Dawid. Our man in Warsaw used two different amp/speaker scenarios to evaluate Wayne's preamp in: the FirstWatt F7 amp + soundkaos Libération speakers and the Kinki Studio EX-P7 monos + Boenicke W8. His prior review of the large Swiss dipoles set the first stage. In his various hardware shuffles at the time, the "least informative fuzziest and warmest" combo had been the F7 amp fronted by iFi Audio's Pro iCan DAC/pre. The tiny Bakoon AMP-13R with variable gain had taken the crown in the Libération driver's seat. This time around, the XP-12 + F7 team "quickly dispatched my Trilogy 925 integrated amp to pasture" to net Dawid's first "hmm, okay, interesting moment. The tide turned effortlessly which I hadn't seen coming. My primary setup to evaluate the XP-12 was supposed to be the Kinki monos into my W8 speakers. The F7 was to play a supportive role of placeholder to keep the Pass running in. Yet the changes which the XP-12 wrought on the open baffles mapped such a big shift that I was shown the old sign of how line stages can make or break a system. Compared to January, the only difference now was the XP-12 preamp. Everything else remained unchanged. Yet rather than being once more unduly warm and low in resolution, the sound on the big open baffles now was properly moist, vivid, wonderfully explicit and unexpectedly insightful. Manifesting in just minutes, this sonic conversion of my first critical audition just had to be top-tier synergy with the F7 at work." Or, far more raw drive than the iFi as preamp?
Photo from Dawid's soundkaos Libération review.
Dawid then switched to the Kinki EX-P7 as direct preamp comparator to find the difference to the Pass "substantial where it mattered most and accurately reflecting their respective price points. The XP-12 was darker, more detailed, a bit more distant and imaged more focused. The EX-P7 was more lit up, nervous and bigger on bass and instrumental sizing." He then broke things down into various sonic aspects to find that on grain, "the blacker and more orderly a background gets, the more all the small flotsam bits suspended in virtual space become visible. The EX-P7 proved to be very tidy and far from sharp yet the XP-12 had the even blacker backdrop without a single wrinkle. This reflected an attitude of free flow without even microscopic grain which influenced many other factors and quickly had me understand where the additional money went."
This led him to insight as the determinant how/whether all recorded data are retrieved. "This can be partially achieved with exploded bandwidth. As a blunt weapon however, it can and often does lead to eventual fatigue. Instead of in-your-face details, the mature component allows our internal focus to disengage yet when desire for the tiniest subtlety strikes, all micro details are there to be singled out at will in natural and unadulterated fashion. I initially made the mistake of thinking the Pass slightly dim compared to the Chinese. Shortly afterwards I understood this to be a manifestation of the XP-12's tremendous yet easeful resolution which at first glance could seem more casual. Yet once I had adjusted to its presentation, there was no going back. Now the more lit-up hotter EX-P7 seemed like an accomplished trickster which behaved more adolescent in its craving for attention whilst the XP-12 had moved well past this point."
On soundstaging beyond basic width, height and depth where both preamp samples scored equivalent, Dawid honed in on air and how differently "it wrapped around various virtual sources. The EX-P7 was drier where the XP-12's carefully applied extra hydration was more tangible, vivid and organic which was further amplified by its grain-free blackness. Despite a treble which by contrast felt more subdued, it actually increased my insight into the events laid out before me. The Pass not only scored higher on differentiation but also superior separation."
This led Dawid to refinement as the key divider between very good and truly impressive hardware. He defined it as "morphing the sounds coming from your speakers into an immersive addictive musical act. The Chinese preamp was clear, present, texturally multi-layered and pleasantly hefty. The Pass had the even more complex textures, was a bit rounder and moister and aced the contour-to-fill ratio to sound even more alive. Early on, I'd misread its calmer voicing as the major distinction to the Kinki but on energetic repertoire, it punched just as hard and quick. By not elevating its bass, it tonally was simply the more even and coherent. Even thought the Kinki was shinier and sparklier, the Pass easily bested it on decay, timbre and complexity. Eventually I viewed the more affordable Kinki as boosting the bass, diminishing textures and acting flashier, edgier and less mature. It finally became clear that this was simply a clash between two different quality tiers."
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