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Focal Stellia Review, Measurements, Interview - Head-Fi TV

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by jude, Feb 12, 2019.
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  1. walakalulu
    Thanks for your comments - I was wondering about the tt2 although a bit pricey and also no balanced headphone out. Does that matter? Streamers - looking at this: https://stackaudio.co.uk/link/
  2. teknorob23
    As i think @adcustom mentioned, balanced outs aren’t in themselves better or worse than se it’s all down to the implementation of either. Chord don’t use them as they don’t feel they offer any benefits for their designs. The TT2 is so powerful and will give you as much voltage as you could ever need. I’ve demo’d It extensively including using it powering my pmc twenty5.21 speakers. The Stellia sound sublime via it, but and it’s a big but for me, I’m a new convert to new school tube amps over solid state, especially with dynamic hp’s like the stellia. If you want a SS dac amp then I’ve not heard better than the tt2 until you get to the Dave, or my the DCS Bartok which I heard for the first time at canjam and my jaws still on the floor, both because of the sound and the £13k price tag.

    On the streamer front I’ve not heard of stack audio, but that doesn’t mean anything. They’re definitely talking a good game on their site and price is very reasonable. I see it gets well reviewed but I would suggest listening to it if you can. From my auditioning many streamers ultimately fell down for me by sounding ultimately unnatural with a slight digital glare and or lacked the darkest background due to noise issues. I was looking at dropping nearly £5k on an Anitpodes player until I heard the sotm sms200 ultra neo. It has one of the most natural sounds I’ve head from a digital source even when powered by a normal switch wall wart supply. The noise floor is incredibly quiet, which makes separation and detail retrieval pretty amazing too. Add the sps500 psu and it goes up a whole level adding more dynamics, lowering the floor further which didn’t seem possible until heard it. The performance to value ratio is absurd. I think I paid total £1700 for the 2 boxes. And you can pick up the 200 ultra neo for about £1k on its own. I think elite audio will send out machines for home demo too. I know I sound like I’m selling them but I honestly couldn’t believe how good this was.

    The only downside is, that if you haven’t already started, this device will have you hunting out noise in all other areas of your chain, from the mains socket in. I’ve added a balanced mains unit and new power leads which have also shown their worth. The only thing you won’t need is any sort usb suppression kit as the sotm is so quiet and noise free via its usb stage.

    Be warned noise chasing on your power chain can lead to temporary or longer lasting madness, or maybe that’s just me :wink:
    adcustom likes this.
  3. GreenBow
    Good point!

    The TT2 does have a balanced output. I think people do use it with adaptors for headphones.

    I am not sure why the TT2 has balanced. I think it might be because the TT2 can run up to almost 20W from its balanced output. (Some people are running speakers straight off the balanced outputs.) The balanced output can also run SE or balanced.

    The reason behind why Chord DACs don't generally have balanced, is something that Rob Watts told us. Rob Watts designs Chord DACs. Balanced is to remove noise from the system, and give a better audio signal. (I personally can't remember the exact reason.) However Chord DACs because of how they are designed, do not need to be balanced to remove noise.

    You can hear this with a Chord DAC too. As @teknorob23 mentioned, the background on Chord is dark. It's the lack on noise that does that. The lower the background noise, the blacker or clearer the background sounds on music. (Chord DACs have high signal to noise ratios.) Noise also interferes with music, and degrades the analogue signal.

    To use a neutral example. I think it was the What HiFi review of the Sennheiser HD800s or HD820. They were talking about using balanced or SE. They said, either way - the best result was single-ended from the Chord Hugo 2.

    Anyway, thanks for you comments everyone. I was actually worried about roving well of topic, and being annoying. … I should probably point out that I don't consider myself a Chord 'fanboy'. There are particular reasons for that. Like for me, the Hugo 2 RCA outputs and headphone outputs should be separate. I mean they should have separate volume controls. It's too easy after using the Hugo 2 on RCA, to then plug headphones in, and it's LOUD!

    Also, the Chord Qutest - I really think it should have an off button. (It only uses a few watts though, so.... (?))
    The TT2 for me should have a power light, because under certain circumstances you can't tell if it's on. The TT2 has separate volume controls for headphones and RCA, which is fantastic.

    The reason I love, or rather am addicted to Chord, is because they sound like no other DAC. What they do with digital audio is off the charts.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  4. teknorob23
    I can pretty much concur with all of this. Chord products do have plenty of irritating idiosyncrasies (personal bug bear is the tiny rca sockets on the H2, which limit the choice of connectors massively) but the upsides namely the DAC performance means i'm more than happy to put up with all of them. Chord are manufacturer going through a purple patch, thanks largely to the unique talents of Rob Watts, which has delivered DAC after DAC which so far no other manufacturer can match even at price 50%-100% more than each model (with maybe now the exception of he slightly long in the tooth DAVE, but even then you have to spend £5K more to get something like the bartok.

    Just to bring us bring us back on topic, the great thing is that one Chords possible weaknesses at least in subjective terms if you dont like their house amplification sound sig, is that they're all great partners for the Stellia, which fortunately has the scaling legs to make take advantage of each models increased performance.
  5. subguy812
    I wish the QA361 DAP was more widely known, it flies under the radar but is a super pairing with the Stellia. It is another DAP that does not ad the kitchen sink in features, just focuses on sound quality. Serious power and pseudo desktop quality. Some may not like the fact that the UI is reminiscent of Clip Zip, no album art etc. It is super fast scrolling through folders and I don't mind not having the graphics. Just a suggestion, if you ever have the chance to test one. I realize this is the Stellia thread but the pairing is truly sublime and wanted to mention it.

    Technical Specifications:
    • Model : QA361
    • DAC : AK4495SEQ (Special Edition for Higher performance)
    • AMP : 6 x OPA1622
    • Potentiometer : PGA2311U
    • Frequency Response : 0Hz~20 kHz
    • SNR : 112dB
    • Dynamic Range : 115dB
    • Degree of Separation : 106dB
    • Distortion : 0.0008%
    • Reference Clock Jitter : 0.088
    Output level:
    • LINE OUT : 2Vrms
    • PO non-balance : 5.26Vrms (high voltage mode no-load)
    • PO balance : 10.4Vrms (high voltage mode no-load)
    Single-ended headphone port rated output power:
    • 8Ω : 720mW@big current mode, 280mW@ standard mode
    • 32Ω : 400mW@double high mode, 170mW@ standard mode
    • 300Ω : 100mW@ high voltage mode, 35mW@ standard mode
    • Balanced Out. Power : Theoretically 4 times the single-ended power, actually measured:
    • 300Ω: 320mW@ high voltage mode, 130mW@ standard mode
    • Output impedance : LINE OUT 93 ohm; PO unbalance 0.18 ohm; PO equilibrium 0.38 ohm
    • Matching Impedance : 8 – 600 ohm
    • Gain Settings : Normal, High, Double High Mode, High Voltage Mode
    • Battery : 3.8V – 3800mAH
    • Battery Life : 10h Single-Ended (Normal Gain)
    • USB Port : USB Type C
    • Size : 165mm * 64.5mm * 16mm
    • Weight : 180g
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
    adcustom likes this.
  6. x RELIC x Contributor
    You keep separating the sound of the DAC from the amp in Chord gear. You can’t ever bypass the analogue stage (RCA and headphone out are the same circuit in Rob’s designs), and to say the analogue stage sounds different than the DAC does not apply here. ‘DAC mode’ in all of Chord’s current DAC lineup is just a digital volume preset and nothing gets bypassed in the hardware. Think of the output more like the line-out in other DACs, with very little to interfere with the DAC output, unlike conventional DAC/amp combos.

    Just keeping the technicalities straight. On topic - it’s really good to read that the Stellia pairs well as I’ve been considering picking up a pair.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  7. teknorob23
    Sorry if im not making myself clear. I'm not suggesting you can bypass the DAC process, but instead that you can use H2 purely as DAC by engaging the line-out mode and connecting to an external amplifier, rather than always as a DAC/Amp
  8. x RELIC x Contributor
    But you don’t understand. There are no hardware changes in DAC mode. Zero. None. It’s a volume preset and that is all. This has been confirmed many times by Rob Watts. You can never ever listen to the DAC separately from the analogue output, or what you are calling the ‘amp’. It’s a different design from what everyone else is doing.

    Edit: Perhaps the quote below will help. It’s a quote for the Hugo1, but the same design principle is the same for all his DACs.

    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  9. teknorob23
    thank you but i have read this before and you're right if you want to 100% technically correct, but using this 3v line out mode you are using the H2 as DAC/pre-amp or as a "source" allowing to use an external amplifier as the power amp (bypassing the pre-amp in an integrated amp if it also has a fixed line input). It may seem lazy or incorrect to you but i dont think its unreasonable for me to refer, as do many other H2 owners and reviewers, to it in "DAC only" mode. Wrongly or rightly I had assumed that most users of the thread understood what i was intimating. I can only apologise if you or anyone else reading my comments felt mislead as a result.

    The H2 does to my ears and many other users who i've chatted with, have a presentation that leans towards the dry-side, which may or may not be to your preference. I like its presentation used directly in to HPs as a headamp, but ultimately i prefer to use it as a DAC preamp feeding a Feliks Audio Euforia tube amp which brings a wetness, greater depth and even more weight to proceedings :)
  10. up late
    there are already several forum threads dedicated to the discussion of chord products - just sayin'
    subguy812 likes this.
  11. teknorob23
    Yep sorry, its an enquiry on pairing that got out of hand :wink:
  12. x RELIC x Contributor
    No apologies needed and your listening preferences are your own. Personally, I don’t find the H2 thin with the Utopia but that doesn’t matter. I was simply commenting on the fact that you can’t have a different sound in ‘DAC mode’ (or line level mode as stated in the manual) from any other listening mode on the Hugo2, it is just not possible. Of course an external amp will sound different, but technically there is no change in the sound from the Hugo2 itself no matter if it’s hooked up to headphones or external amps in any mode. It will output the same sound if you move the volume to 3V manually or set it there by pressing the buttons on power up.

    I just thought I’d clarify for readers if they are interested in knowing because, technically, it’s a little misleading to imply that the amp section is bright/thin/dry but the DAC is good. They are the same sound due to the unique implementation. If one feels the ‘amp’ is bright/thin/dry then they are also saying the DAC is bright/thin/dry but they enjoy it hooked up to a warmer amp. Nothing wrong that by the way, I’m just getting technical about the unique design.

    I’ve said enough on the topic in this thread and I apologize for the off-topic content.

    Edit: Apologies @up late
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  13. up late
    no worries @xrelicx. i found your posts informative - truth be told.
  14. musicman59
    I got a TT2 to demo at my home and it is fantastic. One thing I would do to it is to add a network card/streamer so you can connect it directly to your network and stream directly from a server using something like Roon.
    GreenBow likes this.
  15. Misson07
    Just want to say that I found the sound of the Stellia to be very dependent on the fit. Now this is apply to all closed-back but I found the effect to be especially strong with Stellia. I could wear the Stellia with the step on the headband from 2-6 step, all sit safely from the top of my head but there are very noticeable difference in the sound depend on how tight it fit on my head. With step 2-3 on the headband, the clamping force is moderately strong - bass is VERY present and midrange is very forward sounding. Treble is still detailed but lacking a bit of top end energy. Everything feel close to the face which congested the stage. Physicality is great here as everything sound large but the sound is rather claustrophobic, dark and lacking a bit of clarity. With 6 step on the headband, there is almost no clamping force and it feel more like the headphone just sitting on my head - bass is still punchy but lost most of it boomy quality. Tonality is relatively closer to the Utopia but with a dash of warmth still. Clarity is much better here compare to before as the sound is much more diffused on the stage. Top end is pretty airy for a closed back and almost sound like an open-backed in some track (not talking specifically about the stage size here but more of an open feeling you get with open-backed) though a small amount of resolution and definition are lose (probably because it leaked more?). Personally, I much prefer the sound with loose fit but it also raise a question of which one is suppose to be the intended tuning. I also noticed some of the opinion about the sound of the Stellia in this thread to be pretty diverse so this might be the cause. I suggest that you might want to try adjusting the headband while you wear it on your head with music playing as it will be very easy to notice if any change in the sound has occurred. Obviously, how many of the step you need to get a loose fit will depend on the size of your head.
    adcustom and GreenBow like this.
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