Pass Labs XP 30 VS Ayre KXR Pre

Pass Labs XP 30 VS Ayre KXR preamp. The winner is?
The winner is the Ayre without a doubt.
I second it....the blue ribbon goes to Ayre
Ayre, by a large margin.
No definitive winner, it depends on your system and priorities.
No, the Ayre is do much more extended and you can throw it at someone without damaging it
Has anyone actually heard these two preamps in the same system and done a direct comparison. The first three responders sound so definitive. On what are their opinions based?
Both of these are supposed to be exceptional. The Ayre has been in the market for a bit and has very good reviews. The Pass is a new unit with an excellent review in The Absolute Sound.

I have not heard the Ayre but did audition the XP-30 at Reno Hi Fi a few months ago. I am a tube guy for preamps..but thought the 30.5 was an outstanding!!!, noise free and extremly neutral and involving line stage.
05-17-12: Peterayer
Has anyone actually heard these two preamps in the same system and done a direct comparison. The first three responders sound so definitive. On what are their opinions based?
Peterayer (System | Reviews | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
My guess is NO and you can probably include the 5th.

you can throw it at someone without damaging it
Yep, this is my TOP priority in a preamp.
I did try both preamps in my system for more than a week for each unit. Each preamp was coupled with a Soulution 710 amp, YG Anat Ref 2 Studios, a Meridian 808.2, and some other source units. I also tried out a number of other preamps, ss and tube, over the last several years. I ended up buying the Ayre KXR. While the Pass XP-30, in my opinion, did not do as well as the Ayre in my system -- I sit eighteen feet from the loudspeakers in an accoustically difficult room-- I have the highest praise for Mark of Reno HiFi. From a customer's point of view he is one of the very best dealers out there.
The Ayre KXR is an excellent preamp and it was a preamp that I wanted very much. I had it my system for a few weeks and enjoyed every minute of it. I had alo considered getting a Pass XP-30 as an upgrade from my XP-10 but I was not able to demo the XP-30.

In December, I ended up getting an Audio Reference 5SE, my first tube preamp. I was able to compare the KXR to the Ref 5SE in my system for a few days.

I was quiet surprised that I preferred the Ref 5SE by a small margin. The REF 5SE has vocal that is a bit more engaging and 3d like. The KXR has slightly better detail and more transparent with darker background.

I wish I could have kept both preamps.
Sfstereo, I know they are in different leagues, but how did you feel about the XP-10 after having the KXR in your system?

It was difficult to go back to hamburger after tasting filet mignon. It forced me to look for a new preamp and that was how I ended up with the Ref 5SE. The XP-10 is a very good for the price, especially at used price.
05-14-12: Tmsorosk
Ayre, by a large margin.

interesting comment coming from soneone who hasn't even heard the
I've now heard these on several occasions.

Depending on yor system/room interface, you might pick the Pass if you are looking for a slightly warmer forgiving sound.

You might pick the Ayre if you are looking for a more dynamic, involving sound.

Both are great, among the very best ss preamps.
Thanks to all who responded, ended up buying the Ayre KXR Pre. Got it at a great deal!! Super performer housed in a single chassis box, Built like a tank, Am truly in heaven.
Jeb, Congratulations on the new pre amp. It is really superb. I heard it for the first time today.

In an early post above, I asked if anyone had actually heard both of these in the same system. I had the chance to do a direct comparison between these two pre amps in a friend's system today. He has Wilson Sashas and a Lamm hybrid amp. We listened to both digital and analog with a variety of jazz, pop and classical. I pretty much agree with what Hornguys wrote above. These are both great preamps.

We also compared the Lamm amp to a Pass XA160.5. With both amps on both digital and vinyl, the Ayre KXR had more high frequency energy. Also, leading edges/transients were emphasized over the sustain and decay of a note. The whole sound was more forward and tipped up tonally. The Pass XP-30 was more relaxed and a bit easier to listen to. I actually found it more involving, especially with the Pass amp, but I own Pass gear, so am admittedly biased. With the XP-30, there was usually, but not always, less emphasis on the leading edge of the note but the fundamental and harmonics were glorious, especially when mated to the Pass XA160.5.

One could say the Pass pre was warmer than the Ayre, but I would actually describe the Ayre as slightly cooler than the Pass. I guess they could mean the same thing, but when viewed relative to neutral, I would describe the Ayre as beng more on the cool side of neutral than the Pass is on the warm side of neutral, but others may disagree and reverse that. Either way, it is only by a matter of a few degrees.

Both preamps are highly resolving, wonderfully functional, first rate products from very good companies. They are expensive, but offer great performance. Which preamp one prefers will probably depend most on the rest of the system and personal preferences as Hornguys suggests above.
hi Peterayer, thanks for the great insight in comparing KX-R and XP-30. would you able to give more detail account of these two great preamps? e.g which is more airy? more transparent and less compress during orchestral climax, meaning that they can separate instruments in complex passage. if XP-30 sound warmer than KXR, does the slight emphasis on warmth sometimes cause music in higher octave sound "blocked" behind thick curtains? do both preamp have similar soundstage width & depth or noticeable differences? i have ordered Simaudio 750D which i like very well and hope XP-30 would complement well, do you concur ? thanks for your input. -phil
Hello Philip, I have no experience with the Simaudio 750D. I presume it is
your amplifier, but never having heard it, I won't offer an opinion on how
complementary it will be with the XP-30 pre amp.

I will try to answer your questions about the XP-30 and KX-R noting that I
only heard these two pre amps with the Lamm M1.2 Ref and Pass XA160.5
monoblock amplifiers in a friend's fairly familiar system. He has the Wilson
Sasha speakers with Purist Audio cables. So, my comments should be taken
in that context. They are also based mostly on listening to vinyl, though we
did listen to some digital.

1. Sense of Air: I find this term a bit tough to describe. I will define it as a
sense of palpable space and energy during silent passages which can induce
the anticipation of sound about to arrive. I also think of it as the last ringing
or evidence of a sound hanging in space. With this definition, which preamp
has better air depends on the frequency range. The pass had a bit more air in
the lower FR. Cello, bass, low drums and piano keys seemed slightly more
clear with space and harmonics being more evident with a quieter/blacker
background, especially with the Pass amp. Around the midrange, it was about
even. But with high frequencies, I would give a slight edge to the Ayre. As I
wrote above, there is more HF energy with the Ayre. The tonal balance
is tilted up a bit compared to the Pass. This gives the impression that there is
more lightness and air with cymbals, violin, piano. HF notes are a bit louder,
but they don't ring or resonate more. There seems to be a bit more
information but this might be only an impression because HF is a bit louder.
However, I'm not sure this is more realistic. And I did not miss this extra HF
energy while listening to the Pass.

Transparency: Slight edge to the Pass. This is because of the tonal balance
shift toward the HF with the Ayre. The Pass is more balanced and even

Lack of Compression: The Ayre was more open on HF, the Pass more open on
LF and they were about even in the midrange. So during complex orchestral
passages, low level information with drums, cello was a bit more audible and
this gave a better sense of foundation and weight to the music. However,
massed strings, solo violin, right hand piano notes were more emphasized
with the Ayre and this made them pop in the mix a bit more, but again, I'm
not sure this is more realistic than with the Pass, just a bit more energetic and
lively. I should add, when listening to some of the digital, the Ayre was a bit
bright and fatiguing and I would not like it long term. And it did sound
more compressed on digital. The Pass was more relaxed, cleaner and easier
to listen to on digital. There was no sense of fatigue with the Pass.

Well, that was pretty difficult to write and it was based on only one afternoon
of listening. In the end, these differences were really small, especially on
analog, and my suspicion is that cable and amp partnering might make more
of a difference. These are expensive products and you should really try to
hear them in your system context. Overall, I preferred the XP-30, especially
with the Pass amps.

Hornguy's summary above, which is based on hearing these preamps in a
greater range of systems, pretty much matches what I heard. I'll only add that
on certain digital music, the Ayre did sound a bit compressed in the highs and
was slightly fatiguing.
hi Peterayer, Thanks for your detail effort in describing their differences & yes, your definition on airy, transparency is spot on. i would bear in mind the gears associated in your comments.
750D is CDP which i ordered, huge open soundstage, slight laidback presentation, not the in your room,in your face type, so it's good for grand orchestra & some rock\pop music\concert if recorded well. i have not decide on any pre/power yet but i already got ML electrostatics.
coming back to your opinions specifically for Higher FR on openness,airyness of both pre, your ending statement said the difference are really small, do both preamp differ on higher FR by about 5%-8% or easily noticeable by large margin say around 18% or more? anyone with untrain ear would simply notice that difference? my local dealer have no intention to bring XP30 for demo citing XP20 should suffix! So i can only lean on forums for help. thank you and certainly appreciate any input from you. regards
Well, I don't know about percentages. But I would say that while listening to analog, the difference with high frequencies was noticeable, but not great. Over a longer period of time, I would find the Ayre a bit bright. On digital, it was much more noticeable and within a few minutes on a recording with lots of high frequency energy and a bit of compression, the Ayre was fatiguing to me. My friend did not mind it that much and would probably describe the Pass as a bit recessed or relaxed in the upper frequencies.

I own the XP-20. If you can hear one in your own system, you will get a good sense of how the XP-30 sounds. It is just a bit smoother and more refined. Slightly better low level information retrieval and slightly less noise for blacker backgrounds and better spacial relationships and layering. The 30 is also a bit more extended. I also suggest you audition the Pass preamp with a Pass amp.