Preamplifiers

Pass Labs XP-30 Stereo Preamplifier

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The Pass Labs XP-30 Preamplifier In Use

Because the power supply is housed in a separate chassis, it is very important to connect all three chassis together before you plug the power supply chassis into a wall socket.

I allowed the XP-30 to burn-in (playing music at low volume) for several days, then began my critical listening tests. Associated equipment included an OPPO BDP-95 universal player, Pass Labs X1000.5 monoblock power amplifiers, Balanced Audio VK-75SE tube power amplifier, and Magnepan MG 1.7 quasi-ribbon speakers. Cables were Marc Audio, Wireworld, and Emotiva. The XLR inputs of the XP-30 were used for the listening tests.

Here is a sampling of the music I used with the XP-30.

First, some piano sonatas by Mozart. His talent allowed him to compose music that you could fall asleep by, and orchestral as well as operatic pieces that would certainly wake you up. But, what I was listening here for was (1) the leading edge transients of the hammers when they hit the strings; (2) the dynamics; and (3) whether or not the single notes were clean, clear, and natural without audible harmonics that would change the tonality.

I really was quite surprised at how different the XP-30 sounded, compared to the XP-20. The XP-30's sound was slightly warmer than the XP-20, almost tube-like. I say, "almost," because the amount of harmonics that tube amplifiers produce is much higher than the XP-30, but the spread of the harmonics was very similar. The leading transients were crisply delineated, and the dynamics were terrific. I really prefer chamber music, such as string quartets, but also piano sonatas, because they are peaceful and not a complex hodge podge of so many instruments that sometimes can cause my brain to race when I want to calm down. My listening time is usually towards the end of the day, in my window seat, with a hot drink and a book (nowadays, my books are all Kindle downloads that I read on my iPad).

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Rachmaninov (sometimes spelled Rachmaninoff, e.g., below), on the other hand, is not famous for composing music that is played at heartbeat pace. The hairs on the back of my neck usually stand on end with whatever opus of his that I play, and I have a very big collection of his works. In the movie, Doctor Zhivago, there is a scene in a drawing room where several people are sitting, listening to a musician playing the piano. A young man says something to the woman sitting next to him, and she says, "Be quiet and listen. This is genius". The pianist is Rachmaninov, and it is the days of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Anyway, the dynamics that Rachmaninov put into his music were zestfully reproduced by the XP-30. In this particular album, it is a symphony, and the low IMD of the XP-30 allowed all instruments to be heard with great clarity. Obviously, when I am listening to his works, I am in the mood to rev up, not calm myself. It works, and the XP-30 provided a perfect road to this end during the review period.

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I could go on and on with the albums that I enjoyed with the XP-30, but it isn't necessary. In sum, this preamplifier is superbly dynamic, clean, and with a quiet background.