Pass Labs “House Sound” vs. McIntosh “House Sound”


I’m contemplating swapping out my McIntosh C2500 for a Pass Labs XP-20.  I’ve searched the forums for posts on the Pass Labs XP-20, being that it was released quite some time ago, I didn’t find too much referencing the sound characteristics.  Read plenty of reviews, but those, as we all know, are often full of audio journalistic color.  Any one able to comment on the Pass Labs “house sound”, per se?  Possibly what trade offs happen when migrating from McIntosh preamps.
toddcowles
It would be helpful to know your rest of the setup, especially amp and speakers you plan to mate with XP-20. 
@lalitk That would probably help!

I have a set of the PS Audio BHK300 monoblocks, which are driving a set of Dynaudio Confidence C4 Signatures.  I also have a DEQX Premate for Speaker/Room correction.  All of my power cables are Shunyata Research and interconnects are Audioquest Colorado XLRs.  
Both sound totally different its what you like i myself would go for Pass with more detail and more accurate and musical.
As @ebm pointed out they both has different ‘house’ sound. If you’re looking for a departure from tubes, XP-20 is a great choice. I would also consider audiotioning BHK Signature Preamplifier. 

One word of caution, I wouldn’t get rid of C-2500 until you had a chance to audition either of these solid state preamplifiers. I used to own C-2500 with Telefunken NOS tubes and couldn’t make a switch to SS preamp. I end up swapping my C-2500 for ARC LS28. 

BTW, very nice system and good luck with your search!
I myself have the C2500 preamp and after having 4 other tubed preamps, this one is definitely the keeper.  I have never heard a solid state preamp that I could live with for a long period of time.  Are you willing to give up the tone controls and the ability to change phono cartridge loading on the fly from the remote?  I know I couldn't and wouldn't.  I don't know how it will sound with a Pass.  Although this isn't the same thing, I tried the C2500 with a Conrad Johnson 250wpc solid state amp, the sound became slow and syrupy.  What is it about the sound of the C2500 that you don't like or wish to improve?
Why not just use the DEQX as the pre and do without another component in the chain?
All, thank you for the comments.

@stereo5 That question cuts deep!  I do like the C2500, 85% of the time.  On most of the music I listen to, it is a pretty full sound, so to speak.  I often wondered if I was missing out on some lower end energy and details in other ranges.

I do have a REL sub, which is blended quite well into the overall presentation/soundstage, but I often think I’m missing some 200hz and below or it’s getting sucked out of the source material.  I’ve sent the room response curves off to GIK, which they provided room analysis on a different room and recommendations for treatment.  I used the same panels, in the same locations.  GIK didn’t identify anything that could be treated, as the room responded ideally to the current panel setup.  

I’ve made adjustments to the DEQX, with a little bit of success.  In all, actually, there’s nothing wrong with the C2500 and I have nothing but positives to share regarding it.  If anything, it’s me tricking myself into believing I’m missing something.  That, and like many in this industry as a hobbyist, we like to fiddle, tinker and experience our music in new ways.  

From a listening perspective, I’ve always gravitated towards less colorization, give it to me as it was recorded.  I prefer to hear all the details.  

@unsound
 I did pull the C2500 out of the chain, along with my Direct Stream Jr.  The DEQX DAC, not bad at all, but it’s a little too digital sounding, to my ears.  I also believe I failed to mention I use the DSJ as my DAC.  I also got out of the vinyl game about a year ago, so I have no requirement for a phono stage.
I do have a REL sub, which is blended quite well into the overall presentation/soundstage, but I often think I’m missing some 200hz and below or it’s getting sucked out of the source material.
Hi Todd,

If I understand correctly the chain you are using is:

Digital Source >> DEQX >> DSJ >> C2500 >> BHK300 monoblocks >> Speakers

Is that correct? 

Also, I'm wondering where and how the REL R-528SE sub is connected.  Specifically, if you are connecting it at speaker level what is the black wire in the Speakon cable connected to, which can be an issue given both that the amps are monoblocks and I believe also have differentially balanced outputs?  And if you are connecting the sub at line-level, given that the sub only provides a line-level input for one channel how are the two channels being summed together?

Also, regarding the experiment you conducted with the C2500 and the DSJ removed from the chain, findings that were reported to me privately by one of the other members who participated in the "Is DEQX A Game-Changer" thread, who like you used a Premate, suggest to me the possibility that the Premate's unbalanced analog outputs **might** be sonically superior to its balanced analog outputs.  So assuming (as appears likely) that your experiment was conducted using the Premate's balanced outputs it might be worthwhile repeating it using the unbalanced outputs. 

Best regards,
-- Al
 
@almarg Thanks Al!  That’s a great thread.  Correct in my signal chain.  I’ll swap out to RCA’s, see if that alters.  I do believe I may be approaching the point where an additional sub will have to be deployed, right now I just have 1.  

I’m using the RCA sub preout into the REL.  Interestingly, REL is imparting their filtering philosophy across all inputs, which made it a bit of a challenge to tame it with the DEQX.  There’s a massive spike at 50hz, stretching about 6db down to 30hz and 6db down to 80hz, which revealed itself when Larry/DEQXpert was comparing phasing and room measurements.  In light of this, I’ve been debating on replacing the REL as well.  

I would strongly suggest you consider the PS Audio BHK Sig preamp, too.  You run the 300 mono's and the DSJ DAC, so you know their equipment delivers.  I really like that preamp with my 300 mono's.  It sure is worth a try, and a demo wouldn't be too hard to come by.
@jbrrp1 thanks for the input.  You are 100% correct, their equipment does deliver and the industry needs more folks like Paul and his employees running these audio companies.  I've attempted to not like their equipment, rather, initially I attempted to be very biased.  Having lived in Colorado, it was super easy for me to demo.  Once the monoblocks were hooked up, there was no turning back.  Same happened with the DSJ.  

I had spent about 2 weeks with the BHK pre, I did like it.  I'll admit, it took me a few days to get used to it.  In the end, the lack of tone controls prevented me from swapping out my C2500 for it.  In my previous listening room with sound treatment, the speakers just didn't have enough room to breath and produced awkward "slurring/sibilance" scenarios.  We've since moved and the odd ball higher frequencies are no longer present.  At that time, I had to tone them down with a few notches of treble.  I figure if the road does lead to the BHK pre, I won't have much of an issue selling the Pass Labs.  With the DEQX, I have way more control over the sound than anyone could ever really need or want.  Due to this, the lack of tone controls on both the BHK and Pass Labs won't be an issue.  

I pulled the trigger on the Pass Labs, I'll see how I like it and if not, I'll pick up the BHK pre.  

Thanks for your input!
Funny!  I, too, was actually biased and skeptical about PS Audio gear, just because the "marketing" feel of the brand just was off-putting to me.  But I saw that a dealer for my same speakers really loved the match of the 300 Mono's in his system, so I decided to try them, and I am more than glad that I did.  They are a fabulous match and fabulous amps for the money, IME.

I'll be curious to hear your evaluation of the Pass preamp once you've had a chance to take its measure fully.  I am actually contemplating trying out their phono preamp.  Please report what you find some time!
Best of luck with the new preamp, Todd.

Also, could you clarify your statement that "I’m using the RCA sub preout into the REL." As far as I can see the C2500 does not provide a single-channel sub-out, and the REL only accepts a single channel for its line-level input.

Best regards,
-- Al

@toddcowles Congratulations on the XP-20 purchase. Though I don’t have direct experience with your McIntosh preamp, I believe you will find your system ’sound’ with your new Pass Preamp in it will be different than with the McIntosh Preamp. This is based on my hearing of the ’general’ Pass and McIntosh ’house sounds.’ Do share your findings with the Pass pre and any differences / preferences between the two preamps.

I have the XP-20 and am very happy with it. Isolation did help, but it wasn’t as major of a factor as with some of my other components. Pass strongly recommends keeping the factory supplied power supply umbilical. I do have an aftermarket pc into the Power Supply..... Pass doesn’t feel a great need for one and I generally, but not totally, agree (with their assessment with respect to the power supply).
Keep us posted -Todd
enjoy massaging the XP-20 into your system.
Happy Listening!
@david_ten Thanks for the input.
@jafant I’ll post up after I’ve had for about a month.

@almarg Hey Al, I’m going RCA/sub preout from the DEQX into the REL.
I’m going RCA/sub preout from the DEQX into the REL.
OK. So presumably you are using the volume control of the DEQX to change volume, rather than the one in the preamp.

Assuming that is the case I would reiterate my suggestion of trying an unbalanced connection of the DEQX directly to the power amps. Given the experience I mentioned earlier that was reported to me by another member (who also used a Premate), it seems very conceivable that you might obtain better results that way than with the balanced interconnection I assume you tried previously. And if so, perhaps you can eliminate both the DAC and the preamp altogether.

BTW, I use the unbalanced analog outputs of my HDP-5 directly into my power amp. I’ve never tried its balanced analog outputs, as neither of the power amps I presently have provide balanced inputs.

Best regards,
-- Al


@almarg I do use the DEQX volume control for the sub.  I put in a set of RCA's, but just get AC hum.  I unplugged the unit, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then plugged back in and turned on...same result.  Read through the manual, I didn't see anything that indicated one needed to select an output, other than the analog, analog/digital pulldown.  Switched between those, same result.  Possibly, the analog jumpers are set to high?
Not sure what might be causing that.

If the analog jumpers are set for too high an output the symptom would be distortion, not hum, and only when the combination of the volume of the music and the setting of the DEQX’s volume control is too high.

I assume that you don’t have the analog main outputs of the DEQX disabled in the configuration, and that you disconnected the XLR cables from the amps when you connected the RCA cables.

Beyond that, I see the following statement on page 160 of the latest version of the DEQX manual, regarding the 75 ohm specification of the output impedance of the unbalanced analog outputs:

[The unbalanced analog output impedance is 75 ohms] into an earth-referenced amplifier i.e. one where the RCA ground pin connects to mains ground. This is normally the case. The precise output impedance is 75 ohms, plus 75 ohms in parallel with whatever the amplifier puts in series between its RCA connector and mains ground. If the latter is open, then the impedance can be as high as 150 ohms (such as may happen with a two-pin power connector).
I’m not quite sure what to make of that, but perhaps there is some kind of incompatibility between the internal grounding schemes of the DEQX and the amps. Which in turn may only manifest itself when unbalanced interconnections are used between the two components, since balanced receiver circuits can be designed (and ideally should be designed) to ignore ground.

That’s about all I can think of at this point.

Best regards,
-- Al


I own a Pass Labs X 250 for LR Focal floorstanding speakers a X260.5 for my center channel and large Focal Rear speakers that I Run with my X5. I know that your are asking about A Pass Labs XP 20 however In my opinion McIntosh does not come close to the build quality and sound reproduction of almost anything Pass Labs makes. Pass Labs CS is the best they STAND behind what they sell 
My AV is a Krell 707
I've never heard a Pass Labs but I might comment on McIntosh.  McIntosh's 'house-sound' might best be described as exceptionally smooth with a wide soundstage yet not too forward.   McIntosh has excellent build quality, resale value and often understated fact that all of their component visually match in terms of color scheme.  Nothing like having a full rack of matching gear.  Personally I don't care about those features and I've found other gear that sounds better to my personal tastes.  McIntosh is like the Apple of audiophile gear, well built and respected but not doing anything extraordinary.   An excellent well-rounded setup could include a Pass Labs X25, Schiit Yaggi DAC, and your choice of tube preamp (my preference would be Prima Luna premium or Conrad Johnson classic depending on budget).
I´ve not heard the mcintosh but have had the xp20 for some years now and also the same c4s you own. My experience is that most of the time break in is crucial, more so for this preamp.
Out of the box the sound was closed in ,dull and lifeless. So much so, that I felt I had made a mistake in upgrading ? from the pass xp1 after having achieved the performance I was already satisfied with.
But being forewarned by the dealer I reluctantly exercised patience and after what I believe to be several hundred hours ( the dealer advised 500 !) the sound opened up beautifully and have been content ever since. In fact it may be the only piece of equipment that I´ve  never felt the urge to change. At least until now and it has been with me for more than 5 years. 
The xp20 is a fine piece of equipment, dead quiet, with few if any rivals within its price range.
IMO
@rost it’s preowned, so I don’t think I’ll need the 500 hours of break in!  But, I appreciate your comments and am super pumped to get it integrated.  The C2500 was the longest standing piece of my ever revolving/evolving gear setup.  Like a well loved family pet that has since passed, “You are gone, but not forgotten!”