Help with next upgrade


I’m filing this under amps/preamps, however, it also pertains to speakers and turntable. I’m ok with used or new. I am looking to upgrade either my TT, amp or speakers. Essentially, I am building around two recent Pass Labs purchases which I love. My budget is up to $5K.

For consideration, I am looking at the Pass Labs XA-25 (I’ve read and watched plenty of reviews on this amp), Zu Omen Def MKII or Zu Soul Supreme (also open to suggestions but would like to hear about these). For a potential TT upgrade, I like VPI but if I move to another TT, I’d like it to be with less manipulation. I like my sound but I’ve spent an awful long time trying to dial in VTA/VTF/azimuth, etc.

My current set-up includes:

VPI Scout 1.1 (under consideration for upgrade)
Lyra Delos MC
Pass Labs XP-12 (pre)
Pass Labs XP-17 (phono pre)
Rogue Cronus Magnum 1 (under consideration for upgrade)
Zu Audio Soul MKII (under consideration for upgrade)
Zu cabling throughout

Thanks for taking the time and I look forward to your feedback.

Ag insider logo xs@2xasp307
If it were me, I'd ditch the TT and move to streaming....
Otherwise, I would opt to upgrade the Zu's first, then the Pass pre, and either upgrade the Rogue, or get a Pass amp.
B

Why not sell the XP-12 and Rogue Cronus Magnum 1 then just buy a Pass Labs INT-60 or INT-30A?

I would NOT ditch the TT, and while I can understand your frustration setting up a turntable, in my experiences, it gets easier as you get more experienced and also get the right tools. Soundsmith's Counter Intuitive makes for simpler fine VTF and Azimuth adjustments.

I have a VPI Prime, and I found it a worthwhile upgrade over the Scout.
Yes, it does have more adjustments than a Rega turntable, but that also allows you to adjust things like VTA rather easily with just a knob.
The Rega requires shims to adjust VTA.

However, if you really just want a plug and play TT, Rega is probably your best bet. I know it's getting rather old in the tooth, but I always liked the Planar 9 best.

@jmcgrogan2 thanks for your feedback. I love the pass pieces and I have no desire to sell them. I find it hard to believe that the int 30 and 60 have a better linestage and amp than the xp-12 and xa-25 at a lower price. I looked into them when sourcing the pass components and I believe I was told that the integrateds have the equivalent of the xp-10. Certainly no slouch, but if Pass only puts out new product every 8-10 years, when significant changes have occurred, I would have to think they felt compelled regarding the prospects of the 12 vs 10. Now, I’m sure some would prefer the 10 over the 12 as we all have varying preferences.

I had a p3 and liked it, although I like your recommendation of the prime which seems to have a better tone arm assembly with on the fly adjustments. I do have the counter intuitive and it is helpful, however, I have a bad case of the ‘what ifs’ when it comes to optimal adjustments and tweaking.

Thanks again for your help @jmcgrogan2, I appreciate it.


@gdnrbob thanks for your suggestions. Currently, I stream when I’m cleaning the house or doing things where I don’t desire to pay full attention to music. I have been tempted by the Brooklyn Dac+, however, I am personally more captivated by analog. I believe I will add streaming at some point but it doesn’t fit with this particular upgrade opportunity. 
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I'd definitely go for the XA-25 and live with that for a while in the current--nice--setup.  Speakers might follow at some time in the future.

My understanding is that moderately easy to drive speakers, the '25 sounds better, or at least different, to .8-series amps.

What aspects of sound reproduction are most important to you, and/or what would you like to improve upon in your current system?

@twoleftears thanks for the feedback. The Souls are extremely easy to drive. What’s funny is that with every upgrade I’ve made thus far, the Souls continue to impress me. I have yet to max out their performance. That is why I am thinking that the use of my Cronus magnum integrated as an amp only is holding me back a bit. 
@soix thanks for your questions. The Pass pieces provide more heft, immediacy, detail, soundstaging, etc. amongst other deliverables. I’ve also noticed that the veil has been lifted. What I am seeking is better bass and more of what I listed above. I guess the real question is will I find that moreso with the amp or speaker upgrade?
@jmcgrogan2 I appreciate your feedback and insights. My preference is to move away from the integrated route. I was using the Cronus magnum for all things and now it only serves as an amp as I am weaning myself off. 

Ive given thought to the .8 and .5 architecture, however, I have my equipment on a cradenza and I can’t support the weight. The XA-25 is a svelte 45 lbs. 

I respectfully disagree about the ‘bottom of the line’ comment as I believe hifi manufacturers use integrateds mostly for this purpose. 

Maybe im wrong but I can’t see how it would benefit Pass Labs to stick an XP-12, XP-17 and an XA-25 into the INT60 at a $6K differential. 
Maybe im wrong but I can’t see how it would benefit Pass Labs to stick an XP-12, XP-17 and an XA-25 into the INT60 at a $6K differential.

Well first of all, I don't believe that the INT-60 has a phono stage, so you can eliminate the XP-17.  So now you are talking a XP-12 and a XA-25 ($10,700) versus a INT-60 ($9,000), a difference of ($1.7K),  less that 20% difference, which can easily be done by using one chassis and one set of packaging vs. two of each. My guess is Pass Labs profit margin is the same regardless of which way you want it.

I get that many folks have the preconceived idea that separates are always better than an integrated amp ingrained in their heads. That is what many years of marketing can do for a industry, sell more boxes.

However, there are a LOT of stunningly good integrated amps out there on the market today, including that Pass Labs INT-60 model, along with brands like VAC, Vitus, Solution, Boulder, Accuphase, Goldmund, D'Agostino, Rowland, Kondo Audio Note, darTZeel, Shindo, etc., that would embarrass most separates.

I went with separates because I did not want the preamp and amp to be from the same manufacturer (I prefer tube preamps with SS amps).
If I had wanted a Pass Labs preamp with my Pass Labs amp, the INT-60 would have been awfully tempting to me, especially when you consider how much you could save on power cords and interconnects too.

However, that is just me. Everyone is entitled to spend their money however the choose.

Excellent points- jmcgrogan2


the integrated amp has certainly arrived to the Audio marketplace.

Whenever the top tier companies, Accuphase, Boulder, D'Agostino, Soulution, VAC/Vitus, are making these products it is time to take notice.

Happy Listening!

@jmcgrogan2 good points. I don’t think separates are superior to integrateds in an absolute sense as value can be determined by investment and utility. When I became more serious about hifi it was still before I was numb to the pricing structures in the hobby. I thought $2,295 for my Cronus Magnum was expensive compared to the Onkyo and Sony ‘do it all’ receivers I previously owned.

Regarding the comments on the super high end companies now producing integrateds and some even experimenting with Class D or a hybrid of it, I think it’s for several reasons:

Increased competition from other equipment manufacturers
fighting for spent dollars (as you say, less cables and rack space needed, frees up more dollars to spend on the integrated du jour. Plus, even when I became somewhat numb to component/speaker pricing, I still had a hard time reconciling cable prices. I just bought a ZU Event XLR for $475 and I’m still a little stunned I did it.
aging audiophile community (how to appeal to a newer generation). So many of my friends have Rega, Schiit and Rogue gear. The higher end or more expensive producers can’t sit around and wait forever hoping to be there when and if an upgrade is in store.

If you can earn a new customers trust early in the journey; you may be in position to continue the relationship while they move up the product line.

These companies are doing all they can to produce value peices for people like me when I was considering Rogue. I may have gone with PS Audio Stellar equip had it been around at the time.

I believe it’s a similar model to to the luxury car market. You are now seeing cars produced from audi, Mercedes and others to compete with cars they never competed with before. 

I believe the market is trending in favor of premium Integrated amps.Not suggesting that separates are tanking,the sand box is big enough for many players.I'm currently enjoying a Coincident Technology Dynamo 34SE MKII which in my system is as good as anything I've had the pleasure of owning.
There are two or three reviews out now of the XA25 comparing its sound to the XA30.8 and/or INT-60.  The '25 is now definitely on my radar.
I have the Zu Omen bookshelves, and talked to the Zu guys at the annual CAS Audio show. 
I told them I was particularly liking the Druids. They said that the druids and the Soul Supremes have the same inner hardware, cones,etc as the Druids. They said the speaker outside shape is different, but sound is essentially the same as the Druids. Said the Druids cost more due to manufacturing the speaker with the thick metal plinths at the base of the Druids. 

They suggested pairing the Soul Supremes with the Zu Undertone sub to fully flesh out the bottom down to 14 Hertz, and I’ve read of some folks in the forums who are happy with the set up. And recently, I read that a guy had the Zu Def MKII and was run8ng them with a 1 watt tube amp, Linear Tube Amplifiers ZOTL/MicroZOTL I think. They make the special David Berning patented tube amps