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.
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.
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.