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  1. #1

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    Default Pass Labs XP-30 Line Level Preamplifier

    Introduction

    My Pass Labs X0.2 line level preamplifier served me well for five years. During that time, Pass Labs released the XP-15 and XP-20, both of which were claimed to solidly outperform the X0.2. However, I was not the least bit interested in either the XP-15 or the XP-20 because I did not view them as actual "successors" to the X0.2. My interest was finally piqued with the arrival of the XP-30. My patience was well rewarded. I found a great deal on a demo unit, with a generous trade-in allowance for my X0.2, and ran with it.

    I have never had a problem with any of my Pass components, but I have made extensive use of their product advice and information over the years. I have always found them to be prompt, patient, courteous, and thorough. The dealer I have worked with for several years, Mark at Reno HiFi, has always been the epitome of professional and knowledgeable high end audio salesmanship. In a field of commerce where more than a few manufacturers and dealers act like they don't want to give you the time of day, even when you are a serious buyer with cash in hand, it is refreshing to deal with people who are sincerely interested in clients getting the most value and most performance for their money.

    From the XP-30 manual:

    "In an area of electronics where it is often thought that everything that can improve the sound has already been done, where other designers are concentrating on mechanicals and eye-candy, we offer better sound."


    Figure 1. It's always a thrill to get a package from the audiophiles at Pass Labs.


    Figure 2. XP-30 three chassis line level preamp.

    Each gain module has outputs for a pair of amplifiers. The small knob at the right of the gain modules is for adjusting the gain of two amplifiers that are connected for bi-amping.


    Figure 3. Bye bye...thanks for the memories: X0.2 three chassis line level preamp.


    Figure 4. XP-30 rear.


    Figure 5. X0.2 rear.


    Figure 6. XP-30 remote-carved out of billet aluminum. It was used once to program its commands into
    a Logitech Harmony One universal remote...and then put in storage.


    As with the X0.2 remote, the Harmony One had to learn commands from the Pass remote in "raw" mode. Both the X0.2 and the XP-30 are in Logitech's remote command database, but the commands downloaded from the database would not work.


    Figure 7. X0.2 remote. Some owners found the unlabeled minimalist design of the X0.2 remote somewhat
    challenging to use. I didn't because I programmed its commands into a Logitech Harmony One universal
    remote...and then put it in storage.



    Figure 8. Inside XP-30 control/power supply chassis. At the right are dual toroidal transformers large
    enough for a small power amp.



    Figure 9. Inside XP-30 left gain module.


    Figure 10. Inside XP-30 right gain module.

    For you boutique capacitor enthusiasts, the "Pass" labeled capacitors in figures 9 and 10 are Clarity Cap ESA series made to Pass' specifications.

    Sonic Improvements

    Pass Labs claimed that the XP-30 was a significant advancement over the X0.2 in every aspect of stereophonic performance. Thinking back to when I first became interested in the X0.2, while I was an owner of a Pass X-1, the assessment was more understated. This is what Nelson Pass said on the Diyaudio.com forum when asked if the X0.2 was a significant improvement over the X-1 (link):

    "It's a matter of opinion. The 0.2 is better, but it does cost twice as much, and it does not sound twice as good."


    The dealer expressed a similar opinion. I came to the following conclusion regarding the X0.2 over the X-1:


    "While there was not a 2X price/performance correlation for the X0.2's improvements in detail and clarity over the X1, I did realize a spectacular improvement in soundstage 3-dimensionality and weight."

    With the X0.2/XP-30 comparison, both Pass Labs and the dealer were highly enthusiastic...but I was still skeptical. That skepticism evaporated at the first listen.

    Adjusted for inflation, the XP-30 costs about 20% more than the X0.2, but I think it sounds at least twice as good.

    Listening Evaluations

    Pass Labs advises that it takes 36 hours for the XP-30 to fully warm up. I let it sit powered up, but not installed in my audio system, for 48 hours. I was quite surprised at the increase in clarity, detail, revelation of new musical detail (particularly transients), increased holography, and liquidity of sound compared to the X0.2 immediately after installation. The X0.2 did not sound "veiled" compared to the XP-30. A visual analogy would be comparing the differences in detail between the images from a 70" DVD scene and a 70" high definition Blu-ray scene. Both scenes are the same size, with each being crystal clear, but the Blu-ray conveys more visual information with more vibrant colors within the same space.

    I had ten days to evaluate the XP-30. The dealer specifically said if I was not thrilled, to send it back, no questions asked. The XP-30 was making Such Good Sound on its first day of use that I shipped the trade-in X0.2 back to the dealer on the next day. Unlike the case with the X-1, there weren't the sentimental pangs of "sellers remorse".

    The only spatial improvement I heard with the XP-30 was more image height at the sides. However, the sense of space between images and the weight, clarity, detail, and tactile sensation of images was significantly increased. After another 28 hours of continuous music play, CD's and SACD's while at home and the radio overnight and while away from home, the bass began to hit harder with more articulation, drive, and tactile sensation. I ran music through the XP-30 for an additional 48 hours and did not hear any further improvement. I discontinued the 24/7 music play and resumed my normal playback routine of several hours per day.

    On the fifth day after installation, I cued up King Curtis' "All The Way" from the "Dying Young" sound track and went to the kitchen to make a snack. This is a recording of average quality which is not one of my evaluation references. I was drawn back into the living room by the sound of resonating wood. Specifically, the resonating wood of the upright bass, which I had never caught my attention before. Now, rather than being fixated on King Curtis' breathy tenor saxophone, other sounds competed for my attention: airy brushwork, resonating wood, thick plucked strings and piano keys being tickled in a subtle way. Going back through my listening notes and replaying reference recordings confirmed that the XP-30 sound quality had further improved, particularly with respect to bass drive, bass detail, bass clarity and bass articulation. At this time the XP-30 had been on for five days (120 hours) and had been playing music for 92 hours (this is exclusive of the 48 hours of warm up prior to installation).

    Another three days and 30 hours of playback went by without further perceived changes. Then I changed the power line fuse.


    Figure 11. A HiFi Tuning Supreme power line fuse further enhanced the XP-30's stereophonic performance.

    With the XP-30, there weren't the significant spatial improvements I heard with the other preamps, like my old Adcom GFP-750, but the noise floor was lowered, as evidenced by apparently louder sound level and the overall clarity and detail was improved. I can best quantify the improvement with the HiFi Tuning Supreme fuse by again using a visual analogy. Imagine passing by a gorgeous woman in the park and she looks and smiles at you as she passes by. Now imagine the same woman some time later in your bedroom looking and smiling at you and she's naked. Same woman, but her noise floor is lowered. You can see and hear more details. Your listening session will be much more involving and satisfying.
    Last edited by DarqueKnight; 04-06-2013 at 12:30 AM.
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
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  2. #2

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    Further Study

    While I am just dabbling in audio, I decided to try a pair of Pass X600.5 monoblocks. In the future, when I am more dedicated to audio than I am now, and after I pick the correct Powerball numbers, I might consider a pair of Boulder 3050 monoblocks (1500 watts per channel into 8 ohms, 450 pounds each).


    Figure 12. The Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblocks are anxiously waiting their turn to go up against a pair of
    Pass X600.5 monoblocks...next week.


    References

    Pass-Labs-X1-Preamp-vs.-Adcom-GFP-750-Preamp

    Two-Pass-Labs-Preamps-X0.2-vs.-X1

    Pass-Labs-XP-25-Phono-Stage-Is-It-That-Much-Better-Than-The-Xono/
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
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  3. #3

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    Default

    I really enjoy your posts. Good stuff as always.

    If I remember right those Boulders need a dedicated 240v line. I can see more AC line measurements coming up.

    One question. What do you mean by you felt the XP-20 was not an actual successor to the X0.2?

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by BlueFox View Post
    If I remember right those Boulders need a dedicated 240v line.
    They do.

    Quote Originally Posted by BlueFox View Post
    I can see more AC line measurements coming up.
    And floor reinforcements to support the 900 pound weight. Seriously though, I can't imagine that I would ever want an audio component that I could not move around as desired.

    Quote Originally Posted by BlueFox View Post
    One question. What do you mean by you felt the XP-20 was not an actual successor to the X0.2?
    I never read anything that confirmed that Pass believed they had truly "shrunk down" all the advantages of a true dual mono/triple chassis design with a huge power supply into the single chassis XP-10 and dual chassis XP-20. I had my "A Ha" moment when the XP-30 showed up in 2011.

    By the way, when I said "XP-15" in the in introduction, I should have said XP-10. The XP-15 is a phono preamp.
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
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  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by DarqueKnight View Post
    Imagine passing by a gorgeous woman in the park and she looks and smiles at you as she passes by. Now imagine the same woman some time later in your bedroom looking and smiling at you and she's naked. Same woman, but her noise floor is lowered. You can see and hear more details. Your listening session will be much more involving and satisfying.
    Nice review DK, but we're still talking about audio equipment, right ?

    The shootout between the JC-1's and the Pass monoblocks should be really interesting.
    "Science is suppose to explain observations not dismiss them as impossible" - Norm on AA; 2.3TL's w/sonicaps/mills, polyswitches removed, Lg Solen inductors, RD-0198's, MW's dynamatted, Armaflex speaker gaskets, H-nuts, brass spikes, Cardas CCGR BP's, upgraded IC Cable, Black Hole Damping Sheet strips installed on back wall behind MW's & Tweeters, interior of cabinets sealed, AI-1 interface with 1000VA A-L transformer

  6. #6

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    (Ray, the 3050s are *only* 355lbs each. It is the new 3060s that weigh in at 455lbs each.)
    Of course, the granite bases add 86lbs per side too.

    Gotta say that I feel almost snobbish reading your reviews. Nothing from your side mind you as you always come across as the consumate professional hobbyist in your writing. But more from the fact that I feel like I should be sipping a glass of 30yo Balvene while smoking a big fat Cuban while reading them. The level of gear you bring to the table is hard to beat until you, as you say, get into lottery winning levels of money.
    Amzing stuff as always and refreshing to see there is someone giving these (sarcasm) hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically (/sarcasm) speakers the kind of equipment they deserve feeding them.
    "Unwad those panties and have a good time man. We're all here to help each other, no matter how it might appear." DSkip
    I may have an addiction... RTA-15TL, SDA 2, LSi25, LSi15, LSi9, LSi7, LSiCx2, LSiFX, LS/FX, RT/FX, DSW MP2000...and that's just the Polks...

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by drumminman View Post
    Nice review DK, but we're still talking about audio equipment, right ?
    Of course, but a good biological analogy can really clarify degrees of change in audio performance.

    Quote Originally Posted by drumminman View Post
    The shootout between the JC-1's and the Pass monoblocks should be really interesting.
    Yes, definitely. Here is a picture of the JC 1's doing the "perp walk" after the installation of the X600.5's.


    Figure 13. The JC 1's had a good run, but all good things must come to an end.


    Quote Originally Posted by ZLTFUL View Post
    (Ray, the 3050s are *only* 355lbs each. It is the new 3060s that weigh in at 455lbs each.)
    Of course, the granite bases add 86lbs per side too.
    I wonder which audiophile tweak company will be the first to market high strength isolation cones for the Boulder amps?
    Last edited by DarqueKnight; 04-10-2013 at 11:16 PM.
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
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  8. #8

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    Wish I could have my ears on your system for just one hour.. Very nice Ray..
    No Way But The Hard Way, So Get Used To It!!!

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Toolfan66 View Post
    Wish I could have my ears on your system for just one hour.. Very nice Ray..
    Haven't you read the famous Stereo Review article from the 80's that *proved* that all amplifiers sound the same? In that case, since we have practically the same speakers, I would expect my system to sound just like yours.
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
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  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by DarqueKnight View Post
    I wonder which audiophile tweak company will be the first to market high strength isolation cones for the Boulder amps?
    They are already on the market. They are called "shock absorbers"....
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  11. #11

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    wow, some serious gears you've got. Nice review by the way. Good looking system.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by DarqueKnight View Post
    I wonder which audiophile tweak company will be the first to market high strength isolation cones for the Boulder amps?
    Well duh...Coconut Audio of course!
    "Unwad those panties and have a good time man. We're all here to help each other, no matter how it might appear." DSkip
    I may have an addiction... RTA-15TL, SDA 2, LSi25, LSi15, LSi9, LSi7, LSiCx2, LSiFX, LS/FX, RT/FX, DSW MP2000...and that's just the Polks...

  13. #13

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    Wow. everytime I look at your system, I am amazed. Mark at Reno is a class act. I have purchased a couple of non pass items from him and he made me feel good to do business with him. Once again amazing system.

  14. #14

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    PLEASE don't laugh at me

    What does "line level preamplifier" mean? Or, how is it different than my 2 channel pre-amp?

    Ray I gotta say you have a pretty nice system working

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    A line level preamp doesn't have a phono stage.

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