PS Audio Stellar Gold Preamp Reviewed

Price: $3,999.00

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A few months ago, I wrote about secret designers quietly making very high-value audiophile components. Seeking these products out is often worth the effort, as they tend to punch above their weight class. Darren Meyers is quite not an audiophile household name, but he is a very respected audiophile engineer (and a younger one, for that matter) who is good enough for competing brand, Parasound, to steal away and add to a stable filled with lofty older names, like John Curl, who designed some of the early Mark Levinson preamps that defined the high end of this hobby. 

The PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp is priced at $3,995, and designed by the aforementioned Meyers. The unit matches the DAC that I’ve had a chance to review and was very much impressed with, as it has many of the benefits of their reference DAC that costs twice the price, as Paul Wilson learned in his review in 2023. I hate to call a $4,000 stereo preamp a mid-fi component, but with inflation the way that it is today, I guess that moniker is fair. The build quality of the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp is worthy of being called stellar. PS Audio’s founder, family and team have a long track record of working with top engineers to make better-than-expected audiophile components that today are sold exclusively direct to the consumer. Should you be on their website, ordering one of these preamps up for an in-home audition? That’s the question that we are here to answer…

The PS Audio Stellar Gold comes in silver and black (with a gold accent, of course).
The PS Audio Stellar Gold comes in silver and black (with a gold accent, of course).

What Makes the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp So Special? 

  • I mentioned the build quality in the opening, but I want to make the point again, because this preamp is stout. The metal work is gorgeous and the chassis is built like a tank, as this preamp is designed to last a long, long time.
  • The PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp uses two discrete amplification sections and is fully balanced. Get your XLR cables ready, as this isn’t some weak-sauce preamp, folks.
  • The PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp is designed to let you hear your music – not color it. The best audiophile stereo preamps don’t have a house sound. The very best ones also don’t tend to give you that WOW moment when you turn it on, as much as lead you to musical discovery in terms of space around instruments, imaging and the ability to hear small details. 
  • The PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp comes in black and silver with a slight gold accent through the middle of the device. Many of today’s audiophile components offer only one finish, as it is very expensive to double down like this, but PS Audio delivered. I prefer the silver look, but that is a purely personal matter. 
  • Every audiophile benefits from a robust power supply and the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp delivers on that promise with a heavy, oversized power supply that outputs a Class-A signal to your amp. PS Audio claims that this helps specifically over long runs of cable between your amp and preamp, which is irrelevant in my installation, as I was using one-meter WireWorld cables, thus not very long connections at all. 
  • While a fully-balanced stereo preamp in terms of operation, the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp comes with ample XLR inputs (four total) and RCA inputs (four total), as well as matching outputs, depending on how you want or need to connect your gear. For example, I used a Pass Labs XP-25 Class-A power amp that only has single-ended inputs, thus I had no choice but to connect the preamp via RCA connectors. Earlier in the review, I had some Orchard Audio Premium GaN monoblock amps that only took XLR inputs for incoming signal (they can do RCA with an adapter). If you have big investments into gear or cables, the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp isn’t going to mess with your audiophile vibe as much as it will deliver performance that you will likely dig, without imposing its own style on your system design. 

Why Should You Care About the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp?

The consumer for the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp has money to spend, but not unlimited money. This is unlikely to be your first audiophile stereo preamp (or your last, but more likely to be your last than your first), but it will perform at very high levels for your $4,000. The buyer for this preamp isn’t scared of buying online (factory-direct), and knows that some of the dealer margin, which is gone when PS Audio whacked their traditional distribution, adds to their value. 

With the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp, you are getting a serious, meticulously designed stereo preamp that could last a lifetime, and will likely retain some good value over time. It will give you a lot of the performance that you might expect from a $10,000 preamp in a world where not everybody has five figures to spend on a stereo preamp. That’s the sweet spot for the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp. 

The PS Audio Stellar Gold  Preamp AND DAC installed in Jerry Del Colliano's audiophile equipment rack
The PS Audio Stellar Gold Preamp AND DAC installed in Jerry Del Colliano’s audiophile equipment rack

Some Things You Might Not Like About the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp

  • The PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp is a traditional stereo preamp that basically switches inputs and attenuates volume. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Absolutely nothing. However, many other audiophile preamps in this price range are starting to add in more and more sexy features, be they bass management, HDMI, room correction, 32-bit internal DACs, and beyond. That’s more value in one chassis, but not always the best way to get that Nth degree of performance. 
  • Many other preamps today have a bigger LED screen, which adds to the cool factor, not that the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp isn’t cool, because it is, but it isn’t all OLED on the front of the unit like some others above and below its price point. This is a more subtle design that saves money from the screen budget to put into the hand-selected parts budget and so on. 

Listening to the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp… 

There have been a number of components in and out of my reference system recently, which is a very good thing if you ask me (I like to play with stereo gear for a living – just ask anybody who knows me). I only change one component at a time, so as to individually evaluate each component in my ongoing audiophile experiment. The rig that I used to evaluate the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp included a BlueSound Node, the PS Audio Stellar Gold DAC, an Anthem STR stereo preamp, the aforementioned Orchard Audio Starkrimson Mono Premium mono amps and Pass Labs XP-25 power amp, connected with mostly Wireworld cables and powering Bowers & Wilkins 802 D4 floorstanding loudspeakers

1990’s Pop Pop by Rickie Lee Jones is a wonderful, audiophile-grade recording, and the track “Dat Dere” (Qobuz 16/44) was a real closer when I was selling high-end audio in Beverly Hills – specifically, Wilson WATT Puppy 3/2 speakers, which were a mere $12,900 per pair back then (not the $50,000 charged today by the Utah speaker maker for a similar form factor). This acoustic track has it all, from a stand-up bass to a great acoustic guitar element to Jones’ sultry female vocal performance. With the the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp in the loop, the stand-up bass was more forward in the overall presentation. I noticed the brushes swirling on the snare drum more than normal, but not in a bad way, but in a way that felt like I was just a little closer to the music. The soundstage was as wide as I have ever heard in my acoustically less-than-perfect room. The sax drives much of the melody of the track, and is a subtler part of the mix with the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp engaged in my system. 

“Dat Dere” (Qobuz 16/44) from Ricky Lee Jones’ 1990 Pop Pop record – an audiophile classic

The new-school homage to James Brown “Fly As Me” from Silk Sonic (Qobuz) is an audiophile instant classic, and anybody who is not hip to it needs to stream it ASAP, as this is one hell of a pop song, as well as a modern audiophile demo. The bass was notably more present with the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp in my system, as opposed to the Anthem STR stereo preamp (no room correction and analog in with volume matched), or even with the $10,000 Pass Labs XP-22 running as my preamp. In the breakdowns during the chorus, you got a really nice sense of space with the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp rocking. Anderson Paak’s cymbals had a little bit more zip to them than with the aforementioned preamps. 

“Fly As Me” from Silk Sonic

“Gold Dust Woman” from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (Qobuz) is a track that I’ve been using a lot lately in my reviews, mainly because it has so many subtle musical details to listen for, which make it great to evaluate audiophile components that resolve such subtle details well. In listening to the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp, the overall musical presentation was a little more forward than with the Anthem and Pass Labs. Many will find that appealing, as it sounds more engaging and livelier. There was a slight bit more musical drama with the playback of this track on the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp than with others, and that can be a good thing, depending on your taste. The Pass Labs, at 2.5 times the price, offers better resolution of high-frequency details and a slightly more open, airy sound. For that much more money, you should expect at least that level of performance, but it does highlight the value of the PS Audio overall. 

“Gold Dust Woman” from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (on Qobuz)

Will the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp Hold Its Value?

I expect that, with the design attention, the insanely good build quality and the simplistic approach to feature sets, the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp will hold its value well over time. The more gingerbread that you add to a component in the audiophile world, the more likely it is to be outdated. The PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp doesn’t suffer that issue. My only issue, and one that I brought up with the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo DAC, is PS Audio’s go-it-alone distribution model. They don’t sell their gear anywhere else in the United States. No Amazon. No Crutchfield. No, nowhere. They don’t exhibit at many of the growing number of regional audiophile shows, thus there just aren’t that many chances for interested audiophiles to fall in love with what Paul and his team have designed here. Would that keep me from buying a PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp? Nope, but when I am giving my advice in a review like this, I would be remiss not to mention it when it comes to resale value. 

What is the Competition for the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp

I mentioned a stereo preamp with a lot of goodies, and few have more than that of my current reference stereo preamp (fellow reviewers Mike Prager and Andrew Dewhirst also use this as their reference preamp), the Anthem STR ($4,299 – buy at Crutchfield). The Anthem is right around the same price and sonically excellent. It offers truly fantastic ARC (Anthem Room Correction), a better LED screen, and comes with a phono stage, as well as a 32-bit internal DAC. The Anthem has a superior set of features, but the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp sounds a little bit more transparent. Yes, you need your own DAC (and I was using more than $200 ones in my evaluation), thus the PS Audio gets that advantage. The question is, how much technology do you want to tie to your preamp? The PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp has a more simplistic design, and that is often the best way to go when looking at a stereo preamp for a high-performance audiophile system.

OK, so you want a more simplistic stereo preamp that can show you what you’ve been missing in your audiophile music system. I present to you the Pass Labs XP-12 for $6,100 (read Greg Handy’s review). This was Greg Handy’s reference stereo preamp until I foolishly loaned him my review sample of the Pass Labs XP-22 $10,000 stereo preamp, and he bought the damn thing. Pass Labs preamps are not designed by Nelson – they are designed by Wayne Colburn, and they are an absolute window to your source material. Again, don’t expect that WOW moment you get when adding a subwoofer to a killer pair of bookshelf speakers. What you should expect with the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp and the Pass Labs XP-12 is to be seduced back into your music by increasing levels of audible details that you may not have been able to hear before. That’s one of the most fun parts of the hobby: going back over your favorite music and hearing things that are in the recordings that you may not have noticed. Both the Pass Labs and this PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp deliver on that front. 

Final Thoughts on the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp…

Last week, I was having a car conversation with one of my fellow auto enthusiast writers about our recent experiences with luxury car-shopping and how I should have sold my older AMG Mercedes before recently (and unknowingly) spending big money on servicing it. We were talking about Mercedes as a brand, and how in the 1970s, when I was in diapers or kindergarten, Mercedes wasn’t the choice of Yuppies (they hadn’t been invented at that point in history), or the global luxury brand that Benz is today. Cadillac and Rolls Royce were the luxury cars of choice for those with big bankrolls in that era. Mercedes was more the engineer’s car, the type of car that put design resources in places where the consumer gets real value over time. PS Audio feels a little bit that way to me today in the audiophile world. 

The PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp performs like a champion, and at a price that real-world audiophiles can aspire to. That alone makes it worthy of consideration. The design legacy of PS Audio, as well as the growing reputation of Darren Meyers, should make the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp even more compelling. If you are looking for a preamp that can kick ass and take names, but not send you into some form of complex bankruptcy, the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp should be on your short list of preamps to audition. If you want to find new levels of resolution and detail in your system, again, the PS Audio Stellar Gold Stereo Preamp might just be the ticket. This is a fine audiophile preamp at a meaningful but also reasonable price that keeps it simple and kicks a little ass. 

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David Liguori

You meant Yuppies hadn’t been invented, not Mercedes Benz, obviously. It all started with the “Yuppie Handbook”.

JT Snead

Great review I especially liked the comparison to the Pass Labs preamp since I was looking at the XP12 also. I have been a PS Audio customer for a long time and I have the BHK preamp. Since I am nearing retirement I wanted to get away from tubes which do offer a slight euphonic character, so I joined up to be a beta tester for both the preamp and the DAC. Lets just say I own both now and your reviews are spot on, they are a clear window to the source, no regrets.
As far as the direct sale versus store front dealers I understand the logic I was once a “stereo salesman” but I have had nothing but great experience dealing with the support staff at PS Audio, highly recommended!
You should check out some of their Octave recordings if have not done so already.
Thanks again Jerry, hay that’s my name lol.

Robert Wear

It’s a good sounding preamp. I’ve had it in my system. But 4 inputs is not enough for most people.

Robert Wear

I have two turntables but I only use one input since my ph. preamp has two inputs.

1.DAC
2.Phono
3.RTR
4.Cassette
5.Blu-Ray, SACD player analog outs
6.CD player
7.Tuner rarely

Ed

Good review. Thank you. I am interested in the Stellar Gold DAC. Since I am only playing back from a cd transport, I was wondering if there would be a sonic penalty to leaving out the preamp and going straight from the DAC to an amp? (The analogue output spec indicates similar class A circuitry and JFET/BJT (except 4vrms vs 10vrms). Would simplify the system and keep costs down.

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