Pass labs upgrade path

Hi there. I’m Currently running a X350.5 and XP20 with a Bricasti M1SE and PBN KAS speakers. 

I have budget to upgrade amp or preamp and am considering either a X350.8 or XP22 or XP30 as my next logical upgrade. 

I’m more inclined for a XP22 than anything else as I heard a XP12 in my system and it did sound much more like a live show but without the advantages of separate power supply. 

I have not heard a XP30 or a .8 amplifier so I figured I’d ask around and see if anyone had been in a similar spot. 

Thanks y’all. 


I'm using the Townshend Allegri Reference with my Pass XA25 and hard to imagine anything more transparent. Being passive it uses only a small wall wart to power remote and display, so money saved on one less power cord. The chassis with dedicated design Pods takes care of isolation. It even takes up hardly any shelf space. Altogether making it a tremendous value. Main drawback being it is hard to say how it sounds. But having no sound is what I'm going for, so I'm happy.

I'm curious what the OP is looking for sonically. Because sometimes an upgrade of a component isn't the solution, which is why I assume MC posted about Townshend.

I thought I wanted an upgrade path for my monoblocks until I realized what I wanted was better caps and better isolation. If the OP simply wants to buy more Pass components, well, that's a different question -- and a legitimate one. Just don't know what he/she is seeking.

@carlsbad dude it really does. There needs to be some kind of flagrant offender thing. 

but it’s audiogon… the worlds biggest used marketplace with useless things like a blue book that is the most inaccurate thing I’ve ever seen and doesn’t allow users to speak to one another creating a unsafe marketplace (haven’t sold here since 2011) 


I wouldn’t hold your breath. 

doesn’t allow users to speak to one another creating a unsafe marketplace (haven’t sold here since 2011)

After not selling any gear for many years, within the last year I have sold two amps and three pairs of cables. At least for most of my items, after a potential buyer had made an offer, A'gon provided the person’s email address and/or phone number and I assume they were provided mine. As such, I talked or emailed with all of the buyers prior to sale to get comfortable.

It’s been a while, but that’s what I remember.  I wish a moderator would chime in here and let us know if this is correct and A'gon policy as many potential sellers and buyers would be very interested in communicating with their counterpart in a sale prior to finalizing the transaction. 



@jeffseight Don't feel bad. Everyone here tries to use as short an acronym-filled name as possible, pretending that anyone who has ever heard a good system would definitely know what they are talking about.  In reality, everyone (who cares) just googles them.  

I'd upgrade the pre. I'd go with the XP-22 and use the money that you would have spent on the XP-30 and get the best power cord you can afford for it.

You need to hear the .8 series amp. You can search for reviews to get a sense of what it does differently from the .5 series.

In any case, I think you'll yield more by upgrading your preamp.

I haven’t sprung for the Townsend platforms yet, but @millercarbon was definitely right about the Nobsound springs.

Big improvement under my speakers and they are crazy cheap.

 I’d prefer that no one tries to ban anyone with good advice.  It’s hard to come by.

Thanks, Doug. fyi, thousands back you up. Literally, thousands. That is how many visits I had when my site launched. 3.7 thousand, to be precise. Therefore fair to estimate hundreds if not thousands have benefited from this advice: Nobsound if on a budget, Townshend if top shelf. The hardest part about Nobsound, it is so hard to believe something so cheap really can be so good. (The hardest part about Townshend is they can be so much better even than that!) 


I would say you’ll get more out of a preamp upgrade. By the way the volume control on Bricasti is a lot better than I thought it would be when I tried it on my M3.
Just thought to mention it in case you need an interim preamp if you sell before you buy. 

It depends how much power you need, how big is the room 

what most people don’t know Thst inside there are many upgrade paths as in parts quality Thst can be bettered  for example  Vishay naked resistors in smaller1/2 watt type , worlds best Belleson regulator's these dramatically lower the noise floor .

ever capacitors ,especially output caps  . For they donot use the absolute best ,that-is reserved for their top efforts. Myself even upgraded the transformer even the internal wiring . It depends how far you-want to go .this is the most cost effective . I have modded everything in. My system and have been doing my own loudspeaker upgrades on the Xovers for years , being an ex dealer , my technicians showed me , and did you know as a rule only 25% of the cost goes into the product on average ,the restR&D overhead and markup including packaging , that’s why modding brings such high sonic  returns for the monies ,that’s how Modwright became so successful.

I think an XP22 is the best upgrade option. You will need to go to an XP32 to better it.

Depending on how much power you need, it's worth listening to the XA power amps before you upgrade your existing power amp. 

I was very happy with upgrade from XP20 to XP22, and X250.5 to X250.8...did not upgrade both at same time, but rest of system was same during both upgrades...have not heard the X350 series or the XP30...there also seem to be many who find the X250.8 different than the X350.8 but equally good...the high power XA amps are in my opinion way better...


Passive preamps take more than they give back. The Townshend is not passive, it uses a 12VDC wall wart, so what you are buying is an $8,000 volume control. And Pass XA25 is far from the best amp. Keep looking, and have fun.

I am running an Ayre K-1xe into my Pass X350.5 but the Ayre has too much gain and I'm rarely listening with the volume above 9:00. I was wondering if the Pass xp-22 is a sideways move at best from the Ayre since the K-1xe was a great preamp in its time. Can anyone comment on this comparison?

When I owned the XA60.8 followed by the XA160.8 paired with the XP20 I could not understand why two fantastic amps could be so underwhelming. I replaced the XP20 with the XP30 and still was far from impressed. Could it be the Pass preamps?! I inserted the XP30 into a friends system that consisted of an AR Reference 5SE paired to Parasound mono’s which at the time sounded great until I heard it with the XP20 and too fell flat and lifeless. Out went the Pass preamps and in went a tube preamp, in my case the original Aric Audio Motherlode tube preamp and then and only then, the big Pass amps sang with detail, richness, body and weight that the anemic Pass preamp failed to pull out.


Pass-great amps, not so great preamps, I am afraid. All of my fellow audio brethren who have convinced themselves that the Pass pre and amp pairings afford them the most ideal combination are, in my humble opinion, have been duped. Get a tube preamp!



The gain of the Ayre is 16db balanced and 10 db unbalanced. The gain of the Pass is 9db balanced. Since you have too much gain the Pass would be a better fit. You can lower the gain  with the Ayre using unbalanced cables, but I guess you knew that!

@yogiboy Yes, switching to the single ended outputs of the ayre pre should help but those are currently being used to drive a subwoofer. The above pre suggestions have me intrigued!

Just to make certain that I was not out of my head prior to ditching the Pass preamp, I inserted a borrowed McIntosh C2300 into my system to see how it would behave. Even with the "homogenized" sound profile of the Mac Preamp, the Pass amps came to life.

Consider this...I(personally) have never heard(or read) of anyone using a Pass preamp with amps other than that of Pass. If they were truly any good, one would think that you would learn of more people using them in non Pass amp applications...


I will admit that I have not heard of Pass preamps being the preferred preamp of other amps. While, I owned a Pass preamp… it was eclipsed by the Audio Research preamp I bought. I have a huge respect for Pass amps, and Audio Research Preamps and Phonostages. 


@laaudionut Were you running single ended into your Pass amps from the Motherlode or did you have Aric provide you with balanced inputs and outputs?

I think you'll get the biggest overall improvement going to the .8 series amps.  If you want to change preamps and want to consider tubes that's a totally different approach.  Some like it better.  I didn't.  In the case of Pass, their amps and preamps really have great synergy.

The Motherlode has single ended outputs that fed the Pass amps, now a Coda Model 16. He also has gain control on all of his preamps I believe so it pairs well with most solid state amps.

I’d recently tried an XP-12 in two of my systems. It was very impressive! The piece had enchanting detail, and one of the best volume controls that I’ve experienced to this point. In the end though, I preferred the XP 2.5, and an Aric Unlimited II, in their respective systems in terms of overall synergy. I was not prepared to build an entirely new system around the XP-12.


I've enjoyed Pass amps with preamps from Pass, ARC, JRDG.  Also enjoyed Pass preamps with numerous other brand amps. I feel the Pass preamps took a big step forward when they went from the X to the XP models (more input from Nelson Pass I'm told)...

@laaudionut That Coda Model 16 looks like one helluva an amplifier.  It's still a beast like the Pass 350.5 I now use but what did you gain going to the Coda and was it worth it?

i have never tried a pass linestage... been a c-j and arc linestage guy since the 90's, they are sublime...  nowadays, streaming mostly all the time, the preamp has been bypassed altogether

but i still won't sell my et7-2 nor my ref 3

Over the years I have owned both ARC (LS-3B, LS-16, Ref 2mkII) and C-J (PV-5) and they have a very different sound.  I actually preferred the C-J sound.  The PV-5 was a great preamp but the ARC preamps might pair better with Pass amps.

@jc4659 I do not want to hijack this Pass thread and muddy it in any way and give the impression that I am not a fan of Pass amplification, which I am indeed. I was hesitant to move away from monos, which I have employed for a very long time. With the Coda what I gained most was space on my rack. I also have a Coda Model 11, so I am familiar with their sound. There are far more similarities than differences between the 160.8's and the Model 16, but if I had to make a statement, I would suggest(to my ears and listening environment) that the Coda has a bit more of that, "tube bloom" and "richness" without compromising on detail and dimensionality.


arc has, in recent (the last 10-15) years continued to make their sound more extended into far reaching treble and bass, providing a greater sense of speed, while maintaining the lovely midrange and soundstaging magic

c-j has as well ... especially from art to act to gat... i have personally gone from pv-14 to prem 17ls2 to prem 16ls2 to et-5 and now to et7-ii -- each step offered decidely more transparency, bass solidity and slam, with an attendant reduction in the old 'rose-colored glasses' presentation...just like audio research, the tube magic is still there in the critical midrange and for spatial presentation, but at the same time, allowing the listener to hear into the music much more than before

its my opinion, one shared with other owners of higher level arc and c-j units, is that the sound of these two companies have been converging for some time into their version of a ’more modern sound’

@jjss49 Thanks for that analysis! I really should get out and listen to the newer versions of preamps from both companies. It's been awhile!

@jjss49 Perhaps if I would have used the more "modern" CJ preamps like the ET series I would have a different opinion of how they sound with Pass amps.  The closest I got was the CT5 and Premier 16.  The PR16 with Pass I felt was too warm and while the CT5 was suppose to be an improvement, I never liked the "super tube" sound.  Thus I always stuck with Pass pre amps when using Pass amps.  I bet your ET7 would sound wonderful with a Pass amp.  Even though you mostly stream now, why don't you run it throught the ET7, since you have one?  Seems to me you would realize even better SQ?

I have the pass XA25 running with a Khozmo passive.  And upgraded resistors.  I think my system has a neutral sound.  I have horn speakers as well.  I won't be buying anything else.  Really good sound. 

@jjss49 Perhaps if I would have used the more "modern" CJ preamps like the ET series I would have a different opinion of how they sound with Pass amps. 


yes i will get around to trying it, likely this winter, but of late i have been pursuing the 'less is more' angle, using dacs that have good volume control schemes to directly drive power amps... 

I’m not sure that the middle end of the Pass line stages have ever gotten any attention till the XP 32 came along and that is second from the top. I have always been a big fan of pairing tube line stages with solid state monos. I’ve tried Mac 2500 with my Luxman M900u monos with my Wilson Sasha DAW’s and very unimpressive then moved to the Arc 5se still not where it’s at, although the bass response improved quite a bit but was still missing the musicality and soundstage. Finally I moved to the BAT VK53se and at least I was able to live with that for a few years. A major step up in depth and a flatter frequency response and far better than the Arc Ref 5se and Mac in my system anyway. 
   I finally came across a deal on a Pass XS, top of Pass’ linestage in their preamps. It’s a two box unit with power supply and control box. Each channel and the digital control circuits have their own isolated power supplies. All I can say is Bang!!! All of these other preamps  I’ve been messing around with for the last 10 years are ready for the pasture. 
 Pass XS spared no expense on building this preamp. Ceramic circuit boards with gold plating. Soundstage depth, clarity, resolution, bass but just enough.
   In the owners manual Nelson Pass admits that “if you’re on a restricted budget you might be wise to avoid borrowing one of these.” All I can say is all Pass Preamps are not created equal. 

I can't say much about your actual question, i.e., moving up to the .8 series.  However, I have the 250.8 and it is excellent. People say that they like the 250.8 better than the 350.8, but all I can say is that I am very happy with it.  I have also heard great comments about pairing the XP-22 with the amp, and you will probably get more bang for your buck upgrading the pre.  I went in a different direction . . . I went from running my MSB Discrete DAC direct to the 250.8 to using an ARC REF 6 pre.  To my ears, its a perfect combo with my Wilson Sabrina X's.

I have an XP-22 preamp and it is a very articulate and quiet preamp.  Also, it will drive longer interconnect lead-lengths in the case of having the preamp and source equipment a good distance from the amplifier(s).  Built like a tank like all of the Pass-Labs products.  I bought my daughter an XP-12 and had it for a few weeks prior to getting it to her and the XP-22 was a little quieter and perhaps slightly more micro-dynamic than the XP-12 but both are great preamps.  Good Luck !

Welcome back Miller Carbon.  I very often disagree with you, but I really enjoy your posts.

In regards to a point systembuilder (the OP) brought up & jetter responded to, the only way buyers & sellers are officially allowed to communicate directly is if the seller has paid 4% of their asking price upfront for a 30 day ad (Regardless of whatever price it eventually sells at - or if it sells at all) & is non refundable.

If one wishes to communicate with the buyer/seller directly w/o an upfront payment, the only option is to include your contact info in a free (the only kind offered), US Audio Mart ad (that can run indefinitely) placed simultaneously. It’s fairly common for AG ads to be simultaneously put in US Audio Mart & continue to run after the AG ad has expired. I don’t know how often contact info is also there, but I’ve certainly seen it. Letting the buyer know directly or indirectly i.e. asking them to google the particular product being sold on AG, sounds like it could possibly be problematic, but I have not the personal experience or know others who’ve done so to comment. There’s certainly no strictures regarding mentioning the competition on AG forums, I’ve found so far.