Pass Labs XP-27 phono stage

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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Pass Labs XP-27 Review

I recently directly compared my Pass Labs XP-25 phono stage to its replacement, the XP-27. I had the XP-27 in for a ten day trial audition period. About a year ago, I replaced my XP-20 preamp with the new XP-22. I rearranged my rack, as I had before for the preamp comparison, to facilitate easy cable swapping for blind listening evaluations. Previously, I have owned the Pass Ono, the XOno, and the XP-25 phono stages.

I let XP-27 warm up for a couple of days before doing any serious listening,. I use Transparent Audio REF XL balanced cables, and in this case I was switching a 1.0 M length between the two phono stages and the XP-22 preamp. I left both phono stages powered on for the entire ten day testing period.

The output impedances varies slightly between the XP-25 (250 ohms) and the XP-27 (220 ohms), so both my dealer and I thought that I could use the same calibrated cable for the testing. Transparent Audio told me that I would get slightly better results with a recalibrated cable for the 27. They told me that the tone would be slightly effected by cable if used with the 27. The build quality and casework between the two units seems identical. The only visual difference is that the front vertical edges on the faceplate are chamfered on the 25 and cut straight on the 27. You can read about the technical differences and what Pass did to change the sound of the 27 on their website: https://www.passlabs.com/preamplifier/xp-27

During the initial break in period of the first few days, the two units sounded fairly similar. I noticed a slightly more extended bass with the 27 and thought it might have sounded a little more dynamic, but otherwise the differences were pretty minor. Then on about day five, my good friend and audio buddy, Al M. came over to hear the new phono stage and compare it to the old one. He is an experienced listener and, like I do, he uses live acoustic music as his reference. He is very familiar with my system so I looked forward to learning his listening impressions of the 27 and how he thought it differed from the 25.

I conducted a series of blind A/B/A… tests with some familiar music. Here are the notes from that listening session:

Round 1: Transparent cable, calibrated for the XP-25

1. Sonny Rollins, Way Out West, A/B
2. Janaki Trio, B/A/B
3. Holst Male Choral, B/A
4. Holst Female Choral, A/B/A
5. Holst Planets, Jupiter, A/B
6.. Bach Partita no. 1, B/A

Round 2: Burley Wire, no cable bias

1. Bach Partita no. 1, A/B
2. Holst Planets, Uranus, B/A
3. Holst Female Choral, A/B
4. Holst Male Choral, B/A
5. Bach Partita no.2 B/A

A = XP27, new phono
B = XP25, old phono

Peter was switching cables between phono stages while Al left the room. Al was in sweet spot and listened “blind”. In Round 1, Al consistently preferred “B”. Peter, sat in the right seat and listened “sighted” and consistently preferred “A”. We took a break for tea and cake and discussed results. The disagreement was interesting and we were both confused about why the other had a different preference.

In round 2 we switched to a cable from Pass Labs called Burley Wire so that the Transparent cable which was calibrated for the XP25 would not bias our listening. With the Burley wire, Al preferred the XP25 for the first selection and then the XP27 for the rest, #’s 2-5. Peter still preferred the XP27 for all five selections.

In the end, it is clear that the new XP27 is better. It is cleaner sounding. The bass is deeper, more articulate, more impactful, less “fat”. I think that the XP25 has a slightly “fuzzy” sound, a bit more diffuse. The clarity with the XP27 is startling. I think this is because of lower noise, and lower distortion. The singers were more distinct and separate and clear with the XP27. Leading edge transient information was finer, detailed, and clean with the XP27. The Transparent cable helped the XP25 in Round 1. With that advantage gone, we both preferred the XP27. It seems that the Transparent cable, not properly calibrated for the XP27, slightly affected various frequencies and changed the tonal character slightly. With the Burley Wire, the tone and timbral accuracy of the XP-27 improved. Here is a summation:

XP27:
1. Lower noise
2. Lower distortion
3. Deeper bass, more articulate bass, less fat, more impact/punch
4. Better transient attack, fine, more precise leading edge
5. Cleaner, clearer sound, more resolution
6. Deeper stage, better hall information
7. Slightly more dynamic, explosive

After dinner, I played the Sheffield Drum Track. Wow. It was explosive and loud with very little distortion. There was incredible nuance between the different types of drums and it had huge impact and dynamics. The different drum characteristics and his technique has never been more discernible.


I am still listening with the Burley Wire IC because it sounds so good, but I plan to send my Transparent Audio cable back for recalibration to see if it will sound even better. The XP-27 has continued to improve over time. It seems that the complete break in period was about ten days. I have now had it in my system for sixteen days, powered on the whole time.

Since Al heard it on the fifth day, the resolution has continued to improve. Low level information is even more clear. Micro and macro dynamics are better. The soundstage is about the same, but the depth has increased. Presence, an attribute of my system about which I am very pleased, is even more pronounced. I have not heard this level of 3-D palpability before. Timbral accuracy has never sounded more real in my system. The overall impression is one of improved clarity and a more natural sound. Everything just sounds more real to me. I returned the XP-25 and received a trade-in allowance.

This new generation of Pass electronics is a clear improvement over the previous generation. I am told that there is some trickle down technology from the Pass flagship XS line. I could not be happier with the upgrade. It is by far the best Pass phono stage that I have owned and heard in my system. I actually think that the improvement over the XP-25 is greater than the improvement of the XP-22 over the XP-20. It is really a remarkable sounding phono stage.

The XP-27 arrives:

IMG_4502.jpg

The direct comparison between the XP-25 (top shelf) and XP-27 (bottom shelf):

IMG_4503.jpg

The XP-27 on top self, the XP-22 on second shelf, and the matching power supplies off to side:

IMG_4564.jpg

The XP-25 ready for boxing and shipping for trade-in:

IMG_4533.jpg
 
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oldmustang

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Dec 2, 2012
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Congratulations, Peter. A very interesting and well-illustrated review. Well-written and very thorough. You put into words what you hear from the XP-27 much better than I.

I am sure you will have many enjoyable hours listening through the XP-27.

Steve
 

LL21

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Dec 26, 2010
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Congrats! Awesome review and very methodical. Enjoy!
 

XV-1

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May 24, 2010
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Congrats Peter. Does the XP-27 remember settings when you change inputs? Or do you have to manually change the gain and loading like the 25. Used to drive me batty when I had the xp-25.
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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Thank you for that very detailed and thorough report! I’m glad you both wound up agreeing so there is no question about which unit sounds better!

That Sheffield Lab drum track sounded amazing on your system!

I like how you have separated the power supplies from the control units.
 

bazelio

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Sep 27, 2016
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Thanks for the writeup, Peter. I've only heard good things about the XP-27 and have no doubt this is yet another incremental move in the right direction for your system.

If by chance the two of you are up for it, a direct compare/constrast to Ian's P1 in either of your systems would be very interesting to inquiring minds.... Just to plant a seed.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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Thanks for the writeup, Peter. I've only heard good things about the XP-27 and have no doubt this is yet another incremental move in the right direction for your system.

If by chance the two of you are up for it, a direct compare/constrast to Ian's P1 in either of your systems would be very interesting to inquiring minds.... Just to plant a seed.

You are welcome Baselio. Yes, the XP-27 is yet another step in the right direction. I'm really very excited and pleased with the improvement it has brought to the system. Regarding Ian's P1: he did have the flagship Pass XS phono and prefers the P1. The XP-27 is a descendant of the XS Phono, and costs about 1/4 as much, so I'm not sure how much of a comparison it would be. I have thought about the fact that one could buy two XP-27s, one for each channel to reduce noise further, at least theoretically, and still spend less than half the cost of the XS Phono. It boggles the mind. The XP-27 is so much less expensive than the top phonos people discuss and use on this forum. A comparison would be interesting, but my phono would need to be on for a day or two once unplugged and moved, and the P1 may be the same, so it is unlikely to happen.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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Thank you everyone for your kind words. Al M. was over again tonight and we played a variety of different music on the system. Art Pepper Plus Eleven and Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain were highlights. We listened in full to both sides of Sketches of Spain just enjoying the music. The horns never sounded so good. There was a new sense of weight and body and foundation that was just not there with the XP-25. Instruments sounded more individual rather than a kind of blend on the stage. I guess some people call this air around the players. One can more easily follow individual musical lines than before. It will be interesting to see if the recalibrated Transparent cable sounds even better.
 
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PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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Congrats Peter. Does the XP-27 remember settings when you change inputs? Or do you have to manually change the gain and loading like the 25. Used to drive me batty when I had the xp-25.

XV-1, I only use one phono input, so I really don't know, but I would presume it is just like the XP-25 in this regard. At least the controls are big dials on the front face and not tiny dip switches like on the XOno. I think that had only one input though.
 

bazelio

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Sep 27, 2016
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You are welcome Baselio. Yes, the XP-27 is yet another step in the right direction. I'm really very excited and pleased with the improvement it has brought to the system. Regarding Ian's P1: he did have the flagship Pass XS phono and prefers the P1. The XP-27 is a descendant of the XS Phono, and costs about 1/4 as much, so I'm not sure how much of a comparison it would be. I have thought about the fact that one could buy two XP-27s, one for each channel to reduce noise further, at least theoretically, and still spend less than half the cost of the XS Phono. It boggles the mind. The XP-27 is so much less expensive than the top phonos people discuss and use on this forum. A comparison would be interesting, but my phono would need to be on for a day or two once unplugged and moved, and the P1 may be the same, so it is unlikely to happen.

The Yggy DAC is the same way. One of my friends used to transport his Yggy to meets plugged in to a UPS battery back up so that it was never powered off - or powered off only for the second it would take to unplug and plug in to the UPS. I'm not suggesting it. I may just demo the XP-27 myself. I'm also curious about the vdH Grail. Those two would be an interesting A/B compare most likely. Enjoy the sublimer sound. ;)
 

Al M.

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Thank you everyone for your kind words. Al M. was over again tonight and we played a variety of different music on the system. Art Pepper Plus Eleven and Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain were highlights. We listened in full to both sides of Sketches of Spain just enjoying the music. The horns never sounded so good. There was a new sense of weight and body and foundation that was just not there with the XP-25. Instruments sounded more individual rather than a kind of blend on the stage. I guess some people call this air around the players. One can more easily follow individual musical lines than before. It will be interesting to see if the recalibrated Transparent cable sounds even better.

Yes, Art Pepper's sax sounded just so much better than before, with more convincing body, and bass lines were tighter and more articulate than with the older phono stage. That was a fun evening.
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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Greater Boston
Thank you for that very detailed and thorough report! I’m glad you both wound up agreeing so there is no question about which unit sounds better!

That Sheffield Lab drum track sounded amazing on your system!

I like how you have separated the power supplies from the control units.

I should add, Ron, that in the second round of blind test, with the Burley cable, eventually I also found on another track of selection 1 (Bach Partitas) that the XP-27 was better. So this makes it selections 1 through 5, not just 2 - 5 as Peter stated in his original post.

Interesting that I consistently preferred the older XP-25 in the first test with the Transparent cable, which was impedance matched to the XP-25 and mismatched to the XP-27. I must have been somehow sensitive to the effects of the slight impedance mismatching.
 

PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
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North Shore of Boston
I should add, Ron, that in the second round of blind test, with the Burley cable, eventually I also found on another track of selection 1 (Bach Partitas) that the XP-27 was better. So this makes it selections 1 through 5, not just 2 - 5 as Peter stated in his original post.

Interesting that I consistently preferred the older XP-25 in the first test with the Transparent cable, which was impedance matched to the XP-25 and mismatched to the XP-27. I must have been somehow sensitive to the effects of the slight impedance mismatching.

Yes, it will be interesting to see what the Transparent cable sounds like once I have it recalibrated. I suspect you and I were listening to different things during that initial round of listening tests, or that I was highly biased toward the new phono simply because I new which was which. We will never know that for sure, but the second round of listening was more consistent, and we both agree now with the XP-27 in the system for two weeks, that it is the superior phono stage.
 
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