PS Audio StellarGold DAC USB DAC

hfnoutstandingThe latest addition to PS Audio's Stellar range is a back-to-basics USB/I2S DAC with the emphasis on performance rather than frippery. But it does have a gold 'go faster' stripe!

Following a slew of recent high-end designs including its aspen FR30 and FR20 speakers [HFN Jun '22 & Apr '23], the BHK M600 monoblock amplifiers [HFN Dec '22], and DirectStream DAC Mk2 [HFN Jun '23], Colorado's PS Audio has refocused attention on its more affordable Stellar series, where the mantra is making 'audio bliss attainable'. Yet the new StellarGold DAC, auditioned here and selling for £3999, isn't a straightforward new addition to the line.

As PS Audio co-founder/CEO Paul McGowan explains, this model, plus the similarly-priced StellarGold Preamplifier, are intended to sit somewhere in between the company's standard Stellar products and flagship PerfectWave components. Of course, one obvious way to make such a distinction would be to launch an entirely new line, but instead we get these Gold arrivals, their elevated status denoted by a gold-plated fascia-wide strip.

Key Converter
This new DAC is priced comfortably higher than the Stellar series Gain Cell DAC [HFN Apr '20], which launched at £1550, but with an arguably more purist, feature-stripped approach. PS Audio's entry-level converter added a headphone amplifier and analogue inputs to its repertoire, but the Gain Cell module resulted in some 'curious' measurements from PM's Lab. Here, the analogue preamplifier and volume pot have been discarded, in favour of digitally governed variable/fixed output operation and digital connections only.

Neatly arranged on the back panel next to the StellarGold's balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA output terminals are two I2S HDMI inputs that will suit owners of PS Audio's PerfectWave SACD transport; a USB-B port for a computer connection; and coaxial and optical digital pairs. Next to these are trigger terminals and an Ethernet port for system integration, plus a USB-A socket for firmware updates. The StellarGold is not a networked model – for such functionality PS Audio will steer you towards its AirLens streamer.


Linear power supply [top left and centre] feeds a single ES9038PRO DAC [bottom centre] and fully discrete transistor-based preamp stage [bottom right]. Wireless module [bottom left] is currently unused

Away from that sliver of gold, the unit looks similar to the Gain Cell DAC as well as the company's wider Stellar family. The slim, 76mm-high chassis is a cosmetic match for the Stellar S300 and M700 power amplifiers [HFN Apr '20], and there's PS Audio's familiar, blue-lit standby/power button on the lefthand side. To the right are a display panel and menu navigation controls. The casework itself has a smart, slightly textured finish in black or silver-grey, and the unit weighs in at a surprisingly hefty 10.2kg, by virtue of its pressed steel – rather than aluminium – construction.

A key feature of the StellarGold, and something posited as a 'major step up from any of the Stellar line', is its use of an ES9038PRO D/A converter from ESS Technology. This is an eight-channel chip operated in dual-differential mode for the unit's two-channel signal processing.

Filters 'N' Files
This approach isn't unusual but appears on PS Audio's website as 'four digital-to-analogue converters' per channel, which is potentially confusing – our lid-off shot clearly shows a single DAC chip.

The upgraded DAC, which feeds into a new 'high slew rate, low feedback' balanced output stage, offers seven digital filters, and provides file format handling to 768kHz PCM/DSD256 via the I2S connections and 384kHz/DSD128 over USB, while the coaxial input is compatible with 192kHz media and DoP64.

Seasoned audiophiles will have no issue with the StellarGold's initial setup, but for deeper configuration it's not as slick as some competitors, not least because there's no smartphone app or icon-driven touch display to manage things. Instead, the unit's small front-panel window is used to access text-based menus that cover a lot of tweaks. A little round button next to the display opens the menu to rename inputs, dim the backlight, set a maximum volume level, upload new firmware, and so on.

DAC filter selection can also be accessed here, although it's easier to hit the up/down buttons on PS Audio's handset to cycle through the options. On that matter, this remote handset is a Stellar series controller (no gold detail here) and subsequently offers two volume controls – one for a DAC and one for a preamp. Occasionally, if you're like me, you will end up using the wrong one.

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