Pass Labs XP-12 Preamplifier and XA25 Amplifier

The Wonderful World of Color

Equipment report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers
Pass Laboratories XA25,
Pass Laboratories XP-12
Pass Labs XP-12 Preamplifier and XA25 Amplifier

Pass electronics have always suggested to me sweetness and liquid warmth, but the Class A topology of the XA25 takes this quality a luminous step further. Images are conveyed with a weightier sense of physicality—a feeling of mass as well as air. Simply listening to a solo piano brought forth heretofore unheard shifts in the micro-dynamics from the player’s keyboard touch. Like attending a terrific movie or a play where the actor’s work is so organic and seemingly spontaneous that you tend to forget the “acting,” the immediacy these components impart was nothing short of transformational. Even a minimalist recording like Peter, Paul and Mary’s early album In the Wind [Warner Bros] was expressed with a heightened level of intensity—from the drive of the acoustic guitars to the urgency of the voices. As an aside, these three-track recordings still manage to capture and convey the perfection and conviction of this trio’s musicianship. Their soaring harmonies are almost metronomic in precision.

Beyond the inherent sweetness of the XA25’s personality was its ability to transform a listening space into a three-dimensional tableau of images and ambience. A recording like Norah Jones’ tipsy “Sinkin’ Soon” was an insightful example. Filled with micro-dynamic liveliness from every nook and cranny, it’s a holographic menagerie of off-kilter and unexpected musical arrivals and departures—with pots and pans, six-string banjo, muted trombone, drums, piano, and ghostly vocals all lending to the action.

Dynamics and bass detail also shone during Manhattan Jazz Quintet’s cover of the classic “Autumn Leaves.” Lew Soloff’s trumpet solo was a pure blast of unbridled energy, while the bass solo revealed each boomy element of texture and timbre. Even a studio-manufactured hit track like The Cars’ “Just What I Needed” riveted my attention with the tight precision of the rhythm section. The Pass electronics illuminated even the smallest distinctions between string pops off an electric bass guitar and the foot pedal striking the skin of a kickdrum.

Having the ATC SCM50AT loudspeakers (review forthcoming) on hand afforded me an opportunity to drive these tri-amplified three-way towers directly from the balanced outputs of the XP-12. A near full-range speaker, the SCM50 grew even friskier under the ministrations of the XP-12, most particularly in the liveliness and bounce of its lower octaves. Soundstage depth and orchestral layering were better resolved. Once again, there was this almost eerie sense of music spontaneously occurring in the here and now rather than being extracted from a recording.

The XA25 amp does have limitations dictated by its modest power output, but that’s largely a fact rather than a criticism. Still, loudspeakers of lower sensitivity will suffer hints of dynamic compression when the amp is pushed. Worry not, Pass happily offers a large menu of amplifiers for every appetite. Nitpicks? Some listeners may prefer a cooler, more clinical presentation—electronics with firecracker transients that spark edge detail like a lightning strike, or that sharpen the corners of an alto sax rather than slightly rounding them. However, in all honesty, my bias runs toward a blush of midrange warmth and a treble that is more sweet than spicy. In the final analysis the XP-12 and XA25 simply give me less of the cold mechanics of music reproduction and more of the emotion from each musical moment.

As it has done so frequently in the past, Pass Labs delivered a set of electronics of surpassing musicality, balance, and transparency. By today’s high-end sticker prices—inflated in the eyes of many—the XP-12 and XA25 are outright bargains. As audiophiles, we have a tendency to obsess over our systems—their glories, their lapses, and their looming obsolescence. The XP-12 and XA25 remind us that these are petty distractions. These separates are long-haul components that will accompany you along the same path on which that first blush of audio passion began to take hold and bloom. They will lure you back to that place where you can enjoy every note of your favorite music all over again. And they will never let you go.

Specs & Pricing

XP-12 Preamplifier
Frequency response: 10Hz to 20kHz -1dB @ 100kHz
Inputs: Two balanced XLR, three unbalanced RCA
Dimensions: 17" x 12.5" x 4"
Weight: 20 lbs.
Price: $5800 

XA25 Amplifier
Power: 25Wpc Class A @ 8 ohms; 50Wpc Class A @ 4 ohms, 100Wpc Class A/AB @ 2 ohms 
Frequency response: DC to 200kHz 
Dimensions: 17" x 17.4" x 6"
Weight: 46 lbs.
Price: $4900

13395 New Airport Road, Ste. G
Auburn, CA 95602
(530) 878-5350

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