Stello CDT100/DA100 - £1,500

Stello CDT100/DA100 Well priced two-box solution does things differently, with superb build and a multitude of inputs and outputs

Stello is part of Korean company April Music’s roster and we’ve seen a variant of the DA100 DAC before when Russ Andrews modified it and sold it as the DA-1 alongside a matching pre/headphone amp and power amp. The solid, half-size brick construction remains with this pairing, which by virtue of its two-box nature has the most varied array of socketry in this group.

The CDT100 must be the most affordable top-loading transport in the game; it’s well built with a shiny magnetic clamp and acrylic cover that doesn’t need to be in place in use. What differentiates it is the provision of an I 2S digital output on a mini DIN socket. This allows the transport to send a separate clock- sync signal to suitably equipped DACs alongside the digital bitstream.

In the days before re-clocking DACs, this was a good system for reducing jitter, but it’s very rare nowadays. The CDT100 can’t tell when you’ve put a new disc on so you have to inspire it to read the thing by pressing ‘disc’ before it will play.

The DA100 Signature convertor naturally has an appropriate input for I 2S and accommodates all the more popular digital interfaces as well. It can’t tell you what the incoming bit rate is but can upsample to 96kHz or 192kHz, and it will accept up to 96kHz on all but its USB input, which is restricted to 48kHz.

Sound quality

One unusual finding was that the upsampled output was notably darker than the standard result, such changes don’t usually elicit an obvious tonal change. Overall, the panel preferred the non o/s result which has some vivacity to it, in all instances we used the supplied mini-DIN I 2S cable as digital interconnect for listening.

This pairing got a mixed reception from the blind-listening panel, one thought it rather timid and reserved with slight sibiliance in the high frequencies, whereas another enjoyed the quality of image, strength of ambiance and timing on Walk on the Wild Side.

Our third listener was less impressed noting a “lack of perception of the instruments” with the La Folia piece and a lack of ‘air’ in the highs with the Sarah McLachlan track.

Further listening did not greatly enhance these impressions; there is a lack of transparency to the midrange and in timing terms, it likes to take its time; this works with some material but can seem a bit lugubrious with more sedate pieces. It’s a pity because the build quality is excellent and you get a lot for your money. We suspect that the DAC, at least, is beginning to show its age and might not be helping matters. The Stello transport, however, is something of a rare find.

LIKE: High build quality and  wide range of inputs
DISLIKE: Sound is not quite as inspiring as hoped
WE SAY: A well-equipped transport combined with an equally well made DAC that has a powerful, but slightly dark sound
Origin: Korea
Weight: 5/3.5kg
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 212x55x290mm
• Analogue outputs: unbalanced and balanced (XLR)
• Digital outputs: optical and electrical S/PDIF, AES/EBU (XLR), I 2S
• Digital inputs: optical and electrical S/PDIF, AES/EBU (XLR), I 2S, USB B
Distributor: Vivid Audio
Telephone: 01403 782221