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PS Audio Stellar Review (Phono Preamplifier)

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the PS Audio Stellar Phono stage. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $2,499 from the company direct.

I kind of like the look of the PS Audio gear. They don't look very high end but not budget either:

PS Audio Stellar Review MC MM Phono Preamplifier.jpg


I was extremely surprised by how heavy this box is. It weighs as much as many power amplifiers! I was also surprised that there are no buttons on the unit. You have to use the remote control for that. The remote is small but feels good in hand and lets you even select MC input loading.

Back panel shows a surprise that I was happy to see: XLR balanced output:

PS Audio Stellar Review MC MM Phono back rear panel Preamplifier.jpg


I was impressed how shiny and beefy looking all the connectors were. And nicely spaced apart.

The vents in the back dissipate heat from a number of power devices in heat sinks so don't block them.

PS Audio Stellar Measurements
There are many variations here. I am going to limit myself to low gain and one set of loading. Let's start with moving magnet performance:

PS Audio Stellar Measurements MM Phono Preamplifier.png


I was disappointed to see distortion spikes. Even budget phono stages are able to bury the distortion components in the rather high noise floor of these phono stages. Not here. The power supply noise is there for the ride usually in these phono stages. Hard to know if it is instrumentation error or nature of the beast. Grounding had no effect on this.

SINAD graph for phono stages is not super meaningful as it is usually dominated by just noise but here is the ranking anyway:

Best phono stage reviewed 2021.png


Moving Coil measurements with 1/10th the input signal produced similar results:

PS Audio Stellar Measurements MC Phono Preamplifier.png


I was extremely happy to see a very nice implementation of RIAA equalization in both modes:

PS Audio Stellar Measurements Frequency Response MM Phono Preamplifier.png


PS Audio Stellar Measurements Frequency Response MC Phono Preamplifier.png


Max output voltage is whopping 24 volts which provides excellent headroom to guard against saturation with pops and clicks:

PS Audio Stellar Measurements MC MM Headroom THD+N vs Level Phono Preamplifier.png


Back to distortion, as bad as it was at 1 kHz, it gets worse at lower frequencies (this measurement excludes noise so it is pure THD):

PS Audio Stellar Measurements MC MM THD vs frequency Phono Preamplifier.png


Does it matter when playing LPs? Likely not.

Conclusions
There is a lot to like here from good looks, excellent build quality and stellar, pun intended, frequency response and headroom. Typical of many PS Audio products though, gratuitous amount of distortion is there for the ride. It is not high enough to have any euphonic value. But high enough to raise our blood pressure that better could be done if folks were not chasing myths in audio.

Anyway, if you have the money and want a substantial looking phono stage, I can recommend PS Audio Steller Phono Premplifier.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

John B

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My unit was defective and I had to return it. Service was superb throughout that process but it turned me off of PS audio stuff. Thank you for measuring phono preamps. This component category has been the most painful to navigate for me as a consumer.
 

3125b

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So PS Audio managed to make something that is not completely broken. Not too bad for a start although the chart-topping Cambridge Duo is only 12% of the price …
 

GXAlan

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Is there a point where the headroom doesn't matter for the pops/clicks? Or is higher always better?
 

tonycollinet

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I'm always suspicious of somthing that weighs heavy when there is no technical reason. I've opened stuff up in the past to find lumps of metal that have no other function than to make the device feel substantial.
 

voodooless

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Why such a high-praise panther?
Probably because they at least tried really hard this time ;) From a price/performance standpoint, this is obviously not something that one should recommend.

The claims are ultra-low noise:

Its ultra low noise discrete pre and post voltage regulation stages
The internal shielding and build quality provide Stellar with up to 70dB of ultra low noise gain for MC cartridges as low as 0.15mv

Well, at least it has a:

high current oversized power transformer

Whatever that is good for?
 

fordiebianco

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I'll stick with my Pro-Ject Box E, thank you very much.
 

John B

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FWIW my phono preamp odyssey ended with Hegel V10. I can't think of a way in which it doesn't sound better (to me) than PS Audio's device (once I got the PS working) Additionally, Hegel did something to their inputs which solved my cart noise problems, and you get balanced connections for less which was nice.

On the headroom bit. There might have been a benefit. The algorithm I use in RX to remove clicks seemed a little more effective than when transferring from the Cambridge duo I'd had before. I'll let the people who know what they are talking about discuss why this may be.

The other KEY thing is basic functionality lives only on the remote for the PS audio unit. When that goes you are hosed until you replace the remote.
 
Last edited:

charleski

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Surprised there are no balanced inputs at this price.
There are pricey phono amps around with XLR inputs, but the vast majority of tonearm cables end in phono plugs, so it’s really a compatibility issue. I see the RCA inputs here are properly isolated from the chassis, which is what counts. All phono cartridges are inherently balanced sources, so the difference between the two lies in what happens with the cable screening,

Does it matter when playing LPs? Likely not.
Lol. LPs are a miraculous technology - it’s a miracle you can get anything passable out of them.
 

Count Arthur

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Looking at the reviews index, you've only recommended 6 of the 25 phono preamps measured - and price seems to have little relation to performance. If that trend was typical across all the phono preamps available, that would mean that without having measurements, you'd have a roughly one in five chance of picking a good one. :oops:

Given all the limitations of the mechanical components, the vinyl itsellf, the cartridges, tonearms and turntables, you'd think, it would be possible to get the electronics right.
 

abdo123

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So PS Audio managed to make something that is not completely broken. Not too bad for a start although the chart-topping Cambridge Duo is only 12% of the price …

The cambridge Audio Duo was measured with double the input signal. The SINAD that i have with it is more along the lines of 60 dB since it's mains hum limited.

I wish @amirm would standardize the input signal levels for amplifiers and phono stages, this way we can have the fairest comparision possible between devices.
 
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