
The sound of the Stellar Gain Cell DAC was a bit raspy and grating for me out of the box, but still somewhat listenable (I was freaking out for the first few days, not in a good way, but thanks to Karl at TMR, patience won the day). The power and control, especially of the mid and bass was exceedingly compelling. I just needed the highs to chill out and breathe for me. So, I’ve left them on 24x7 for 3 weeks now, playing Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven symphonies whenever I’m asleep (headphones) and when I’m away, set on volume around 30-35. In one week I noticed a big change, and all the frequencies above approx 3k settled down into a normal curve, whereas previously they’d been a bit heightened across to 20K (no I’m not hallucinating). I’m using a simple spectral analyzer with a mic approximately 8 ft in front of the speakers. The sound is now pleasantly natural, and beyond my expectations, which were reasonably high.
The DAC / preamp (and amp combo) seems to root around in the file and squeeze out the last bit of juice from the entire spectrum, (much as I’d expect from an expensive CD player) presenting it in a very listenable, natural way. Even ‘tubey’ I must say. This is undoubtedly a credit to intensely experienced, knowledgable, particularly tedious and exacting, excellent design. Not easily or commonly done, esp. on the D-class in my experience. So, as advertised, it’s a milestone and not to be missed.
Now, as a musician, I’ve heard many systems over the years, from original Ampzilla (haha big transformer, caps and transistors) to Levinson(same), to nice Cary’s, Marantz and McIntosh, and a few Jeff Rowland models, even one or two nice PassLabs. And I have played thru Marshall JCM-800s and MesaBoogies as well. Haha. This pair of M700s is able to produce a clarity and response fairly equal to all I’ve heard before, especially at higher volume. (I’m a bit limited in my estimation due to my speaker quality.) The finer Cary, Rowland, McIntosh and PassLabs really require better speakers to appreciate their superiority…As for volume, I have a 20 x 25 room, and can’t imagine turning the volume over 40 / 100. At that level, I’m reading approx 85-90 dB around 12-15 ft away. (It varies according to track level)…Counting for inflation, this combo is a great deal for the sound you get, going back as far as I can remember. Happy.
As for soundstage, etc. I wouldn’t say my speakers are the best, but they’ll have to do, and they are well able to show the amp in excellent light, with any sort of music, jazz, pop, or even the most complex orchestral, at fairly decent volume. I could swear Bill Evans is in the room, oh and Bob Dylan, and Chris Isaak too, who made my mother swoon, I think. Markl’s Debussy and LaVecchia’s Resphigi were stunning—really. It’s amazing when the voices and instruments are hovering there in the air, 3D, far away from the speakers–even at relatively low volumes. Awright!
I am sure the sound will continue to subtly improve as it has over the past couple weeks… I’m open to speaker upgrade ideas, and am looking forward to perhaps getting into the BHK combo someday. Till then, I’m happy. Thanks Paul and company!