Pass Labs XP-20 or Audio Research Ref 3?

Who's compared the two in your system?
Please let me know. Thanks
While I have no experience with Pass Labs preamplifiers, Audio Research Ref 3 remains one of the fineest sounding classic tube linestages of all times.... Drop me a line if you were interested in my own fine REF 3 specimen in black livery, equipped with NOS 6H30 tubes. G.
Both overrated.
It's easy to be a big fan of both. I have owned the XP-20 and now the ARC Ref Anniversary which likely has a family resemblence to the Ref 3. Both are great preamps but are very, very different sounding. The XP-20's strongest points are an incredibly low noise floor that allows you to hear all the details from the recording. It also has outstanding bass. ARC has great soundstaging, tonal color, and an organic textural quality that are typical of tubes. What you will prefer depends on what kind of music you listen to and the type of sound you are looking for.
Barry, how was the high end of the XP-20 by comparison?
Agree it's essentially a matter of preferences/system/room. For some convoluted logic in response to your question: I replaced an ARC LS25ll with a Rowland Capri based initially on Guidocorona's threads stating how he preferred the Capri to the Ref3. After enjoying the Capri for three years I have just replaced it with a Pass XP-20 to go with my Pass X250.5, which is why my Capri is now for sale. So that's a comparison that crosses two systems and two listeners.
Dear Alan,

I took a look at your beautiful set. I see you already use the XP-20. ( I have owned this one for 2 years) Why are you still using the older X-250. Because I think it was one of the weakest parts in your system. I had this one for over 2 months for a lend period. It was not a great amp. The later 0.5 series are so much better. Do yourself a favorite, and buy a 0.5 amp. It will bring your set to a much higher level. I promiss!!!
Agree with Bo1972. I had the X250 for 7 years and liked it very much, but the upgrade to the X250.5 was significant.
This Pass amplifier has been modified to a .5 version if you read Alan's system description.
Clear, thanks
Nothing wrong with the highs in the XP-20 - a little more emphasis on leading edge than the ARC. I don't mean to suggest the pre-amp is bright or siblant. You already know it isn't if you own it. As typical with tubes, ARC highs have a little more airiness, and sweetness. This may be great for female vocals, less so for hard rock guitar solos. It would be best if you could listen yourself and compare.
Thank you all for getting back to me regarding my post.
Have a great July 4th.
If you are into vinyl, I would tend to use electronics that you find to be the most neutral, transparent and resolving and then tailor the sound slightly with your choice in cartridges.
Hi Barrysandy,Sorry for the very late response. I have owned many Audio Research Preamps over the years. And loved each one of them with much tube rolling fun. You're so right on the very low floor noise regarding the Pass XP-20 which I purchased. It works very well with my current system. Paired with my Cary PH-302 tube Phono preamp it has a very warm and detailed soundstage.
The Pass Amplifier is a 250XP. It was the (Prototype Version) for the X250.5 that I have just traded in last week. I am waiting for a one year old X350.5
I owned the XP-20 for over 2 years of time. It was a good pre amp, not a stunning pre amp.
Bo, what would you consider to be a stunning pre amp?
I am addicted to music since I was 6. I spend all my money on music and audio till I was 19 years old. I work since 1998 in the world of sound and vision. I have done thousends of tests. This is not my work or hobby. This is a part of who I am as a person. It is a second nature. I can see 3-4 steps further than other people in this business. Music is my biggest hobby. I am a perfectionist and things need to be the best. Always looking for better. Testing in audio is a thing I love. I know a lot more information about every single thing you use in audio. I can give every single tool ( source, cable, speaker, amp etc) the properties/qualities they own. So I use the properties to create what I call Total Sound. This is the blueprint for the absolute sound. Since the beginning of 2013 I know I have a photographic memory in sound. In 10 seconds I know ( with my music) what a system has and what is missing. I can write on a paper where all the instruments and volices are standing of a recoding. Also how deep a stage is. After changing a part ( cable, source, amp) I know exactely the difference between the 2 demos. This way I can create much faster a higher level.

I developed my own way of measurment with Audyssey Pro. I measure at different places and hights. I also use the parameters in a different way Audysssey says. At the end the difference in endresults are huge. So much more dynamics, resolution, speed and sharpness in individual focus.

A few people in this business has been to my house. A person who is a surround specialist for a long time said: you have gold in your hands. You can put the whole highend world upside down.

I have proven that I can beat pre amps till about 15000 dollar with ease with my Onkyo PR-SC5509 and my way of Audyssey Pro.

Without my way of measurment the Onkyo is not that special.

How does the XP-20 compare to the Onkyo PR-SC5509 and my measurement of Audyssey Pro? I talk about differences only with Pass Labs poweramps ( I owned: XA30.5, XA60.5, XA100.5 and X250.5)

More drive; The needle starts to move later when I would use the same dynamics with the XP-20.

Sharpness of individual focus is superior to the XP-20.
Voices and instruments are more loose from eachother. And clearer to hear. There is more space and blacks around them.

Articulation of voices is superior with my measurment. You can hear people breath, word endings and lips movement.

The other thing that I have created with this measurement is what I call Stealth integration ( with a subwoofer). I never heard (people in this business say the same)this level of integration. Even the energy and drive of the low freq is where it is recorded. Even if the sub stands 3 metres on the other side. People went crazy whenn they heard it. This is why I want to give demos so many people can hear it.

BECAUSE HEARING IS BELIEVING. This is how I work. I Always create a higher level in endresult compared to any person who works in this business. I love competition and I always want to win. When you want to beat me show me you can create a higher level in endresults.

Thee stage is wider and deeper compared to the XP-20. Instruments and voices are more free in front of you.

There is much more authorithy compared to the XP-20. I can play as loud as I want to. I can play from 16 hz as deep and loud as I want. Without roomcorrection it becomes a mess. With the XP-20 you never can play this loud or deep without acoustic problems. When you do not have this acoustic problems anymore you hear a lot more information of every recording. This is also a new way of freedom in music I never experienced. I see many people with addapted rooms. I have visited many of these companies as well. I still have to laugh, because I am already so much further in a higher endresult. Time goes one, and you Always need to want to improve the overwhole sound.
Is modesty still a virtue?

In separate systems I preferred the ARC Ref5 SE compared to the ARC Ref3. This pre is best mated w/ Wilson speakers and Transparent cables/cords. Probably the best tubed- pre out there, until I demo a Conrad Johnson ART3.

Conversely, the Pass XP-20 is the finest solid-state pre that I have auditioned to date (the XP-30 is on my short-list as I write). It plays well (no pun) w/ not only Pass amps but other manufacturers amps as well. During demo we used Threshold, Parasound, Aesthetix and Pass power amps.
Associated cables/cords were Silent Source (my fave!), Audioquest and Signal Cable.

Hope this helps.
It is as it is. What I write in words I can create with sound. So all people know what I said. Audio Always need to be clear and honest as possible.
Bo, Wow. Congratulations. I'd like to ask again, what do you consider to be a stunning pre amp? I gather from your response that it is only the one that only you know how to optimize and use correctly and hear the result. But for the rest of us, if we don't want to add digital to the chain, or add digital room correction, what commercially available pre amp would you recommend to the rest of us who may not have your extensive experience?

It is clear that you do not like the XP-20, so perhaps you can suggest something else.

I would also really enjoy seeing photographs of and reading about your incredible system.
In many cases those who brag the most know the least.

And Bo proves this in spades.
The XP-20 is still a very good pre amp. Don't get me wrong. I was very happy with it for 2 years of time. It still did cost a lot of money.

To understand what is possible with roomcorrection. You need to do many tests. Second it is good luck that it gives me the freedom to change so many things. Without this space of freedom it would not be possible.

I wrote Pass, that there is a need for highend roomcorrection. Because the limitation of acoustics is still too big. The advantages of roomcorrection are so big that without it, it would never become this good.

You need to understand the advantages and also the disadvantages of roomcorrection to use it to the max. But I can garantee you that it brings you to a much higher level in endresults you would think of now. And yess there are many room acoustic systems who are not that special.

In my opinion there is only a few % of everything what is being developed in the world of audio what can be exeptional good. Most of the time you never will win any war with it. That is why I hate all the grap there is on the market. I know many expensive stuff what has nothing to do with quality or the real thing!!
Dear Peter,

I think there should be a better solution for roomacoustics. I like systems like Trinnov. It works very well. But it misses the extra dynamics and improving of resolution and articulation.

I know what it needs in my head. This is how I work. I am Always looking for that what I have in mind. And then the creation starts. When you are aware of the properties/qualities of an amp, source, cable, speaker etc. you can use them all togheter. When you don't know this, it can go in any direction. All the tests I did learned me to use the tools much better. Audio is all about the art of sound. Making the right combination.

I owned many highend stuff. I am Always focussed on creating a 3 dimensional image. My knowledge has given many people a much higher endresult in sound. These days I can even create a 3 dimensional image for less money. This makes it more affordable for much more people. I see it in there reaction, smile and feedback. In 8 days of time I have to install 3 very nice systems. These people did not know me, or I know them either. They heard sytems I sold and were amazed. Quality sells very easy. I sell sound. You will get a 3 dimensional sound at the end. I create the best endresult. This is a totally different way of what most people do in this business. I like to send clients to many shops as possible. Because this is the best way of convincing them how much lower the endresult can be. Most of all the shops and companies who work in sound and vision sell 2 dimensional sound. This makes it very easy for me to win.

With my way of measurment I even can bring down the stage to a normal height, even when the speakers are at the sealing. That is why I want to do yachts as well. Because the companies who do it. Sell 2 dimensional sound for a lot of money. I can beat these people with ease as well.

Many people spend a lot of money on sound and vision and at the end they get a very average or even poor endresult. This is the most important reason why I am still in this business.I want people to enjoy there music at the max. Because I love music. That is why I sell emotion instead of boxes. I want as many people as possible to enjoy the thing I love most; MUSIC
Bo, I was interested in what you think is a "stunning" pre amp. It is now clear that you don't really want to share your opinion. That's fine.

I'd still like to see a system description and some photographs though.
Maybe it is not there. Because there is no highend pre amp with roomcorrection in one box.

All the expensive pre amps people own here on audiogon still do not use roomcorrection. Even if you have a good acoustic room, it is till being effected by the room.

I am a perfectionist, I can hear in about 10 seconds with my own music what a set has and what is missing for what I call Total Sound. I visited many people with expensive sets. There is still missing too much.

Even a good pre amp does not solve this. I am very interested in the new Pass Labs power amps. For me Pass Labs is the most complete brand in making poweramps. In my world Pass Labs poweramps are stunning. And there pre amps are very good, but not stunning.
I have had a few people also working in audio and who do highend Audio. They were amazed what I achieved with a simple Onkyo PR-SC5509 with my way of using Audyssey Pro.

Last year I was the absolute sound on a big show. Give me a new .8 series poweramp and my pre amp, cables, source, conditioner and I can smash every set at a show. Why? Because I can let people hear new things. The level of articulation of voices is stunning.

I can get a 16 hz subwoofer fully integrated in a set of stereo speakers. And the low freq will come from the place were it was recorded. I call it Stealth inegration.

A extreme 3 dimensional image most people never heard this precise.

I also can let people hear the raw edge of a voice. So clear you understand directly why it is special.

I can use all the different parts in a set ( cables, source, conditioner, speakers and amps) more precise. Only because I use there properties. When you understand the properties you can go to a higher level in sound.

At shows often political sets are demonstrated. Seldom the properties fit well. People have to learn to look further. The same as people should work more togheter at shows. This is the only way there clients will be able to listen to a much higher endresult.

That is my main goal. For every single person who love music a much higher level in sound at home.
Prove is what you let hear to people in sound with music. I understand that the words I use can be seen as bragging.

But I can use sound so people understand my words. At the end they know it is exactely as I told them.

This is not about bragging. It is about passion and emotion. You have to see further. Like I said many times; it is not about me. Maybe when you read the words you think it is. But believe me it is not.

When you would listen to my systems you will understand that I did choose the exact words!

you are certainly on to something w/ the room-correction thing. I have been to many dealers/retailers and have had poor auditioning experiences because of diminished room acoustics. Keep posting your experiments.

Which gear is in your system?
Because the level of knowledge in so poor. Last year when I was the absolute sound of a big show in my country. I went on Monday ( dealer day) with my own music to listen to many sets.

Even the expensive sets with B&W D800, Focal Scala, Dynaudio Platinum and many more were not that special. I was listening to mistakes all the time. I was surprised how low the knowledge is.

People don't know anything about how big instruments and voices need to be in proportion in real. Many people even in this business know little about 3 dimensional sound. Many dealers came to me how I create such a 3 dimensional stage. Many never heard it so clear. This is how I sell audio for many years. For me it is a normal thing.

In shops it is the same. Don't forget I am addicted to music since I was 6. This is not my work, or even hobby. This is a second nature. For most it is work. I have done thousends of test because I love it and it does not cost energy. The approach is totally different. I don't how much money I earn. I am only interested in giving people the best quality in sound.

In my country audio is having a rough time. What you see is that they focus on selling those brands where they earn the most money with. These are never the best products available. How stuppid you can be!

There is not a lot knowledge about roomcorrection. I do it for 3,5 years now. I have done many tests to understand what it is. And I use it my way. Because I wanted to get the best sound possible. That is not how the people who made it use it. Because that level is not good enough!
Do you use room correction to get a 3D soundstage and imaging or do you use it to address frequency issues in poorly designed rooms? Or is it for something else?

And why do you think you are the only person who understands this and can use that Audyssay Pro room correction device correctly?
The precision is a lot better than with a normal pre amp. Voices and instruments are a lot more touchable. You can hear also 2nd and 3th voices on a recording so much easier.

There is more information also in a voice. You hear things which are not there without. Even the best highend pre amps it was only a little noticeable. Even the best cables in the world will not add this information.

Last year there was a demo with Nordost Odin, Valhalla powercables, Neodio and speakers were Raidho Diamonds. When I played Bruce Sprinsteen Brothers under the bridge. The articulation of his voice was by far not that open and clear as with my own set.

Also in speed and timing it is different. There is also more resolution in the highest freq. as well with my pre amp and roomcorrection. All these parts make the stage wider and deeper. At the end it gives a more 3D presentation.

All my cables and conditioner are worth far over 50.000 dollar. They are very important as well.

Purist powercables are in my opinion the best in the world. Because they do all the different parts for the absolute sound exeptional well.

Same about the most expensive cables Audioquest makes.

They both can give a set a stunning black level to die for.

Every single part in my set has been tested over and over again before I buy it. When you are a perfectionist you are Always busy in making it better. This never stops. I do this in everything I do. This weekend I will pick up my Taylor made Italian pair of trousers. I had to wait for 5 weeks before it is made and shipped from Italy. I have in my head how I want it to be. And with sound it is the same story.

A few weeks ago I Compared my Olive 06HD with the Aurender S10 and the Wadia s7i. With the cables I use the stage of the Olive is a lot bigger than with the Wadia and Aurender. This gives you a superior freedom of voices and instruments in a 3 dimensional image. The Aurender is a poor source in my opinion. It does not have a soul. I have listend to it with 5 different Dacs. All sounded like shit, it misses also flavor. With classical music you are aware how poor it is. It sounds like a class D amp. No heart. The Olive has much more flavor. Instruments and voices are so much better separated. Also compared to the Wadia the stage was in my set a lot bigger. In the lowest freq there are more layers with the Olive and timing is better compared to the Wadia. Because with the cables I own I can get a superior level out of the Olive. It is a shame they had such a bad service in the US. In my country a company did do the service with all the spare parts.

The person who did Olive in my country has visited me a few times. He also does Ayre, Sonus Faber and Audio research ( They also sell Transparent and Wilson Audio). He calls my set the best he ever heard.

The Authority is also superior to the XP-20. I can play louder with the same amp compared to the XP-20. There is more control. The needle moves later compared to the XP-20 at the same volume.
I have two questions: Do you listen to analog? What speakers do you have in your system?
These days I buy a lot of music from Qobuz. I have bought for over 1000 dollar in streaming music in less than 3 months of time. Many master recordings. Qobuz is superior to the recordings of HD Tracks. When I compare them, Qobuz recordings are more dynamic and open. When you have this level in sound you are not interested in analog anymore. It is also the freedom in listening. You can hear many hours in one time. You become in a trance. This is priceless. It is a new and higher level of listening to music for me.

I use the Pl-200 of Monitor Audio. These speakers can create an extreme 3D stage. Monitor Audio is exeptional good in making crossovers. These speakers have a spl of 118db. the low freq and mid unit are made from carbon and alluminium. Very light and stiff. Magnets are big so you have a lot of control. The ribbon tweeter can give a more touchable image than a normal dome tweeter does. Also it can project the stage more infront of you. The speaker can also play far behind and even beside the speakers. The combination of the crossovers and ribbon tweeter makes the stage even wider and deeper togheter.

The same thing about my Platinum subwoofer. The material of the 15 inch unit is made from carbon and allumium. This makes it ligher and a lot faster in response compared to competitors.

The Audyssey Pro measurment with my way of measuring gives a full stealth integration with the subwoofer. I have the new reference subwoofercabe from Audioquest Wild dog. Pure silver as well.

Cables are: Audioquest Redwood bi-wire, brand new XLR Wild Blue Yonder from Audioquest, a few Purist Audio Limited edition powercables, Acapella pure silver XLR.
I think I will buy the new Pass Labs X350.8 in a few months.
Bo, You should start your own system thread to share news and views of your audio world.
We are busy with a website. I will use Sony Professional cameras for my own presentations and pictures. My company uses the name: Sound&Vision Consulting. That is how we work.

The drive is giving all people a much better quality in sound and vision. Better quality in sound gives you more emotion. That is why I say: I sell emotion instead of boxes.

I think your style of communication irks some people but I believe that your passion and interest are sincere. Your audio tastes are very different from mine but many roads lead to Rome(which is the beauty of this hobby). I wish you success with your new endeavors.
I am not here of making advertisement. the US is not my area. I am here just for fun.
+1 Caarles1.I found myself going round and round with Bo and I agree he definitely has a passion. I very much admire his ability to communicate like an American politician that well in another language.
Thanks Vic, but I am a lot better in real sound than words. Because here it is only words. When you hear a system I created or what I call my sound it is even more clear what I do and why it is special.

In every system I do from 1500 dollar till 100.000 dollar you hear my sound back. It is Always the same way. A touchable 3 dimensional sound with a lot of emotion.

Even those people who have no experience with good audio, understand in a few seconds why it is special and good.

Audio for me is all about quality and sound. Even for less money I can create a stunning sound. It is a pity that too many people still get an average or even poor endresult in sound for the money they spend.

Music and audio is for me the way to achieve my goal in life. And that is to do something for those who have nothing. And no chance to create possibilities to create a better and human life.

My goal in life is to start a foundation. Now I earn a lot of money with audio I want to use it for this foundation. I don't care about money for myself. People who buy sound and vision equipment at my consulting a part will go to this foundation.

I already have Sony professional cameras which I use for presentations and I also will use them for this. So people can see what I do with this money.

Today I visit a client who has connections with people who sell very expensive yachts. When my website is ready he will introduce me to those people. I can create also in a yacht a superior level in 3 dimensional sound with roomcorrection. The companies who do this now in the world. Only sell 2 dimensional average sound for too much money. I want to kick these people some a...For my foundation this is a good environment.

Last year I sold also equipment to a person who is in charge of a companey who sells 50+ miljon dollar yachts. He agreed that the quality for sound and vision in these yachts is quite poor.

Audio for me is all about using my brains and insight in sound. This creates a much higher level in sound than other people do.

People who listened to my systems never use the word 'bragging'anymore. Because they know that it is exactly as I told them in words.

That is why I want to come to the U.S. to demonstrate how
I create sound. It is as it is!!
Many Thanks! Bo1972 for your insight and info regarding this important subject. Where are you located? What is the name of your business? All The Best!
I live in The Netherlands. I work in my country, Germany and Belgium. I think there will come more countries in the future. The advantage in sound and insight I can use everywhere, it doesn't matter where I go.

The difference I create in the endresult of every single system on the planet is Always clear and convincing.

I have proven this in low budget sets and highend sets as well. Hearing is believing, that is what it makes it simple and clear!