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Pass clones vs Pass Labs proper - has anyone compared?


TheFlash
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Intro

On the back of a fabulous couple of hours at Fanthorpes comparing several cracking Class A Sugden amps, I think I should take a breath and broaden my search a bit before committing. I have long admired Pass Labs products and have had several opportunities to enjoy the XA60.8 monoblocks at @Fourlegs Towers. I am also very impressed by Nelson Pass's enthusiasm not only for amplifier design but also for sharing his thinking and even some of his designs. Serious respect. :notworthy:

Interest in Pass rekindled by this in the Classifieds: dual mono design, seriously good components, and that Pass design street cred, but also assembled meticulously by Joe Henry in Coventry whose work I've long admired via the wonders of his preferred sales channel eBay...

I've poked around the interweb and it appears that the A clones are basically the same as the Aleph amps of which it easier to find reviews/mentions. The A5 may well be an even better bet for me as the Aleph 5 (same architecture, different cube-shaped chassis) gets seriously good reviews. It does of course cost more than the A3!

Exam question

Has anyone compared the Pass DIY amps with the equivalent (however you judge that) Pass Labs "proper" equivalent? Setting price aside, what did you like and dislike about either? Anyone migrated from clone to pukka or t'other way round? I'm interested in any experiences of integrated, pre- and power amps.

Thanks.

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Nigel, some of these reviews and forum chat might help to place the Aleph models in the context of the .5 series, ie the one before the .8 that I have. I briefly had the xa30.5 and was not blown away by it compared to the xa30.8 and of course the xa60.8 monos I now have. 
 

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/pass-aleph-5-vs-pass-xa-30-5-60-5


https://6moons.com/audioreviews/passlabs/xa305.html

https://www.stereophile.com/solidpoweramps/pass_labs_xa305_power_amplifier/index.html

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/pass-labs-xa30-5-vs-aleph-3
 

Edited by Fourlegs
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Nigel, some of these reviews and forum chat might help to place the Aleph models in the context of the .5 series, ie the one before the .8 that I have. I briefly had the xa30.5 and was not blown away by it compared to the xa30.8 and of course the xa60.8 monos I now have. 
 

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/pass-aleph-5-vs-pass-xa-30-5-60-5


https://6moons.com/audioreviews/passlabs/xa305.html

https://www.stereophile.com/solidpoweramps/pass_labs_xa305_power_amplifier/index.html

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/pass-labs-xa30-5-vs-aleph-3
 

Thanks Nick. Had seen some but not all of these.

On the first, still with that warm afterglow of the Sugden A21 Sig in my ears, I saw this as a positive:

"I also owned the Aleph 5 for more than 15 years driving a pair of Proac Response 2s. Two years ago I traded up for a XA30.5 that I now used on a pair of Druids. I wouldn't say the 30.5 is necessarily better than the Aleph 5. Just different. The XA30.5, even though its rated at less power, seems more powerful. It swings to the yang side of the spectrum with a more detailed and neutral presentation. There is excellent extension and good control at the extremes. OTOH, I found the Aleph had a more mellow and relaxed presentation that was easier to get involved in. I especially missed its sweet top end.
If you really like the sound of the Aleph then I'd also consider the First Watt amps since they seem to represent a further refinement of the yin side of music reproduction."

From the 6moons review, this is interesting. Positive praise for the Aleph 3 and acknowledgement that the primary motivation to move away from that architecture was to scale to higher power amps rather than any specific sonic shortcomings:

"Years ago now -- about 1996 I think -- I was the proud owner of a Pass Labs Aleph 3. I fondly referred to the Aleph 3 as my porcupine amp because of its pointy wrap-around cooling fins. The Aleph 3 was a simple two gain-stage affair with 30 watts of stereo power and a single-ended MOSFET output stage. Its simplicity, excellent sonics and musical soul made the Aleph 3 a big hit with HiFi enthusiasts, who spoke of it as being equal to the best direct-heated single-ended-triode (SET) amplifiers of the time. In retrospect, letting that awesome little Aleph 3 get away from me was perhaps the biggest bone-headed move I've committed in audio.

The new Pass Labs XA30.5 power amplifier is a direct evolutionary descendent of that long gone Aleph 3 and like the Aleph 3 of old, it is the lowest powered amplifier in Nelson's XA.5 product line at 30 watts. This particular Pass amplifier's evolutionary time line starts with the Aleph series, progresses to the X amplifier designs, then to the XA amplifier designs and finally ends up at 2008's X.5 & XA.5 iterations.

The Aleph single-ended MOSFET amplifiers were breakthrough products in transistor design, having high-performance sonics, a touch of tube-like warmth and a level of smoothness and musicality that for the day was unparalleled in solid-state designs.

However, the Aleph amplifier could not be easily scaled to high-powered designs so Nelson Pass began working on a new platform, the X circuit, that would allow scaling of simple circuits to higher power. The X used "matched balanced amplifiers cross-coupled to cancel distortion and noise" patented as Super Symmetry. As the end result of this research, Nelson introduced the X1000, a 1000-watt amplifier with two gain stages and a small amount of local feedback, which maintained a good portion of the smaller Alephs' suavity in a powerhouse design."

From Stereophile:

"The X.5 and XA.5 series of amplifiers are the second respective generations of the original X and XA series. The X models, beginning with the X1000 in 1998, were the first implementation of Nelson Pass's patented Supersymmetric topology. The XA series, which debuted four years later, combined Supersymmetry with the single-ended class-A operation of the Aleph series."

And finally from Audiogon again: "In the review Erick thought the XA30.5 sounded more resolving and a little bit better bass control and can sound louder than the 30 watts. It was leaner in the midbass than the Aleph 3 but, had a slightly more presence in the top three octaves. He still is in love with is Aleph 3 and sounds like he is not planning on replacing the Aleph 3 with the XA30.5."

All helpful stuff.

Edited by TheFlash
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PS. As the updated link above, shows, John's Pass A3 clone sold today. Nice one, John @mr.me.

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One of the leaders of a fb group for proac  is always raving about Joe Henry's pass labs clones and how he loves them. Seem incredible vfm. Curiously Mr me last amps made by Joe took months and months to sell and yet this one sold so fast.

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One of the leaders of a fb group for proac  is always raving about Joe Henry's pass labs clones and how he loves them. Seem incredible vfm. Curiously Mr me last amps made by Joe took months and months to sell and yet this one sold so fast.

That would be Stuart. Yes, we exchanged messages a few months ago when I was intrigued but it was less relevant to my needs at the time.

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The challenge here is that Joe does not have the facilities to entertain folk for auditions, so it's either a leap of faith or use of the 14 -day distance selling rules which apply to eBay as much as to any other such channel. Neither is particularly appealing.

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I have a pair of DIY Aleph 60 monoblocks that replaced a DIY Aleph 30 power amp. Same sound - just more of it. There’s something magical about the sound of single-ended Class A. It won’t suit everyone but with speakers offering an easy load, i find them unbeatable for most of the music I play. 

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Any thoughts on how Pass compare to JLH > John Linsley Hood  designs ?

(Ive heard the JLH class A 1969 10? watt driving electrostatics, blown away by how good the sound is for under £200 new)

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Any thoughts on how Pass compare to JLH > John Linsley Hood  designs ?

(Ive heard the JLH class A 1969 10? watt driving electrostatics, blown away by how good the sound is for under £200 new)

Oy, you: get your own thread! Cheeky whippersnapper.

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I have a pair of DIY Aleph 60 monoblocks that replaced a DIY Aleph 30 power amp. Same sound - just more of it. There’s something magical about the sound of single-ended Class A. It won’t suit everyone but with speakers offering an easy load, i find them unbeatable for most of the music I play. 

Excellent, Ian, many thanks. Did you by any chance ever compare them with the Pass Labs badged counterparts?

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Excellent, Ian, many thanks. Did you by any chance ever compare them with the Pass Labs badged counterparts?

I haven't compared them directly but have heard a few of the recent Pass Labs amps including Nick's xa60.8s. I like them a lot - If I had hard to drive speakers, they would be what I would be looking for. With the DIY versions you get most of the sound quality but none of the style or pride of ownership and you pay a lot less for them! 

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I haven't compared them directly but have heard a few of the recent Pass Labs amps including Nick's xa60.8s. I like them a lot - If I had hard to drive speakers, they would be what I would be looking for. With the DIY versions you get most of the sound quality but none of the style or pride of ownership and you pay a lot less for them! 

And I guess whether the "most" you get is the most you want... is the real question here. I have bought kit based on reputation, brand familiarity, etc without hearing it and the well-judged risk has paid off in all but one high profile case. I'm not sure I want to do that in this case, just too many unknowns.

The style of the Joe Henry ones is absolutely fine by me - my Arcam kit is boring or understated depending on one's tastes. Visually, I find Pass Labs on the right side of bling, though only just. Bizarrely, I'd feel real pride of ownership if I'd paid £modest for something which sounds like it costs at least £2modest.

I will find a way forward.

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I own a Joe Henry First Watt F5. I paid £600 used (Ebay).

Its well made and internally has the look of the one mentioned above (Aleph) that just sold (albeit different components as its a different model). Soundwise its detailed and fast. Its not a worldbeater at the price - I'd take the Monarchy Audio SE100 monos  (which I also have and similarly Class A solid state) over the F5, and I paid the same (Wam classifieds - where were you all!) - but its good. I would partner it with a valve pre/phono rather than more of the same if you get my drift.

The casework of the clones is different to the Nelson Pass ones - its the same case no matter which model. The heatsinks are smaller for instance. Most of the Joe Henry amps have a balanced option, which was something attractive to me. Despite being class A they dont get overly hot in use.

I woud say they are good vfm. My F5 is less sensitive than other amps I have, if that's a consideration in one's set up.

Jack NSM

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