PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC & Stellar M700 DAC/Preamp/Monoblocks Page 2

Actually, I'd spent time not consciously reviewing or listening critically – I simply hooked up the three-box system just before the festive break at the end of the year, with the intention of doing little more than warming it up. Nevertheless, once it was all connected and in place, including being linked to my resident AV receiver, it simply sort of stayed there, and became part of my day-to-day entertainment.

I was able to play music using my regular network player, connected in analogue, or using a Mac mini running a variety of playback software; watch TV and films with the Stellars amplifying the front left and right channels to good effect; and even simply use the amps as a means of conveying radio programmes, using the Mac's Roon installation. In other words, running them just as a 'proper' user would experience them. And that, almost as much as the ensuing 'serious' listening, using a selection of tried-and-tested tracks as well as a few recent discoveries, allowed me to get the measure of the sound of the Stellar amplifier combination.


Up To Speed
They are weighty, fast and fleet of foot, albeit with some evident softness in the treble that goes beyond sweetness into something just a little too muted for some tastes. Those whose pet hobby is attempting to fathom out the exact dimensions of the acoustic in which a recording was made might feel a bit short-changed, and that sense of the sound hanging in the air after the last note has sounded is somewhat diminished, as is that sometimes magical sense of space in the few seconds before the music begins. But for the main event – the music itself – these amps have much to commend them.

Rockin' Out
Playing Stokowski's Rhapsodies set [Sony BMG 82876-67903-2; DSD64], which is hardly the most subtle collection of interpretations, it's still not hard to admire not only the playing of the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, or in particular the frankly astonishing combination of definition and sheer dynamics the RCA Living Stereo engineers captured back at the beginning of the 1960s. Whether with the headlong charge of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody or the stately progress of Smetana's 'Moldau', the musicians are playing on top form, and the weight and midrange openness of the Stellar amplification brings all that to the speakers, despite the 'maximum thrills' approach of the whole recording.

The speed of these amps, and their dynamic ability, is much in evidence with Wesseltoft/Schwarz/Berglund's Trialogue [Jazzland 060253786601], with its winning mix of Bugge Wesseltoft's jazz piano and Dan Berglund's bass with some frankly strange electronica courtesy of the third member of the trio, DJ/producer Henrik Schwarz. Sometimes Schwarz just contributes subtle percussion, sometimes he overdrives the piano into fuzz, but throughout this fascinating album keeps the feet moving when played through the Stellars, with their combination of weight and alacrity, as tracks like 'Take A Quick Break' charge along.

These sonic characteristics also suit the final Wings album, 1979's Back To The Egg [Parlophone CDP 7 48200 2], with a delicate touch on 'We're Open Tonight' and the ability to rock out on the stadium crowd-pleasing 'Old Siam, Sir' and 'Rockestra', bookending the quirky 'Arrow Through Me', with its deep, dark bassline. The album's dense, complex mix tests amplifiers, for example with the brass break on 'Arrow...', and the PS Audio trio is more than up to the job, punching its way through with real drive.


It's only with really atmospheric recordings, such as various titles on the Norwegian 2L label, including Stemmeklang's Tomba Sonora [2L-155, DSD128], which was performed in the highly resonant mausoleum in Oslo's Emanuel Vigeland Museum, that the Stellars come slightly unstuck. There's still a sense of the atmosphere of the recording's location, but the smoothing effect in the treble does slightly diminish it, and to some extent blunts the way the interplay of the harmonics contributes to the experience.

Voices Soar
Nevertheless, what little top-end sparkle is missing here is more than compensated for by the seeming unstoppable nature of these amps, and I'm not just talking about their ability to thrash out a spot of Motörhead or ZZ Top at room-shaking levels. Indeed, they're just as convincing with the stripped-down sound of Otis Taylor's first album, 1997's When Negroes Walked The Earth [Shoelace Records OT333], as is clear from a listen to the literally chilling 'Cold At Midnight', with its metronomic bass figure over which Taylor's guitar and voices soars.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
If the lab report makes slightly troubling reading, this DAC/amp combo is somewhat more entertaining in use. There's not the last word in wide-open treble detail, but when it comes to power and pace the slimline Stellars will raise few complaints. Whether used with a computer and its onboard DAC, or as a pure analogue set-up, this package has a scale and weight belying its slimline dimensions.

PS Audio
Boulder, Colorado
Supplied by: Signature Audio Systems
07738 007776