: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 2.04, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8, FirstWatt S1, F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: EnigmAcoustics M1, Albedo Audio Aptica; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt double-header USB; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail: $1'200

Dogged. Or doggone? The one means being persistent or stubbornly tenacious. The other is plain hot damn! When it comes to April Music boss Simon Lee, both apply. Unlike those with flowery lip service about hifi's escalating prices, our man has pushed products which are meant to disrupt sound quality at stickers which the average mortal will still consider; and has done so for many years now.

Of course when Simon shows up in glitzy Las Vegas with just his pert €3'000 Aura V2 CD/receiver—also a USB and iDevice DAC—plus a pair of French speakers he likes, he doesn't do diddly squat to stop those dead in their tracks who chase expensive bling. One glance at the chrome Aura has those folks pass right on by. The deck is too small, too doggone integrated, too pretty, too cheap. It reeks of... well, lifestyle stuff. That couldn't possibly be any serious kit.

And so the wheel of audio dharma turns. Would it crush our South Korean's dream of building RealFi for real people? Not. A dogged Simon buggers on undeterred. Instead of pursuing the ultra high end to romance the nouveau riche in Dubai, China or Russia who always have discretionary fun funds no matter what, Simon's efforts are on more affordable stuff like today's Stello S100MkII. That's a 50wpc class A/B Mosfet stereo amp with RCA/XLR inputs for $1'200, with a clam-shell chassis designed by Neal Feay, the famous Santa Barbara metal workshop.

The same facility also supplies industrial design and enclosure sex to Ayre, Constellation Audio, Playback Design, Resolution Audio and other high-end luminaries.

With its top half removed, this gutted shot explains the absence of a traditional bristly, unshaven he-man heat sink. The four output transistors (two per channel, one per phase) mount directly to the smooth aluminium belly. That turns the entire chassis into a thermal dissipator. 50 watts into 8Ω aren't Herculean if your name be Wayne 'The Rock' Johnson but Poirot's leetle grey cells would proclaim them plenty sufficient for most reasonable tasks.

And that theme of reasonable continues with dimensions of 22 x 5.4 x 30cm WxHxD and less than 4.5kg of mass. Forget biwire nonsense or Carbon-fibre reinforced wing nuts for terminals. Forget turned pointy footers too. It's plastic nuts and rubber bumpers on this menu. Rather than leather-clad novelty, it's got spiral-bound history. This is a Mark II version after all. And the original Aura Completer and Aura Vita integrated were further variations on the 50-watt single-ended push/pull motif which the current S100 reiterates in its most refined form yet.

I'd bought it as the bottom half of a desktop Stello sandwich, with my HP100MkII headphone / preamp / USB DAC hopping on top. My secret sauce would be Simon's proven knack to combine non-exotic parts into a winning recipe. He admires the same maximizer craft about his friend Mark Levinson whom he visited in Annecy/France just outside Geneva after last year's HighEnd Munich show. He considers it sound tuning. It's a very different thing than yer average mod man who goes after recognized pricey boutique parts without knowing how to devise a first-class circuit from scratch. Simon has little patience for that approach. He has no interest in it. He's the conductor. His parts make up his symphony. And they better play as he tells 'em to during rehearsal or they're sacked and replaced.

It's casual phrasing for a very serious talent. It's what creates non-exotic pricing which more people can afford. It completely bypasses the trophy hunters who must have Vishay resistors, Duelund capacitors, Furutech connectors, specially treated PCB with extra-thick gold-plated traces, hulking face plates and deluxe Plitron transformers. With Stello, there's no big-game safari. There's simply a gifted designer committed to making your buck, rupee, shekel, dinar or kronar go the extra mile. It's why my wife and I love Simon's stuff and already have it in various small systems throughout our digs. And it's why, despite having acquired this piece for personal pleasure going in, I wrote a review on it. Usually I get paid to write. It's how I make a living. For once I didn't mind being out of pocket to work. With the right inspiration and excitement, why not for a change?