PS Audio StellarGold DAC USB DAC Page 2

Another niggle… The StellarGold's display will happily signify the incoming sample rate as long as it isn't any higher than 48kHz. Sample rates of 88.2kHz and above are reported as 44.1kHz, although it will tell you the correct bit-depth. Being able to quickly see the file type played is hardly a deal-breaker – I suspect many only use this to check there's nothing afoot in the signal chain – but it's an issue we'd expect PS Audio to solve via firmware.

sqnote Job Satisfaction
Used with sources that included an Oppo UDP-205 disc player [HFN Jul '17] and MacBook Pro running Roon, and fed both directly into a Primare A35.2 power amplifier and as a 'pure' DAC into a Primare PRE35 preamp [HFN Dec '19], the StellarGold proved adept at slotting in and just getting on with the job. Of course, that's what's demanded of any DAC, but not all have the StellarGold's beguiling performance – clean, clear and with a pleasant but not extravagant approach to detail retrieval, it makes your music flow by. There's a hefty dollop of deep bass and dynamic attack when needed; at other times a smooth treble to slightly soften all but the roughest edges.

The Police's 'Every Breath You Take' […The Classics; A&M, 88.2kHz/24-bit] enjoyed just such a presentation, with strong definition to the bassline and weight in the palm-muted guitar and synths, yet when the chorus brings in a piano, it cuts through with sweet resonance. This track, with its elegiac style, is easy on the ear; I got more of a sense of the DAC's detail handling and dynamics with the same album's original version of 'Don't Stand So Close Me', where the kick drum had serious heft and the gifted hi-hat playing of Stewart Copeland was fully in evidence.


Dual I2S on HDMI (to 768kHz and DSD256), USB-B (to 384kHz and DSD128) plus optical/two coax (to 96kHz and 192kHz) are joined by fixed/variable balanced/single-ended outs on XLR/RCAs. Network is control only; USB-A for firmware updates

Robbie Williams' 'She's The One' [I've Been Expecting You; Chrysalis Records, 44.1kHz/16-bit] offered more rich-sounding piano chords, this time accompanied by a vocal full of both emotional inflection and imperfections. It was, perhaps, not up to the levels of Neil Young, Bob Dylan or The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne but I was surprised by the rawness unearthed here in Williams' singing, and its juxtaposition with the polished harmonies elsewhere.

For something altogether rawer, though, look no further than Grand Funk Railroad's cunningly titled Live Album [Capitol Records 724353932626]. Recorded across three nights at Florida venues in 1970, this is a messy, brash affair compared to the Williams ballad. The StellarGold can't be blamed for that, though, and the furious pace of 'Are You Ready' – when you can hear it above the screaming audience – was a thrill.

Texas Hold 'Em
The lack of polish given to this album reflects the StellarGold DAC's 'leave it as is' demeanour, where different mixes yield different responses. Gary Moore's wonderfully recorded 'Texas Strut' [Still Got The Blues; Virgin, 44.1kHz/16-bit] sounded tight as a nut, the rhythm section locked into a groove and the guitar riffs jangling along at pace. Moore himself, faux American accent a far cry from his birthplace of Belfast, appeared set back, as did the rest of the band in fact, the StellarGold DAC conveying a 'listening from the rear of the room' vibe. Conversely, 'Ghost' by Slash & Ian Astbury [Slash; Roadrunner Records RR 7795-2] slammed out of the loudspeakers with a production that throws the guitarist's licks and the large-sounding drums right in your face, as intended.

Brass Attack
With the punchy Primare A35.2 amp in tow, there was a similar feeling of real drive and weight to the DAC's rendition of Opeth's 'Ghost Of Perdition' [Ghost Reveries; Roadrunner Records RR 8123-5], a prog rock-cum-death metal epic that flows effortlessly between clean singing and hellish growls.


Stellar series remote offers control over volume, mute, absolute phase, input selection and digital filter for the Gold DAC

But the coin was then completely flipped for a live performance of Eino Tamberg's Trumpet Concerto No.1, with Philip Smith leading the New York Philharmonic [The Philip Smith Collection, Album 3: The Concertos (Live)]. Here the StellarGold gets to show off wide dynamics; there was deep, clean bass next to a startlingly crisp portrayal of Smith's at times forcefully played instrument. The depth of the soundstage impressed, but not as much as the transient attack or the listenability of even the most shrilling, violent blasts of brass.

The subtleties unpicked in this recording, down to the shuffling of audience members and possibly the sound of an accidentally nudged chair, gives a real feeling of the atmosphere of the live performance. For some this is what music listening is all about, but if I owned this DAC I wouldn't stick solely to audiophile bread and butter, for there's equal pleasure to be had in the StellarGold's clean portrayal of upbeat pop.

The Tori Kelly track 'Missin U' [Tori; Beautiful Mind Records, 44.1kHz/24-bit] morphs from an intro that sounds as if it was recorded on a Dictaphone into sugar-coated 21st century pop music of the highest order. The electronic bass track was deep and liquid-y, the programmed drums and percussion crisp, and her voice soared sweet and high.

That PS Audio's new DAC feels equally at home with this track as it does with the gentle piano noodling of Max Richter's 'Vladimir's Blues' [The Blue Notebooks; DG 483 5668], or the rocking title track of Bad Company's eponymous debut album [Rhino; 88.2kHz/24-bit], is testament to a well thought-out design. By all means give those digital filter options a whirl, but the StellarGold sounds superb out of the box.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Taking a step back from the custom FPGA architecture of its flagship DirectStream design, this more 'attainable' PS Audio model leverages a tried-and-trusted ESS platform to deliver a performance that's all about the music – whatever the genre. Of obvious appeal to Stellar series owners, the StellarGold also warrants the attention of anyone looking to upgrade their system with a no frills, all thrills DAC.

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