Pass Labs Aleph 3 power amplifier Page 5

Despite tube amps' reputation for imaging, here again the Pass amp was superior. Through the Quicksilvers the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall did not sound as large. The reverberation was not as audible, the instrument locations were not defined as precisely, and there was less depth apparent.

It was time for some rowdy music—Fair Warning by Van Halen (Warner Bros. 3540-2). Now the slight rounding and mellowing effect of the Quicksilvers was starting to come in handy! This kind of recording, having been engineered for the masses, can actually sound more natural when something in the system is smoothing over its harsh character a little. The $6500 M-135s did their duty here to make this awesome album very enjoyable, with their taming effect more of an acceptable tradeoff than a liability. But I still missed the lightning-quick transients of the Aleph 3. The M-135s tended to reduce the strength of the leading edges of drumbeats, lessening the pace and the excitement level.

J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (Monteverdi Choir, London Oratory Junior Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardner; Archiv 427 648-2), far from being a flawless recording, adheres to Holt's Law: The performances of soloists, choir, and orchestra are glorious; the soundstage is two-dimensional and strange. (They probably used an excessive number of microphones in the interest of being able to indepedently control the level of everything.) Oh well. I would have forgiven the Quicksilvers for muffling the sound of this recording a little, since it was born muffled. The only problem is that the Pass Labs amp managed to create much more of the gestalt of a real choir in a real hall. The Aleph 3 somehow breathed life into this flawed recording in a way that the tube amps could not.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of good overall sound for an experienced listener is their whole emotional response to a familiar recording. Though music was very enjoyable through both the Mark Levinson No.333 and the Quicksilver M-135s, it did not create quite the excitement and happiness that it did when played through the Pass Aleph 3. I felt a little like Goldilocks after these comparisons: "This amp is too cold and artificial. This amp is too warm and veiled. The Aleph 3 is juuuuuuuuuust right!"

Conquering illusions
The Pass Labs Aleph 3 is, by a good margin, the finest power amplifier I have ever had in my system. My tendency toward reviewing very affordable equipment defuses that statement quite a bit, but the Zen amplifier, my previous benchmark, sounds more extraordinary than one might expect. [It certainly did when I auditioned it in MK's system.—Ed.] The Aleph 3 is finished in a way that few amplifiers are ever finished, from its physical layout to its circuit design, and especially its sound quality. Forgive me if I gush—I haven't been converted by the heinous Single-Ended Cult members, I just love music. I positively dare all of you to go out and hear this amplifier for yourselves—even those who currently own much more expensive amps (heh-heh-heh).

As for the Aleph 3's specific sound attributes, how about very dynamic? How about very neutral and very detailed? How about a spectacularly huge soundstage, with wonderful bloom around each instrument? How about involving pace and rhythm? Do these sound good?

If the Mark Levinson No.333 and the Quicksilver M-135 truly deserve their Stereophile Class A ratings in "Recommended Components" (and I assume that they do), then the Aleph 3 deserves an even higher rating than Class A. It sounded noticeably better than the other amps in most respects. On second thought, John Atkinson and the rest of the bigwigs down in Santa Fe aren't going to be too thrilled about rearranging the whole power-amp section, so the Aleph 3 will probably have to settle for high Class A. I don't think it will mind slumming around with those other amps that sound inferior, in the interest of preserving peace and harmony.

So three cheers for the Pass Aleph 3 for coming frighteningly close to sounding like the perfect amplifier. No, not like "a straight wire with gain," but simply like air itself. When was the last time you heard air? What, you couldn't hear the air at all? Well, it was most certainly there; you were just unable to notice it.

Listening to the Aleph 3 is like looking up at the night sky. The farther out you look among the stars at night, making a connection with the vast universe, the deeper into yourself you are able to see. With the Pass Aleph 3, a whole universe of sound is revealed, limited only by the quality of the recording and the rest of the system. The farther out you listen, making a connection with the musicians themselves, the deeper into your own heart you will be able to bring the humanity of the music.—Muse Kastanovich

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