Here is Nenuphar as set up on the Emerald Isle. Until my personal silver L2 linestage arrives by mid summer if Vinnie's chassis parts vendor is on schedule, there was no valve anywhere. But there were bona-fide triode curves in the custom Nelson Pass static induction transistors in the SIT-3. With the XP-12, the speakers' airy speed-first character of what I call lucid or spiritualized mode had darkened and solidified into weightier materialism. Particularly the twinned aspects of tone and timbre had gained substance. As earlier, the power region of the upper-bass/lower-mid transition—the 'cello zone'—had built out. Whilst this makeover did feel a bit slower, more stately and settled, with the unfiltered thrice-whizzed widebanders having speed to spare, it was far from slow per se. I'd just call it more gravitationally endowed or gifted.

As before, the 30-80Hz band which these flagship widebanders navigate without needing massive rear horns tightened up. Again this behaved as though the amplifier driving them had grown rather more powerful than its actual 18 watts. I don't know whether this would be guaranteed behaviour no matter what but with our hardware, it certainly became a reliable recurrence on four different loudspeakers. As such it put the hurt on direct-driving an amplifier with a variable DAC as being the end of the line.

To extricate the not common balance at work here, the XP-12 managed to have these contributions coexist with high resolution. I felt no urge to turn up any virtual stage lights to see more.

Technically, the Pass Labs XP-12 is a line stage by not including a legacy phonostage. In practice, it's best to think of it as a preamplifier with a fat emphasis on the 'amp' part. As covered, this isn't about voltage gain. Modern systems don't need more of. It must be about current gain then which acts like a signal conditioner between source and power amplifier. With our layout of main stack on the side wall, interconnects to the amp stands are 6m. In recording studios which may run hundreds of metres, that's a trifle. In home audio, it's on the longer side. If Dawid hadn't heard very similar things with his standard short cabling, one might think that the XP-12 was simply more capable across lengthier leashes. But there clearly was more to it. If I return to Jam Somasundram's assertion that he had designed the Pass Labs HPA-1 like a small power amplifier, the same probably holds true for how Wayne approached the XP-12. If we look inside it once more, it certainly looks the part.

Going in, I'd wondered how the other half at Pass Labs designs because I'd never yet heard one of their line stages. Spending time with Wayne Colburn's XP-12, I'll call him a soul brother to Nelson Pass in that both pursue the same sonic ideals just within different component categories. With their cooperation already spanning a good twenty years, that seems most obvious in hindsight but as always, only hearing is believing. Now I know that Pass Labs build preamplifiers which are every bit as good as their famous amplifiers.

"Wayne's modesty has tended to keep him out of the spotlight and he does not like to write. So it falls on me to trumpet his achievements" is how Nelson put it.

Thankfully I do like to write. Here then goes another trumpet. Cue Fanfare for the Common Man…