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PS Audio - Stellar Gain Cell - DAC + Preamplifier

Save $639.00
Original price $3,195.00
Current price $2,556.00

Thank you for visiting The Audio Tailor.

We’re Stuart, Gabby, Nathan and Vaughan. It’s a pleasure to have you here!

The first question we get from customers usually starts with, “What’s the difference between...”

When you’re shopping for new speakers, a turntable, or even thinking of putting together that home theatre of your teenage dreams - you’ll likely be faced with stacks of comparisons.

Why would I buy the Bluesound Pulse 2i when the Flex 2i is half the price?

Is PS Audio the best?

Should I wait for a sale? Or get this now? What will I be missing out on when the new model comes out next year?

Endless questions. Lots of FOMO. Loads of hmm-ing and ha-ing.

And there SHOULD be.

Because you don’t go to a Hi-Fi store and drop $2000, $3000, or $15000 on something you're not 100%, positively, secure-in-your heart sure of.

It’s a lot of hard-earned money on the line.

Imagine doing hours of your own research. Reading up the suppliers’ websites, taking notes from Hi Fi blogs, categorizing the differing opinions as you trawl r/audiophile. You know what you’re getting. You’ve narrowed the online stores down to the final five. You’ve checked and re-checked that you’re getting the best deal. You’re sure you’re not getting ripped off by shipping.

You hit the “Checkout” button. Momentary relief!

That is...

Until your speakers haven’t arrived by the estimated delivery date and you have yet to hear a peep about its progress.

Until your new turntable arrives with a crack in the dust cover.

Until your long-awaited amp set-up fails to deliver the kind of sound you had in mind. Now you’re not even sure if you got the right one anymore, or how to troubleshoot it.

What could possibly be worse?

What about: No after-sales service. No phone number to call. And no one responding to your tickets.

Not to mention the hundreds of man hours you’ve already lost on reading layman opinions from the likes of Graham H. from Melbourne and Sarah D. from Perth; dutifully scrolling through pages and pages of reviews. Torturing yourself by looking for all the ones with less than 3 stars... when you could have been sitting back and diving into a whole new world of immersive sound and deliciously satisfying body vibrations.

Would it make sense to go to audio specialists that know brands, specs, and installation like the back of their hands?

Should you spend less time on weighing up pros and cons and more time enjoying good music?

Want to get the absolute best home theatre for your budget and surroundings without the weight of 100++ brand offerings bogging you down?

We like to think so!

And that’s why we’re here. Two things to know about us:

Thing 1: We were voted Australia’s 2021 Hi Fi Retailer of the Year (Yay! And THANK YOU!)

Thing 2: This is purely because we are sound specialists and audioheads - NOT salesmen.

We got into this business because we genuinely love audio and because we realized there was a lot of faceless dropshipping in the HiFi industry - and not enough expertise out there. People who keep coming back to us do so because they’re getting attention to detail and individualized solutions that they can’t find elsewhere.

Our clients don’t need to worry about budget, brand name, or size.

All they need to worry about, is talking to us.

Because, when you come to us, you’re in for a conversation.

We want to know the picture in your head.

That final portrait of you back from the flea market with Pearl Jam’s Ten, eager to place it gently upon a turntable you haven’t quite decided on yet.

A summer barbeque in your garden with the boys. Having a yarn around a beer-filled cooler while appreciating the crisp, clear, quality of sound streaming through the open doors of your listening space.

The kids having mates over - quiet for once - immersed in a good movie, lights out, in the comfort of the home theatre that is your pride and joy. “I wish we had one of these at our place!”

Once we know precisely what your ultimate scenario looks like, we’ll want to know what you’re working with.

What kind of budget have you set aside?

What’s the existing set-up look like?

How big is the listening room you have in mind?

How much ambient light is coming in?

Are you running drywall or wood panelling? Carpet or hardwood?

What about room resonance and reflection?

No idea what we’re going on about? No worries. We intend to talk you through all that. Our aim is that you get the absolute best sound system for your home, at a price point you’re happy with, and an aesthetic you can’t help but want to show off.

To get to this end goal, an unhealthy interest in all things audio simply isn’t enough. That’s why we spend countless hours behind the scenes sourcing products from only the most reliable brands and trustworthy suppliers - regardless of their branding and marketing.

We don’t rely on them to tell us what’s good about their equipment. We’ve developed our own proactive testing process to judge what’s what. So you get hands-on knowledge every single time. Coupled with our tight networks and stable supply chain meticulously refined over the years, we strive to ensure that the experience you get at The Audio Tailor is personal, seamless, and painless.

Personal, because it’s uniquely you in musicality, design, and taste. Your options are hand picked by us from amongst some of the world’s biggest, best, and most dependable brands.

Seamless, because we’re only small. You get one of us. Not one of dozens of salesmen milling about the place, working for commission and pushing the most expensive products.

Painless, because we don’t recommend anything until we’re clear about your needs. We follow up with you to make sure everything’s arrived in one piece. For us, the transaction isn’t over until your equipment is safely installed and fully satisfying.

TL;DR

Some of the big things we feel are missing in the HiFi world are:

  • The need for expertise before, during, and after the sale
  • A vast wealth of comparative knowledge, and
  • A commitment to end-to-end service.

At The Audio Tailor, we hope we’ve made it clear that service doesn’t shut off when a problem pops up. It’s an opportunity to tighten the ship we run, bolster our 5-star reputation, and most importantly - make someone’s day.

Hi! We see you’ve actually made it to the end of this page. Love it!

We’d like to end this by giving a shout out to all the enthusiasts and audiophiles we’ve been fortunate enough to work with over the years. It has been a privilege to share our desire, passion, and journey for the purest sound and finest entertainment solutions for your homes and businesses.

Thank you to all our customers - past, present, and future - for helping us chase after something above the ordinary.

To make your audio dreams come true - call, email, or hop on down to our Brisbane store.

We’re looking forward to meeting you!

Product Description

Even the best DACs in the world benefit from a zero-loss analog preamp. That fact was the basis of the Stellar Gain Cell design imperative. Combine a cutting edge DAC’s output with a no compromise analog preamplifier. A unique combination of a gorgeous full-featured digital to analog converter and state of the art analog amplification. Add any analog or digital source to Stellar’s input, a power amp and speakers to its output, and music filled with rich textures and toe-tapping energy surprise and delight even the most critical Audiophile.

At the heart of Stellar Gain Cell DAC is a stunning, Bob Stadtherr designed, digital to analog converter. Based on industry leading Sabre32 bit Hyperstream architecture, Stellar DAC features a fully balanced Class A analog output stage with multiple power supplies, independent jitter-reduced inputs, DSD, I2S, and asynchronous USB.

The DAC’s output level is controlled by the analog Gain Cell. Developed in the early 2000’s by PS Audio founder Paul McGowan, the Gain Cell elegantly solves the fundamental problem facing preamp designers. Volume control. Nearly all analog preamplifiers use additional sonically-degrading elements inserted in the signal path to control volume. These impediments to the signal path’s purity range from simple potentiometers to exotic stepped attenuators, relays, solid state switches, ladder networks, transformers, light dependent resistors. All share intrusive elements in the signal path. The Gain Cell eliminates this problem without additional circuitry in the signal path by varying its gain in response to front panel controls.

Features:

  • Class A balanced analog preamplifier
  • Full function DAC
  • Class A headphone output
  • Remote control
  • Fixed or variable DAC mode
  • 2 output 12 volt triggers

Analog preamplifier

  • One balanced analog input
  • Three single ended analog inputs
  • Analog Gain Cell stage
  • Fully balanced input to output
  • Balanced XLR analog output
  • Single ended RCA analog output
  • Home theatre bypass
  • Direct coupled without any capacitors in output signal path

Digital To Analog Converter

  • Four digital inputs
  • I2S input
  • Digital Lens technology
  • Native Mode
  • Three user selectable digital filters
  • Compatible with PS Audio DMP for SACD playback in DSD
  • DSD direct through I2S
  • 192kHz asynchronous coax and TOSLINK inputs
  • 192kHz asynchronous USB
  • Single and double rate DSD
  • CPLD input (FPGA) lowers jitter, waveshapes, reduces propagation delay
  • Native mode standard
  • No added Sample Rate Conversion
  • High current class A hybrid output stage
  • Passive output filter lowers transient distortion
  • Direct coupled without any capacitors in output signal path
  • High bandwidth output stage -3dB 60kHz
  • Low jitter clocks
  • High Current oversized analog power supply
  • 7 voltage regulators
  • High speed power supply diodes
  • Massive 15,000 mFd low ESR capacitors
  • ESS Hyperstream

The Gain Cell solves the problem

Instead of inserting an additional level control in the signal path, the PS Audio Gain Cell relies on a different technology known as a variable gain amplifier (Gilbert Cell). This topology was invented in the 1960’s by Howard Jones and Barry Gilbert and widely adopted by recording and mastering studios in their analog heyday—later abandoned when these same studios went digital.

The idea behind the Variable gain cell is simple. Instead of adding additional circuitry to the signal path to vary loudness, the preamplifier’s actual amplifier stage varies its gain in response to the user’s front panel volume control. This method requires zero additional circuitry in the signal path, offers more than 80dB of attenuation, and if designed properly performs to the equal of most high-end preamplifiers.

100% analog

The Gain Cell DAC has 100% analog input switching so users can select what they listen to without ever leaving the analog domain. The Gain Cell DAC’s variable gain amplifier solves the problem of signal degradation from additional circuitry to control volume. Together, these pure analog technologies honor the signals passed through them, whether they’re from Stellar’s DAC or an external phono stage, nothing in the music is sacrificed or lost. Music’s preserved in all its rich glory.

Stellar’s Gain Cell is balanced from input to output and the sound is rich, full and engaging in ways few preamplifiers can claim. From the quietest micro-dynamics to the loudest macro-dynamic passages, Stellar’s Gain Cell outputs gorgeous music through either its balanced or single ended outputs or its headphone amplifier. Music takes on new life through the Gain Cell.

Rich, powerful, analog headphone amplifier

For those into headphones (and who isn’t?), Stellar Gain Cell offers an exceptional sounding and powerful analog headphone amplifier on the front panel. Stellar Gain Cell will automatically mute its main outputs when a headphone is plugged in and the listener can enjoy all that’s great with a high-performance set of headphones. This is music reproduced at its finest.

The DAC

The DAC inside the Stellar Gain Cell produces a seamless 3D soundstage from even normal CDs. Laboured over by its chief architect, Bob Stadtherr, and hand-tuned and voiced by Paul McGowan and Darren Myers, the improvement in sound quality over other DACs is astonishing. The Gain Cell DAC accepts inputs from any digital source including I²S and USB from your computer and outputs directly through Stellar’s analog Gain Cell preamplifier with either single ended (RCA) or balanced (XLR) connections.

Used with music server software like JRiver, Bit Perfect, Amarra or Pure Music and an iPhone or Android app, the Gain Cell DAC becomes your entry into the world of high-end digital audio music, both PCM and DSD. Performance is superb at anywhere near the price and there are good reasons why, as you’ll soon discover. In fact, the Gain Cell DAC is one of the best sounding products we have produced in our 24 years of building DACs. Sweet, spacious and effortless, this device will bring the life back into your music and all at the touch of a finger.

Digital Lens inside

All input signals are taken into the Gain Cell DAC in Native Mode, without Sample Rate Conversion (SRC) and fed directly into a simplified FPGA known as a CPLD (Complex Programmable Logic Device), which discovers sample rate and format, reclocks all incoming data, reduces jitter, waveshapes data output to the DAC chip, and utilizes high speed/low gate count logic to reduce propagation delay for faster throughput. This proprietary technology is called the Digital Lens.

The DAC chip itself is the acclaimed 32-bit ESS Sabre Hyperstream architecture, the output of which is passively filtered to reduce transient distortion. the Gain Cell DAC’s power supply includes a large analog transformer, 7 regulators, properly-bypassed high-speed switching diodes, and a massive 15,000 mFd of storage capacitance.

The output stage is a unique Class-A configuration, fully balanced and direct coupled hybrid array (utilizing both discrete semiconductors and ICs), with an extended bandwidth of -3dB at 60 kHz feeding directly into Stellar’s Gain Cell.

Asynchronous USB for PCM and DSD

The Gain Cell DAC features a high-resolution USB path based on the same XMOS technology found in our DirectStream DAC. Asynchronous and capable of 24-bit 384kHz performance for PCM and single or double rate DSD, the Gain Cell DAC USB input sounds every bit as good as the best digital audio is capable of. Using a high-quality USB cable between the Gain Cell DAC and your computer creates an instant media server that can be controlled through any number of handheld devices like an iPad, iPhone or Android using a 3rd party controller program. Your entire music library can be managed by iTunes, JRiver, Windows Media Player, Foobar, Pure Music, Bit Perfect, Media Monkey, Audirvana, or Ammara (to name a few) for ease of use. If you have yet to experience the pleasure of scrolling through your entire music library and selecting the next track at the touch of a finger, you’re in for a quite a treat. With the Gain Cell DAC and a USB cable you can stream both PCM and DSD high-resolution audio, using nothing more than your computer and a handheld device to control and play your entire music library.

I²S input

Gain-Cell-DAC-rear-verticalI²S is the native format of all CD transports and many servers. I²S features a separate clock and data signal from the source. Typically, this clock and data signal are multiplexed together to be transmitted over a single cable in a format known as S/PDIF (Sony Philips Digital Interface), or AES/EBU (Audio Engineering Society/European Broadcast Union). Once received in multiplexed form, the DAC input must untangle the clock and data and once again separate them. I²S solves the problems associated with unraveling data of S/PDIF and AES/EBU formats. I²S outputs are sent via an HDMI cable and sources with I²S outputs can be purchased from PS Audio as well as other manufacturers.

The Gain Cell DACs I²S inputs are also compatible with our DirectStream Transport. What this means is important. The DirectStream Transport is one of only a very few players to output pure DSD from the locked SACD layer of SACD discs. Only PS Audio DACs, such as DirectStream and DirectStream Junior—and now Stellar—are authorized to play the pure DSD layer in all of its glory.

Choice of digital filters

The Stellar Gain Cell DAC offers the choice of three digital filters for users to select from. Each digital filter has a different sonic character and the choice of filters offers an excellent means of improving system synergy. No filter choice is wrong or right. Instead, each filter can be selected and auditioned by the user to more perfectly match their chosen collection of the amplifier, source, and loudspeaker, as well as personal tastes and biases.

Users can relax and use the supplied remote control to audition each of the three filter choices for best audio quality matching the system it is played on. Should users upgrade their amplifier, speaker or sources at some point, Stellar is there to help maximize performance.

Active vs. passive filtering

Once the digital audio data have been processed through the Gain Cell DAC’s ESS Hyperstream 32 bit DAC, it’s time to turn them into music and this is the job of the analog filter and output stage. Most DACs use an active filtering system to clean up the output of the internal DAC but this can add a harsh, bright sound to the music. In the Gain Cell DAC, we use all passive analog filtering giving our output a sweet, open sound unencumbered with harsh digital artifacts.

The challenge of the Gain Cell DAC’s design

The real challenge designing the Gain Cell DAC was making sure both PCM and DSD were handled in a way that sacrificed as little as possible through the playback process. Entry level DACs that accept both PCM and DSD typically favor one format over another when it comes to voicing the device. The two designers of the Gain Cell DAC, chief engineer Bob Stadtherr and CEO Paul McGowan, worked together for nearly a year making decisions on power supplies, overall architecture, developing a custom, simplified FPGA for the input stage and voicing the output stage in a balanced and musical manner that honors both PCM and DSD formats.

The first choice was easy. Both Stadtherr and McGowan chose the ESS line of Hyperstream 32 architectures for the chip’s unrivaled sound quality. Important to both designers would be bringing as much musical detail as possible out of Red Book CDs, and reducing the sonic gap between 44.1kHz/16 bit performance and high-resolution PCM and DSD. Lessons learned from years of building DACs aided design decisions critical to the mission of few musical compromises.

PS Audio believe that one audition of a simple CD, played through the Gain Cell DAC, will open your eyes to the magic these design efforts have brought. And once you hear what the Gain Cell DAC does on ordinary CDs, we can’t wait for you to hear what the Gain Cell DAC can do for higher resolution PCM and DSD.

Pure analog + state-of-the-art digital

Whether you’re playing a pure analog source like a turntable or the latest digital medium through the Stellar Gain Cell’s zero-loss Analog Cell, you’ll find yourself in audio heaven.

Specifications:

Physical

  • Unit Weight - 13.5 lbs [6.1 kg]
  • Unit Dimensions - 17” x 12” x 3”

Power requirements

  • Input Power - Model specific 100VAC, 120VAC, or 230VAC 50 or 60Hz
  • Power Consumption - 20W
  • Mains Power Input - IEC C14
  • Fuses - 100V T250V-2.0AH (2A Slow Blow), 120V T250V-1.6AH (1.6A Slow Blow), 230V T250V-1.0AH (1.0A Slow Blow)
  • Accessories included - US (NEMA 5-15P) (all versions), Schuko (CEE7/7) (230V version), UK (BS1363) (230V version)

Analog inputs

  • RCA 3 stereo pair
  • XLR 1 stereo pair

Digital audio inputs

  • I2S - 1 PCM (384KHz max), DSD64 DSD128, Compatible with DirectStream Transport SACD handshake for DSD playback
  • Coax - 2 PCM (192KHz max)
  • Optical - 1 PCM (96KHz max)
  • USB - PCM (384KHz max), DSD64 (DoP) DSD128 (DoP)
  • Format - PCM, DSD

Analog Audio Outputs

  • RCA - (Analog Unbalanced) 1 stereo pair
  • XLR - (Analog Balanced) 1 stereo pair
  • Headphones - One 1/4" headphone connector front panel

Analog Performance

  • Gain - 12dB +/-0.5dB
  • Maximum output - 20 Vrms
  • Sensitivity - 5.3Vrms
  • Input Impedance - 47KΩ single ended RCA, 100KΩ Balanced XLR
  • Output Impedance - 100Ω single ended RCA, 200Ω balanced XLR
  • Frequency Response - 20Hz – 20KHz +0/- 0.25dB, 10Hz – 100KHz +0.1/-3.0dB
  • Noise - 20-20KHz
  • S/N Ratio - 1KHz >110dB (max output)
  • Channel separation - 1KHz >90dB
  • Input separation - 1KHz >90dB
  • THD&IM - 1KHz < 0.025%, 20-20KHz < 0.05%

Headphone performance

  • Output power @1% THD - 300Ω 300mW, 16Ω 3.25W
  • S/N Ratio 1kHz Noise - >95dB (max output),
  • THD & IM 1Vrms out - 300Ω <0.05%, 16Ω <0.06%
  • Output impedance - <4 Ω

Features

  • Volume Control - 0-100 (1/2 and 1dB steps, 80dB total range)
  • Balance Control - 24dB each direction in 1/2dB steps
  • Home Theatre Mode - Assignable to any analog input, Adjustable (in setup) to any level
  • Polarity (phase) Control - Digital sources only
  • Filter Control - 3 selectable digital filters (PCM digital sources only)
  • Trigger output - (3.5mm 5-15VDC) 2
  • Remote Control - Yes. Infra Red

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