Review: Pass Labs Aleph 3 Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

Old design, apparently still sends tremors in the shape of dissmisal or wholhearted approval, througout the audio community. Regardless of all the fuss, the Aleph is thing of the past, along with Aleph 30. Scratched of the board. Finished. Done! Even Nelson has distanced himself from this design, by going probably more modern path?!
So why all of the fuss? Is this "box" soo good to become a classic, or it is "lifeless", "collored" etc... that some had named this amp?
Just replaced my old SFC-1 (also reviewed) with Pass Aleph 3. And now, when all the excitment is over with, i feel i can draw some conclusions about this amp.
I have several CD's that have been my favorites for last couple of years that i am familiar with. And would for sure know if something is missing, or if i would to hear MORE? In fact that's the same reason we usualy upgrade.
I chose 'bare bones' Cary Slp-50 tube amp, with two 12au7's running in pure class a operation (that's what technical data said). Old (1994) defunct DPA three piece DAC/Dpa T1 transport totaling over $15K when new. I figure, if it was great then, it must be good now?
Speakers are DIY watt/puppy clones (Focal/Seas/Peerless and all the good x-over parts)
Wire Discovery 123 speaker cable, Pbj for Dac/pre and unknown Monster pre/amp (i am not big into wires)

Sound? My tube amp had deeper soundstage, and solid imaging. Softer treble, and looser bass. What gave overall darker presentation. Even 'emotional' sound that was definitely sign of higher colloration than the Pass. Much higher! I just had to play piano (Satie Piano Works vol.1 Naxos) to hear those high notes, where sound is like striking chips of ice againsteach other. Alwas have complained about Sony's John Williams The Guitarst, and the sound quality. Aleph brought these performance much closer to me, even at the low volume levels. Bossa Nova brasil on Verve in past, alwas brought bass troubles int my system. Even though that Alep 3 is not supposed to DO bass, still brought some improvement. Especialy, with electric bass! Robert Lucas Luke and Locmotives(Audioquest), was feast and the beast! On this one i had to turn-up the volume somewhat. Not because of lack of dynamics,but for pure joy!
Large orchestra and Pass did wonderful job together! Berloz Symphony Fantastique, with all the bells and whistles was outstanding wit its panoramic soundstage!Bruckner symp. No 4 (Naxos), and quite slow beginning wasn't just empty space. I could "peek" into the concert hall and hear many things they were just void, in the past. When all the action started in Rossini's Barbiere di Sivilia (ACUM), all came together but still preserved steady placement of the individual instruments. Meaning, that there was a lot of going on i wasn't aware of!
YoYo Ma's Bach's suites, Cello did sounded "woody" with tho dose of high energy, that sounded like flatulance on my tube amp. Very impressive with the Quarteto Italiano's Beethoven Late Quartets vol.2. This analog recording outclasses all the modern recorded attempts.
The amp delivers detail, detail lots of it! But it doesn't do just that. It comunicates the artist intentions. It isn't "cold", nor "warm". It is just. Music. With purity that Aleph delivers, i do not believe i'll be looking for more! It runs hot, but not as hot as my old tube amp with four Kt90's.

Other recordings: Calamus Splendor of Andalus Ma rec
Arvo Part Tabula Rasa naxos
Wagner Taunhauser opera
Mozart collection 10 cd's

Associated gear
Cary slp-50, Dpa Dac/T1 transport

Similar products
Sonic Frontiers control 1
Glad to see another "convert" into Nelson's camp. While i do believe that the Aleph's were a divergence from most of his prior work and his current offerings, i think that the love and finesse that he puts into any product shines through as far as sonics are concerned. I don't doubt one bit that you like what you hear and am glad that you are enjoying your purchase. Sean
Wonderful goods in small packages for sure! Never had enough sensitive speakers to actually try them in my home, but might in the future with X or XA version, who knows! Listen them at friends house on 4ohm Cabasse and they were atrociously good! Good review, cheers!
I do not have very mugh experience in the audio world. But I've heard a number of amps at the high end stores and that had me choosing Spectral every time.
So I had the "50" the "80" and finally the "90".
I was told to try a used Pass "3" and it was the smoothing of the sound I had grown fond.
It was tighter, clearer, more forward and more delicate. It was more tactile a sound.
I loved that amp! I sold it to a friend with the warning, "you won't let this out of your houe!" He didn't.
I bought the Pass "5" amplifier and love it for everything but the heat. I've had a feew tatoos on my forearm changing cables.
The Pass amps like the King Cobra Top Gun or even Black Momba power cables.
These are a great amp!
Certain characteristics you had described about this amp are system/recording dependant. Some found this amp 'warm', and my findings are that besides heat of the amp while on is the only thing that would associate this amp with being warm. In my system, as described above, Aleph is neither analytical, nor warm. The sound is neutral. Marty De Wulf of Bound for sound found this amp 'un-involving' and DEAD. Which drew sharp words of disagreement from me, and heated exchange of nasty e-mails. IAR found Aleph amps highly colored, and could "recognize the Aleph sound miles away". Maybe so. But in the right system, in the right room, this amp's performance will fulfill any audio-enthusiast dream.
Well, I've played with more gear now, and I'd not call it cold or warm. It's neutral and analitic I think. It's certainly not mushy, nor shrill.
fast, detailed, and capable of distinguishing any change in the system. I want to try a Nirvana cable on it.
Of course with the plans out on the Pass website, it's :) open for mods and I have a few more to do to mine before I'm done, but then I won't be able to comment on it as stock gear.
El: My experience with the various Nelson Pass designed amps that i've tinkered with have led me to believe that they are highly load dependent. That is, they are somewhat of a chameleon in terms of sonic characteristics. Most of what one will hear will depend on the impedances that they are presented with. While this makes for a VERY "hit or miss" type of experience with them in terms of system compatibility, my experience is that they tend to work best with lower impedance loads AND prefer to be left on 24/7 for increased thermal stability.

With the above in mind, Pass amps can be quite finicky when it comes to speaker cabling. If you can couple them to a speaker cable with a low nominal impedance ( high capacitance / low inductance ) and low strand count ( solid core or lower count stranded ) and a speaker that has a lower nominal impedance, you'll probably be quite happy with them. If you're using speaker cables with a lot of stranding and / or higher impedance speakers, you might end up with hard, bright and sterile sound. Like anything else in audio, it is all a balancing act and a matter of personal choices. Sean
I sold a Audio Research D52b to get the pass labs aleph 3,
and to say I was not expecting to hear a difference is
a masterpiece of understatement. Boy was I WRONG! There
is more detail with the pass, and the subtle nuances
are much better. I am running a Audio Research Sp5 and
a pair of Klipsch LaScala speakers and the 30wpc is more
than enough. This is the finest amp I have ever heard or
used. Very open, detailed, airy, not shrill or harsh.Good
bass. I will say that it is so good, that bad recordings
cannot even be listened too! But boy the good recordings
sound terrific. No comparison with the Audio Research D52b,
Linn Lk100, B&K St2140, or adcom 545,535. Highly recommeded
if you have efficent loudspeakers!
i had a O3, and went to the O5. Changing the input wire and the input resistors (to maybe a gold/silver and the vishay's) makes a difference to the detail and speed. Changing into a few blackgate caps makes it sweeter, smoother and more "at ease sounding".
i likes the King Cobra, TopGun and Xindack power cables. But it depends on the flavor you lik as well.
Well apparently Nelson is not just ready yet to put the Aleph technology out to pasture. On his web site a newer version labled the Aleph J is ready for delivery and is limited to 100 copies personally built by him.

Would love to hear any reviews or thoughts on this newest version Aleph. Just don't know if it has enough muscle for my Alon Model 1 speakers. Any thoughts there? 87dB speakers.

For the price rather hard to ignore and from the mind of Nelson Pass should speak volumes about the newest Aleph.
The "3" I sold is now bi-amp'd for satelites with a pair of AAragon Paladium for bass. I'll keep my comments to the "3". It's running a Raven 2 ribbon over a Manger driver. oooh Sweet!. The Raven ribbons are 24db high pass at 10khz. This is the best I've ever heard.
I've had some good gear, not more than $10K in amp pre trans and d/a. But the system with the "3" is mid-fi prior to the pr.
Dennon 5 disk, and early MSB d/a. After that it's MBL, the "3" and those lovely Raven/Mangers.
The "3" has noted every difference ever fed it as well.
I've read a few reviews that claim the Onkyo A-9555 sounds just as good or better than the Pass Aleph 3. I have heard the Onkyo A-9555 and it does sound extremely good but I have not heard the Pass Aleph 3.
Everything is possible with the new technology. Don't forget, Aleph's are over ten years old. However I still think they are good value (on the used market) for the money.
Not to disparage Onkyo, however ,as for me I will take anything from Nelson Pass and not look back, as opposed to products from the asian basin. Only God and Nelson knows how many times his designs have been ripped off over the past 35 years. While the Onkyo is Class D amplification as opposed to the Aleph, which is Pure Class A. Most all of Nelson Pass products have earned legendary status. Whats the Onkyo legendary component? I can't remember one that could be even remotely compared to Nelson Pass, in any given year.
Just hooked-up Golden Tube Se-40. I don't know if it's better synergy, but so far this amp is beating-up good my Aleph 3.
Someone here said that the Alephs are good value for the money.
In my view they are the best value for the money in the solid state single ended amplifier domain (not balanced).
Especially if the source you are using is of good quality single ended type.
As the Aleph 3 is not a balanced amp you will lose the benefits of the balanced source if you use it - obviously.
If your source is a good quality one but is not balanced then the Aleph will shine.
Why pay excess money for a balanced configured amp (double circuitry) and use it with unbalanced source and not get the full benefits out of it?
Another and probably the most important consideration is the speaker impedance.
Don't expect them especially the Aleph 3 to drive
successfully low impedance speakers!
I have personally experienced great results with a JBL 8 ohm nominal impedance easy to drive speaker with Van Den Hul Revolution cables.
A good quality 2 driver speaker is the best match.
In lower impedance speakers the Alephs will not work - I have tried it. They have no enough current at output and also have high output impedance.
Not that it is very bad but the whole magic is lost - there is simply no point to do it.
Also, be ready to wait at least 1 hour for the amp to get into optimal working temperature!
When getting back home from work in the evening the first thing to do is to switch the amplifier on!
It will reward you later on.
I have used an Aleph 30 which is very similar to the Aleph 3 and have driven 87dB speakers with it with zero problems. Also I have found out it is best to leave Class A output amps on 24/7 for best results and long term reliability. Switching Class A amps on/off tends to shorten their life due to the cycling process of heat to cold and vice versa. I leave Class A amps on 24/7 and have never had a problem. Less convection for the amp to deal with. Of course if I am gone for a vacation or long week end I will power down the amp.
I would like to use this amp with my Linn Majik as a pre. My source is a Karik/Numerik. My speakers are Epos ELS-3's. Anyone see any issues with this? There are too many good things said about this amp to ignore.

I just sold my Aleph 3 and I'm already regreting it. If I didn't need the money I would have held on to this amp for the rest of my life. High end audio is a weird and expensive hobby, the aleph3 lets people get at least a glimpse of what is available at a reasonable price.
I agree with the above. First, this amp isn't the one for a big 2x12 stand of speakers. But as for driving the satelites; I miss my Aleph 5 much.
I have an EDGE G.5 that is as good (though different) close. But no more burnt forearms, :)
i love the sound of the aleph 3 as well as a friend's 1.2 monoblocks, but i HATE the ergonomic placing of the power switch on the BACK right next to the speaker terminals. if someone could explain to me why nelson pass HAD to design the amp this way i would appreciate it. my friend was able to get a remote switch box to turn the amps on and off (vans evers- but it's no longer made); the box is of decent quality but still sits between the amps and the wall.
1. I guess it is the efficiency of the speakers which matters, not the physical size. I have no problem to drive bulky dunlavy with Aleph-3.
2. it is probably the most economical & smart way to design a 200 watts class A amp that way for mass heat dissipation.
I now own an Italian amp that apes the alephs single ended topography as well as it's rear power switch. The way I look at it, if your going to wait thirty minutes for it to heat up you might just as well turn it on from the back.