Anyone auditioned Pass Labs XP-30 preamp?

Has anyone heard the XP-30 that was released a couple of weeks ago?

I have the XP-10 and just wondering how much better the XP-30 is at $16.5K? How does it stack up against the Ayre KXR preamp?

I'm in the same boat as you. I have the XP-10.
The Pass website now has posted pictures & a detailed description & the owner's manual for the XP-30.
Since it lists for so much $$, I'm looking for an XP-20.
I like my XP-10 so much, I'll probably keep it for video.
It sounds so good, I'd prefer 2 excellent channels to 5 that are so-so, through a video processor.
I have an XP 10 and love it. I have auditioned the XP 20 and I like my XP 10 better. I am not saying that the XP 10 is better. Iam saying I like the XP 10 better than the XP 20. I felt that the XP 20 has more drive and more detail but I cannot listen to as long as the XP 10.
Thesoundhouse--interesting! I have the XP10 and love it too and have always wondered about the XP20--can you be more specific about why you stuck w/ the XP10? How did bass compare? That XP30 looks out of control--or totally in control, depending on how you look at it. Looks like it's best for a complex, multi-amp system with external crossovers--like Nelson's own system! Anyway, it is nice to see Pass always pushing the envelope. We'll probably see an XP10.5 soon!
I am looking at the XP-20...seems to me if you don't need all the inputs of the XP-30, the XP-20 should do the trick. The sound has to be very close when comparing the two or am I missing something ?
That said, I'm using a venerable Mark Levinson 380S. Does anyone have any opinions on how the ML 380S would compare to Pass XP series pre ?
I recently upgraded my X1 to the XP-10 and love the change!

Mark with Reno HiFi has an XP-30 in stock or did and said it was a great piece with lots of flexibility.
Mdowns, I also went from the X1 to the XP10 and got it from Mark too, and yes, what a great upgrade! So much better bottom end, better volume flexibility, better remote, better gain structure, and great at low levels. Warmer sound too and more musical. I bet Mark said the XP30 was great, for 16K it better be! To Rockitman, my read on the owners manual for the XP30 (now posted on the Pass Labs site)is that they really did make some big advances on the circuitry and power supplies that would lead me to believe that it does offer significant advances in SQ, but I would think you'd need a very high level system to enjoy those differences. And a bunch more cash. I'd sure love to hear it.
I'd like to hear from someone who has taken RENO HiFi's offer for a favorable trade-in exchanging the XP-20 for the XP-30. But I think it's still a bit early as this new pre was just released.

I have read that the old X0.2 sounded better than the old X1. I think this is simply the completed XP line replacing the X line of pre amps.

It does take up a lot of rack space, especially if one adds the two box XP-25 phono.

Wait until the new line of amps hits the market.
My understanding from Pass is that the margin of improvement from XP -20 to XP-30 is about the same as XP-10 to XP-20. I have not compared the xp10 to the xp20 so I don't have any reference.

I did compare the Ayre kxr and the Pass xp10 in my system and found the kxr to be much better and it should at x3.5 cost of the xp10. The kxr sounded very natural and easy to listen in my system.

According to people that have compared the xp20 to the kxr, the xp20 comes close but the kxr is still better. Can the xp30 match or exceed the kxr?
I am looking to get either a kxr or an xp30 in few months.
So is anyone using an XP-30 now ? Impressions ? I'm getting the itch to upgrade my ML 380S.
I just ran across this thread and thought my past and recent experiences with Pass Labs gear might be of some help.

My experience is deep, rather than broad, as I have not had the opportunity to compare Pass products to other gear. However, over the past 7 years I’ve rolled a number of Pass Labs components through my system (mainly used and factory refurbished): X250, X250.5, X350.5, XA160.5, X-1, XP-20, Xono, and XP15. My speakers throughout the past 10 years have been the Martin Logan Odysseys.

As luck would have it, last summer I had the occasion to make a business trip to Nevada. I took advantage of the situation and spent an afternoon with Mark Sammut of Reno Hi-Fi, who graciously treated me to a comparison of various combinations of the X350.5, XA100.5, XA160.5, XA200.5, XP20, XP30, and XP25. Mark was running the Pass SR-2 speakers.

To my ears, anyway, Nelson and Wayne have been on a pretty consistent development trajectory. As you advance from the X-1 to the XP30, I would characterize the improvements as providing greater resolution (I think the same is also more or less true of the move from the X to X.5 class AB amps). By “resolution,” what I hear in moving up the Pass preamp food chain is a consistent increase in the “black quietness” from which the music emerges, an increasing ability to discern separate instruments and voices, better control of bass, and a wider and deeper soundstage. BUT, the magnitude of the differences I heard between these preamps depended on the power amp. The differences are more obvious (and breathtaking) as you move into the larger XA class A amps. IMHO, if you are running one of their class AB X.5 amps (or equivalent) the XP20 will be plenty of preamp. Yes, you will be able to hear improvements in the XP30, but put the extra $$ towards one of the XA power amp monoblock designs, instead.

I would characterize the improvements I hear in moving from the X350.5, to the XA100.5 and up the food chain to the XA200.5 amps as providing increasing amounts of body and 3 dimensionality to the instruments. To use a visual analogy, I would describe the X350.5 amp as providing a crystal-clear, “hi-definition” image. Using better and better preamps in the Pass lineup brings higher and higher definition, but turning up the volume simply makes that hi-def image brighter and brighter, and it remains, in essence, a 2 dimensional image. The XA amps take that hi-def image and turn the pinpoint voices and instruments into individual 3-D holograms of the real thing. The bigger the XA amp, the more palpable the holograms. With these amps, turning up the volume is like moving your seat in a concert hall closer to the stage. The soundstage reaches out and envelops you.

In my case, I felt that my system was better served by keeping my XP20, busting my budget, and trading in my X350.5 for a pair of used XA160.5's. (The combination of the XP25, XP30, and XA200.5 I heard at Marks' was outrageous - both in sound and $$, unfortunately).

If you want to read more, I have found two really good sources. The first is Nelson Pass, himself. Read his article “Audio, Distortion, and Feedback” on the Pass Labs website. In it, he discusses the various types of circuit design, distortion and the use of negative feedback. I found his observations to translate to what I heard in their X.5 and XA.5 amps. There are also interesting reviews of the XP20 and XP phono preamps on the website (the link can be found on the Pass website under “Reviews.”

Hope this helps.
Thank you very much for that informative and detailed write-up. I have the XA160.5 and XP-20 and Xono. Based on your experience, would I be better served by replacing the XP-20 with the XP-30, or the Xono with the XP-15 or XP-25?

Like you, I have deep Pass Labs experience rather than broad. I've owned the Aleph 3, 5, 2, the Ono, Xono, Aleph P, X-1, XP-20, XA160, XA100.5 and XA160.5. I've always wanted to meet Mark Sammut and the guys at Pass.

It's a great company with great products. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate it.

Given the cost of the XP30 and XP25, I think the biggest bang for the buck would be to trade up to the XP15. Or maybe the XP25 if you spin a fair amount of vinyl. I have not heard both phono preamps back-to-back in the same system, but Mark Sammut characterized the XP15 as providing 70% - 75% of the (sonic) benefits of the XP25. Of course, the 25 has the front panel adjustments, which is a really nice touch.

For me, I find myself listening to vinyl about 30% of the time, using an "entry-level" high end cartridge (Dynavector Karat 17D3), so found the extra investment in the XP25 tough to justify. However, the XP15 was a definite step up over my Xono, and the sonic benefits were immediately apparent.

As for the XP30 vs the XP20, I think I'd have to live with both for a few days and listen to a greater variety of source material to make the call if the extra view is worth the climb. (Mark, as you know, allows a 10 day test drive.) What I heard in the comparison in Reno was that the XP30 was superior - notably with respect to a wider and deeper soundstage and a bit more of that overall "tube-like ease" (especially with the XA amps) but, apart from that, the XP20 held its own. I came away from that session with a clear sense that I was definitely missing something by not having the class A monoblocks, but didn't come to that same conclusion with respect to the XP20.

I'm a big Pass fan. More of the amps than the preamps. I agree with Thaller's assessment of the Pass trajectory based on ownership of the X0.2 and the XP-20. more resolution and lower noise floor and throw in some better bass while you're at it. Ultimately, I still found the 20 too 2-D and lacking texture so I hope the 30 makes that leap. It wasn't the amps in my system as they are still the same. My current ARC preamp dramatically changed everything that I was missing. There's as much detail but it sounds much more natural. I expect the Ref 5 would do the same so it's not that it's an unfair comparison but I can't be sure.

I've got to take exception to your comment the XP-20 isn't
My system is currently an Electrocompaniet EMC1-up, Pass XP-10, and Rowland 625, into Sonus Faber Concerto Domus floorstanders. (1) James EMB-1200 adds some low end.
This system is as 3D as I've ever owned. All my current speakers are 2 ways. I just like 2 way speakers better, in my room.
My XP-20 is sitting in the box until I install my Apogee Stages - the speakers I bought based on past experience
with Apogee Mini Grands.
If The ARC preamp you mention works better for you, I'd suggest system synergy.
I'm familiar with Magnepan. My first panel speaker was the MG3.3R.
I'm also familiar with the Pass Aleph 2s. I just sold mine, after 10 years.
I also am quite pleased with how holographic or 3D my system sounds with the XP-20. However, this was improved by placing the XP-20 and other components in my rack on Vibraplane and Townshend Seismic Sink isolation platforms. The increased isolation allows very subtle ambient cues captured on some recordings to become apparent through the system. I think it has to do with superior needle/groove contact. I don't know what is happening when I put my SS electronics on the isolation platforms, but the sound improves and one area of improvement is imaging and presence.

The XP-20 is very good in my system and I'm sure the XP-30 is even better, though I have not yet heard it.
Boy I'm jellous. I have an XP-10 with Dynaudio Confidence C4 series II signatures with Odyssey KISMET MONO BLOCK amplifiers and playing Peter Paul and Mary best of collection through a OPPO BDP-83SE sounded simply stunning.

The PASS LABS gear seems to be terrific in detail and separation around each image. dead quiet, and fast (strings). My XP-10 is less so on the bass side, where it is good, but doesn't have the drive I like. OK, I probably like too much!

I'd love to hear the XP-20 and 30, too. I do agree that if you run the wrong stuff, the XP-10 could be too detailed. My ODYSSEY KISMET amplifiers are wonderfully smooth amps, and match very well with the pre and speakers.

Their service is so good I have a spot for their stuff. A new remote on a USED SALE with no questions asked! I will always listen to their gear from now on.
I'm currently reviewing the XP-30 and am just getting going. I reviewed the XP-20 (July 1, 2009 Dagogo) and have used the XP-2 in reviews along with other high end preamps over the past 2 1/2 years. It is immediately evident even out of the box cold that the XP-30 is more advanced. More interestingly, however, it is simultaneously more detailed and warmer. In fact, to my ears it's significantly warmer even thought it improves on detail and soundstaging. Tough to separate personal taste from objective characteristics at this early staget, but at this moment it's one of the three best preamps I've heard. Will be more confident of the real deal in two weeks.

I read your review of the Pass XP-20 and was wondering if you had heard the Rowland Capri preamp and if so, how you would compare the Rowland with the Pass XP-20. Thanks

November last year I had listened to the XP-20 and found it 'okay' i.e. did not have the 'vow' surprise. During Christmas, I went back to the same shop with the same set up, I have auditioned the XP-30 and was impressed by the advancement Pass had made over the XP-20. It is a much improved pre-amp in all aspects : ambience, fine fine details, emotion/feelings, dynamics, harmonics, density, deep dark background etc. When it was A/B/C compared with ML326S and JR Corus in the same day and set up, it made me felt that the extra cost (about US$4K) is 'worth every penny of it'. In general, ML326S was similar in details, but more forward and I felt a bit harsh. Corus was more lay back with similar ambience to XP-30. I would say that XP-30 is even above the JR Criterion (US$3K more) and very close in most aspects with Accuphase C3800 (US$5K more). Both Criterion and C3800 is slightly more warmer and more comfortable to listen to. However, if you listen to a wider variety of music, XP-30 can be more appropriate.

For your info, the system components used in the audition were : ML512 CD/SACD with NBS Extreme 1 pc and Remses XLR to pre-amp; NBS Black Label II+ for pre-amps and NBS Extreme 1 XLR to JR 625 power-amp - NBS Extreme 1 pc and Cardas Clear to Dynaudio Confidence C2.
Anyone have any new info/thoughts on the Pass XP-30?

Emom, is that review of yours about ready to be posted? Sure looking forward to it!


I see you're in Hong Kong. Can you please describe the shop you listen at? I live in Phoenix & we don't have a Pass dealer anymore. We've never had an Accuphase dealer. The C3800 must be very nice, to be compared to the top Rowland & Pass preamps.
I do have the XP-20 now & the Rowland 625. They definitely sound good together, IMO....
Absolute Sound's newest issue gave the XP30 a glowing review.

I just read the TAS review. I'm disappointed that there was not some comparison made to the XP-20 or other top preamps. Anthony Cordesman should have done the review as he is the TAS guy who knows Pass gear. Also the review was very short and there were just as many pages with photos as there were pages with text. I actually didn't think it was such a good review. It mentions how close SS and tube designs have become and yet in the very same issue, Nelson Pass himself states the the two typologies are diverging.

A couple of user reviews here on Audiogon would probably be more helpful.

I found the Constellation gear review by JV to be much more informative.

I just read the review in TAS as well and agree with you; a little disappointed. It wasn't as informative as I'd hoped, was short and well.....I expected more for such a great piece with little to no publicity.
There was a review posted online from Hometheatrehifi that has some measurements and comparisons to the XP-20 that they also reviewed.

No idea of the weight these reviews carry as opposed to TAS, but there they are.
I also felt ripped off after reading that review in the latest issues of TAS. I was left wanting more info.
I currently have one in for audition with a Pass X350.5 amplifier. I have compared it head to head with a Conrad Johnson GAT tube preamp. The CJ positively smokes the XP30.
The CJ is open and spacious, where the XP30 sounds dynamically and spatially constricted. The CJ has a full round natural tonality and is beautiful to listen to. The XP30 is thin and reedy with no bloom. I am not certain why some reviewers have called this a tube-like sounding pre. To me it sounds like solid state on a diet. Very strange and rather lean. Not bright in the treble, but lean nonetheless. For my money, at $16K, there are a world of choices out there that make more sense. I auditioned the XP-10 with the same amp a while back and actually prefer it to the XP30. Sorry folks. Hate to piss in the punchbowl,but that's my honest opinion and I've listened to a few things in my day.
I think you answered your own question -- the problem must lie not in the preamp but how it was set up.

All of Pass' preamps require 12 - 24 hours of on time before they reach their normal operating temperature for the class A sound and they are not meant to be powered off (hence no switch.) Was your unit adequately warmed up before your audition?
I've been given the opportunity to borrow an XP-30 for a few days. I own an
XP-20 and figured the only way to really know how they differ is to
compare them directly in my system. As Petrushka mentioned, the XP-30
benefits from at least 24 hours of warm up. I've been listening now for five
days and have a sense of how it compares to my XP-20.

First, it is quieter. The noise floor is lower. I only listen to vinyl and the
backgrounds are slightly blacker than with the 20. Of course, this
increases signal to noise, so micro details are more easily heard. Overall
resolution is higher than with the XP-20. But also, there seems to be less
distortion allowing me to listen a bit louder with absolutely no fatigue.
Timbral accuracy is improved and there is slightly more hall information.
I've never heard the cello as played by Starker sound so pure. Tone is
simply beautiful. The definition of instruments in space is also clearer.
Some or all of these improvements may be due to the separate gain chassis
for each channel. The effect is not unlike when I compared an Aleph 5 to a
pair of Aleph 2s. Channel separation increased and crosstalk diminished.

The frequency extremes also seem slightly more extended. The bass is
better and the midrange is a bit fuller with more weight, but this is
balanced by better high frequency extension and detail, so I would not
really describe it as warmer. It still seems well balanced. The increased
clarity and extension is more noticeable in my system than is a shift in
tonal balance. Bass, in particular, seems more articulate, deeper and better
defined than it is with the 20. This reminds me of when I switched from
the SME V to the V-12 arm. The latter sounded more relaxed and
moredetailed at the same time with a better articulated bottom end.

Soundstage width is about the same as with the 20. Depth is
slightly better, but more important is the improved sense of layering and
image location, definition and solidity. The sound is also slightly bigger. It
projects more into the room making the music more present.

These differences are not subtle, but they are clear and definite. At the
same time, they are not huge. I've learned not to expect such things. It is
not so much a case of diminishing returns as it is a case for incremental
and steady improvement. After a certain level, to some of us any
improvement is worth celebrating. The improvement is quite noticeable
and the XP-30 is certainly the best preamp that I've had in my system. I
think the degree to which one thinks the 30 is better than the 20 will be
very dependent on the resolution of his or her system. Whether it is worth
it to upgrade will depend on available rack space and how much of a
difference one is able to hear. Because the 30 is considerably more
expensive than the 20, I will leave the issue of value to everyone to decide
for himself.

In my system, the XP-20 sounds great and I'm extremely happy with it.
Perhaps it was a curse to hear the XP-30, but I could not resist the
opportunity. It is definitely better, as one would expect for the additional
cost. I think that the XP-30 is the best preamp that Wayne has designed. It is
a real achievement and he should be commended.
Great review -- thanks for sharing.

Based on what I've read and my communications with the folks at Pass, it seems that sonically the XP-30 benefits from a new volume control that is very quiet and a massive power supply that makes it quite immune to power line noise and anomalies. Overall, the sound is supposed to be extremely detailed and resolving without sounding harsh.

Back in 2010 I visited Pass' booth at CES. At that time, they hadn't decided if they would top out their line at XP-20. The two-piece XP-20 already edged out the older, 3-piece X0.2 in performance and it wasn't clear if the addition of a third box would bring meaningful benefit. It's interesting that they did finally find a way to improve things. This was how they described the differences to me:

- the XP-15 edged out the Xono slightly; the XP-25 was better than the XP-15 by quite a large margin

- the XP-20 was slighly better than the X0.2; the XP-10 is a touch less resolving than either and had slightly less articulate bass, but it did have a very pleasing, musical balance that some people preferred
i can understand producing a new top-line preamp as a match for the newest amplifiers (cost no object). HOWEVER, i cannot understand with all the latest technological advances why you would need THREE boxes for TWO channels.
there are a number of VERY good preamps out there that have more than adequate isolation-techniques that still are just a single unit.
Pass Labs used to make the one-box Aleph P which was pure class-A and built without regards for cost ($4k) was compared to a passive unit and sounded "slightly" less transparent. anything they make is fine with me because they are absolutely dedicated to great sound, but OTOH i would rather they upgrade the XP-20 to a 20.5 and perhaps generate even more enthusiasm.
Petrushka, Thanks for sharing those comments about the various models. I'm wondering what the bigger improvement would be with the following two choises:

1. Upgrade from the XONO to the XP-25
2. Upgrade from the XP-20 to the XP-30

The XP-25 has the front controls for convenience, but has far fewer settings. The two inputs don't matter to me because I only have one arm/cartridge. The XP 30 is great, but it would be a more expensive upgrade.

French_fries, I owned a used Aleph P and it was great for the money, but the PASS X-1 that replaced it was much better, IMO. And the XP-30 is much better still. It does seem like overkill to have all of these boxes and cables. Consider the XP-25, XP-30 and a pair of the new Xs amps. That's nine (9) boxes with lots of connectors. Imagine the space needed. You could certainly buy a one-box integrated amp with built-in phono circuit instead, but the sound would not be as sweet.

After listening to the XP-30 for a week, the added rack space needed for the three boxes is a small price to pay for the glorious sound. If they could upgrade my XP-20 to a 20.5 which sounds like the 30 for a small fee, yes, that would be fantastic, but I doubt that option will ever be available. Perhaps in a few years there will be a small one box preamp based on the SIT chip which will change the whole game and footprint.

They certainly are "...absolutely dedicated to great sound...."
07-17-12: French_fries
i can understand producing a new top-line preamp as a match for the newest amplifiers (cost no object). HOWEVER, i cannot understand with all the latest technological advances why you would need THREE boxes for TWO channels.
there are a number of VERY good preamps out there that have more than adequate isolation-techniques that still are just a single unit.
Pass Labs used to make the one-box Aleph P which was pure class-A and built without regards for cost ($4k) was compared to a passive unit and sounded "slightly" less transparent. anything they make is fine with me because they are absolutely dedicated to great sound, but OTOH i would rather they upgrade the XP-20 to a 20.5 and perhaps generate even more enthusiasm.
French_fries (Threads | Answers | This Thread)
Consumer demand?

I was speaking with a highly regarded and well known designer, he said market demands have a LARGE influence in his designs and some of the features are just for show. I'm sure most thinks 2 chassis are superior to 1, 3 are superior to 2 ... and also the more chassis, the more you can charge. Some buy to satisfy their egos and not their ears. Like any successful company, you build what the consumer wants.

BTW, I'm not accusing Pass of this practice. As a matter of fact, Nelson Pass is one of the good honest guys in this industry based on personal experiences.
Hi Peter: I don't have personal experience with these linestages as I haven't listened to the XP-30 and I don't do vinyl, but this is what Pass told me about the XP-30. It was originally a prototype for their inhouse needs of chaining amplifiers with different gains to a single preamp. (They didn't say what for, but it might have to do with the new Xs amps.) As a byproduct of this design requirement, they managed to get the noise to an extremely low level; the noise of the new volume control even exceeds the resolution of their test instruments. In order to ensure that this level of performance is always available (and not masked by distortions / noise brought about by fluctuations in AC quality), they gave the XP-30 a massive power supply and extensive voltage regulation that would have been considered very overengineered just a few years ago.
Petrushka, That is indeed very interesting and helps to explain its high performance. I had a friend over tonight to do some more listening to the XP-30. He brought over some of his favorite LPs and was very impressed with the improvement over my XP-20. He knows my system well. One of the topics we discussed is the polemic that audio reviewers espouse, namely that a component usually falls into one of two camps: the accurate (read analytical, hyper detailed and often sterile) or the musical (read euphonic, warm, beautiful).

My friend and I have always been puzzled with these seemingly opposed camps. To us, something that sounds accurate, ie. like real music, is by definition "Musical" with a capital "M". It is highly resolving and beautiful at the same time. The XP-30 is an example of a component that does just that. There is such a level of resolution, lack of distortion and great detail, and dare I say "accuracy", that it is the most "(M)usical" pre amp that I, and my friend, have heard.

It was a most memorable evening.
Very, very insightful discussion...

Having ordered the Krell Phantom (two-chassis, 17500 USD retail), presumably a model comparable in features and quality to the XP-30, I would be interested to know more on comparison between Pass and Krell preamps, generally, and if possible, on Pass XP series vs Krell Evo preamps.


You don't know what you're missing until it's there.

While I'm not sure the XP-30 is the most (M)usical preamp I have heard, Peter's system, with the XP-30 added, offers a presentation so sure and engaging that I am still hearing and 'feeling' the music of last night's listening session.

Characteristics are rich and solid vocals, stunning speed, a newfound soundstage breadth, a substantially greater transmission of complex symphonic passages, more persuasive imaging and this listener's life-list level of timbral accuracy.

The complementarity of the XP-30 with Peter's other system components is disarming: even with flawed recordings the music can somehow survive. That's a feat.

the other listener in Peter Ayer's thread (two entries above)
FWIW there is a new review,

The reviewer compares the XP-30 to the MBL 6010d which is arguably the best preamp I have ever heard.
Great review. I love my XP-30...
I'm curious how the XP-30 (or XP-20) compares with the ARC Anniversary Reference (or the Ref 5). When I upgrade my X0.2, these are the linestages I'll look at based on fit with the rest of my system. Another preamp that I'm very interested in is the Esoteric C-03. Heard it at a few audio shows and was quite impressed with it.
As you noted, you can read the comparison of the XP-30 to the XP-20 and to your X0.2 on Dagogo or Secrets of Home Theater Hifi. The descriptions of the XP-20, which I owned for a few months, are spot on (I also owned and liked the X0.2). I didn't care for the XP-20 in my system. I replaced it with the ARC Ref 40 Anniversary and for me it was a significant upgrade (Of course it should have been it was $25K!). Like Ed Momkus I found the XP-20 too clinical although a liked the dead quiet background and bass. However, if your power amp is on the warm side it may be just the ticket. The ARC Ref 40 has more warmth, better sound stage, and just a bit of texture resulting in a very natural sound to me. While the bass is very good in the ARC, it will not match the XP-20 for sheer impact if that's important to you, although it has a tactile quality the 20 doesn't have. I have not heard the XP-30 although reviews suggest that I would really like it. You don't say what amp you're pairing the preamp with and that is a major consideration. My tube hybrid Counterpoint NP220 (mid-tweets to 240 Hz) is dead neutral, very immediate and very revealing. Oh, you may have a difficult time finding a used Ref Anniversary as they were a limited run dicontinued since Fall of 2011. If you're seriously consider ARC get the 5SE as it has the bigger power supply and the teflon output caps. These recent upgrades as well as new tubes and transformers are the major drivers of the change in the ARC house sound and the the reason ARC is enjoying a bit of a resurgence. Happy listening and good luck.
I also find Ed Momkus to be too clinical.
Barry, how would you have compared the XP-20 to the X0.2?
Tonyptony - If you read reviews I referenced, you'll get the differences ("Secrets" nails it and also mirrors my preferences - e.g. some tubes in the signal path are a requirement for me). To me, the XP-20 was better in several areas than the X0.2 - noise, bass, clarity and to a lesser extent sound stage. I really wanted to like it (heck I bought it!), but it just didn't sound natural in my system. Perhaps it will in yours. Despite it's shortcomings, I liked and kept the X0.2 and sold the XP-20. However, I never felt quite the same about the X0.2 again having heard what was possible in the areas where the 20 excelled. The XP-30 may fill those gaps but I haven't heard it.
The XP-30 has a low S/N ratio of only 110db's which is a poor number for a three piece system. Why? Old school engineering. Since the early eightie's many designer's including Nelson Pass use local or global feedback technique where the signal current is looped and fed back ("feedback") several times through the Pre-amp then to the ouputs which increase the gain level to the output. The best Pre-amps on the market that are pricey all have S/N ratio's above 125 db's since they are not using feedback looping into the Pre-amp but using a more current technique called feed forward which does not loop the signal current.
The feed forward design was pioneered by FM Acoustics. Feedback results in noise and higher distortion from the parts and boards. The founder and designer of Hegel Audio in Norway, Bent Holter, who has a degree in micro electronics with the emphasis on transistor engineering, took the feed forward technology from FM Acoustics and further enhanced it to a better design he calls his patented Sound Engine technology. The Hegel P-30 Pre-amp uses the Sound Engine feed forward method and the Pre-amp has a S/N ratio of 132db's, the highest ever achieved of any Pre-amp costing up to $20K and higher. The P-30 costs only $7500.00 and performs like a $40K Pre-amp since the noise and distortion is so low which is typical in the best and costliest Pre-amps made.
Zen, I have not had the opportunity to here the Hegel P30. It must be quite something judging from your raves here and on other threads. I have heard the XP-30 in my system for ten days and it is the best pre amp that I have had in my system.

Have you heard the XP-30? I know how specifications can mean everything to some readers. Listeners, on the other hand, form opinions about how components sound relative to each other.

"Old school engineering" is why people still love horn, tube, vinyl components. Specifications are great, but listening is what matters to most of us.
Your missing the point..the less noise and distortion thats achieved in a well designed Pre-amp means far less interference to the music signal that is passing through. Feedback designs have more vibration and noise problems which is why we use heavy isolation/absorbtion racks and shelfs and isolation feet to help control the vibrations in the components to improve the quality of the music. The idea that we stick to the past designs of 35 years ago is silly. Audio engineering always improves as the years go by due to better science and technical innovations that were not applicable 35 years ago. The reason why some Preamps are made up of two or three cabinets is to isolate the power supply from the control boards to keep the noise floor and distortion lower because these Preamps are using feedback designs. The best single unit Preamps in the world that have S/N ratios over 125db's using feedforward designs are actually quieter than two or three piece Pre-amps resulting in superior musical performance since obstructing the music signal is kept to a minimum. I have not heard the Pass XP-30 but use to own the X0-1 back in 2004 and at the time also owned the Musical Fidelity 308 Preamp and the Parasound PLD-2000. The Parasound was faster than both but thinner sounding. The Pass was fuller and more laid back and the Musical Fidelity was a piece of crap.
>>08-05-12: Audiozen
The idea that we stick to the past designs of 35 years ago is silly.<<

For example vacuum tubes vs. solid state and analog vs. digital?

Yeah, that's silly.
No. I got the point. I personally prefer lower noise and less distortion too. However, I also have to like the way a component sounds in my system. That's why I have the components I have. I have not heard the Hegel P30 and can not comment on its sound. Sorry.