WHAT do you do when you have a successful standalone phono stage priced at US$10,600, but still have customers with a pent-up demand for an ‘even less’ no-compromise phono stage, and specifically want it from you? Well, if you are Pass Labs, you make one that’s good enough to satisfy them … even if it ends up with a price tag of US$45,000!
The result is the new Pass Labs’ Xs phono preamplifier, a dual-chassis, completely dual-mono phono stage – even the outboard power supply is entirely dual-mono, after the single power cord from the wall outlet.
What could make a phono stage be worth US$45,000? The Xs Phono is claimed to be the most intensive design effort in Pass Labs’ 25-year history. The Xs Phono is, in effect, three separate state-of-the-art stereo phono stages housed in one chassis.
Knowing its customers’ demands, the design brief for the Xs Phono included inputs for three phono cartridges from the outset. When extensive listening tests revealed there was no method of switching among three pairs of inputs that did not degrade the sound, when compared to direct connections, the design team decided that each of the Xs Phono’s three pairs of inputs had to have its own separate, directly connected stereo phono stage. There are no switches or relays in the signal paths to the hugely important first amplification stages.
Paradoxically for a company that prides itself on simplicity in design and execution, the Xs Phono ends up with a 13 circuit board count, containing approximately 1,500 electronic components – resistors, capacitors, diodes, and special Toshiba low-noise Field Effect Transistors (FETs). The dual-mono architecture that starts right after the power-cord inlet continues through to the output connectors.
The Xs Phono allows selection of resistive loading between 30 Ohms and 47k-Ohms; capacitive loading between 100pF and 750pF; and gain between 56dB and 76dB. A selectable/defeatable high-pass filter or rumble filter imposes a -3dB roll off from 20Hz and below, to remove unwanted sub-sonic frequencies. When the high-pass filter is not engaged, the Xs Phono’s low frequency extension is to below 5Hz.
The Xs Phono is not equipped with remote control, for the logical reasons that a listener has to get up to change the record anyway, and furthermore, in a design that was conceived as an all-out assault on the state of the art, convenience had to give way to performance.
Says lead designer Wayne Colburn: “You are transported into the musical experience. You find yourself just sitting there and enjoying the music. It’s about the musical experience, as opposed to collecting equipment.”