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Pass Labs Xs Preamp Review

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Pass Labs Xs Preamp Gain Stage

Break In

When I first turned the Pass Labs Xs Preamp on, it sounded hard as nails. If you don’t believe in break-in, you don’t want this preamp. I plugged in an iPod and let it play for 12 hours. I listened, and it was better but not much. Between watching the NBA finals and the Cardinals play baseball I just let it play for 50-plus hours. Then I listened, and it was promising but still a little too bright on loud passages, so I let it keep playing. When it reach the 100th-hour mark, it was beginning to strut its stuff. It continued to get better out to about 300 hours, but its basic tonal balance and sound was there by the 100th hour. Be patient, it’s worth the wait!



There is no doubt in my mind that the two best active preamplifiers I have had in my home are the Pass Labs Xs Preamp and the Shindo Giscours. I would love to have them both in my system at the same time, but it has been over two years since I had the Giscours in my system. Still, I remember well, how great my system sounded with the Giscours. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but this review is about the Pass Labs Xs.

If you come from the audiophile cult that prefers the sound of “you are there” versus “they are here,” then I am also certain the Xs will be the finest preamp you have ever heard. With the Xs in my system, there was a sense of air around the performers that was very addictive. It created a sense that they were in a hall or a club, and you were in the audience. The system created a big soundstage that was very deep and wide. It was not the very best I have heard in regards to vertical soundstage, though it was in no way poor in this area. The soundstage was rather unusual, and I think more realistic in that it was not so much the performers that were large, but the space where they were performing.

Within that large soundstage, it was easy to hear little details and cues about the performance. The placement of background singers was well done. They were very clear and well placed, but they sounded appropriately distant and well placed. The same was true of instruments. Solo performers sounded as if they were on a stage in a hall. This was not done with false reverb or a dip in the midrange, but in a very natural and realistic way.

Even with this perspective you will never hear anyone say that this Pass Lab design is overly warm or too forgiving. No, when it comes to speed, micro-dynamics and macro-dynamics I have not heard better. The bass has powerful slam, speed with great control and the top end is very extended. The midrange is very sweet sounding; it could be described as velvet like and seductive.

The amp did excellent things for the bass of my system. The bass, mid-bass, upper-bass and lower midrange are very interesting in how they play music. The bass and mid-bass is more prominent in a very tight and powerful way than my reference system is without it. On the other hand, the upper-bass and lower midrange is tighter and thinner than my reference system. This will be very system dependent, the truth is with almost all box speakers, this will result in a system with a more correct tonal balance.

I could go on and on and talk about how this preamp allowed my system to sound in all the audiophile terms. I’ll save you the time. In any of the traditional audiophile terms, it was the best active preamp I have heard. The only area I would fault it in is one that the Shindo preamp excelled in, and by the way so does the Pass Labs XA30.8 amp: The Xs preamp isn’t quite as organic sounding. Now, don’t take this statement out of context. If I had placed this preamp in my system when I had the Audio Note E speakers, I could easily have felt it was very organic. I think the above discussion about the bass and lower midrange explains this. Almost all box speakers would benefit from this kind of bass response, but not my Teresonics. It should also be pointed out if I were using many of the most beloved moving coil cartridges, this kind of bass response also would be a benefit, but again my strain-gauge cartridge has no extra mid-bass bloom.

One Response to Pass Labs Xs Preamp Review

  1. Hi Jack, a excellent review on the Pass Labs XS preamplifier, I use the Pass Labs XS preamplifier for my reference and truly appreciate its incredible sonic performance matched with my Pass Labs XA 160.8 mono block amplifiers. I have used Lowther speakers of many varieties in the past and know their sonic virtues, personally I like the TAD 4001A and 1601A drivers using Dueland crossover components for my music tastes. This combination matched with the SME 30/12 turn table and EMM Labs XDS1 V2 CD/SACD player create a incredible music playback environment. It is wonderful to read and share your very positive review on the Pass Labs XS preamplifier. Thank you Jason Parmenter.

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