Thiel 3.7's and Pass Labs xa60.5's- now looking for the next upgrade


I finally took the plunge and bought a pair xa60.5's mono's to drive my Thiels- and the upgrade has brought my system to a whole new level.  I was looking to get a deeper, more developed soundstage and with the Pass mono's I got more than I was expecting: the speakers virtually disappear, and you can see into the performance- the sound has a much more refined texture and everything is more fleshed out.   So now I am wondering what should be the next step up.  What I am looking to do is to get more spatial cues, and I suppose detail, to have a better sense of the recording venue and bring me closer to that sense of a live performance. 
My intention is to stay with Pass Labs and the Thiel's so I am thinking more of a preamp or dac upgrade.  The preamp is a Primaluna Dialogue Premium with Telefunken Nos tubes and the dac is a Moon 280d.   Cabling is Nordost except for the power cords to the amps which I built myself and which really did make a very marked difference- more bass and presence than before with stock cords.
Both the dac and preamp are very good in their own right so changing either to get a significant upgrade along the lines I described above rather than a sideways step isn't going to be easy.   So I am interested in any advice and thoughts from fellow audiogoners.

Here is a brief description of how my system evolved.  I was originally driving the Thiels with Mac MA7000 integrated- the power amp section is basically a hot-rodded ma252.  The first upgrade I decided to try was to bypass the preamp section with the Prima Luna and that was a revelation. The sound was transformed.   Then I started doing research on a replacement for the Mac altogether.  It took me a long time and I considered a lot of options.  What put me on the path to the Pass Labs was the suggestion from a friend, an electrical engineer that is also passionate about audio, that I take a look at a Luxman class A amp.  I had never really considered this option as the Thiels are not easy to drive but as my friend pointed out the issue would not be the watts as the Thiels are 90db but the power supply which needs to feed an impedance load that does dip below 3 Ohms across a significant portion of the frequency spectrum.   Anyway, I wasn't able to find a Luxman at my budget and it was than I got the suggestion to consider Pass- the xa30.8.  I was intrigued and called Pass and had a long conversation with them and they indeed are very familiar with the Thiels- and they too confirmed that their amps would have no problem driving them.   Anyway, just as I was mullling this over a pair of xa60.5's came up at a good price from a great a'goner and so I went ahead with that.  And btw, I have heard some suggest that Pass does not deal well with low impedance loads- it is simply not the case- not at all in fact and the proof is in the pudding: the Thiels sound GREAT.

Anyway, any suggestions and advice would be great.

Many thx as always!
pgastone
Pass power amps and Thiels are a match made in heaven.  Although when I called them and talked to the folks at Pass about my 2.4's they suggested the X series rather than the XA series, suggesting that the X150.8 would be more than enough.  It was, although I've since moved onto Magnepans.  I did consider picking up a pair of used 3.7's at some point (and may yet).
Magnepans were one of my first foray's into hi-end.  Way WAY back when I heard the 3.0 I understood what a great system could deliver in terms of musical enjoyment.  If I had had the space that was the speaker I always dreamed of owning and the various iterations since then have just gotten more amazing.  I just love them- but to do them justice they need real-estate so to speak.
As for the the 3.7's I have had several speakers to compare then to- including Magico's (I tried the S1's Mk1's because of the smaller size and weight) and I just went back to the Thiels.  That friend I mentioned in my post has YG Hailey's- really really outstanding- but the 3.7's are not all that far off.  I think the 3.7's are a landmark design.

If you have any thoughts on how I might make an incremental step in my system please let me know.
I'm all ears.....
Since you have a balanced DAC and amplifier I'd look for a balanced preamp as well like the Benchmark LA4.

https://benchmarkmedia.com/products/benchmark-la4-line-amplifier?variant=12552489730165

pgastone


I am looking forward to your purchase/step towards an Audio journey.

Please feel free to join us over on the Thiel Owners thread. There are several CS 3.7 fans therein.  Happy Listening!

All your sonic goals will be best addressed by improving the loudspeaker/listening room interface.
Hello,
And thank you.
I have heard some back and forth discussions re single ended and balanced connections- I understand the advantages of the latter although others have suggested that well executed RCA is as (almost?) effective.  Just not sure this would be such an incremental leap forward to warrant buying new cables ontop of getting a new preamp.  If at all possible I would like to stick to rca's- my own thought was that when it comes to the Prima Luna maybe the volume pot might be a bottleneck and possibly some of the capacitors.  But I will definitely look into the idea of balanced and see if can find a way to test etc.

As for the room acoustics I spent quite a bit of time trying to get that right but within the limits of decor etc.  I did room testing with REW+Mike and I managed to get a decent waterfall graph after consulting with an audio engineer and after quite a bit of tweaking in speaker placement +   carpet additions + thicker curtains (behind each speaker etc).  It isn't perfect by any means but respectable for a non dedicated room.  I also did zero in on the best placement for a sub (single) as I experimented with that a bit as well. But right now trying to see I can to improve sound from speakers standalone by replacing components up the chain.
What I am looking to do is to get more spatial cues, and I suppose detail, to have a better sense of the recording venue and bring me closer to that sense of a live performance.
Yeah, that makes sense. My guess is the combo of your class-A amps with a tubed pre is providing a lot of tonal color and density at the expense of upper-end treble or "air" that helps preserve reverb trails and better discern the scale of the recording venue.

I had a Bryson BP6 for many years, and it is the most neutral sounding component I’ve heard -- truly like straight wire with gain. When I put it in my system the whole soundstage cleared up and expanded so I could clearly "see" the entire venue with no veils. Given what you’re looking for, I think its big brother, the BP26, would be a perfect fit for your system and give you exactly what you’re looking for. Plus, it will feed your wonderful amps the full signal with adding or subtracting anything and allow them to sing more clearly and completely with their own pure voice. There’s a nice one available here now at a good price, so if it doesn’t work you can likely sell it with little or no loss.
https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9d507-bryston-bp26-mps2-solid-state

There’s also a Pass SP10 that would obviously have synergy with your amps, but I’ve never heard one so couldn’t say how it might help. My guess is it’s pretty neutral with probably more meat on the bones but less air and sparkle up top versus the BP26 -- but that’s just a semi- educated guess based on both brand’s house sound. Best of luck.


Not consistent with your desire to avoid balanced, but atma-sphere swears by the method and makes a universally praised preamp that might make a great addition to the system.
Good choice;

I had Thiel & converted to a Revel Studio 2. Thiel really is persnickety of electronics 

Pass brings big bass to Thiels ! 
Great resolution , but no glare 
I found Pass SS preamps to much resolution and clarity

I went with a CJ Tube Preamp and rolled tubes to get the soundstage @ depth & TUNE the sound you want 

SS power & Tube Pre is the way to go 
TONE audio magazine really promote’s the ss/Tube combo’s 

now, Throw a sub in and WOW 

my experiences say ; you are going the right way !

jeff
I have to disagree with @frozentundra -- a CJ preamp will probably just get you more of what the PrimaLuna pre is giving you now.  Not that CJ isn't GREAT gear, but for what you're looking for in the context of your system, Bryson or Pass will get you more of soecifically what you're looking for.  CJ will just add more of the same. 
I am using a Pass X250.8 amp with my Sonus Faber Amati Futuras.  I was looking for more detail, dynamics and bass slam.  I replaced a Doshi Audio full function tube preamp with a Pass XP22 line stage preamp and XP17 phono stage.  Before the Doshi, I had an Audio Research Ref 5 and Naim Superline phono stage.  I found the Doshi to be better than the Audio Research/Naim combo, but the Pass gear has taken my system exactly in the direction I was hoping for.  Great bass, actually surprising at times with real slam (something my speakers aren't known for).  Beautiful midrange with plenty of detail, strong imaging, and maximal differentiation of voices and instruments.  The treble is also better with more detail, spatial cues, and extension.  

Overall the Pass gear seems to match synergistically.  This is the first configuration I've had in 25 years without tubes somewhere in the chain.  The only thing I'm missing versus tube preamps is the "bloom" around notes...that unique ability of tubes to hang notes in the air with a more natural decay.  

As I look back on my (many) system configurations, it seems that when I go with one manufacturer the synergy seems to be special.  This includes systems made up of preamps and amps from Lamm, Audio Research, Doshi, Rogue, and McIntosh.  I have the same approach to cabling, with Transparent Reference in the system from phono to power cords.  While its fun to mix and match to tune the sound, my experience has been the most enjoyable systems are based on electronics from one manufacturer.  
While the XP22 may be out of your price range, the XP12 comes close in sound quality from what I understand.  Call Mark Semet at Reno HiFi or Kent at Pass.  Both are great guys to work with and will be very honest with you according to your needs.  

Good luck and have fun!
One more thing, the Pass gear is absolutely dead quiet, something I have never experienced with even the best tube gear.  
My apologies it has taken so long to respond but I was traveling and just got back.   Thank you all for the very helpful suggestions- this has given me a lot to think about and in directions I had not quite considered.

Like frozentundra I had pursued the idea of using tubes with solid state amplification.  I have always loved tubes and prior to current set-up I was using a Mastersound Compact 845 single ended triode integrated with Zu Druids IV and then with Focal Micro Utopia's BE: and in both cases the sound was superb albeit different (I still own all of them which is ridiculous, I know).  But neither set-up is comparable to what I have currently.   All this is just to say that, like tricon_dave, tubes were always part of the various set-ups (I guess with the brief exception when the Mac 7000 was being used standalone).

Based on what I have read so far in order to get those spatial cues and thus greater dimensionality and depth, I should start considering a solid state preamp.  And I never really considered Pass so I am looking into this as well as some the other suggestions.

My only concern is that the Thiels can be a tad hot in the upper frequencies and I always thought tubes might be a better match- but maybe not.   In terms of the current Prima Luna preamp I had thought that a tube preamp with better capacitors and a "cleaner" volume control might do the trick.  An interesting compromise might be a BHK preamp- what do you think?  

That said, I am very intrigued by the idea of trying all pass set-up- maybe an XP12 or an older XP20.

Anyway, the posts have been great and I am interested in hearing more as I continue to do research.


I forgot to mention that I am also checking out Bryston and Luxman.  I wonder how the new BP17 cubed might stack up against an XP12.  And in terms of latter the preamps get very little attention and used prices seem to reflect that though usu Luxman is built to exacting standards and performance.

pgastone

I look forward in seeing you over on the Thiel Owners thread. We have several CS 3.7 fans / owners there.  Happy Listening!
Based on review measurements, the Luxman 590 is underrated, and puts out closer to 90 than 30. 

This is probably due to the preheating requirements of measiring amp power. It is pretty strenuous.
Thank you for that.  I was thinking more about a Luxman pre to mate with the Pass amplifiers although if I had found a Luxman amp in my budget I would have tried it.
So I am now seriously looking at trying out a Pass labs preamp.  That said I would also like to get a sense from fellow A'goners what a tube alternative could be- in other words something that would be clear stop up from the Primaluna Dialogue Premium.   Preferably single ended and with remote.
I have not found it so easy to find something on the tube front that would SEEM a clearcut improvement without very significant investment (i am trying to stay with $5k +/- budget; used).

I would eventually like to test both alternatives, tube and solid state, to see how the sound can evolve in order to get me closer to the recording venue with greater spatial cues and inner detail/space.   Ultimately, I guess I am trying to get an even deeper soundstage with better spatial delineation of the performers.   In terms of other attributes I think the system is pretty much there to where I want it (for now....).
@jafant I will definitely join the Thiel owners thread.  Many thx for the kind invitation!
pgastone
My pleasure. I look forward to your joining us.  Happy Listening!
I have a good friend with Thiel 3.7's.  He is using a Parasound JC5 amp with an older Pass Labs preamp and phono preamp, both are the two box versions.  Not the XP20, the version before that.  

I don't hear any brightness or hardness in the upper mids or highs with his system.  Even when I owned fully tube based systems, I never thought he needed tubes to tame anything unpleasant in his system.  

If you are considering Pass, do yourself a favor and call Kent at Pass and Mark at Reno HiFi.  Both guys will help steer you in the direction you are looking to head.  Mark usually has some very good deals on demo and used gear.  
Yes thanks.
I plan to call Pass and Reno over the next couple of weeks.  What advice they give me should prove very interesting.  I was looking at the Reno HiFi website and it does seem that both the XP12 and XP20 are available used and at a fairly comparable price that would work for me.

I will also have a call with PS Audio re the BHK preamp.

Fingers crossed but if I manage to obtain the sound I am looking for this could be the last upgrade (which of course is completely a delusional statement-  but nothing works better than denial...).
pgastone
I am looking forward in reading about the correspondence with Pass Labs and PS Audio.  Have fun.  Happy Listening!
@pgastone if you're considering ps audio, consider contacting the music room (https://tmraudio.com) and ask if they've got any used units available. As you've probably heard, many dealers can offer new ps audio products for substantial discounts, but can not always list those prices. I think asking that question will cue them to let you know what the standard discount is. They also offer 60 day trial periods on all products. Super nice to deal with too. No affiliation, I just tried out some amps from them once... (and ended up returning)
Could be fun to get loaner units from them and Reno and have a proper 3 pre shootout...