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Great comparison of these two excellent preamps. Thanks. As a McIntosh C2300 (not quite c2500) user, this was especially interesting. You mention tube rolling the stock C2500 tubes to Mullards, which makes me wonder if some of the analytical (good analytical) side of the Pass unit might be related to your comparing it to the C2500 with Mullards, which may give a more romantic, less detailed sound. I've been using Gold Lion tubes (not stock) in my C2300 pre, and that's made a nice improvement, although at least to my ears it seems pretty detailed and not overly lush, soft, or warm (which I take to be characteristics opposite from your description of what you like in the Pass XP20).
@goheelz Possibly. I didn’t get into swapping out tubes and comparing them, so I don’t have a wide range of sonic memory for different tubes. Kevin at Upscale Audio recommended the tubes, based upon my budget. To his credit, it did change the entire dynamic of the C2500, for the better.
The overall sound is still pretty warm. This may be a byproduct of the PS Audio monoblocks using a tube stage. With the Pass Labs, I do hear a little more detail, but with all the things I loved about the C2500, warm, not overly skewed towards any one characteristic. We always run the risk of giving something up, when swapping out gear. This would be a swap that made minor improvements.
Awesome review of these two pre-amps. Am a huge McIntosh fan, but have recently ordered the Pass XP-20 pre-amp! Also am currently using the BHK 300 monoblocks. I know that people don't often pair solid state pre-amps with "tubed" amps like the BHKs so I was wondering how this pairing sounded together? I stream Tidal typically and have a FLAC ripped CD collection. No vinyl. Any insight on the mating of the
Pass XP-20 and the PS Audio monoblock 300 BHKs would be much appreciated.
@knoxtoxbox, the pairing is epically awesome! I believe the BHK is more on the “hybrid” side, vs. true tube amp. It has a super fast attack, which I think responds quite well to the Pass pre. Per the specs, the input/output impedances are matched well too.
Per the mating, it’s the setup I run. I really, really, really like it. For me, a good barometer is if I listen to songs I’ve heard 1,000’s of times and discover some new layering or separation I had not heard before; which was very evident after swapping out the C2500 for the Pass Labs. The BHK’s still impart a small tube flavor, but it’s not overdone, nor does it sound like a pure trade off between running SS amps vs. tube amps. Little bit of tube, with the drive/attack/response of solid state.
But, these are just my interpretations, some may not like it. I prefer a more laid back, neutral sound, with detail in the mid to upper registers that’s not overdone. Also, I run the PS Audio Direct Stream Junior, ran it with Tidal at one point as well. I love this DAC. I’ve tried a few others, they sounded good, but not as good as the DSJ.
Let me know what you think once you get your Pass broken in.
A very informative review- toddcowles
I enjoyed your musical selections. Any piece of gear that can capture Hard Rock/Metal is a keeper, as most of those discs, were not well recorded nor produced. In particular, you managed to pick the (2) Achilles heel (one for each foot) of the Metallica catalog. St Anger was an interesting experiment of an album. The guys were taking a trip back to their garage -band roots, the recording confirms. Referencing And Justice...you are correct about the mix. Luckily, the songs are solid, very solid from start to finish. Any listener will want to listen in-full for this album.
@jafant Gratzi. My hope is they remaster ...AJFA for this years box release. They released MoP last Christmas, I'm praying heavily it happens. Though, I've read in various articles that it's not likely, due to the original analog tape being spliced so many times that the original integrity has been lost. In various other interviews, James has stated that it's not likely, due to it needing to be preserved in its original release mix/form. Hogwash, just do it and mix it properly.
@david_ten I do. I didn’t realize in many of Otis Redding’s mono recordings his vocals were panned way to the left. I’ve listened to them previously, but the chorus would eat up a lot of the soundstage; which colored the vocal pan. With the Pass, it’s clear as day and localizing where it sits is very noticeable. I haven’t A/B’ed those recordings between the Ayre QB9 and Direct Stream Junior, possibly it’s a little more revealing with the DSJ, not sure.
I’ve also noticed I don’t get as bored listening to music. Though I sit with the intent of listening, because I’ve heard these albums/songs 100’s of times, I find I don’t focus as much while listening. With the Pass, there’s just a little extra detail, which keeps my brain engaged.