Refinement with Pass Labs' The Beast, Cube Audio, Lampizator, TW Acustic, Schröder, Schick, EMT, Koetsu, and more

I am not making this up. During a particularly burned-out moment in the afternoon, I thought about what might deliver the breath of fresh air I needed to restore my energy and refresh my spirits. Instead of opting for green tea or a walk around the hotel, I realized that some time with Pass Labs amplification might transport back to the pastel paradise I inhabited during my time with the Pass XA200.8 class-A monoblocks.

What I didn't expect, however, was an immersion in what some might equate with the Holy Grail or the healing waters of Lourdes. For what seems like decades, I've heard about Nelson Pass's The Beast with a Thousand JFETs, the legendary 20Wpc amplifier that he developed using 1000 low-distortion JFETs per channel. Finally, there it was before me, one perhaps three in existence and singing like a rare songbird in Refined Audio's room on the fifth floor of the Schaumburg Renaissance Hotel.

Not that I knew what it would look like. "What's that strange green thing?" I asked as I peered at something that, for all I knew, bore a distant relationship to an exotic room infuser. When I found out, I didn't rip off my clothes, kiss the carpet, or prostrate myself before it. Rather, I sat down and enjoyed some of the same marvelous warmth and smooth velvet/silken finish that I valued during my time with the XA-200.8s.

Playing the LP version of Telarc's fabled recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird, I marveled at how musical, flowing, and warm the system sounded. A switch to a very different familiar, Satchmo's 1928 recording of "St. James Infirmary," had me wide-eyed with the fabulousness of it all. If I hadn't had a huge list of rooms to visit, I might have stayed until, finally, they asked me to cede the sweet spot to another pilgrim.

Pass Labs is determined not to release any new products until they are assured a steady stream of parts. Not that I would ever kick the Pass XP-27 phono preamp ($12,075) and XP-32 line stage ($18,275) out of bed.

I was also quite taken with the Cube Audio Nenuphar BASiS loudspeaker ($26,900/pair). The company claims that version 2 of Cube's driver "has no significant resonance effects in the presence region." The speaker system includes a 12" powered subwoofer that covers 60–250Hz.

Also heard in this room: Lampizator Pacific DAC ($24,000), TW Acustic Raven turntable ($12,000) with Schröder SQ reference tonearm ($8500) and Schick 12" tonearm), EMT Lime ($5500) and Koetsu Rosewood Signature ($4995) phono cartridges, Silversmith cabling, Jena Labs Sapling II power filter ($8000), and Sonore Rendu SE USB retimer ($4800).