George 47

Pass Labs XA 30.8

Recommended Posts

Moderator

Pass Labs XA30.8

xa30.8_1920px.thumb.jpg.79e7a481541acd4799f97aa525e32b5a.jpg

I like valve amplifiers. They sound like real people playing real instruments. Upright bass has the real weight of the instrument and the bass tune just flows. Voices sound like real people singing, with real emotion and with the natural flow of a tune. Cymbals just shimmer and sound like real brass instruments, which is what they are. You can listen for hours on end without fatigue. Lovely.

I like transistor amplifiers. Solid state amplifiers have a big powerful sound with a tight well timed bass. It is easy to hear when the timing of any music subtly changes and goes behind or ahead of the beat. The 3D soundstages are enormous. Cymbals and brass instruments have real air and sparkle. They sound brilliant with fast paced music especially studio creations. Great.

I hate valve amplifiers. They need new valves every few years, they are expensive and produce masses of heat. The sound can constantly change with the aging of valves. They can be over-smooth, reduce bass dynamics, and sound dull.

I hate transistor amplifiers. They can sound ultra-clear, hard, sterile with thin images. People sound like disembodied voices with lots of detail but no body. They are bright and sound really bad on less well recorded music.

How about an amplifier that does the best of both worlds?

For me, hybrid amplifiers give a mixture of the good and the bad and have never tempted me to open the wallet. Hybrids - not for me. The best mixture I ever heard was a mixture of a valve preamplifier with a solid state power amplifier. But that was not as good as a full set of SETs. So that is what I bought and use.

But is this Pass Labs amplifier different?

One of the great advantages of the Wam is it introduces you to like-minded people. One of my audio buddies, Kevin, is also a reviewer for a published hifi magazine. Kevin, like me, uses Audionote amplifiers as they represent one of the best ways to amplify music at home. So when he called and invited me over to hear an ‘interesting’ amp, over I went. A few months later, I had a Pass Labs XP12 preamplifier and Pass Labs XA30.8 power amplifier at home.  Yes, this was serious.

Pass Labs amplifiers are designed by the legend that is Nelson Pass. He has been involved in the US amplifier business for decades and is considered a bona-fide guru of amplifiers. His newest power amplifier designs are the .8 power amplifiers. The XA 30.8 amplifier is a full stereo Class A amplifier that produces 30 watts per channel. Yes only 30 watts per channel. You can probably guess what power the XA60.8, the XA100.8, etc produce.

As this amplifier is Class A it produces a lot of heat; about 375w. It also weighs about the mass of a satellite of Jupiter. Well 90lbs. This is due to a huge Plitron transformer. This amp may only produce 30w but boy they can produce a lot of current.

The specifications for this amp are a little conservative and it produces 30w/channel at only 0.1% THD with 60w/channel at the industry standard of 1%. When asked to produce a lot of power the amp goes into A/B mode and produces over 150w/channel. I never got the amp out of Class A as I use efficient Audionote E speakers. But I do like my rock music loud.

The amplifier is very well made. The front has a nice anodised aluminium front. In the centre is a nice meter with a blue LED backlight. This meter never moved once when I had it. What is the point of that then? Unlike other meters it measures current and will show when the amp goes out of Class A. It never did. It has RCA and balanced inputs and some really neat speaker terminals. These wing shaped speaker terminals take banana plugs and spades. What is neat is once you have tightened them enough they click and stop tightening further. No more under/over-tightening. A neat idea from Furutech. 

sm_pt8_stereo_rear__large_0.thumb.jpg.dec1d29361227a18ccaac91dda2b59c9.jpg 

Setting up was simple and straightforward. I just put them on the floor on top of a board from a rack. As this is a 90lb beast it did not get moved around too much. It reminded me of my old Krell 600 power amplifiers. They weighed 135 lbs and stayed exactly where they were put. I borrowed the new preamplifier from Pass Labs the XP12. This preamplifier is the replacement for the XP10 and is rumoured to sound better than the current two box XP20. I could not prove that as I did not have access to a XP20 but the source of the comment is unimpeachable.

So with everything in place I put the amps into my system and let them burn in for a couple of weeks. They may not have needed that but I was not going to leave anything to chance. Once broken in, I found the power amplifier need about an hour to warm up. When fully warmed up the case got to about 55C, warm but not flesh threatening.  I left the preamp on all the time. I can stand a 100w item on 24/7 but not a 375w power amplifier.

I put the amplifiers into my system of Auralic Aries streamer, Audionote DAC4.1x borrowed from Kevin and the Audionote Es silver HE speakers. Cables were Cut Loose silver ribbon interconnects and Audionote copper speaker cables. I occasionally played my vinyl of a Voyd 0.5 Ref, SME V and an Audionote IoII and my M6 phono stage in the Audionote preamp.

Now down to the sound.

Well the first thing that struck me is that this amp did not sound like a typical SS power amp. It casts a big 3D soundstage. Within that soundstage there are real people playing real instruments (assuming it was recorded that way). Singers were 3D solid people that had height and if they were a male singer, weight. The realism was superb. Not the normal SS ‘realism’ with paper thin images of very detailed voices that despite all this detail still fails to convince.  Musical instruments have all the usual SS transparency but at the same time had real warmth that only comes from live music. The mid-range was, for a SS amplifier, exceptional. It has superb musicality. This is a SS amp but it has a lot of the ‘right’ sound of valve amplifiers. It is not an SET but by hell the sound of voices was damn good.

Bass is its forte. Bass instruments, especially stand-up bass, is distinct from other bass instruments and the tonality of the strings is excellent. It allowed differentiation of the various tones of bass instruments and not the usual thud, thud, boom, boom. Unlike most valve amps it has a realistic tightness of bass and plays the beat of a tune with great power. The amps drove the Es to a very high level in a way my SETs can’t. What they both (SETs and Pass) do well is the true attack, sustain and decay of musical notes. A lot of amps will not play the build-up of bass notes from the noise floor. A lot of SS amps are poor at differentiating how master bass players use their attack of the strings to add and release the tension in the music. My Krell 600s did not do this well. Yes they were damn loud but where was this differentiation on the bass? The Pass amp also did the decay of bass really well. You can hear it going into the noise floor. This also shows up on cymbals as well, where drummers attack the cymbals at different times in their decay to speed up or slow down the pace in the music. Oddly enough SETs are masters at this even though they have measurably higher noise. Some SS amps have fantastic attack as the music ‘jumps’ in and then it stops suddenly giving a very stochatto and metronomic timing, but losing the real attack and decay of the music.

On Roger Waters latest album the real anger and disdain in his voice was superbly portrayed. ‘Like a leader with no f*****g brains’ leaves you in no doubt about his views on what is happening over the pond. The background noises on the album make more sense as they add to the music and do not just sound like sound effects for effects sake. On early Led Zep tracks the sheer speed and power of the band is easy to hear and the power behind the singing of Bobby Plant is a real highlight. He may not be able to do that now but by hell this is real power rock with sublime playing from Jimmy Page. With bass a forte of this amp, the power drumming and bass playing of Bonzo and JPJ really gives the band a solid platform to work from. Playing some Essie Jain shows off the subtlety in her music and the emotion she can get from her voice with Glory being a stunning track. If this and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s John Doe No. 24 does not move you, check your pulse. And for classical tracks I use Finlandia conducted by Sir John Barbirolli to test a systems power and dynamics and this amplifier produced a big, powerful 3D sound with the dynamics to shock. Or from the same conductor, on a more familiar tune, Karelia Suite will have you humming along and trying to remember which news programme it was the theme tune for.  

This amplifier is probably the best SS amplifier I have heard and that is a common view of many reviewers especially in the US and for once I agree with them. Pass Lans are used as reference amplifiers for a lot of these guys and now I understand why.

So is everything in the garden rosy?? Well this amp weighs a lot, burns electricity like it is going out of fashion and costs a fair amount. On price. It costs £6,700 which for such a large beast that sounds so good is actually relatively inexpensive. Yes I know it is not small change but other well-built Class A amps tend to the £20K mark so you might even say it is cheap compared to them. It gave my Audionote Silver Signatures a great run for their money. No they do not sound the same but in sound quality they were awfully close. I really liked it. So much so I bought the blighter.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This matches my experience with the Pass X150.8.  Negatives first:  It is a monstrosity.  Moving it is a two man job and even then you will need strength and care.  The 150.8 is towards the bottom of the line so I the bigger brothers will be even heavier.  It also gets hot.  In winter you can keep your hand on it, but not quite in summer.  In the odd lingo of Hi-Fi it gets hot before it has warmed up!  It is the best part of an hour before it sounds at its best. 

Positives:  Quite a good looker in my estimation.  The power meter is not too blingy.  As George says it only moves when it goes into class AB.  This has only happened a couple of times.  It is biased to about 13 Watts which is pretty loud on my speakers. You wanna annoy the wife? infuriate the neighbours? damage your hearing?  No problem, just turn the dial to 12 O'Clock.  Sound quality is all there.  I still have the highly respectable ATC P1.  I could have lived with that amp.  The Pass is a serious step up from that.  One of its good features (that the P1 also had) was that it still sounds good at low levels.  It is not an auto purchase because the difficult features are not trivial, but if you can live with them then it is a good 'un.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Super Wammer
On 11/13/2017 at 15:58, George 47 said:

Pass Labs XA30.8

This amplifier is probably the best SS amplifier I have heard and that is a common view of many reviewers especially in the US and for once I agree with them. . . . . . .

I really liked it. So much so I bought the blighter.

A really interesting review. Having had valves for many decades I have been toying with trying a solid state amplifier as people seem to think they might be the future. . .

I have got an unmarked second hand Pass Labs XA30.5 coming for me to try. I'm only going for the XA30.5 because I have not yet seen a second hand XA30.8 come on the market. (If anyone has a XA30.8 that they keep tripping over and they want to sell then let me know)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

brilliant I saw that one for sale and thought what a good buy it was . I am sure he was the chap who had some hornings sold recently . pass is a beautiful brand . I am very fond of my ss power amp  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Super Wammer
10 hours ago, hifinutt said:

brilliant I saw that one for sale and thought what a good buy it was . I am sure he was the chap who had some hornings sold recently . pass is a beautiful brand . I am very fond of my ss power amp  

Yes, that's the guy. After a long telephone conversation I am his new best friend and he remembered the adverts I used to do for Definitive Audio many years ago with old horns photoshopped onto vintage trucks. We did an even better deal than it was advertised for so it is always good to talk.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

absolutely , and a great deal if it works for you . i have been reading various reviews of the int 60 and int 250 but the latter really do not like the sharp fins which can lacerate !!!! and not htb on these high end pass integrated !! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Moderator

I heard the X250.5 at Metatrons and it has a similar sound characteristic, warm, powerful, 3D and realisitic. I remember those Definitive Audio ads, very clever.

Did he pay you in kind with Kondo??:D

Hopefully the XA 30.5 hits the target but only one way to find out....yes....look at the specs.....Listen...

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Super Wammer
On 1/14/2018 at 15:08, George 47 said:

I heard the X250.5 at Metatrons and it has a similar sound characteristic, warm, powerful, 3D and realisitic. I remember those Definitive Audio ads, very clever.

Did he pay you in kind with Kondo??:D

Hopefully the XA 30.5 hits the target but only one way to find out....yes....look at the specs.....Listen...

The XA30.5 has arrived and is all that I hoped for and then some more after that. Plenty of power but not 'in your face'. It has the sort of sound that invites long listening sessions of long forgotten CDs that simply don't sound enjoyable through other amps.

And no, it is a pity but Kondo were never mentioned as payment for my Definitive Audio advert artwork.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Super Wammer
The XA30.5 has arrived and is all that I hoped for and then some more after that. Plenty of power but not 'in your face'. It has the sort of sound that invites long listening sessions of long forgotten CDs that simply don't sound enjoyable through other amps.

Does that include the 845’s?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Super Wammer
On 1/19/2018 at 07:04, TheFlash said:


Does that include the 845’s?

Well I admit, yes, there are some CDs that the 845 amps do not suit mainly due to them being a bit 'hifi'. The Pass Labs amp is less overtly hifi and has a few of the sharp edges taken off the sound compared to other less forgiving amps. In that sense it is the sort of amp that that one can settle down for a long listening session without becoming fatigued. The detail is all there, it has valve like mids and top end and the bass is there in spades but as I said in the earlier post, it is just a little less in your face and so is less tiring to listen to. I can see why the Pass Labs amps have a very loyal following.

Edited by Fourlegs
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Super Wammer

I feel a Boys’ Northern Adventure coming on...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Super Wammer
5 minutes ago, TheFlash said:

I feel a Boys’ Northern Adventure coming on...

I will PM you regarding this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Moderator
4 hours ago, Fourlegs said:

Well I admit, yes, there are some CDs that the 845 amps do not suit mainly due to them being a bit 'hifi'. The Pass Labs amp is less overtly hifi and has a few of the sharp edges taken off the sound compared to other less forgiving amps. In that sense it is the sort of amp that that one can settle down for a long listening session without becoming fatigued. The detail is all there, it has valve like mids and top end and the bass is there in spades but as I said in the earlier post, it is just a little less in your face and so is less tiring to listen to. I can see why the Pass Labs amps have a very loyal following.

The only thing now is that I spent a very enjoyable 45 minutes on the phone yesterday to the UK distributor who it turns out is based in Cumbria only 5 miles from where I was brought up. We inevitably discussed an upgrade to the XA30.8 that @George 47 reviewed and then bought . . . . . .

Beware....audio upgraditis can strike at any time......:D

The .8 is chunkier (it weighs kilos more ) and runs a lot more in Class A. I have not heard the .5s but people whose ears I trust say the .8 is more dynamic and powerful in the bass whereas the .5 is warmer. Most people prefer the .8s but some like the warmer .5s. I suspect their tastes and speakers dictate it.

If I was you I would let the .5 get really under my skin (so to speak)  and really listen to them for many days and then compare to what you have. If you find you really like the .5s (and I suspect you will) then luxuriate in that sound and enjoy it.

You can look at .8s anytime in the future.....unless you are impatient like me then get the dam .8s and be done......(Sorry that is not sensible advice :/). 

They are still one of the best SS amps I have heard.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know about the XA series, but I have an old X250 (not .5 or .8) and I haven't heard any amp at any price that would give me the upgraditis itch.

A close amp sound-wise is the Vitus RS-100 for close to £10k, but as said, sounds nearly identical.

I suspect if I were to change it I would end up with another Pass/FirstWatt amp.

Depending on your power requirements for your speakers, it may be worth listening to the FirstWatt J2 as well.

In case you don't know, the FirstWatt amps are Nelson Pass amps which can be bought or built DIY. They are class A but low power since they don't have large numbers of transistors in parallel like the Pass Labs amps. Some consider them to make a purer sound, but you'd need more efficient speakers to ensure you don't run out of oomph on bassy tracks when playing LOUD.

I hope you get a long home demo.

Edited by Metatron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Super Wammer

Just been having a poke around the Pass Labs website... the way you guys and others have been talking about these amps is intoxicating and that's without hearing them. However, if I look at the website it appears you're only talking about their entry level amps! If you own a Pass Labs amp and get a serious dose of upgrade-itis, I think that might be terminal. Fine way to go though...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.