Over the previous 20 years, it stays thrilling to assessment such a variety of products from so many distinctive audio producers. Each new element offers a story of the place the designer is of their artistic process. Changing out elements from one manufacturer to a different is like altering the channel from one show to a different featuring an entire new forged and an entire new plot line. Following the career of Nelson Pass, and his unique outlook all the time makes for partaking listening.
Although my first expertise with Mr. Pass’ channel as a reviewer was with the X2.5 preamplifier, followed by the X350, X600, X350.5, XA200.5 amplifiers, the XP20 preamp, and eventually the topic of this assessment. The Threshold SA150 energy amplifier and FET 9 preamplifier have been the primary true high-end elements I wrote checks for again in the early 1990s.
A Man With a Plan
For those who comply with Pass’ timeline, you understand he does not slap a brand new face plate on a modestly tweaked amp, jack up the worth and name it a brand new model. A real innovator; Nelson Pass doesn’t create a brand new product or range of merchandise till he and his workforce have produced substantial sonic enchancment.
Unafraid to discover and embrace totally different designs and topologies, Pass created the popular Aleph collection within the late 1990’s to considerable acclaim. Extra lately the First Watt elements, the X, XA and XS strains every offering keen insight into differing approaches, and sonic priorities. It was the introduction of the X collection amplifiers, nevertheless, that includes the super-symmetry circuit in the X-1000 mono blocks in 1998 that launched Pass Labs into the forefront of recent amplifier design, hinting at what was but to return.
The XA200.eight takes up a good deal of area. At 19” extensive, 11” tall, 27.5” deep and weighing 157lbs each, plan your system format accordingly. Working in school A as much as 400 watts, the XA200.8s get heat but by no means blisteringly so. The new porthole type bias meter and simply beveled face plate have a readability of design that escaped the fussier XA200.5. There are single-ended inputs which I’ve never used on any Pass amp and a pair of XLR inputs. There are two units of nice wing-nut type binding posts preferrred for bi-wiring. The master power change on the again brings the amp to life, and the massive spring loaded button on the face plate brings the amp out of standby.
The Largest .8
With the XA200.8s, probably the most highly effective of the .8 collection and right under the reference XS collection, Nelson has reached a plateau occupied by those of the good classical sculptures. The capability to take away all of the pointless materials that surrounds the subject revealing the perfect hidden type defined the art of the day. As Michelangelo stated; “I saw the Angel in the stone and carved until I set it free.” With this precept in mind, the XA200.8s embody this preferrred to a higher degree than any Pass amp I have but heard. Distortion is removed to such an extent; music is effortlessly rendered. That’s not to say there isn’t a character in any respect, and all great artists have a recognizable contact. The indelible hallmarks of Nelson Pass’s designs are so artfully integrated into the XA200.8s that they not stick out individually from the music. Control, definition, smoothness and a tinge of tonal shade let you understand in one of the simplest ways potential this can be a Pass amp by way of and thru.
I’m unsure why however it seemed to take longer for the XA200.8s to return into full voice than past Pass amps I’ve lived with; we are speaking months. Perhaps my each day duties has reduce into listening time protracting the process. As soon as readied, the XA200.8s impart a confidence that whatever music thrown its method can be handled with great ease. You’ll by no means hear someone say this or that genre of music sounds better than one other by means of the XA200.eight. Every thing sounds great, all forms of music are introduced utterly simply as they need to be with little missing, added, or otherwise deviant within the copy. Steadfast composer with such low levels of distortion and a seemingly infinitely scaled dynamic vary paints a masterpiece of music copy permitting the listener to utterly sink into the efficiency, liberating the mind to soak in more musical which means.
Like the Pass amplifiers that came before, management and composer are phrases that maintain coming to mind in defining the XA200.8s. I made a mistake early within the evaluate strategy of not dialing back the quantity knob of the D’agostino Master Audio preamp once I switched from the decrease degree of my Triangle Art turntable and my D’Agostino phono preamp to the upper output Macintosh MB50 Streamer. I hit play on Disturbed’s “The Infection, ” and a literal explosion of sound ripped by means of the Sonus Faber Lilium audio system. I freakin jumped out of my pores and skin, like a cartoon skeleton popping by means of my flesh however shortly realized the sound remained coherent inside the mayhem. The soundstage remained clearly outlined as did the timbre and texture of the instruments. It was approach louder than I ought to ever pay attention if I hope to hold on to what’s left of my listening to yet the XA200.8s showed no ceiling to their competence, no restrict to what they might handle.
For me, that is the large distinction between the older XA200.5s and the new .8 model. Bass is tighter, quicker and extra clearly outlined when confused with the XA200.8. The whole musical spectrum has extra “pop” with larger dynamic management and extra sparkle and distinction the place the XA200.5 was softer, with barely much less focus. I might stay with the XA200.5 fortunately, however there isn’t any doubt, the XA200.eight is the better amp.
Distinction within the Details
There are a number of trendy high-powered amps that strategy the extent of speaker control the XA200.8s present, however few can spin as many sonic plates directly because the XA200.8s. With all of the fury the XA200.eight is able to so comes grace and purity. Wonderfully rendered tonal colour and subtly preserved transients notably in the treble provides music the life and spontaneity of a decrease powered single-ended tube amp. The cymbals on Tommy Flanagan’s’ Sea Modifications are completely grainless and sophisticated as I’ve heard from a recording. Getting this proper requires a particularly low noise flooring and lack of electronic haze and glare. Pass amps have all the time been fairly good in this regard, notably the XA.5 collection. The XA200.8s appears to have taken the smoothness of the XA200.5s and add a degree of sparkle and openness allowing for larger element, illumination, and air.
The similar degree of enhancements carries via the mid-band. Grainless, clean, but naturally textured and targeted. Vocals and mid-band rich instruments of all stripes are locked in and secure. All the time introduced in good measurement and proportion inside the stage, pictures usually are not too broad, not too small. In fact, picture measurement and form is recording dependent, however with acquainted source materials I can attest, the XA200.8s get it spot on.
The mid-bass and low-bass stability is an space many amps both lean out in favor of definition and articulation or bloats in favor of a spreading heat. This may be interesting at first but grows tiresome as an omnipresent coloration. Here the XA200.8s exude neutrality, by no means draining the infant with the bathwater. From Stanley Clark enjoying quite a lot of bass devices on East Riverside Drive to George Mraz’ exquisite phrasing on one other Tommy Flanagan chestnut, “Nights At the Vanguard,” the XA200.8s by no means provides themself away, by no means imparting any lack of confidence that the amplifier is getting in the best way of the music.
So What Makes Them Particular?
Every little thing described above goes an extended approach to defining greatness. Sitting within the candy spot soaking it all up is an excellent deal with, certainly. Nevertheless, a current expertise listening approach off axis, at my drafting board, engaged on a creation of my own re-contextualized my expectations. “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” by the 4 Seasons came on by way of the McIntosh MB50 streamer catching me off guard. This has all the time been a real favorite of mine, so the fact that I might take pleasure in this basic just isn’t information. But After the primary couple of notes, I ended lifeless, dropped my pen and began to choke up, my voice cracking as I began belting out the lyrics. No imaging, no soundstage, none of the audiophile checklist gadgets to talk of, just….Music- Soul stirring music. Can I attribute this magic moment on to the XA200.8s? Yes, I can. These amplifiers don’t care where you’re sitting, standing, dancing or otherwise. Their excellent tonal stability and ease with which they move the sign and their potential to regulate the audio system is past reproach and supply an intense connection to music no matter your proximity to the system.
Priced at $44Okay per pair, one should anticipate excellence within the XA200.eight amplifiers. There’s excellence, and there’s excellence. With all the fantastic attributes talked about above comes the truth that not one Pass product in all the years of my ham-fisted ambivalence, have I been capable of abuse one into failure. Those who know me can attest that if a element isn’t critically over engineered, I’ll find a method to choke the life out of it. Reliability or the shortage thereof is some extent not pushed residence enough in evaluations, specific critiques of elements as expensive as this. Nothing is more irritating than a pricey element biting the mud. On this regard, Pass Labs’ steadfast reliability is with out peer.
Without hesitation, I might go the rest of my life and by no means really feel the necessity to upgrade from the Pass XA200.eight amplifiers. That’s not to say I’ll by no means evaluation another amplifier; it’s my job in any case. And it’s additionally not to say that I’ll never find another amplifier satisfying. But if I have been to get out of the biz of swapping gear and had to lay down my hard earned cash for a ceaselessly amplifier? I could not think about another manufacturer more deserving of my enterprise and one other element worthier of my respect.
Additional Ideas: Jeff Dorgay
There’s not far more that I can add in sheer enthusiasm right here. My ownership and delight of Pass gear go back a bit additional; I bought my first Threshold 400A power amplifier in 1982. I’ve been utilizing Pass power amplifiers as reference elements for about eight years now, however my experience has by no means been the same – I’ve yet to have a Pass element break on my watch. I don’t assume I know anyone else that has either.
Having used the XS300 monos as my private reference since they got here on the scene, I need to admit the brand new .eight collection is starting to shut the hole; it’s not quite the chasm it was. For my cash, in case you have the dough, the XS300s are quite a bit better (as they should be) but the place the XS300 left the 200.5s within the dust, There’s a lot more horsepower and finesse inside the .eight model. In case you don’t have a world class every little thing, you gained’t regret your determination to get a pair of XA200.8s. And Pass mentions their merchandise having a few seven-year lifespan, so it wouldn’t surprise me in a few years if Mr. Pass comes up with one thing even more musical than the XS amplifiers to open that gap again up.
Evaluating the 200.8s to the XS monos is one thing, evaluating the 200.8s to every little thing else of their worth category is one other. You may dig that tiny additional little bit of tubey-ness that a pair of tube monoblocks offers you, however it’s ever, ever so slight. I say this as a guy that has various tube amplifiers here. I really like the 200.8s as a result of they provide me all that pretty tonal saturation that I might get from an awesome tube amplifier, with all of the grip and dynamics of a solid-state amp – without having to seek out tubes. And for me, that may all the time be the awesomeness of Pass amplifiers, or as Nelson Pass has stated greater than as soon as, “the sound of tubes without the hassle.”
It’s value mentioning how nicely the 200.8s work with any supply. I’ve used these monoblocks with about two dozen totally different sources, balanced and single ended with no drawback. Utilizing the Pass XS Pre and the Audio Analysis REF 6 (the only preamplifiers I have that sound equally good via the RCA and XLR outputs) with 20-foot runs of Cardas Clear cable, I couldn’t discover any distinction in sound high quality. So relaxation assured, no matter your source it’ll companion up with these amps perfectly.
And it’s the identical for the output. Whether or not utilizing probably the most energy hungry Magnepans, treacherous ESLs, and so on., there was no speaker that the 200.8s had in the least of problem with. I’ve never used an amplifier extra benign in that sense than any of the Pass products. They’re impervious to speaker and cable differences, making it all that a lot simpler to hear stated nuances. This is the reason I really like utilizing their amplifiers as a reference – they let every little thing else via.
The backside line: another out of the ballpark hit for Pass Labs.
The Pass XA200.eight Monoblocks