StellarGold Preamplifier - You're Gonna Love This One!

First off, let me say I was not paid to make these comments. I was honored to be selected as one of the beta testers on the StellarGold Preamplifier. My primary reason for wanting to get the unit was so that I could add my turntable to my rig which consisted of the DirectStream DAC MKI, Directstream Memory Player and an Emotiva XPA 2 power amp driving JBL L100 Classic 75 speakers. I was not anticipating any real change in the quality of the audio.

When the unit arrived, I put it through its paces and noted a few minor issues with the controls which have now been corrected. I then set about listening to see if there was any loss of quality in the sound. This is where I was totally taken by surprise.

At first, I noticed an overall improvement to the body of the sound as well as more authoritative bass with a little added punch (not much was needed here but the addition was an improvement). I was amazed at how much better recordings I had listened to many times were now sounding.

The real surprise, however, happened when I put on the first of what I consider to be one of my audiophile reference SACDs, Dire Straits Brothers in Arms 20th Anniversary SACD. To say I was gobsmacked would be a bit of an understatement. You know that soundstage that Paul describes as three dimensional where the speakers disappear? I had been trying to obtain that with my system but the best I could get was a broad, smooth spread of sound extending a bit beyound the speakers but still basically flat.

Now, when I closed my eyes, there was no sense of there being two speakers in front of me. The sound seemed to envelope and extend the space before me. I could now tell where every instrument was and each was perfectly clear to where I could hear every note and the placement had depth as well as height. I was hearing components I never knew were there!

How this was possible by adding a component to the chain seemed somewhat non-intuitive since, typically, the more you put in the signal path, the more it is degraded. The only reason I can imagine is that the StellarGold improves the presence of the ultrasonics which are essential in providing point localization of sound. Whatever the reason, I was totally amazed that I could now experience this with my rig without having to resort to expensive room treatment or new speakers.

Then I thought, what about the Octave Records collection? I have listened to many but so far was not greatly impressed though I enjoyed the content. I put on The Art of HiFi, Vol. 1 Bass. I closed my eyes and was instantly transported to new environments, completely recreated in my listening room. So THAT’s what they’ve been talking about! From the confines of the Octave records studio to the vast space of the church in which Kenrick Mervine performed on the pipe organ, each was accurately recreated. Then I noticed during Mervine’s performance of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor, there was an odd clicking sound coming from my bedroom I had never heard before. I almost got up to investigate when I realized that what I was hearing was the organ stops on the console in the distance clicking as Mervine changed the presets during the performance!

I have to say, Darren hit the ball out of the park with this one and I think it’s going to make a lot of owners very happy!

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Have you tried any other Pre prior to the Stellar Gold? What you are describing is what others have describe prior about many other Pre.

I was reluctant to put a preamp in the chain because I worried that it would degrade the performance so, no, I had not experimented beforehand. Though the Gold line is positioned between Stellar and Perfectwave, This seems to compete well with the higher-priced units. What you gain with the others would likely be features rather than quality. That said, systems, rooms, even ears are unique so it’s best to try before you buy.

Great that it works so good! I’ll never understand how anyone would prefer a direct DAC connection to the power amp to a preamp use (unless the pre is really inferior).

I understand it from a cost saving point of view but the rest always was more or less bad advised theory imo.

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I seem to recall Paul commenting that he had a similar opinion to mine (less is more) until he had his mind profoundly changed by doing it as well. At the very least, a preamp provides more control over the sound but I never dreamed it could give such an amazing boost to the sound quality.

Always good to keep an open mind.

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There are plenty of preamps that will totally degrade the sound. But, when you find a good one, that’s where the magic happens. Every now and then, I take my BHK Preamp out of the chain to see if my taste for sound has changed. Normally it lasts about 5 minutes before I put it back in.

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It’s my experience that you will hear a significant bump in sound quality as you go up the food chain. I am currently using a VTL TL6.5 Series II Signature pre and it profoundly changed my system. It’s difficult and possibly unreasonable to compare it to the BHK pre.

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Yes, with his options to try things and find suitable e.g. preamps, I often wondered how long he stuck with certain convictions until he got open for those alternatives. But for normal consumers it’s more common to choose by theroretical considerations and be caught in them until the guru advices otherwise or enough other consumers do so :wink:. Great that now preamps in that price range don’t have notable restrictions anymore when inserted.

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I recently did the with or without BHK Pre comparison in my system, last weekend. Absolutes in this world never work.
My son and I went to a vinyl fest, lots of hobbyists with tons of rarities, a wonderful Sunday morning! We purchased (of course) a few albums, so in the afternoon I had to reconnect the BHK Pre in my chain after weeks (months).

  1. Vinyls sounded superbly, hands down! I still love them…
  2. After a while I went for digital playback, just for curiosity. Once again, I prefer my system without the BHK Pre. Obviously it is system dependent, having the combo MSB DAC + MSB amp.

Any experience with passive Pre? I was told that Bespoke and a few other brands are highly recommended for their neutrality (I’m looking for an analog “switch”that shouldn’t color or alter the signal, in order to allow me to avoid the annoying swapping cables process each time I want to listen to vinyls). What are pros and cons going passive?

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I use a Schiit Freya + in passive mode and I love the sound. Sounds absolutely transparent and neutral to me. What more could you ask for? But, for many here it’s disqualified from consideration due to its low price.

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Who has stated it is disqualified from consideration because of it low price?

Other than you? :slight_smile:

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The only qualification should be your personal pleasure.

Here’s an interesting opportunity:

I have no experience with passive preamps, but I don’t understand how they can have any sound quality benefit and do more than produce losses by additional,circuitry. I understand their meaning is to provide a switching between two or more sources if needed (at the price of the mentioned losses)…am I wrong?

All I can tell you with any kind of authority is that a preamp has a great influence on a systems SQ. I think the quality of the volume control is key. It only makes sense to me that the simplicity of the circuits involved can be key as well. I my system, passive is clearly better.
Another issue that I haven’t heard addressed concerns using a passive preamp compared to using a DAC driving a power amp directly. Seems like that would negate the the positives that most hear inserting a preamp into the chain. But, in my case, inserting a preamp, even a passive one, sounds better than when I used my DAC directly. I have come to believe that that, again, it comes down to a better volume control.

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Isn’t your DAC‘s volume control still in the signal path when you connect it to a passive preamp?
Even if not, I really struggle why a passive preamp should have any advantage, imo it can have just little disadvantages in the best case. The DACks volume control would have to be really bad to produce the same losses as a complete additional passive circuit (even if it inherits a good volume control).

For me one of the joys of the preamp is “gain riding.” My amps have an input gain control, so adjusting gain between source, preamp and amp gives many differing textures and dynamics. Twenty years of playing around with these gain structures . . . and it still fascinates me and gives me great audio presentations.

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Using a pot in a volume control is not good. A stepped attenuator, like the one in my Freya, is much preferred. It’s more transparent and it doesn’t have any trouble maintaining accurate tracking, left to right, as volumes change. Most of the better preamps use stepped attenuators use a stepped design. As I understand it a digital volume control is the absolute pits as resolution is sacrificed at lower volumes.

Yes but some digital volume controls are lossless, as the one in the DS DAC.

And as far as I remember from Paul’s explanations in connection with the BHK pre release, all of the volume control options have a downside, also the stepped ones.

Most of us already had several options of them…me personally everything from different pots to stepped, now I have one which is out of the direct signal path. All with their own characteristics I guess.

Best advice, as always, is to listen for yourself. Didn’t take long, maybe seconds, to hear the differences. The Freya was a revelation to me and I’ve never looked back.