The Pass Labs XP-12 preamplifier HITS THE AUDIOPHILE SWEET SPOT!
You may remember my past review of the Pass Labs XA30.8 class A power amplifier from last year which was one of 2 “Products of the Year” awards given for 2021 in the Sound Advocate. This extraordinary amplifier was used in conjunction with their first-tier XP-12 preamp in the listening tests conducted at that time.
As promised, we have here a full evaluation of the XP-12 line stage preamp and further down, a concise overview of how this preamp works and sounds with its soulmate, the XA30.8 power amp. My thanks go out to Bryan Stanton for his help and coordination.
I have been listening to a system consisting of the Pass Labs XP-12 and XA30.8.s for about seven months now and have been completely overwhelmed by the essence of their combined sound quality. To me, The Pass Labs 30.8 and XP-12 are of reference standard when it comes to amplification, particularly at their respective price points. I happen to have fallen in love with the sound of proper Class A amplification and the XA30.8 is truly in the “outstanding” category.
The work here on the XP-12 line preamp was implemented by the preeminent designer Wayne Colburn of Pass Labs, though I believe Nelson had some part in it as well.
As Bryan explained to me, this product was designed by Nelson’s business partner Wayne Colburn. Wayne needs no introduction, whereas 25 years of experience and many successful preamps make the latter individual a top-tier specialist, who is also responsible for all Pass Labs hardware of this sort. Recently, Wayne has largely concentrated on preamplifiers.
Wayne often goes to previous works and extracts a little more from them—often incorporating a newer, better component or a small topology improvement, but sometimes with something more dramatic.
He has a remarkable track record of product development that spans more than three decades, creating classic items that each experienced a long lifespan before eventually giving way to successor products that incrementally improved the original versions and reaffirmed their potential.
Here is a relatively recent list of Wayne Colburn’s projects
The XP25 Phono– XS Preamp — XS Phono /XP15 Phono/ XP17 / XP27-Phono/, XP10 / XP20 / XP30 / XS preamp. Add to this the XP12 /XP22 and the XP32. We must also not forget the entire Pass integrated amplifier line.
The XP-12 is a pre-amp that is still a current model within the Pass Labs lineup and this is a great thing about Pass Labs. They do not change or replace models haphazardly like many high-end companies.
Therefore, the XP-12 is not a brand new model by any means. It was first made accessible back in 2017. Since there are other evaluations of the XP-12 available online, this is an up-to-date evaluation compared to any other reviews previously posted, I can assure you of that!
More importantly, having used this unit for almost eight months, I can now possibly give readers a much more accurate assessment of the XP-12 standing alone on its own feet. In addition to this, readers can get a complete outline of how it sounds along with its previously reviewed and highly exalted power amplifier brother, the XA30.8
Sitting above the XP-12, Pass offers the XP-22, a two-box solution that divides the power supply into different boxes (and according to what I’ve heard, it’s a good step up from this XP-12).
The XP-32 is a three-box model and our XP-12 uses techniques from this more expensive series. The volume control, as one example, is much more precise and luxurious. And the ingredients here were borrowed from the reference phono stage. Apart from that, the Pass Lab Xs is an ultra-expensive full-range preamp option that costs a huge $38,000.
XP-12 vs. XP-10
The XP-12 certainly justifies its asking price because of its exquisite sound quality, solid construction, enormously pleasing looks as well as being ultra-easy to use and ergonomically built. In the world of high-end pre-amps, it is quite affordable at $6,800.00
Compared to its XP-10 predecessor model, the redesigned XP-12 begins with a redesigned power supply. It makes use of an effective toroidal design with vacuum-impregnating and epoxy fill, as well as electrostatic and Mu metal shields. This results in an electrically and mechanically very quiet transformer.
The power supply electronics are slightly more complex but beneficial because it includes additional filtering and therefore have reduced noise overall.
The units XS line preamp’s single-stage volume control is employed by the XP-12. Here We have 100 -1 dB steps as a result, with less noise and distortion due to the elimination of some signal path components. The amplifier’s digital circuitry is completely isolated from the analog supply and is powered by an independent power source.
There are five inputs on the back panel, two of which are balanced XLR and the other three are unbalanced RCA as the preamp provides source switching for up to five components. Home theater pass-through lives on the fifth input, which allows the XP-12 to integrate with your surround processor.
The simple yet elegant pushbutton remote control turns input five into a pass-through for a home theater system. Otherwise, this remote is a pleasure to use and work with- just great!
SET UP AND SOUND QUALITY
The XP-12 proved remarkably easy and efficient to put into action. It has been connected to the Pass XA30.8 via a pair of Mogami XLR balanced interconnects with the most prominent results. Digital sources included the Audio Note CD3.1x/2, BorderPatrol SA-1, and most recently, the newly introduced Mojo Audio Mystique X D/A converter via Audience Studio One RCA interconnects and their loudspeaker cables. I have just recently started using the new and upcoming (and eminently exciting) ArgentPur Silver stranded loudspeaker cables which were added for this evaluation. Loudspeakers included the Harbeth Compact 7 es3/XD, Quad 63’s, and the Spendor BC1.
It would be an understatement to say that the XP-12 delivers some of the most exquisite sounds of any preamplifier I have had the pleasure of using with a vast and diverse amount of digital program sources. It is so completely neutral in tonality that after the length of time I have been using it, I am still amazed at what it can offer to placate the most ardent music lover and audiophile.
It combines all the naturalness, detail, transparency, and sheer musicality of every disc or program file. When combined with its outstanding brother, the XA30.8 power amplifier, enthusiasts can just stop the upgrading neurosis here and now. The XP-12 offers scrupulously discreet and natural sound with every musical note played through it. One could say that this line-level preamp, arguably, is about as close to perfection as anyone could wish for in a preamplifier when employing digital program material (although I have not heard their upgraded XP-22 two-box solution as of yet).
I keep trying to find fault with this preamp, but it continually does its work with such formidable artistry that is uncompromising in its overall audible quality. The high frequencies are extended yet never overbearing while the amazing midrange transparency digs deeply into each performance. It is something to behold!
As such, it blends magnificently with the XA30.8 and one can sit for hours enjoying music in all its breadth, depth, and stereophonic soundstage qualities. These qualities combined bring forth more than one could ever want in a line-level preamp— assuming as usual, that your recordings and digital files are up to par in their respective recording qualities.
The XP-12 is as quiet as any preamp I have had in my system. It offers a pitch-black background against which the music can be heard and I can say that I have not had the pleasure of owning a pre-amp as silent and noise-free as this one.
Eliminating all noise is indeed one of the biggest improvements we should make to our systems since it gives the music breathing room as it emerges from the blackest of backgrounds. This magic that emanates can uproot small details, nuance, and subtle musical cues that are more recognizable in general.
One thing that I have found using this pair of components is that the XA30.8, if not kept on continually, (which I cannot do because of our electricity bill) always needs about a half hour to warm up in able for it to come into its own. But this is beside the point. I leave the XP-12 on day and night and this has proven to be infinitely valuable in digging out every bit of quality this preamp has to offer.
The combination of the XP-12 and XA30.8 power amplifier is quite untouchable at their respective price points. Musical harmonics flow with such gorgeous tonality– and this includes low-level listening, where a lot of the XA30.8’s Class A functionality truly separates the men from the boys.
Although the two amplifiers are a match made in heaven, all of that extra hidden power reserve of the XA30.8 consistently bring the sound levels up to truly formidable heights. We must remember that the 30.8 is continuously rated at or above 100 watts per channel, although only the first 30 watts are in Class A mode. But have no fear—the power and volume degree will rise to levels that are well above what the ordinary listener will require in the majority of moderate-sized music rooms, so you won’t ever be aware of the class A/B dividing line in decibels. Just bathe your ears in the musical bliss!
THE XP-12 mated to the S-1200 by Sound Performance Labs
I had been evaluating the relatively new Sound Performance S-1200 amplifier over the past month or so (watch for the upcoming review) and quite naturally, I had the chance to integrate this unit with the XP-12 preamplifier. While always being a bit apprehensive with new equipment, I was relieved to find that the results were quite exceptional, indeed!
The S-1200 by Sound Performance Labs integrated beautifully with the XP-12 in many ways heretofore non-expectedly. Not wanting to go deeply into this new amplifier before the upcoming review, I will say that the sound was immensely spacious, detailed, very rounded and quite musical in its overall audible presentation. It worked excellently with the XP-12 in its balanced configuration and barely left anything to be desired in its performance characteristics. Watch next month for the complete evaluation!
I am convinced more and more by the Pass Labs XP-12’s essential attributes and how much this preamplifier has to offer to a high-performance music playback system. However, and most particularly, how Wayne Colburn’s experience contributed to this preamp’s expansive and immense musically diverse sound.
The aural presentation was consistently purged of yet another level of fog by the XP-12, revealing a deep and wide image that seemed to float in space with excellent stereophonic locational mastery. The upper frequencies, while silky and finely extended, inscribed an intense yet subtle portrayal of sound quality. Its weighted upper and lower bass and textured vocals were always beautifully portrayed in its midrange response with the utmost clarity, lucidity, and distinctive amounts of depth and ambiance to the robust soundstage.
Additionally, the XP-12 sounded remunerative and authoritative at lower listening levels, especially when mated to the XA30.8 power amplifier and its reverent Class A reproduction qualities.
Is there anything not to love about the Pass Labs XP-12; especially at its lucrative price of $6800? The answer to this question is an incontrovertible NO! The XP-12 is an audiophile and music lover’s dream come true and must be rewarded with an OUTSTANDING rating with respect to performance and VALUE!
Kathleen Battle Mozart Concert Arias
Great Western Themes Royal Starlight Orchestra
Rostropovich Haydn Cello in C (Benjamin Britten ECO HD transfer )
Mozart violin concertos Arabella Steinbacher
The review system: Loudspeakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 XD loudspeaker ~ Quad ESL-63, vintage Spendor BC1 ~ Digital: Mojo Audio ‘Mystique’ X DAC ~ Border Patrol DAC SE-I ~ Innuos Zenith Mk.3 server/streamer ~ Audio Note (UK) CD3.1x/2 Amplification: ~ Pass Lab Pass Labs XA30.8 power amp ~PS Audio M1200 / S-1200 by Sound Performance Labs~ Cables/ Conditioners: Inakustik AC-3500p power station & LS-4004 speaker cables, AC-2404 reference Air Power Cord ~ Audience Studio 1 interconnects, speaker cables, ArgentPur Silver stranded loudspeaker cables ~ Clarus “Crimson” 75-ohm digital spdif and power cords/ Audio Art 1 e” AC Power Cord
PRICE ~ PASS LABS XP-12 PREAMPLIFIER $6,800.00
WHERE the MUSIC BEAT meets the AUDIOPHILE ELITE !
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