Pass Rises High to .8

Before I learned a thing about Pass Labs' new .8 Series of amplifiers, which is designed as the new bridge between the company's current .5 and XS Series, Pass's Kent English welcomed me to listen to the Impex Records LP transfer of an RCA Red Seal 1958 mono recording of Beethoven's Violin Sonata No.8 with Jascha Heifetz and Emanuel Bey. (Only 2000 LPs were pressed, and this was number 1244.) Wow! The clarity and believability of the presentation were phenomenal. Bey's piano was recorded far too distant, but the layered complexity of the sound of Heifetz's violin was mesmerizing. All that audiophile talk about hearing the sound of the rosin on the bow had never before seemed as real as when I auditioned this recording. And the presentation was musical to boot!

I expect this is will be the only blog of CES 2014 to which I devote, not one, but two exclamation points. The sound was that grand [third exclamation point resisted].

Given that I've had the Pass XA200.5 class-A monoblocks ($34,100/pair) in my system for well over a year—JA's depiction of their exemplary sound in his recent review of the XA60.5 monoblocks is spot on—I was extremely eager to hear the new .8 series equivalent. (By way of price comparison, the new XA200.8 Pure class-A monoblocks cost $40,000/pair.) Auditioning one of my trusted reference SACDs, Ivan Fischer's Channel Classics performance of Mahler's Symphony 2, one difference immediately stood out: the XA200.8 offers superior clarity in the low end, unraveling and illuming in natural light complex interweaving bass lines while at the same time delivering the additional and totally credible wallop that the XA200.5 transmits in softer and less impactful fashion.

The system included an SP-10 Mk.II turntable w/Pass-modified drive, MA 505 tonearm, and Mysonic Lab Eminence cartridge; Oppo 103 or 105 multi-format player; Pass Labs XP-25 phono stage ($10,600), XP-30 line stage ($16,500), and XA160.8 monoblock amplifiers ($26,000/pair); and Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers. The whole thing was held together and empowered to sound so grand thanks to Kimber Kable.

Pass says the .8 Series, issued in celebration of the company's 23rd year, operates higher into Class A than ever before, and integrates the best characteristics of the .5 and Xs Series. I look forward to the time when I can compare the two, and see if the XA200.8s deliver what Pass claims is "a more accurate representation of the recording venue" in which "layering of the instruments in the orchestra allows the orchestra to seem present in the listening room" with "more space and air around instruments, which leads to a greater sense of ease and music flow." If Mahler 2 sounded so stunning on the room's Oppo, I can't wait to hear how it sounds on my reference dCS Puccini/Scarlatti clock combo.

Camfella's picture

I haven't read Stereophile, or any Audiophile mag for a long time, I see that nothing has changed. Golden eared reviewers are still using the same descriptive language to characterize imaginary differences in sound between high end amps.