I ran in the XP-22 for nearly a week before my auditions started. My Trilogy 915R tube/transistor hybrid was the nearly thrice-as-dear sparring partner. As much as I would have liked to also use the Thöress DFP, its single-ended nature isn't ideal for my Trilogy 995R fully balanced monos. To level the battlefield between Pass and Trilogy preamps, both connected to the same AC distributor via identical Entropic Process LessLoss C-Marc power cords. All Pass loaners sent to me before the XP-22 arrived had shared quite similar tuning. Elegance is the best single descriptor I can think of. This didn't elevate any one aspect but combined big tone and fruitiness with resolution and openness though without any clear bias towards illumination and spatial grandeur vs heft and massive bass. To my ears the Pass house sound sat roughly in the middle facing towards the latter traits. So Pass hardware fared brilliantly in mature systems not in need of strong tonal changes. The XP-22 followed suit so its role isn't to correct sound that's tonally awry but simply to elevate what's there already. It also was my the first Pass whose voice elevated one trait above all others.

Whenever a manufacturer claims excellent S/NR, I instantly think of high noise rejection manifesting as a particular type of audible silence. It perhaps reads fermented but bear with me. The more we trim extraneous noise, the darker the backdrop renders against which all sounds arise. When a lot of that gunk vanishes, true blackness separates good from great products. This is nothing new. Quite a few audio houses into cables and isolators already know the drill. My entire system packs with accessories specifically to keep incoming noise out so I can fully tap into that spooky canvas and reap all associated benefits. The XP-22 granted me access to this realm within seconds. Although the generous dosage of extra black ink wasn't anything new per se, the sheer potency did have me at initial hello. The XP-12 preamp hadn't expressed this quality to the same degree. Here the XP-22 impressed far more. While rendering pristine inky space may read like one solitary thing, its effect is far more multi-dimensional. First it keeps quite a few gremlins at bay. The XP-22 doesn't know how to sound sharp, piercing, garish or explicit. Its aesthetic is quite the opposite in fact. It's completely without grain so remarkably smooth, non-fatiguing and in fact exquisite. High-tiered noise rejection also enables more muscle tissue, a wider colour palette with deeper pigmentation, broader dynamics and more control.

Mellow vocal/instrumental recording were sweet, saturated, voluptuous and calm. Heavy Rock and Metal was shredded, articulate, intense and slamming with low-bass pulses. Whilst the charming organic expressivity shone through regardless, the music on the menu modulated its degrees. Many untrained ears may not make the connection between the XP-22's innate blackness and all the doors it unlocks. Insufficiently spicy is what some might say. And audible flash and short-term gymnastics really aren't part of the Pass DNA. Their models are designed to last their users a long time and keep the upgrade itch at bay. So the XP-22 revealed its sophistication gradually and most definitely didn't flaunt any cheap tricks. It was audibly meaty yet never slow, woolly, overly round or warm. It could do it intimate, delicate, texturally rich, seductive and packed with nuances, spatially expansive in all directions yet still snappy and accurate.

The tussle between XP-22 and Trilogy 915R was interesting to say the least. The latter was obviously designed to complement Nic Poulson's 995R mono amps. His preamp is a class A design geared for textural moisture, saturation, tactility and elasticity just like the XP-22. Then it's specifically tweaked towards extra directness, dynamic prowess, clarity, friction and overall impact. Trilogy's reference preamp acts like a shot of espresso that keeps the companion mono amps fully alert to sound speedier, more responsive and impactful. The main trends between 915R and XP-22 weren't difficult to map. The Trilogy was spatially a touch larger, more direct, jumpy and tense and not quite as intense on colour. It was airier, leaner, more sharply outlined and more damped in the bass. The first row felt closer, dynamic contrast and image pop higher. In automotive lingo, Trilogy's big engine was supercharged, that of the Pass naturally aspirated whilst packing two extra cylinders. Different measures and driving experiences, roughly similar horsepower.

The XP-22's calm texturally bloomier demeanour went hand in hand with admirable precision, clarity and insight. All these qualities really can come together even if the underlying blackness may result in an impression that the sound is a bit darkish if not hooded. That's misleading. Cleaner backgrounds don't obscure nuances. Au contraire. The tiny dust particles are all there, just served casually not spot-lit. That's how the Pass went about its business. It felt as though it purposely took its time to carefully condition every transient prior to sending it to the amp. It steered my system's gestalt towards charm, romance and mood even though I found it as resolved, informative, thunderous and quick as the 915R. The XP-22 simply didn't highlight vigour and energy on every occasion. It did unleash stiff hard attacks where appropriate but still boasted big tone, roundness, vibrant vivid colours and an effortless treble. The end game was pleasure not vivisection. This proved as accomplished as its opponent but took its own interesting route then firmly held its ground against a far more expensive device to belong in the same very high league.

Subjectively the Trilogy 995R monos favoured the 915R's company, not surprising given how synergistic this hardware combination was designed to be. The Pass however had its revenge with Enleum's AMP-23R which is highly energetic, smooth beyond belief, off-the-charts informative, lucid and also a touch lean. It can serve as proper power amp with variable gain and works nicely with external preamps. My LampizatOr DAC with 300B outputs is a quick, direct, resolved and lean type as well. The XP-22 in-between injected extra heft, colour and composure without limiting their core assets of energy, quickness and immediacy. In that context the Pass did more than the 915R. This was my final piece of the puzzle to fully grasp how good it truly is. I still remember how four springs ago the Pass Labs XP-12 fared against Kinki Studio's EX-P7. That uneven fight ended with the latter being carried out in a body bag. Today's skirmish wasn't fair either but the outcome radically different. The significant price gap between Pass Labs XP-22 and Trilogy 915R didn't manifest sonically. I found them equally gifted and packed with just the right features to keep enthusiasts like myself happy for days. Subjective preferences and individual system demands take over from there. And let's not forget that as brilliantly tuned and posh as the XP-22 is already, this twin-box affair is Wayne Colburn's third be(a)st. There are still two more tiers to go. Now let that sink in.