DNA Stellaris - Official Thread


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.

Build quality:

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.

Tube complement:

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?

Sound:

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.


Conclusion:

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.

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Awesome writeup! I love how into tubes you are! Have you tried some other tubes amps such as Glenn? I see many people enjoy Glenn but was never sure how it compared to Donalds offerings.

Hope to see more tube talk from you!

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As a fellow DNA amp owner (Starlett), part of me wants to save my pennies for this, provided tube costs dont become astronomical.

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Great writeup. Very detailed.

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Carefull what you wish for, it’s not that I’m into tubes but tube amplifiers, too much focus is put into tubes and not enough into the amplifier itself, some amps are like bags of chips, 80% air inside with wimpy components and expensive chassies.

I haven’t heard the Starlett myself but it has the advantage of not needing tube rolling. I’m sure there’s a slight penalty sound wise for not using a true DHT but at lower cost and headeach what’s not to like? IMO a tube amp should be at minimum 90% performance with stock tubes and the Starlett hits the mark. Stellaris is for the OCD freak always wanting more. Ask yourself, what are you missing now? Unlikely you’ll know the answer right away but it’s a step in the right direction.

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I concur that the Starlett does not need tube rolling as it sounds good out of the box, so to speak. I would not have signed up for it if I thought it needed magical tubes as a crutch.

Rolling is just for fun/curiosity and to see if I can make that one little tweak that gets that 5-10%. The hard part is finding a complement that doesnt step outside that 10% range into imbalance.

The tubes are really really cheap in comparison to what you would have tried in the Stellaris so its a limited risk experiment.

May I inquire as to what amps these where?

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This is valuable perspective/insight :+1:t3:

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I’ll share impressions of all my amps and gear in time, have to gather my thoughts to be sure there isn’t a big disconnect between what’s in my head and what I write up.

Here’s one of those amps, don’t be fooled, it’s not a Woo:

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What a great picture and a fine setup.

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I’m biased towards Glenn’s offerings since I share his amp design philosophy, no BS.
I heard Glenn only once at a CanJam and overall was impressed, even for a short audition it had the hallmarks of a higher end amplifier. Still some caveats with it:

  • it’s built for tube rolling to find the ultimate tube combo. This leads to a rabbit hole very quickly. The 6080 option might as well not exist unless one has a stash, the better tubes are engendered.
  • you need to know how to spec it, getting option where you don’t know the result is counterproductive. I’d go with the basic option myself if I didn’t know any better. Otherwise lundhal mains, claritycap TC psu caps or at least for the last one, TKD volume pot and some other things.
  • rectifier decision is a hard one, I couldn’t go without a rectifier tube now but the simplicity of SS is hard to ignore.
  • it has a look only a mother could love, function over form but reminds me of oats with water for breakfast, I need some sexy in my life, it could even be ugly as long as it has character.

Woo is quite the opposite of DNA yet I know some people like the voicing for whatever reason, maybe they don’t know any better or just don’t care.

Still, it needs to be a comparisons of a specific DNA amps, Stratus vs Glenn/Cavalli LG, Stellaris vs Studio, Starlett vs modded Crack etc.
It gets 100x more complicated if considering specific tubes for each, all bets are off then.

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I was always curious about the Glenn offerings but didnt consider them too closely as the potential options were many and I would probably always wonder what I could have upgraded too. The Starlett is the Starlett, Donald says its optioned out for its price range and I believe him.

I think given what I know now about amps I could probably give it a better go and there is always the argument about having different types of amps - OTL, PP, OTC, SET or what have you, depending on your mood. Outside of impedance matching and power output, at this point I care more about the implementation rather that the topology, at least at this stage in my audiophile development.

You appear to have detailed knowledge about tube amp design and implementation. Im always interested to learn more about this so please continue to share as you see fit.

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Or they have different preferences, chains, transducers, tubes etc…

There’s no “one true way” in any of this, and unless you want to hitch your wagon to measurements, then there’s no objective standard either.

Like what you like, and feel free to express that but do it without knocking others, directly or otherwise, even if they don’t have the same likes as you. This place is not where you came from, and around here “tone” matters in more ways than one.

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I should have been specific I was referring to the WA5 LE with the upgrade caps package I’ve owned for two years.

Preferences are indeed preferences yet for an amplifier with TOTL aspiration it’s flawed a tad as pointed out by experience DIYers and my own experience. Other similar and cheaper amplifier use higher quality parts with most important better PSU designs instead of a bog standard single rail with similarities to the BH crack. These are my own criticism and once several key upgrades were implement such as using a more than 20$ volume pot, upgraded split rail psu, higher voltage to actually reach the quoted power etc. The 300B started to blossom.
The WA5 is the most tube rolling sensitive amp where for it to sound really good it needs premium tubes doubling the cost. As I said elsewere IMO a tube amp ideally should be at 90% performance with stock.

I know there’s a group intent on hating on everything woo without a specific reason yet some criticism needs to be done when called for.

This should not stop anyone from auditioning one to make up their own mind.

Having previously owned an WA5-LE Mk2 (fully upgraded), I wouldn’t argue with that at all.

I’d agree with that, too, in general … though I can count the number of amps that I feel manage that on the fingers of one hand.

Criticizing gear, based on experience, is fine. Even harshly, when called for. Blindly knocking the people (or their preferences … it’s their money and time after all) that like it/chose it vs. something else is another matter entirely.

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I guess I’m still salty about the WA5 not having the technicalities I expected. The chassies is a work of art and why I got obsessed with it a while back. I’m sure there was a price point in mind and good components couldn’t be included everywhere, that never sat right with me.

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Indeed.

I don’t think of it as a high-value piece.

While I found it enjoyable stock (again, with all the available parts upgrades), it didn’t really come alive until I’d got Takatsuki rectifiers and power tubes in it. Which was, as you said, pretty much a doubling of the already quite stout price.

Back then I’d have wound up with a Stellaris instead if a) if I wasn’t so enamored with 300Bs, b) I didn’t have an intense dislike of the aesthetics of the thing - due entirely to those big, blocky, gray transformer covers (I find all of Donald’s other amps quite aesthetically lovely) and c) it was a year wait to get one.

Once I get out of Seattle (should have been months ago) and properly on my travels, where “apparent time” is a much less obvious factor, I’ll probably commission something special based on the Stellaris for my 2A3-based listening (though I’m still a confirmed primary-300B fan) … even if it means having a third-party come up with a different way to conceal the transformers.

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The aesthetics are a bit troubling, I agree, with all due respect to Donald. The amp is asymmetrically loaded and those big boxes do not help. The covers just appear substantially larger than the transformers they conceal, whether they could be made smaller is a question? Maybe there is an operating specification for the transformer that requires a certain clearance from the enclosure. But what could you do outside of something potentially smaller or of a more inconspicuous colour such as black. That may be enough in and of itself.

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What if the transformers were housed in a separate unit similar to how LTA has a separate linear power supply? https://www.lineartubeaudio.com/products/lta-lps

Would that work from both an engineering design (I’m not qualified to say) and aesthetically pleasing perspective?

Call me an oddball, but I like the look of it. It’s got big things and little things and round bits just poking out of everywhere as if it were screaming “symmetry is overrated bitches!” and that’s cool. Random people would probably look at it and say “woah, what the hell is that fancy lightbulb thingy”. They wouldn’t say that about my Crack.

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Oddball.

It’s more of a thought experiment than anything. I think I could move past it pretty quick.

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