Preamplifiers

Pass Labs XP-10 Stereo Preamplifier

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

I tested the Pass XP-10 with an OPPO-BDP-95 universal player, Classé CA-M600 monoblock power amplifiers, and Carver Mark IV ribbon speakers. Cables were Wireworld, Emotiva, and Marc Audio.

At 67, I still listen (and play along with) to rock music. I am not so much a fan of the metal genre, but rather the 80's era, including especially Van Halen. They were part of the bridge from classic rock to heavy metal, and the music had a melody - played with the volume controls to the max.

Most of my favorite Van Halen tracks are on Van Halen Best of: Volume 1.

"Jump" and "Dreams" in particular set my rock & roll afire. Eddie Van Halen on lead guitar and Alex Van Halen on the drums made the walls vibrate, through the XP-10. Guitar played through sound effects circuits (they produce various types of what would be best called distortion), and the way Alex crashed his cymbals, delivered a sound that was filled with high frequencies, but the only distortion that I could hear was the sound from those special effects boxes. Cymbals in particular, are difficult to reproduce without sounding harsh when played hard. Alex played them so hard, his knuckles are now enlarged from arthritis, and he is almost completely deaf (ear plugs for hearing protection were not standard in those days). Through the XP-10, the crashes were detailed and crisp, without a hint of harshness.

XP-10

Even if you are not a fan of classical music, you would very likely recognize the opening bars of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 16. Piano played at any volume is a tough cookie for an audio system, partly because we all know exactly how a piano sounds, so any deviation is immediately noticeable. Secondly, the lowest note has a fundamental frequency of 27 Hz. And when it is played fff, as it is in the opening bars, the cookie becomes even tougher. But not too tough for the XP-10. When the pianist pounds out the notes, there are very intense transient peaks at the beginning of the tone as the hammer strikes the metal piano wire, and I wondered if the XP-10 could handle it. No disappointment there. The symphony orchestra also came through loud and clear, with all the instruments distinguishable while the pianist (Clifford Curzon) did his thing. This is a manifestation of low IM distortion, which you will see in the bench tests.

XP-10

Want another difficult instrument to reproduce? Try the violin, especially the instrument made by Guameri del Gesu in 1737 (I imagine one could trade that for quite a few lattes at Starbucks®.) So, on this Virgin Classics disc, Capriccio, Renaud Capucon (violin) and Jerome Ducros (piano) duke it out with 21 pieces by Schubert, Dvorak, Debussy, Prokofiev, Stravinski, Tchaikovsky, and others.

Well, the music just soared on the XP-10. My ears are very sensitive to any high frequency distortion, but by this point (I had listened to about 20 CDs and SACDs), I wasn't expecting anything but beautiful sounds and glorious music. It's a hard job testing masterpieces of electrical engineering like the XP-10, but someone has to do it. I volunteer to continue along the road.

XP-10

I also listened to the XP-10 using a pair of HiFiMAN HE-500 headphones, which allows me to discern differences between preamplifiers where there are subtle differences, as there were between the XP-10, XP-20, and XP-30, all of which I have reviewed. I connected the HE-500 headphones to the XP-10 preamplifier using the RCA outputs and a stereo RCA plug - 1/4" phone jack adapter cable.

I would classify the sound of the XP-10 as neutral with just a dash of warmth. See the Conclusions section for more info on the differences between the three Pass preamplifiers.