Pass Labs INT-150 integrated amplifier Page 2

After giving the INT-150 a long break-in, the first music I wanted to hear through it was something containing large dynamic swings. I put on my own recording of Babatunde Olatunji's "Betelehemu," from Cantus's Comfort and Joy: Volume Two (CD, Cantus CTS-1205). The performance of this Nigerian Christmas song features full-throated, jubilant singing and a bevy of percussion instruments, including two djembes, an African drum with a ported opening that acts much like a bass-reflex speaker enclosure. The INT-150 reproduced this track at concert levels with ease. Each sound had adequate body, with terrific delineation of the space between voices and instruments, the singers clearly close to the microphones, the percussion arrayed behind them. The huge booms of the djembes were thrilling, and as dynamic as I've heard from this track. The woofers of my Revel Performa F30 speakers were clearly under control, with great slam and no bloat in the lower three octaves.

I've recently been listening a lot to solo vocal recordings, and I find that a good recording of a world-class singer will reveal the shortcomings of an amp's dynamics like nothing else. My favorite solo vocal disc is Bryn Terfel's The Vagabond, with pianist Malcolm Martineau (CD, Deutsche Grammophon 445 946-2)—about as manly and beautiful a recital album as you'll hear. Terfel's dynamic swings while singing Vaughan Williams' setting of "Whither Must I Wander?" are huge, and the INT-150 had no troubles moving from Terfel's sotto voce to his full-throttled, ringing roar. Though the dynamics were wonderful, and Terfel's bass-baritone had nice weight, through the INT-150 sibilants were just a touch more prominent than I'm used to hearing from this disc.

Another solo vocal disc I've been listening to lately is Divine Musick (CD, ATMA Classique ACD22623), late works for solo tenor and harp by Benjamin Britten. Almost all of the music on this disc was written for Britten's partner, Peter Pears, but here it's sung by an old colleague of mine, Lawrence Wiliford, accompanied by harpist Jennifer Swartz. Voice and harp are miked extremely closely, and present an almost microscopic view of the performers. Some audiophiles will love this level of detail, but as someone who listens to voices every day, I found it a bit unnatural. The INT-150 did a wonderful job of separating voice from harp in lateral space, while its slightly forward treble made an already revealing album more so. On the plus side, the INT-150's tonal balance gave a nice ping and clarity to Swartz's delicious playing, especially in Britten's Suite for Harp, Op.83.

The good news was that the microscopic recording style reveals that the musicianship on this disc is extraordinary. It had been a while since I'd heard Lance sing, and he, too, has apparently been putting in his 10,000 hours of practice; he's become a sensitive and expressive singer, with a supple and beautiful instrument that seems always to do his bidding. The works themselves are rare and wonderful—sometimes I think I'm hearing the music of John Dowland, sometimes the music of a mad genius. You'll be right thinking both.

In a different vein, I've also been totally digging the new Ratatat album, LP4 (CD, XL 945612). Ratatat's records walk between the worlds of electronica, rock'n'roll, and (at least in my mind) baroque chamber music. It's a band that takes equal turns at being cheeky and bad-ass. Through the INT-150, "Party with Children" had me doing my best white-boy head bob—you know, the one that says "I'm really digging this but am too cool/awkward to actually dance and possibly spill my beer." The INT-150 kept great rhythm and, again, left me feeling that, even at loud levels, it wasn't breaking a sweat as it drove my speakers.

The bass had weight, along with great control and nice stop-and-start. The guitars had good bite and ring, the harpsichord the right amount of body and ping. The front-to-back layering of the soundstage with this track didn't stand out in as great relief as I've ever heard, but again, the soundstage was good and wide, with nice separation between instruments. The INT-150 was made for music like this; it's a great amp to rock out to.

Slightly bothersome was some mechanical hum from the INT-150's transformer, as well as some barely audible ground buzz coming through my speakers. I tried various power cords and different outlets in my room, but the INT-150 always wanted to make a little noise. This was barely audible at my listening seat between tracks, but I still would have rather not heard it at all.

Also, in the last week the INT-150 was in residence before I shipped it to JA for measurement, I discovered that the volume control on the front panel wasn't working. I shut off the amp, unplugged it, and let it sit an hour or so. When I again powered it up, the volume control had returned to normal working order—but less than half an hour later, it ceased working again. The volume control on the remote continued to operate perfectly. I was lucky to have discovered this anomaly at all; I almost never used the front-panel volume knob, preferring to operate the INT-150 with the remote, which never hiccupped. I have no idea when the front-panel control stopped working, or if it had any effect on the sound.

Pass Laboratories
PO Box 219, 24449 Foresthill Road
Foresthill, CA 95631
(530) 367-3690