Home » Review: PS Audio PST and Stellar Strata
Reviews

Review: PS Audio PST and Stellar Strata

Review: PS Audio PST and Stellar Strata is a real deal as PS Audio is an exceptional company. As one of the few high-end manufacturers

Review: PS Audio PST and Stellar Strata – PS Audio is an exceptional company. As one of the few high-end manufacturers, they fully understand how to operate in this new era. The products are of high quality. The listening room also contains the new PerfectWave sacd transport (PST) and the Stellar Strata integrated amplifier. 

PS Audio has a figurehead that is recognizable and accessible to everyone in the form of Paul McGowan. The company has a real online community, where owners of PS Audio equipment exchange experiences. The site is perfect. Not only does the company publish the Copper Magazine, but also online newsletters, tips and videos. There is a forum, podcasts and a how to. Paul has a daily section with updates. Manuals and software updates are available on the site for all products and there is extensive information about all models. Having a real community, where the interaction between users and the organization takes place, is the essence of using social media and the highest attainable goal. Companies that only ‘send’ via social media understand little about this medium.

Various consumers

PS Audio comes with a new CD/Sacd transport. The third transport that also matches the separate and built-in converters. It’s very commendable that PS Audio, as well as several other audio manufacturers, are once again coming up with a disc transport. The readers of Music Emotion and of serious hi-fi magazines in general form a slightly different target group than Henk & Ingrid. The mass consumer is uncritically carried away by all the new developments. It is mainly about ease of use, low prices, a trendy appearance and as much functionality as possible in the same housing. Audio is a commodity there. Something that goes with it and makes music as background wallpaper. Certainly in the Netherlands you can effortlessly push just about all novelties down the throat of the consumer. The Netherlands is at the forefront of this and is also the largest dump market in the world. Not that the mass consumer doesn’t like music, but it’s not always the reader of the serious audio magazines. These publications have three groups of readers. Firstly, the group of music lovers and musicians. This group uses equipment to listen to music. The second group are the audiophiles. They are tinkerers and hobbyists who are primarily geared towards equipment. They use music to listen to equipment. The third group is diverse. They can be collectors of music, hi-fi documentation, vintage equipment or music documentation. However, each group is very passionate and serious about it and that makes a significant difference to most mass consumers. The mass consumer buys a car to get around. The car enthusiast is enthusiastic, is a real driver and consciously chooses a Morgan, an M4. or a B5.

Physical media

Many consumers who fall into the three groups mentioned will still have a physical collection of records and CDs. Especially in countries such as Japan and Germany there is a huge appreciation for physical media. Commerce, which wants to get rid of the past as quickly as possible, has no control over this. There are hundreds of millions of CDs and records in the world. You don’t just brush them off and these sound carriers will probably remain part of our culture for at least another hundred years. There is absolutely nothing wrong with CDs and SACDs. Digital reproduction from these media is now state-of-the-art. Older CDs sound very good because the converter technology has improved enormously. Recent CDs and SACDs sound superior because of the advanced digital studio equipment and production techniques. The best alternative to physical media are downloadable files that then play from a music server. The sound quality of a file on a modern server, with a very good converter, can exceed the quality of a CD player. This is mainly due to the limitations of the built-in converter in that player. If the CD player or CD drive is connected to a top converter, the quality will be comparable to what the file performs from a music server. This is all independent of the resolution of the digital medium. In practice it is very difficult to detect the difference between the resolutions. Firstly, this requires very high-quality listening equipment and trained listeners who have learned what to pay attention to. The sound quality of a file on a modern server, with a very good converter, can exceed the quality of a CD player. This is mainly due to the limitations of the built-in converter in that player. If the CD player or CD drive is connected to a top converter, the quality will be comparable to what the file performs from a music server. This is all independent of the resolution of the digital medium. In practice it is very difficult to detect the difference between the resolutions. Firstly, this requires very high-quality listening equipment and trained listeners who have learned what to pay attention to. The sound quality of a file on a modern server, with a very good converter, can exceed the quality of a CD player. This is mainly due to the limitations of the built-in converter in that player. If the CD player or CD drive is connected to a top converter, the quality will be comparable to what the file performs from a music server. This is all independent of the resolution of the digital medium. In practice it is very difficult to detect the difference between the resolutions. Firstly, this requires very high-quality listening equipment and trained listeners who have learned what to pay attention to. This is mainly due to the limitations of the built-in converter in that player. If the CD player or CD drive is connected to a top converter, the quality will be comparable to what the file performs from a music server. This is all independent of the resolution of the digital medium. In practice it is very difficult to detect the difference between the resolutions. Firstly, this requires very high-quality listening equipment and trained listeners who have learned what to pay attention to. This is mainly due to the limitations of the built-in converter in that player. If the CD player or CD drive is connected to a top converter, the quality will be comparable to what the file performs from a music server. This is all independent of the resolution of the digital medium. In practice it is very difficult to detect the difference between the resolutions. Firstly, this requires very high-quality listening equipment and trained listeners who have learned what to pay attention to. In practice it is very difficult to detect the difference between the resolutions. Firstly, this requires very high-quality listening equipment and trained listeners who have learned what to pay attention to. In practice it is very difficult to detect the difference between the resolutions. Firstly, this requires very high-quality listening equipment and trained listeners who have learned what to pay attention to.

Collection

For the readers who enjoy collecting SACDs, CDs, DVD-Rs and who also want to listen in the very best quality, it’s good that players are still being built. From a user perspective, a music server is of course superior. Your entire collection of 50,000 CDs directly accessible. But, for a collector it’s great to have a few dozen meters of storage in the basement or attic with all those rare out-of-print discs, with beautiful artwork, other paraphernalia and signed by the artist. Then you have some. If the streaming services pull the plug, become unaffordable, or if the internet goes down soon, you’ll be left with nothing if you’ve put all your CDs into the thrift store.

PS Audio PST

The PST doesn’t just run CDs and SACDs. Audio files from CD-R, CD-RW and DVD-R/-RW /+r/+RW are also readable. Also, mp3, wma, aac (~48 kHz/320 bps), wav, flac, aiff (~192 kHz/24-bit), dsd (~5.6 mHz) and alac (~96 kHz/24-bit) files from disc (data discs) and read from the USB input. The USB port is on the front panel and only reads files from the root directory of the USB drive. The PST has a number of digital outputs. PS Audio indicates that the highest quality can be obtained through the I2S output. This output also plays pure DSD via DACs that comply with the PS Audio I2S protocol. The protocol is made available to manufacturers free of charge by PS Audio. So check whether your dac complies with this protocol. I2S is transported via an HDMI cable. But, you can’t just plug this cable into any HDMI input of a converter or other audio device. Native DSD display is therefore possible via I2S. The PST drop-down menu provides an option, when a SACD is being played, to choose SACD (dsd only via the I2S output), stereo downsampled from the SACD layer (pcm), or Red Book audio (pcm). If there is no I2S connection, the CD layer of the SACD will be played. If this connection is available, you can choose between the SACD DSD layer and the CD layer. or Red Book audio (pcm). If there is no I2S connection, the CD layer of the SACD will be played. If this connection is available, you can choose between the SACD DSD layer and the CD layer. or Red Book audio (pcm). If there is no I2S connection, the CD layer of the SACD will be played. If that connection is available, you can choose between the SACD DSD layer and the CD layer.

Double rate DOP

After the I2S output, the AES-EBU xlr output offers the best quality. In addition to the music signal, this connection also includes the clock signals. By connecting two XLR outputs (L and R), double-rate DoP (Dsd over Pcm) audio is possible, if the connected converter offers that possibility. A connection is also possible via the RCA/BNC outputs. Double-rate DoP audio is possible by connecting the Left and Right (L and R) BNC outputs with a suitable converter. In principle, all digital outputs can be used simultaneously. The PST does not support multichannel audio from SACD. This is possible with the DirectStream Memory Player (DMP). The Ethernet connector (RJ45) on the PST is for factory updates. This is also possible via the built-in WiFi.

Technic

Compared to the DMP, it is noticeable that the large touch-sensitive OLED screen has been replaced by a smaller and simpler display. A longer press on the button to the left of the screen displays the menu. The PST user guide will go through all the options. Just like its predecessors (PWT and DMP), the Digital Lens is on board. This isolates the mechanical drive from jitter and deviations in the timing of the data stream going to the dac. The latter is bit-perfect and has perfect timing. The PST then adds galvanic isolation to those existing techniques from previous players. The power supply of the PST and the transport mechanism are then completely separated from the output stream to the dac. Noise, common-mode pollution and pollution of the ground do not end up in the dac.

PS Audio Stellar Strata

Positive experience has already been gained in one of the listening rooms with the Stellar M1200 monoblocks, the Stellar S300, the BHK stereo 250, the Stellar GainCell preamplifier, the Stellar Phono Preamplifier, the DirectStream Powerplant 20, the DirectStream DAC, the PWT, DMP and PST. and the NuWave phono converter. The Strata integrated amplifier has now been added to the Stellar series. There is no space to describe all the features of this amplifier. There is a class A preamp with the famous PS Audio analog GainCell, which offers ideal volume control. Darren Myers developed the Analog Cell for the output stage. It is a Class-D amplifier that features Class A biased MOSFETs. 150 Watts per channel are then available at 4 Ohms. Because the output stage is symmetrical, a subwoofer cannot be connected to it via the speaker terminals. Use the ground connection on the rear panel for this. The Strata has several analog inputs, also via XLR. Bob Stadtherr developed the dac, based on the Sabre32 bit Hyperstream architecture. The I2S input accepts up to 384 KHz 24 bit pcm or native DSD128 files. The USB input accepts up to 384 KHz pcm and DSD128 in native form or DoP encoded. Phase and filter settings are available for the dac (three pieces). In addition to being a dac, the Strata is also a streamer. Through the RJ45 port or through the built-in WiFi, this machine can find all UPnP sources on the network. In addition, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify Connect, Napster and other music services. The streaming function is accessible via the PS Connect app for the smartphone (IoS and Android). Finally, the Strata is also a class-A headphone amplifier.

Listening to the PS Audio PST

The beauty of PS Audio is that the level of performance is very high, but the product prices have not reached absurd levels so far. This has gotten out of hand with many other American audio products. Obviously, the BHK components are a bit more expensive, but if you see what’s in return and how much you have to pay from other manufacturers, then the equipment from PS Audio is worth considering. The PST was connected to the DirectStream DAC with the shortest possible HDMI cable. A comparison could be made with the DMP. The audio system was put together especially for this occasion. The DirectStream DAC is one of the best converters in the market and the performance is regularly increased by new updates. Along with the PST or available media servers from Aurender, NAIM, Grimm or Melco, combinations can be built that are explosively dynamic and sound neutral. In combination with the PST, there is a neutral, dynamic, detailed, very spacious and super refined sound image. These properties are of course reflected if the underlying amplification and loudspeakers are also of sufficient quality. It is noticeable that the PST sounds very ‘clean’. Behind the drive, the digital lens and the galvanically decoupled output stage ensure a signal without any distortion and/or pollution. A completely different system was built for the Strata. There, the PST could make direct contact with the Strata’s built-in converter via I2S, but it is also possible to connect the PST/DirectStream DAC combo to the analog XLR inputs. Compared to the DMP, the PST has the disk ready much faster.

Listening to the Strata

The Strata is a very good sounding amp and is competitive with much more expensive solid state amps on the market. The manual clearly indicates where all menu options can be found. The display is a bit smaller, so it takes some concentration when setting it up. On the other hand, the majority of those settings are made once. The build quality of this Strata and of the entire Stellar range is exceptionally good. This applies to all PS Audio products, where the design is also very attractive and has a luxurious appearance. The sound quality is very good. That performance is maintained even when speakers are connected that cost multiples of the purchase price of the Strata. The mids and highs are very well defined. A beautiful midrange and rich in sound. The Strata can present a phenomenal stage. The low is sublime. It has power, definition and is neutral. The built-in converter is exquisite. The time when class D amplification had a recognizable character is certainly far behind us at PS Audio. What remains, of course, is the superior class-d low. Streaming and the accompanying app function properly.

Epilogue

The cd/sacd PST transport is a worthy successor to the DMP. As with the DMP, it can also play files from a connected USB stick/drive, but only from the root. The PST sounds neutral, fast and very clean. The index on the disk is read quickly. A must have for anyone who builds serious audio systems consisting of very high quality individual components and wants to enjoy a precious collection of CDs and SACDs.

The Strata is the ideal audio component for anyone who wants virtually all functionality in a single housing. A dac, a pre amp, a power amplifier, headphone amplifier and streamer. A solidly built device with a very nice design and no overkill of buttons and unnecessary functionality. The clear remote control and the app are enough to be completely in control. The very good sound quality is striking. In the field of speakers, the consumer can therefore grow and it is no problem at all to connect a set of speakers from 25,000 euros. The price/quality ratio of this Strata is therefore very favorable.

Prices

  • PS Audio PerfectWave SACD Transport € 7.495,-
  • PS Audio Stellar Strata € 3,595,

 

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment