Steller Phono at home trial or not?

I have an EAR 834p Deluxe MM/MC w/volume phono stage currently. I’ve owned this phono stage for over 12 years. I use it with a Bob’s Devices SUT - the EAR’s step up section is not ideal - and find it sounds great. Over the years I’ve upgraded the tubes a bit to Telefunken 12AX7s but nothing more than that.

I think my system sounds great and I don’t feel something’s missing. BUT, Here’s the thing; In 2019 I systematically changed ALL of my system EXCEPT the pre-amp and feel I got a better sound quality then I had previously. I didn’t change the phono pre-amp because, I felt well served by it still.

The question that arises is, do I know that to be true? Or has a dozen years just caused me to settle for what I know?

I have read a few reviews of the SPP (and I’ve been looking at other phono stage reviews as well).

I’m thinking I might do the 30-day home trial, but I don’t want to do that without serious consideration. What if I found that the SPP is really good, but that its not materially better than my current pre-amp?

If I was unhappy with the EAR 834p, well, I wouldn’t hesitate. But that’s not the case.

Any insights appreciated.

PS. My TT/cart is the Rega P8 with Ortofon Cadenza Black.

I had this EAR myself long ago and even used the Telefunken”s in it. I didn’t hear the SPP but from what I read and to what it was compared, it must be much better.

The EAR is great in terms of cliche tube richness and pleasing sound with a lot of bass. This especially favors many of the less sophisticated record players/arms/cartridges which are sometimes lacking low end extension and richness. The EAR imo is great (in terms of fun and non fatiguing) but not revealing sounding.

I’d say in case your setup is on the edge of sounding bright you might need the EAR’s tonality. If your setup is balanced or even pleasing sounding and revealing enough and if you’re willing to pass on a bit of the EAR’s weight and body of voices, you will probably be surprised by the improvement in detail retrieval, soundstaging, transparency. As far as I read the SPP is also rather on the pleasing than the analytical side, so I think there’s no real risk to try it. Will be interesting to read your experience.

I didn’t speak about my other gear, since it’s not PS Audio. But my main system isn’t bright - it’s a tube integrated into Harbeth P3ESR speakers.

I don’t know anything about how the SPP sounds. Sorry. I just want to ask if you had to put a spacer in the cadenza with the P8. Thanks

I have not done so. But I have ordered a spacer for the tonearm that has not arrived yet. I carefully measured the distance from the stylii to the top of the cart on both the Rega Ania that came with the P8 and on the Cadenza. They were less than a mm difference.

Currently, without a spacer the tone arm looks nearly perfectly level. But, I wanted to try a spacer just to see for myself.

It’s supposed to arrive after June 1 and I’ll test it when it arrives.

Presently the cartridge sounds great. I have a Dr. Feikert Progractor and it is set for overhang, etc. I use the Löfgren "A " because it’s close to the Rega geometry.

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I guess that’s all very nice acoustically and optically. Usually I’d say don’t change a well running and matching system. Changing one thing might make you change more…if everything runs good, you end up with better overall sound…the main question is…do you really search for improvement and change or is good good enough (it’s not self-evident to be satisfied, no matter at which level)

Your equipment’s quite nice and anything Tim did at EAR is excellent. He has a great ear. Having never compared it directly it’s nearly impossible to say which will be better and by how much.

I can tell you that in all my years of playing with phono stages, Darren’s SPP is not only one of the best I have ever heard, but it bests others by leagues.

There will be no way to know the answer to your question unless you give it a try. And I suggest you do. I believe you’re going to know within a week’s playing time exactly the answer to your question.

If you find the SPP to be a toss up then you should send it back. I wouldn’t keep it unless it was obviously better.

But, that’s why we offer a month’s time to decide.

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Thanks!

Thanks @Paul, This is what prompted me to create this discussion. I would not want to order something frivolously just because it’s returnable. And, as I say I don’t know of any deficiency in my current phono stage because I’ve had it so very long.

I’m anxious to give the SPP an audition in my system and will do so in the near future.

Thanks very much for taking the time to respond.

@jazznut, you are so right. My entire system was assembled in 2007, so in 2019 I replaced my VPI Classic Turntable with the Rega P8. That turned out great, so I replace my Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated with the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II. And that begat my change from B&W CM6 speakers to the Harbeths. While I was at it I changed my Benchmark DAC1 USB to a Chord Qutest and added a SoTM network streamer.

So, one change led to another and another. BUT, the EAR 834p has remained as the only unchanged piece of gear and that’s what has led me to PSaudio to investigate the SPP.

So you’re used to “change” and should definitely try the SPP :wink:

My pleasure and I particularly appreciate that you don’t want to be frivolous - that’s very thoughtful. No, we’re good with this because in the end, if it doesn’t make you excited then it doesn’t work for us either.

This is a Classic. HIs Nagra Reel to Reel mod’s are legendary (I remember the Magazine Article/Interview from many years ago - Audio Magazine) ?

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@creativepart: “Stellar”

@badbeef, D’Oh! thanks for the correction.

Following up on your question about a spacer under the P8 Tonearm when I added the Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge… I mentioned I had one on order.

Anyway, it came in, and has made a nice improvement to the sound. I thought my tonearm was “pretty level” before the spacer - but after the 2mm spacer it’s now obviously level. So, It was slightly tail down before.

About these spacers - they’re rediculously priced I got one in Black for $30 and in chrome it’s $40. It looks like something that should be $2 or less. Plus, I got the standard Rega one where you must remove the tonearm to install it. What a pain. The whole process probably took an hour or more. I went ahead and did a bit of a cleaning and bearing service (clean and oil).

Someone makes a two piece version that just requires you to loosen the two tonearm allen screws and not remove the whole arm. It’s definitely the way to go - but they seem always sold out.

I’m glad I got the spacer - very positive improvement overall.

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It’s been nearly a month, but I received my very own SPP. But I ended up going a different route to purchase it. I mentioned to a friend that I was saving up for this phono stage and he knew a guy that was selling much of his PS Audio gear. He had a full compliment of BHK amps and preamp, etc. and had decided to replace everything with new Tube gear.

As such he had a Stellar Phono he’d like to sell and he’s a long time well-reviewed seller on A’gon.

Buying new was a draw because of the in-home trial, but I was fairly certain that trial offer wouldn’t exist if the SPP was not very good.

So, in the end, to save nearly $800 I decided to jump in with both feet.

It arrived today looking factory fresh and setup was simple enough. I’m on my second album side and it’s sounding very nice. Before switching I played a side of a well-loved LP through my EAR 834p. The difference is subtle… but noticeable. I haven’t lost any midrange, but have picked up some details.

It’s too early to know exactly what I think (two album sides, I mean really).

Thanks all for help and encouragement and to Paul for his very helpful replies.

Thanks for letting us know. Please keep the reports coming in.

Besides probably being the most successful phono amp ever made, the EAR 834p’s main fault is being too cheap. The reason being that it’s the entry level model and EAR make more expensive and better phono amps and SUTs, and a supremely good solid state one as well (the 324).

As long as a phono amp doesn’t hiss, I reckon after that it mostly subjective.

I agree that the “problem” with the EAR 834p is how good it is overall for it’s low price. This is why I was attracted to the Stellar. It is good enough to better the EAR and yet not cost over $5k.

It’s day two and I’m having fun going back through my favorite LPs and hearing what’s new.

When you have the same phono stage for over 12-years and during that same time change 'Tables 4 or 5 times and change cartridges probably 10 or so times you get real accustomed to the way that one phono stage treats your music.

Stay Healthy!