Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Have You Seen?


I arrived at the Embassy Suites hotel in Tampa on Thursday night after a two-hour tarmac delay due to snow and the attendant de-icing. I barely had time to slam down a beer in the lounge before it was time for dinner hosted by the organizers of the Florida International Audio Expo. Seated next to me in the restaurant was the affable Jason Motoyama, lead preamp tech for Pass Labs, and we had a great time chatting about music. Our mutual love of Mike Patton of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More bridged the generational gap that might otherwise have loomed large between us.

Pass Labs

Seated at the other end of the table was Anastasia Protopappas, president of Pass Laboratories. So I broke bread with these guys, and guess what? I’d never really sat down and listened to a Pass Labs system before, so it seemed like a good time to remedy that oversight. Late on Friday afternoon, I sauntered down to the room of Suncoast Audio, a local dealer that had set up a cool system centered around Pass Labs’ X260.8 mono amplifiers ($14,250 per pair, all prices in USD). Cool? Definitely—each amplifier has an icy-blue VU meter right in the middle, adding a feeling of panache to the crisp aluminum front panel.

There was nothing cool about the sound. The music was a curated mix of atmospheric acoustical pieces. The Pass Labs monoblocks powered a pair of Magico S3s ($45,500/pair). Source components comprised an Innuos network music player feeding an Esoteric K-05XD SACD player-DAC ($12,000). The signal passed from there to Pass Labs’ XP22 two-chassis preamplifier ($9975). All connections were from Nordost: Valhalla speaker, interconnect, and power cables. New for this show was the Nordost Qbase Reference AC distributor ($18,000).

Pass Labs

The Suncoast Audio system radiated delicacy and detail with an underlying cleanliness that could easily be misconstrued as warmth. That’s not it, though—not warmth. This was a system with power and depth, and no sense of overhang or coloration.

“Do you have anything with some vocals?” I asked Kent English, Pass Labs’ North American sales director. He handed me his phone and told me to help myself. I immediately located the Tragically Hip quadrant of the hard drive and cued up “Little Bones.” Doug Schneider and I had found Gord Downie’s singing voice quite helpful in diagnosing the nature of several systems over the course of the day, and here it just slammed out. Tight and quick bass, great depth, and an expressive, tuneful midrange. The Hip always bring a little bit of my Canadian home to audio shows in foreign countries. I just hope these Americans appreciate all that I do . . .

Pass Labs

I’m not sure if SoundStage! has ever reviewed a Pass Labs product. If we have, it’s been too many years. My experience in the Suncoast Audio room has convinced me that this really, really needs to change.

Jason Thorpe
Senior Editor, SoundStage!