- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr.
- Published on 24 December 2013
I tested the Xs Preamplifier and a pair of Xs 300 monoblocks with an OPPO BDP-105 universal player, Carver Mark IV ribbon speakers, and Wireworld cables.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 is his most recognizable work, even by those who have no interest in classical music. The opening notes are thunderous, and the dynamic range throughout the piece is very high. The Pass Labs Xs preamplifier and Xs 300 monoblocks (the Xs "package") handled this with ease. I was amazed at the clarity of the violins, even when the full orchestra was playing, but also the deep bass, with its power and depth. Nothing like having 400,000 µF of power supply capacitance to deliver when the signal demands it. This particular disc is a DVD-A (I used the stereo PCM tracks for the test) EuroArts 8-80242-51159-1.
Talk about deep bass power. This Telarc SACD (SACD-60614) is an excellent test, not only with the low pedal notes of the organ, but the ability to keep separate the power of the organ with the sharp contrast of the brass. Even at full volume, I heard no distortion. This is one of the discs where I could make the needle move. Very demanding music. Extremely accommodating amplifiers. My favorite test disc for bass is Telarc's version of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. With the Xs 300's, the bass drum that the orchestra used just about brought down the sheet rock in the lab. I have never heard bass like that from any amplifier. The entire room shook.
Phil Collins' version of "True Colors" on the album Phil Collins . . . Hits is superb (Atlantic 0-7567-83139-2), perhaps even better than the original by Cyndi Lauper. The harmony of voices and the pop of the snare drum, all crystal clear and with transient strength. On Hiromi's album, Brain, the first track is a feast. The drummer's lightning fast work on the hi-hat cymbals was more detailed and crisp than I have ever experienced from the recording.
Baroque music all seems to sound like either a funeral or seasonal celebration. This Telarc SACD (SACD-60651) sounds like the latter, and since this review was published on Christmas Eve, so much the better. And because the music has five operatic voices singing with the music, it is a good test for separation. The "package" kept it all neatly tied up, with each instrument and singer in a satin ribbon-wrapped box. Not a test for power or bass depth. But for musicality and detail? Excellent!
Dukas' La Peri is one of my favorite pieces of classical music. This rendition is Telarc CD_80515-SA (SACD). In particular, the "Fanfare" is a terrific mixture of all types of brass, including tuba. There again, the deep bass power of the package brought forth that instrument like I was listening to the disc for the first time. Yet, even with the intensity, the trumpets came through with effortless ease, and nary a hint of harshness.
Mozart composed many symphonies. He died very young, but he started composing very young. This particular disc (SACD) stands out for its beautiful recordings of Symphonies Nos. 38-41 (Linn Records - CKD-308). Mozart composed during the transition from the Baroque to the Classical era, and the music is a combination of both. Some audiophiles don't like Mozart, perhaps just because of this. However, I am a big Mozart fan, exactly because his works do have a relaxed background of Baroque, but with distinct melodies characteristic of the Classical era. They are very listenable, without distracting you if you want to read while the music is playing. And that is just what I did here. I read a great novel, and listened to all four symphonies on this two-disc set. I was not distracted, and yet, the melodies seemed to synchronize my auditory cortex and made me feel at peace, even though the novel had more than its share of violence.
I was listening to the system one afternoon, and the door was open to the outside (a warm day, and the amps were making the room warmer), and my wife walked in, mentioning that the sound of the Pass Labs setup made her want to stop what she was doing in the yard and come in to listen. That's what the Pass Labs components do. Their musicality invites you to listen.