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Pass Labs is giving the most complete sound in my opinion. As a perfectionist I am only interested in the best possible. For me focus is Always on the max what is possible these days. I want everything in a set what needs to be there for the 'absolute' sound. Or what I call TOTAL SOUND.
Pass Labs can let you hear the differences in sound between instruments. It gives you the wide and deep stage you need. But also in timing and drive it is stunning. It is pure music full of emotion and realism
For me it is difficult to understand why many people choose for other brands which have so many limitations. When I explain people what the limitations are they understand it. Before they didn't know what was missing or wrong.
I just took delivery on a pair of XA160.8, which replaced XA160.5. I thought I would keep my 160.5's for ever, they were incredible sounding. The tamber and tone were so correct and musical. Then along came the 160.8, the first thing that came out of my mouth was holy shit! The .8's are soooo transparent that it actually threw me. I actually started hearing subtle things on favorite CD's that I don't remember hearing before. They present glorious sound that is so open and huge. The highs are more extended and delicate and the base is so detailed and powerful. Yes I am smitten with these amps. Now I have to listen to my entire collection all over gain. And to think they aren't even broken in yet. I actually think that the .8 series is a quantum leap forward for Pass Labs. Job well done
Audio should never become a hobby. Because it cannot make you happy. But music can make you happy. I visit many people with highend sets who were struggling with there set. Then there can come a moment you want to give up. Often it is caused by making the wrong decisions togheter.
When you do not know the properties of an amp,speaker, cable, conditioner, source etc. It Always will be difficult if those parts will work well togheter. The acoustics of the room and the properties togheter of all the parts will give you the overwhole sound.
In almost 16 years of doing tests in audio I am aware that most stuff in audio it not that special or worth the money. The real good stuff is very limited. The change of a well balanced musical set is small.
It starts at shows, normally you listen to flaws all the time. Caused by using stuff who do not work well togheter. Or the level of the stuff is not good enough. But it is still being bought by people. And sold by who?
Last night Ian (MadFloyd) invited me and two other good audio buddies over to compare the Pass Labs .5 amps to the newest .8 amps. He uses an entire Pass Labs chain of electronics: XP25, XP30 and XA160.5. I also have an all Pass chain consisting of the XP25, XP20 and the XA160.5. But the similarities end there. I have the limited range Magico Mini 2 speakers in a small enclosed space while Ian uses full range Wilson Alexias in a large, open space. The sound of our systems has always struck me as quite different, but that impression has been radically changed after last night's listening session. More about that later.
Ian has in for audition a pair of the newest XA160.8 mono blocks. He has had them for just over a week and they have been either playing music or plugged in for almost all of that time, so they should be just at the end of the break-in period. He told us that the sound has stabilized. The four of us were eager to compare the sound of the two amps. We are all familiar with Ian's system so it was with some excitement that we sat down to listen. We started off with the .5 listening to familiar digital cuts and then to some vinyl. There were perhaps eight cuts in total with a variety of pop, jazz and classical. We then switched the input and speaker cables and listened to the .8 amps using the same cuts in reverse order starting with the vinyl and ending with the digital.
When we were finished, Ian asked: "So, do you guys have a preference?". Two of us said "yes" without hesitation. The third friend said that he wanted to hear more music before commenting. Well, thinking that the one guy and I were in agreement, I figured that there was a clear preference and all that we would discuss was how they differed and perhaps guess about why that was the case. To my surprise, the other fellow preferred the .5 while I preferred the .8. So that was rather interesting. As the evening continued that preference for the .5 was for one of the formats, either digital or analog, but I forget. Apparently, after the less committal friend and I left, Ian and the remaining friend stayed to listen for a while longer and again this morning. They now both prefer the .8 for reasons they may explain on the forum later.
For me, the differences were pretty clear. What I find interesting is that the reasons I liked the .8 more than the .5 in Ian's system is precisely because the .8 made his system sound more like what I enjoy about my system, namely, a relaxed, non-fatiguing sound, an ease and flow to the music, convincing dynamics, a sense of palpable presence, and a sense of natural timbre and tone.
As many may remember from reading these forums, Ian has always loved Wilson speakers. He has had his Alexias now for about eight months, with Sofias and Sashas before then. In my opinion, he has had difficulty finding electronics, and specifically amps, which can control and mate well with the Wilsons. To my ears, there was always an inability to control the lower frequencies which resulted in a loose, inarticulate bass, a slightly lack of clarity on complex passages and often a rather strident treble with the occasional glare. Tonally, Ian's system always seemed a bit recessed in the midrange and somewhat emphasized in the frequency extremes. With his Sashas and now Alexias, I have heard amp/preamp combinations from Lamm, Ayre, Doshi, D'Agostino and now Pass Labs. These are arguably all first rate products, but for me, and perhaps there is considerable bias involved regarding Pass Labs, Ian's system benefitted tremendously from the introduction of Pass gear.
His system had reached a high level the last time I was there about eight weeks ago when he had introduced the XA160.5, XP-30 and a few weeks later, the XP25. The midrange had become more fleshed out and the overall tonal balance was more neutral that it had been with all of the other electronics combinations. But there was still a slight looseness to the lower frequencies and an obscuring veil over the sound. His Transparent Audio cables had been configured for the tubed Doshi gear and he had different power cords and a different DAC.
Well, all of that changed last night. The Transparent Ref XL speaker cables and ICs are now reconfigured for his Pass gear, he introduced Shuyata PCs and has a new Playback? DAC (which I know nothing about). The system sounded very good when we started listening to the .5, but once we switched to the .8, the Wilsons were, for the first time in my experience, really happy with the amplifiers. Here is how I would summarize the difference between the .8 and the .5:
1. Lower noise
2. Greater dynamics
3. Better control of lower frequencies
4. Increased clarity
5. Smoother, sweater sound
I don't pretend to really understand how or why I heard these differences, but I think it has a lot to do with the lowering of noise. My theory is that at this point in the evolution of top tier gear, the manufacturers have solved lots of the issues involving distortion, bias, and clean power delivery. The next frontier in my view is the lowering of noise. With a lower noise floor, one hears more detail, better clarity, greater dynamics, all the things which I associate with live classical music in a great hall.
The two LPs which really clarified my opinion of these amps are the Sheffield Drum Track and Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Winter. I had never heard in Ian's system before the explosive dynamics and tight control of kickdrum thwacks and snare drum strikes and cymbals as I heard last night. One member of our group is in fact a drummer, and he heard more nuance between the different drums, perhaps preferring the .5 in some of the ranges.
In fact, Drum Track LP, one of my acid tests for a system's quality, always sounded kind of soft, dull and boring in Ian's system before. (Sorry Ian) But last night, it was incredible, and improved even more with our later introduction of Stillpoints under his speakers. More about that later in another thread. I had thought that the soft rendition of the Drum Track in Ian's system had been a result of the rather long rubber belt stretching when his cartridge hit a massive transient in the LP. But last night's experience shattered that theory. It was the amps (and perhaps the cables and PCs also) all along and the earlier versions being unable to control what is clearly a very difficult load at low impedances in the Alexia speaker. All of those other great amps, including the 160.5 could not handle the speaker load. Surprisingly, the explosive dynamics and tight control, and even the crisp clear transients of the cymbals now resembles what I hear from the sealed enclosures and easier load of my Mini 2s with my XA160.5.
The massed strings in the Vivaldi had a clarity and truth of timbre that I had not heard through the Wilsons before either. Sound was more open and clean than it was with the .5s and they sounded sweeter. The soundstage seemed slightly bigger and deeper with better defined edges. This overall clarity really went a long way to making it sound much more like the real thing at my reference hall, the BSO and to what I'm used to hearing in my own, mini monitor based system, which is known for clarity.
One area in which the system did not do as well though, is with imaging and scale. The images were a bit diffuse and often larger than life. The sound was slightly bigger than with the .5 which was welcome on jazz and classical, but individual instrumental images were a bit too large. I think this is more a matter of speaker fine tuning than the amps though and it was recording dependent, so it's not too big a deal. I think Ian could work on the speaker placement slightly over time to improve the imaging.
There is no question that for my taste, Ian's Alexias and system in general have never sounded better than with the Pass gear, either the .5 or the .8. I don't know how the .8 would sound in my system, because the attributes that I heard last night in Ian's system really remind me about what I already hear in my own system with the .5. So without more exposure to the .8, I can't be sure if they are better in an absolute sense, but last night, boy did they sound great in Ian's system. It is the best I have ever heard his system sound. The XA.8 is a real achievement and I think they will be a popular line for Pass.
Funny you ask the question "And sold by who?" above. Because, IIRC you are a Pass dealer. That might be worth mentioning at the bottom of your posts when commenting in these forums. One often sees "dealer disclaimer" at the bottom of a post by someone with a vested interest. Such openness is much appreciated.
My apologies in advance if I am incorrect.
On the XA 30.5 vocals (and tonality in general) were much more natural, with better instrument placement and a more 3-dimensional soundstage. This was true whether I was listening to Kanye West or Sonny Rollins. The 250.5 had a bit of harshness that really stood out on the Thiels (as would be expected, and as I was warned by Pass), but had very slightly better bass control. That room was a bit of a mess on the bass though (old wood floors floating over a crawl space in a weirdly shaped dining/living room combo), so perhaps I couldn't hear as much improvement in that area as there actually was. Also, just for clarity, I've never heard the XA60.5s (or.8s). Ohh, and I did have both Pass amps at the same time, so my decision was based on A/Bing.
I owned XA30.5, 60.5 and 100.5, now I have the X-250.5. When I bought the Purist Audio limited edition ( latest version) The X-250.5 went to a new level. All harshness was gone and I got a superior articulation of voices compared to XA100.5 with XP-20 and Purist Aqueous. I also liked the higher freq of the X-250.5 over the XA-100.5. These expensive powercables give you superior quality out of your amps. That is why I will go for the 350.8. Also of the 72 caps it uses like the 160.8/200.8 and 600.8. I will go for the extra speed and drive. I have done thousends of tests with cables in 16 years of time. Powercables have a huge influence on poweramps. What I noticed is that with simple powercabels you cannot get all the quality it has out of it. Even if you buy amps ( for Pass Labs also) 2 times the costs compared to the other amp powercables make a huge difference what will become the level you can get out of your amp.
You need at least 400 hours to hear were you are heading to. I said earlier that I never would choose for only copper in a set. Silver is essential in every highend set. It is about the extra air around instruments and voices. Often a bigger stage and more decay. And a sharper individual focus of instruments and voices. In one year of time I did compare a few sets with MIT copper with Audioquest silver. Audioquest was superior in every single part you Judge a cable for.
Thanks, Cal, interesting. Our listening space too is L-shaped into dining area/kitchen and has bass challenges. But we are using a sub below 125 Hz, so our X250.5 does not do any low bass work, and it sounds sweet yet very natural and transparent driving the KEF 201/2 monitor above 125 Hz. So, for now we are really enjoying the X250.5. That said, the new .8 series is food for thought, and it will be interesting to see how it is received by the market. As you say, A/B in one's own space is always the acid test, and I'm likely to give the .8 a run against the .5 at some point down the road.
Hello how are you one palcer, I live in Argentina and I am known orionpc, he put the debate that amp is better for Wilson Sasha, I tell you as I see you got doubts the line 8 of Pass Labs, in my opinion are a great step forward against the line .5 at all, much more fluid sound, enhanced bass, treble sweeter, less noise, resulting in much better stereo image with better recreation of instrumentalities !! I have extensive experience in pass Labs , XA-30.8, and sold three units, and all customers !! fascinated, I also sold about 8 months ago an X-350.8, with speakers B & W 802Diamond, and the truth is that the result was magnificent !!! much higher old X-350 speakers use !! Tell me that, and I give my opinion !! also I really liked your review of Purist powercord Limited Edition, this marac sell it more than 12 years ago in Argentina and the LE, is the cable I use in my Esoteric K-01X, in my pre Pass Labs XP-30, also concidero that is sensational !! I recently bought the powers Pass Labs XA-160.8, and the truth is that are incredible !!! Maybe I pass my system! These replaced a Krell CX-700, which I still !! also excellent !!!