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Stello HP100MkII. Arriving in a fashionable pull-latch box with handle and ensconced within secure foam clam shells, generic power and USC cables plus remote control in their own cutout beneath, popping the hood on the very nicely finished chassis with utterly non-ringy cover only required loosening the two top bolts on either end.
The receiver grooves are such that the cover will only go back one way to assure that the perf vents remain in their proper place.
D/A conversion is handled by TI's BB PCM2704 with integral USB transceiver supplemented by a nice outboard clock. Five heat-sinked Kia regulators follow the toroid's secondaries to optimize voltages for discrete circuit sections. Japanese-sourced relays handle the input switching.
An unexpected discovery were the five socketed opamps, an NE5532, an OPA 2604, two LME 49860 and one premium Muses 8820. This either suggests Simon wants to leave the door open for future upgrades should superior opamps arise or should he chance upon one whose sonics he finds even better; or he quietly encourages some silicon rolling.
On the belly hides a very useful ground-lift switch. One needn't crack the case open to get at it yet it doesn't deface the clean front panel.
The inputs display in USB-1-2-3 sequence when toggled with the 'mode' switch. The remote gets to them directly. The nicely golf-ball dimpled volume knob is of the endless but stepped variety and each input remembers its setting. That's very useful for comparisons and to eliminate unpleasant surprises during source switching.
The display has four brightness settings plus off. Headphone LF boost displays with a small red dot as shown. The volume control range maxes out at 63. There's already sound at 1 unlike stupid controls which go to 100 but remain inaudible before one hits 30 or 40. Mute replaces the numbers with two hyphens. Perfectly intuitive.
For comparison I had my Eximus DP1. It's shown below with AKG's budget favorite K702 recabled by ALO. The same-sized Stello wears an Audeze LCD-3 with its own ALO leash. Stands are by Klutz Design. On screen is the fabulous Turkish trans-gender singer Bülent Ersoy whose vocal intensity is a thing of rare beauty. A massive 8-disc 99-track box set is soon coming on Qobuz as are equivalent sets for stars Ibrahim Tatlises and Ebru Gündeş.
iTunes bypass for the occasion is with Audirvana whose 'INT' marker confirmed integer operation. Here and in Audio MIDI the Stello identified itself as USB Audio DAC and as clearly limited to 32/44.1/48kHz.
To get a handle on the Stello's DAC vs. headfi qualities, I set up a three-way protocol. 1/ I'd run my iMac into the Eximus set to 3:10 on its dial for a standard 2V output and connect to the
Stello via RCA cables. I'd listen for differences. 2/ Next I'd compare that to tapping the Stello directly from the computer. 3/ I'd run Stello direct, its volume set to 58 = 2V out to now connect the Eximus to it line-level. It was clear going in that Stello's DAC was the more basic. The question was by how much. I was less certain that the same 2nd-tier concept applied to the 6.3mm output. Time to show and tell.