This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ads are displayed below
Review System
The HiFi rig used to gather listening impressions for this review consisted of a Sony PS1 SCPH-1001 as Redbook digital source and for vinyl a Merrill Heritage turntable restored beautifully by Anthony Scillia and mounted with a Rega RB300 tonearm (with Pete Riggle Audio VTAF and counterweight) and a Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood moving magnet cartridge. This lovely Merrill vinyl front end is on short-term loan to me from 6moons reader Joe Kelley via Pete Riggle. Thanks guys for the pleasure of using this table!

I used the awesomely musical Leben RS28CX full-function valve preamplifier (purchased after reviewing it) with the equally awesome Leben CS660P valve amplifier (also purchased, review forthcoming) along with my usual Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers sitting atop 18-inch Skylan stands. Audio Tekne interconnects and speaker cables tied everything together in fine fashion and with lots of synergy.

As a solid state comparator, I used the 50wpc Audiosector Patek chip amp, a known quantity among 6moons readers having been reviewed by Srajan in July of 2005. The Patek is a beautifully hand-made little amp that has achieved a lot of favor in my circle of friends: Bill Van Winkle, a blind piano tuner who is now in retirement, is a music lover and hifi buff with exquisite taste (and an absolutely wonderful human being) who has such high regard for the Audiosector amps that he's actually purchased two of the Pateks for his personal use. Audio bro and good friend Stephæn has also purchased one of the little Audiosector Patek amps for his own use and was kind enough to provide his personal unit to me as a solid-state comparator for this review (and which sounds superb in Stephæn's own system).

The Patek represents a good example of state-of-art performance in a cost-effective package priced at $1800 and as such makes an excellent reality check for the $5000 Pass XA30.5 while the 40wpc Leben CS660P at $9500 represents my personal reference for state-of-art performance in a modestly powerful valve amplifier. This provided two points of comparison for the Pass XA30.5 - both superb amplifiers, one at less than half the Pass's price, one at almost double.

To give you a little context for this review, my current system provides a nice balance of portraying the sonic aspects of recordings as well as their musical content. The sonic character of my rig is a touch to the warm and lush side and a tiny bit dark. The perspective (how close you feel to the performers) is up close and personal, with a high level of immediacy (the 'living presence' of musicians) and a considerable amount of transparency (being able to 'see' into the recording). These are all sonic factors that tend to contribute to making the music come alive for me. The soundstage (the three dimensions of the recorded space in width, height and depth) in my living room is very wide, of natural height but only modestly deep. The soundspace projected into my room (the space in the soundstage) is big and billowy with a nice sense of air and volume - assuming that a recording allows for it. The continuousness of the system (the 'grain size' to the moment-by-moment reproduction of time) is very liquid and flowing, making the music come across as an integrated whole with a great sense of connectedness and aliveness.

The dynamics (the range of loudness in the music) strike me as being very accurate, natural and much like I experience them life at a concert or when playing music by myself. The instrumental or vocal images on the soundstage are nicely layered and have a sense of natural flesh and blood solidity. The images also have a nicely charged acoustic glow around them with an immediacy of living and breathing presence (literally). Imaging lacks that razor-sharp edge definition some HiFi rigs have and which always strikes me as being somewhat artificial to remind me that I am, alas, just listening to a recording. The texture (grain size of noise) is very small-grained and actually quite liquid with a mellow quality. It exists in a different plane than the music so it's never intrusive.

Unnatural sibilance on voices does not exist and the decay of musical notes is utterly natural and liquid, reminding me of the way the notes of my own instruments decay. The sound is extended on top (there's a super tweeter on the Harbeth Super HL5 that LPs can benefit from), very balanced in the midrange, with the bass being just slightly overblown and loose due to the classic tube bass balance of the Leben CS660P amp. The amount of detail recovery is considerable but the presentation is so natural, liquid and organic that it lends a positive enhancement to timbral textures rather than being sonically distracting.

My present system is very good at capturing the expressiveness and artfulness of the music, which HiFi buffs and musicians tend to refer to as musicality. This is aided by an excellent sense of timbre at the band level (the band's signature 'sound' is readily apparent) and with individual instrumental timbres (the unique 'voices' of instruments) recognizably like themselves in tone and texture. This timbral realism or richness is very important to me as it allows the full tone color of instruments and voices to develop. This lends a feeling of beauty and expressiveness to the music that can otherwise be lost. The way melody (the tune you 'whistle while you work'), harmony (treble and bass accompaniments to the melody) and rhythm (the steady beat at regular time intervals that determines the tempo) interact in this system is utterly life-like in how they interplay and flow, lending a sense that the different musicians are playing off each other in a very connected fashion - just like in real life. This aspect of musical reproduction is important to me because it gives a sense of realism that recorded musicians interact with each other to play music, revealing a lot about their virtuosity. It is easily lost in systems that separate the basic elements of music too distinctly. That gives a detached feeling to the music's expressive aspect and a sense of artifice to the sonics. Finally, the way tempo is rendered always seems appropriate to both the mood and speed of the music. Also, the system is voiced as a whole to complement a wide variety of recording quality so I'm not limited to what music I listen to.

This photo opens to 2000 x 1500 at 424KB in a new window