It’s only in the past couple of months I’ve been able to finally figure out this amazing amplifier. Most say it’s end game, I tend to agree with some caveats.
The Stellaris is a traditional single ended triode design using the best possible components within the allowed space. I’ve studied the internals extensively, beautiful layout, each capacitor and resistor has been selected and while that might seem overkill at this level the smallest decision contributes to the overall sound. Where the best was need there was no expense spared, Duelund and Audio Note need to introduction to the seasoned audiophile this goes further with custom ordered transformers to maximize the value from the legendary 2A3 tube.
A very solid feel overall with a hefty weight that needs consideration before attempting pick up. For a DIY build it rivals similar mass produced items in fit and finish. The switches have satisfied clicks with a well weighted volume pot. The iconic blue paint is flawless, I’ve never heard of any paint issues along the years and the metal chassis itself is thicker that the Stratus.
Volume tracking is excellent even at absurdly low volume.
Specs and options:
1.8W in 50Ω, Susvara might be out of reach otherwise I haven’t met a headphone it can’t drive including the HE6se, Abyss 1266, HEDD.
Balanced input is extra, if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it. The Audio Note input transformers do not step down meaning from a typical XLR it’s twice as loud so a point or two lower on the volume know.
Now there’s an upgraded version, Stellaris Special featuring an upgraded stepped 47 position TKD volume pot for the finest control available, half silver output transformer along with other upgraded internals.
For the ultimate DNA experience a full silver version is available, this includes capacitors, wiring and output transformers.
Input: 6N1P stock. My pick is the triple mica box plate 6N1P for the smoothest midrange of the bunch. 6BQ7A can be used as well, there are some very fine tubes in this family including Sylvania 6BQ7A gold branded, British and Italian Brimar and Fivre 6BQ7A.
A third option that requires an adaptor is the ECC40 with the early black plate being my personal favourite.
Rectifier: 5U4G, still has good availability yet prices are starting to rise. A National Union is neutral and lively, KenRad smoked glass is weighty and warm but not overly so. RCA is always a safe bet especially the top getter ones, Sylvania is a safe bet. The top contenders are 422A followed by U52, a significant upgrade yet the prices have reached stupid levels.
Power: Both a blessing and a curse. The 2A3 valve is legendary for its sonics and in turn everyone wanted a pair. Stock is low and prices have doubled in the past four years, some bargains can still be found for the standard S plates.
In my opinion the Stellaris deserves the single plates as it is the only tube that shows what it is capable of and vice versa. The problem is not price weirdly but availability and reliability. I’ve personally had issues with them and heard many with the same, getting a good functioning pair is too much of a gamble.
Thankfully Psvane seems to provide an answer with their ACME series if KR is out of reach, reviews have been positives, no reliability horror stories and who doesn’t like a globe?
Because the Stellaris was in various areas a few steps above my other amps Woo WA5, Apex Teton, GSX MK2, Cavalli Liquid Glass, DNA Stratus it was hard to pin point what it does well besides the blank statement of it’s the best across the board. Only recently I’ve been able to compare it against equivalent amplifier to understand it fully.
Bass: Relentless and effortless, doesn’t quite go into the deep sub bass but few really do. Slight mid bump with a weighty feel, extremely punchy when called for, a splash of warmth.
Mids: The undisputed king and why I and many other love it. Grain free, exceptional detail with a very specific coloration that makes voices come alive. I believe the parts selection was done for vocal performance and it does show. Tonally it’s not neutral yet the generic descriptions of warm doesn’t do it justice, it’s just yummy and creamy without being thick and weirdly I’ve never found it to be an issue even with mid focused headphones like the HD650 or ZMF, quite the opposite.
Treble: Good but not great, the hyper detail as expected of this price point is there yet it’s not light and airy, the 6BQ7A can enhance this area at the cost of other drawbacks. Extension isn’t the greatest and very fine shimmers fail to convince. I’m not saying it’s dark, far from it since overall it comes across very balanced and none of my previous amplifiers matched the treble quality but compared to what can be achieved it just falls short. Not for the detail analytical enthusiast.
Soundstage, falling short of a 300B soundstage it’s well above average with width and height, has realistic depth, a hallmark and a must of a great amplifier and just falls short for an out of head experience.
The Stellaris is far from a picky amp, quite forgiving actually while being able to astonish with the right recording and headphone. You just want to sit and enjoy music with every experience being impressive.
I may have been critical yet it has to be said again, none of my other amplifiers are at the same level even if segmented, the Teton with top tubes was a close second but the Stellaris is still very convincing and retains most of its strength even with average tubes.
The sound signature makes it perfect for a select number of very picky headphones, HD800, HD600, K1000 and especially MySphere 3.1. To put simply it makes a good headphone great and a great one excellent.