PS Audio Stellar S300 power amplifier

ClipdatClipdat Posts: 7,140
I logged some time earlier this evening listening to my stereo system with the new PS Audio Stellar S300 amplifier in place. This is my third time listening to it since I hooked it up last Saturday. I typically hesitate to write about my experiences with new gear this soon after trying them out, but I have some initial observations which I feel are poignant and impactful.

To put it simply, I'm very impressed with this amplifier. I really like what I'm hearing, and it sounds quite good for being brand new with under 10 hours on it. PS Audio quotes a 200 hour break in time. If that's the case and it's going to get even better from here, then I'm in for a real treat.

To compare it to the outgoing Bryston 3B ST which was clean, this is even cleaner. This is evident at lower volumes, but especially when playing in the 75db range. I hate to use the simple term "better", but the S300 simply sounds better at these higher volume levels. My theory is that this is because it is technically more accurate. Because it is more accurate, it's therefore more true to the source - more true to the music. And because it's more true to the music, there's more emotion there as well.

So, if you value accuracy over other elements, then it could be "better" than your current amplifier. Personally, I love accuracy and detail so it sounds damn good to me.

That being said, there is no harshness, brightness, or fatiguing quality to it's sound. There's nothing that's inherently evident about it's sound signature that would lead you to believe it is Class D, such as a lack of musicality or a digital glare. I'm confident that if you listened to this amplifier without knowing what it was and what it's topology was, you would probably guess typical A/AB SS or tube. It just sounds "good".

The first day I tried it with RCAs going from the preamp to the S300. I noticed a quiet ground loop style buzz could be heard coming through the speakers when no music was playing. Additionally, when I turned on my Cambridge Audio CXN V2 I could hear a slight static-y interference and random modulating noise coming through the speakers as it communicated over WiFi. Again, this couldn't be heard over the music, but it's clear that the SE RCA hookup wasn't ideal, and that maybe the shields on the cables were acting as a sort of antenna as well.

The next day I decided to try XLRs running from the preamp to the S300 and all the noises were gone. No more faint ground loop buzz and no more WiFi noises. Great! But it gets better. The soundstage got wider AND taller, dramatically so. Midrange also felt fuller and lusher. I'm aware of how sometimes the volume increase from going from RCAs to XLRs can be perceived as an improvement, but that's not the case here. It was much more substantial of a change versus just a rise in gain. I verified with my db meter that I was playing at the same levels that I typically listen at. Clearly, if you have the PS Audio Stellar Pre/DAC and the S300, they are designed to be hooked up with XLRs.

Going back to it's fit and finish and overall performance. It's a fairly plain enclosure that won't win any beauty contests, but that's because they focused on what's inside. There are some niceties like two sets of rhodium plated binding posts though! Another thing I appreciated is how there is no power on or power off transients/thumps heard through the speakers. It also runs remarkably cool, getting just barley warm to the touch after several hours of listening.

On the amplifier front, I've now tried a NAD 316BEE integrated, a McCormack DNA-125, the Dayens Ampino Monoblocks, and the Bryston 3B ST. I feel that the S300 outperforms all of them. It's just smoother and more coherent top to bottom. It also has great dynamics and rhythm. It presents a huge amount of musical information in a perfectly coherent package. No one single sound overshadows another. Everything is just held out in front of you, ripe for the picking.

You can pick and choose what individual element to get lost in, or enjoy the performance as a whole. The detail, clarity, top to bottom even frequency response, and rhythmic drive are fantastic. I highly recommend you take a listen to an S300 and change your whole perception on what Class D can sound like. I know I just did.

I'm enjoying it so much that I'm actually hesitant to swap in some new SCs and ICs that I have on deck, for fear of changing what I'm hearing right now. Desire to tweak fading, desire to settle in for a while with the Stellar Pre & S300 combo growing. Now for someone like me who likes to try out a lot of different gear and cables, that's really saying something.
"Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
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Comments

  • kharp1kharp1 Posts: 3,350
    Thanks for the review, Drew. If memory serves you picked up the Gain Cell Dac/Pre as well didn't you? So far, I've heard nothing but good things about this pairing. Looking forward to future insights about your setup.
    Main System:
    Joule-Electra LA 100 MKIII Upgraded by Rich Brkich Pre
    Butler Audio TBD 2250 Amp
    PS Audio DirectStream DAC and MemoryPlayer Transport
    LSA-1 Statement
    SVS SB4000 & SB2000
    Wireworld Equinox 7 bi-wire, Wireworld Silver Eclipse 7 IC

    Secondary Rig:
    Parasound P5, Audio Electronics by Cary Constellation
    Marsh a200s, Audio Elecrtonics by Cary Hercules
    Pioneer Elite DV-45a, Denon DVD-2910
    Klipsch Epic CF-1, Vandersteen 3CE sig
    Analysus Plus Oval

    Backup Gear:
    Pass Labs Aleph 30, McCormack DNA-125, Parasound A21
    Marantz SA-14S1
    Usher CP-6311/Tyler Acoustics Taylo Reference Monitor, LSA-1
  • Thanks for the review! I seem to constantly see good feedback on these, but I'm glad you compared to a few other amps in that price range. I'm a little surprised to hear that you prefer it to the Ampino Monoblocks. It seems like everyone who tries the Ampino stuff feels it's generally something special for its price class. And if I was going purely off of design principles I would expect the Ampino monos to be superior. Guess that emphasizes the importance of listening.
    Analog: MoFi MasterTracker > MoFi UltraDeck > Sutherland 20/20
    Digital: Sony CDP-CE375 / Streaming > Cambridge CXN v2
    MastersounD Dueventi > JBL Studio 580 or Arcam rHead > Hifiman HE4XX
    Discogs
  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,468
    So am I, @jdjohn is bringing one this Saturday to our meet and I am excited to hear the combo as I have the stellar pre.
    Drew what a great setup now, Ruby-CXN-Stellar-S300-PMC’s. That’s a stunning end game midfi system in my book.
    Looking for more thoughts as everything settles in.
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61
  • jdjohnjdjohn Posts: 951
    Good to have confirmation from another owner. The PSA Stellar Pre/DAC has some new owners around here, so good to have a second opinion on the S300 power amp as well.

    I couldn't agree more on the accuracy. I think it brings the mids out front more compared to typical A/AB, which may contribute to hearing more detail. Also, and I may be alone on this, I don't detect any harmonics with the S300. We all know that tubes add harmonics, but A/AB do as well. I had never really noticed harmonics myself before on A/AB until doing critical listening tests between the S300 and my McCormack DNA-125. Very cool that you were also able to directly compare those two pieces.
    Clipdat wrote: »
    Everything is just held out in front of you, ripe for the picking.
    I like that metaphor. I have called it being more forward, but I think we're describing the same quality.

    I have not tried XLRs yet, but clearly need to! I haven't had any noise issues with my RCA connectors, though. My I/Cs are DIY Furez from Doug with the directional shunt connections, so maybe that helps ground any RFI/EMI present. The noise floor is just so low with this, you don't really know if it is on upon initial power-up. You can turn up the volume without a signal, but don't expect to hear any hiss or hum at all.

    And all of this in a 13lb amp! You can basically carry it under one arm like a big book or laptop. The pairing of these two PSA units makes a nice tidy stack for sure.

    Anyway, congrats and enjoy!
    "Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to." - Cicero, in Gladiator

    Regarding collectibles: "It's not who gets it. It's who gets stuck with it." - Jimmy Fallon
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 7,140
    edited February 28
    kharp1 wrote: »
    If memory serves you picked up the Gain Cell Dac/Pre as well didn't you?

    Yes, that is correct. I've just been using it's preamp functionality for now, which IMO is well worth the cost of the unit. Haven't even explored the built in DAC yet.
    jdjohn wrote: »
    I have not tried XLRs yet, but clearly need to!

    Definitely give them a try, the improvement was dramatic!
    "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • steveinazsteveinaz Posts: 19,008
    Good to hear that you're liking the S300.
  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,468
    And to add here - my comment "mid-fi" is no stab at all, in my opinion, only a couple folks on this forum skirt into high end. I typically consider high end $250k and up for a system. Others have their own opinions about what high end is, but a $15-100k system to me is midfi
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61
  • displaynamedisplayname Posts: 416
    joecoulson wrote: »
    And to add here - my comment "mid-fi" is no stab at all, in my opinion, only a couple folks on this forum skirt into high end. I typically consider high end $250k and up for a system. Others have their own opinions about what high end is, but a $15-100k system to me is midfi
    In that case our friend Skip isn't even into high end yet. Lots of dealers don't even showcase $250k systems as their "statement" systems.
    I don't know where that line exists, but based on these numbers I've heard more mid-fi that impressed me than high end systems I've heard.
    Analog: MoFi MasterTracker > MoFi UltraDeck > Sutherland 20/20
    Digital: Sony CDP-CE375 / Streaming > Cambridge CXN v2
    MastersounD Dueventi > JBL Studio 580 or Arcam rHead > Hifiman HE4XX
    Discogs
  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,468
    I agree with that, and again it’s just my opinion about the numbers. To each is own.
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61
  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,468
    And I think skip’s $100k system could be considered high end. Depends on the circles.
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61
  • rooftop59rooftop59 Posts: 5,896
    joecoulson wrote: »
    And to add here - my comment "mid-fi" is no stab at all, in my opinion, only a couple folks on this forum skirt into high end. I typically consider high end $250k and up for a system. Others have their own opinions about what high end is, but a $15-100k system to me is midfi

    So what is a system between $101-249k??? Upper midfi?!? 😂
    HT Rig:
    Denon AVR-X4200w; Peachtree Audio NovaPre; B&K TX4430; Bryson BPD-1; Mains: Dynaudio Excite x18; Center - Polk cs400i; Heights, Center Surround - Klipsch KHC - 6 In-Ceiling; Surrounds - Monoprice in-ceiling; Sub - HSU VTF-2 MK5; LG UP870 4K BDP; NVidia ShieldTV
    ;
    Master Bedroom
    Cambridge Azur 551r; Definitive Technology SM45, NHT Super One CI surrounds, Martin Logan Dynamo (original), Squeezebox Touch
  • maxwardmaxward Posts: 381
    Uh oh.
    Thorens TD-160C; Sumiko Talisman S; Jolida JD9; Marantz CD-53; North Star Intenso;
    Joule-Electra LA-100; Balanced Power Technology AC conditioner;
    Odyssey Khartago monos (with most factory upgrades); Magnepan MG 3.6R
  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,468
    I was trying not to upset our skipper is all. Didn’t want to spit on the spettro’s
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61
  • displaynamedisplayname Posts: 416
    Well, for all of us living in the mid-fi world (wherever that line lands) I'm just glad there is currently such a wealth of products focused on the under $5K category. So many good options for every part of the hobby these days.
    Analog: MoFi MasterTracker > MoFi UltraDeck > Sutherland 20/20
    Digital: Sony CDP-CE375 / Streaming > Cambridge CXN v2
    MastersounD Dueventi > JBL Studio 580 or Arcam rHead > Hifiman HE4XX
    Discogs
  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,468
    I agree, and like you said, nothing in the hi end that I have heard personally (admittedly only one system at $400k) completely blew away some of the $20k systems that I have heard
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61
  • DSkipDSkip Posts: 16,124
    I'm glad you are enjoying them Drew. I'd be curious to hear it though I'm still not completely sold on a Class D output. Perhaps these could change my tune.

    As for price points, I view components under $5,000 as mid-fi. Above that you have high end. Once you start getting into the $20k+ category you are talking about ultra high end. At these price points you are getting 'no holds barred' designs where price is secondary to performance.

    The reason I break this down is you really have different clientele in these categories. Think about price brackets - they usually go from $1,000 to $2,000 to $3,000 to $5,000 then they start jumping up usually in increments of $5,000. The client who is stretching himself to $3,000 is completely different than the one stretching to $10,000, both in approach and buying power. The $3,000 buyer will probably be tapped out at that price while the five figure guy probably has the ability to maneuver more to jump up if performance justified the price.
  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,468
    I'm sorry to have made a comment that most likely will derail this thread. It was an opinion from me only - not a reference challenge.
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61
  • mhardy6647mhardy6647 Posts: 23,019
    edited March 1
    Looked up a photos for those (e.g., me!) who might be curious.

    d2xaz47f64sn.png

    FWIW, I've never (well, not since I was college-age) considered price a very good marker for degree of 'fi'.
  • displaynamedisplayname Posts: 416
    We'll get back on track. The whole Stellar series seems to get a lot of buzz for the price point. I know they are working on Stellar speakers and a Stellar phono preamp as well. I wouldn't be shocked to find out that they have a Stellar streamer in the works too.

    It'll be interesting to see how it all comes together. If PS Audio starts making interconnects and speaker cables they might become one of the very few companies that can truly build a system a system from the outlet to your ears. If they can do that with a range of products that all stick in the under $3k/piece bracket, they might have a strong foothold in that market.
    Analog: MoFi MasterTracker > MoFi UltraDeck > Sutherland 20/20
    Digital: Sony CDP-CE375 / Streaming > Cambridge CXN v2
    MastersounD Dueventi > JBL Studio 580 or Arcam rHead > Hifiman HE4XX
    Discogs
  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,468
    The only issue I have with that company is how they seem to treat dealers. The undercut them and make it very hard to make money. That’s not good for the customer who wants a dealer he can shake hands with.
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61
  • displaynamedisplayname Posts: 416
    joecoulson wrote: »
    The only issue I have with that company is how they seem to treat dealers. The undercut them and make it very hard to make money. That’s not good for the customer who wants a dealer he can shake hands with.
    As someone who previously sought out a dealer, I completely agree with this. I really like the way they market, but once I saw their generous trade in program I understood why it's so hard to find a dealer. It's just unfortunate because I'd prefer to hear stuff before buying it, and I'm willing to pay a little more to get it from a dealer to do that.
    Analog: MoFi MasterTracker > MoFi UltraDeck > Sutherland 20/20
    Digital: Sony CDP-CE375 / Streaming > Cambridge CXN v2
    MastersounD Dueventi > JBL Studio 580 or Arcam rHead > Hifiman HE4XX
    Discogs
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 7,140
    edited March 2
    It's hard for me to adequately explain how good things are sounding with the Stellar pre and S300 combo.

    I was getting tons of 3d stereo imaging effects earlier and absolutely loving it.

    Incredible performance!
    "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • msgmsg Posts: 4,991
    edited March 2
    Clipdat wrote: »
    It's hard for me to adequately explain how good things are sounding with the Stellar pre and S300 combo.

    I was getting tons of 3d stereo imaging effects earlier and absolutely loving it.

    Incredible performance!
    Really cool, Drew. This 3D stereo imaging is quite striking for me when it occurs. I've only ever experienced it in near field listening, but there's height and depth, and it can sound like you're hearing things out to the side and behind speakers, like a thrown voice. It stops me sometimes in a bit of disbelief, as in, how can this be?
    I disabled signatures.
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 7,140
    edited March 2
    msg wrote: »
    Really cool, Drew. This 3D stereo imaging is quite striking for me when it occurs. I've only ever experienced it in near field listening, but there's height and depth, and it can sound like you're hearing things out to the side and behind speakers, like a thrown voice. It stops me sometimes in a bit of disbelief, as in, how can this be?

    This part I marked in bold is exactly what was going on. It gives you a sensation that makes you want to look to the right or look up to see where the sound is coming from.
    "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • msgmsg Posts: 4,991
    Haha, yes, exactly that :)
    I can imagine how it would look to someone watching me listen. Probably look like a dog perking up at a sound
    I disabled signatures.
  • DSkipDSkip Posts: 16,124
    Electronics do help in that regard but the bigger player is having speakers that can disappear like your new speakers. Maybe you are hearing them start to break in?

    I’m not trying to take away from the amp at all but playing a little devils advocate here.
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 7,140
    I heard it previously on occasion with these PMCs, but nothing as regular and often as it's happening now after switching to the S300.
    "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • ClipdatClipdat Posts: 7,140
    I actually thought my single wire speaker cables plugged into the lower binding posts, with the 703 jumpers linked to the upper posts, were limiting my performance.

    Clearly that is not the case.
    "Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology, and for some, it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast soundscapes for escape, pleasure, and transcendence."
  • halohalo Posts: 5,205
    edited March 3
    Clipdat wrote: »
    I actually thought my single wire speaker cables plugged into the lower binding posts, with the 703 jumpers linked to the upper posts, were limiting my performance.

    Clearly that is not the case.

    Are you still listening to the 703's?
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