PS Audio Stellar Phono Preamplifier Page 2

The turntable used for the review was a Michell GyroDec with Gyropower QC supply and SME Series IV tonearm. This was equipped in turn with a selection of cartridges, including an Audio-Technica AT-OC9 ML/II and EAT Jo No5 [HFN Dec '18] – both MCs – and the Pro-Ject Pick-it S2 MM [HFN Aug '19]. The rest of the system comprised Naim NAC82/HiCap/NAP250 amplification driving a pair of ATC SCM40 Series II loudspeakers.

sqnote Coming Clean
The PS Audio Stellar Phono is a supremely transparent performer with a cool tonal balance. Frankly, the gains in clarity and detail compared with music heard via my NAC82 preamp's phono stage were little short of startling. In some ways the Stellar Phono was reminiscent of digital sources in its presentation, sounding unswervingly clean and precise with little of the euphonic warmth that some phono stages are seemingly engineered to create.

420ps.remWith the AT-OC9 ML/II loaded at 100ohm, the Stellar Phono ensured the explosive opening of 'Kiss This Thing Goodbye' from Del Amitri's 1989 album Waking Hours [A&M Records, AMA9006] rocked the room, the band enjoying a presence that was palpable. Iain Harvie's stabbing interjections on his Les Paul guitar had real slam while even the piano, and the mandolin that picks its way above the heavy shuffling beat, enjoyed a precision and articulation I had not experienced before. As the song motored to its climax, countless sounds and textures buried deep in the dense mix were revealed to my ears for the first time.

When time came to experiment with the MC loading, switching to 60ohm thickened the sound of vocals and guitars at the expense of detail and the slightly stark top-end. The higher 200ohm setting resulted in a sound similar to that at 100ohm albeit with a slightly airy and insubstantial quality, which reduced the scale of piano. Clearly the 100ohm loading was the sweetspot for my A-T.

Going Ballistic
Despite the EAT Jo No5's recommended loading of >20ohm the lowest 60ohm option afforded by the Stellar Phono served it just fine. On the track 'Telegraph Road' from Dire Straits' Love Over Gold [Vertigo 109159] the leading edges of plucked guitars, snare rim shots and piano were conveyed with astonishing speed and dexterity, particularly when it came to the rocking finale – so much so that I couldn't resist gunning my system to approach live levels! The Stellar Phono responded with ballistic speed, delivering all the instruments' transient attack. It was this, along with its ability to retrieve exquisite levels of detail in the busiest of mixes that were the Stellar Phono's key strengths – seemingly irrespective of the cartridge used or music played. If there was a downside it was that, despite its inherently low noise floor, the Stellar Phono does not disguise vinyl in poor condition. As a result, surface noise can be a little more apparent.

All of this comes to nought if a component cannot bind the various musical strands together to immerse the listener in the mood of a song. Chris Rea's Road To Hell [WEA WX317] opens with the singer pondering life while stuck in traffic and the sound of the rain and windscreen-wiper effects were so realistic that I too began to feel damp and despondent. But there were thrills in store as the drums powered in to propel the music along with real snap, aided by a clear and highly delineated bass guitar. The character of Rea's bourbon-drizzled voice was also wonderfully conveyed, which only reinforced how great audio brings the music one loves to life.

Taste Of Heaven
Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' with the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood [L'Oiseau-Lyre 410 126-1] is an absolutely searing performance on authentic instruments. Stunningly recorded, it captures world class players at the peak of their powers. Right from the start, subtle ambient cues were laid bare – the creak of chairs, the sense of space in the Kingsway Hall – all creating a real sense of being in a live performance setting.


As the Academy began to play, not only was the rich tonal palette of this magnificent orchestra conveyed with remarkable clarity but there was a feeling of boundless extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum – without a hint of harshness to be heard. Cellos enjoyed a wonderful woody warmth while violins and violas spiralled ever upwards in heavenly interplay. What's more, all of the instruments were positioned across a soundstage that extended far beyond the confines of my ATC loudspeakers. The PS Audio Stellar didn't miss a single inflexion in the playing or nuance in the interpretation. Quite simply, it sounded sublime, and the experience of hearing it so beautifully reproduced will stay with me long after the Stellar Phono has been returned.

The highly affordable Pro-Ject Pick-it S2 cartridge struggled to match the purity of either of the two moving-coils I had to hand, particularly as its top-end was simply less open and extended. Yet the essential musical message and emotion of the 'Four Seasons' performance remained intact and I was impressed not only by the detail on offer but by the fact that the stereo placement and imaging of instruments remained rock solid.

The Stellar Phono is a sizeable investment for sure. But when you consider that its flexibility will ensure any cartridges you might purchase in the future can be accommodated and optimised with ease, the outlay begins to look very reasonable. By way of 'future-proofing' a lifetime of top-flight musical pleasure, the PS Audio Stellar Phono is a winner.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
PS Audio's Stellar Phono is just the ticket if information retrieval, speed and transparency are your priorities. It's not always kind to surface noise, but with a first-rate turntable can still bring you closer than most of its contemporaries to the thrill of a live performance. Indeed, it's grist to the mill for those who maintain that 40 years of 'digital' still falls short of a diamond dancing through a spiral groove of the black stuff.

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