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Pass Laboratories XP-25 Phono Preamplifier

11-15-2015 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 82

Pass Labs XP-25 Faceplate Closeup

Pass Labs is on a roll. The new Xs lineup that includes the Xs Preamplifier ($38,000) and Xs-300 Monoblock Amplifiers ($85,000) has been receiving rave reviews worldwide. Definitely considered state of the art contenders by even the most discerning critics. Bottom line, my short time with them in my system was a revelation. Now we have the new Xs Phono Preamp at an MSRP of $45,000 introduced at CES earlier this year.

Though I have not heard this newest Xs just yet, I am confident that the momentum will continue. Most of us without the reserves will just have to add another player to our fantasy audiophile football team. No disrespect here on the price. For me at least, this is just another important entertaining element of being an audiophile. I clearly understand what might never be in my listening room, but I greatly enjoy thinking and reading about it. And the good news is that Pass Labs has a long history of implementing a trickle down strategy at all price points.

Which brings us to this review. No need to skip to the summary paragraphs. The Pass Labs XP-25 phono preamp is an absolute giant killer. Before the Xs was introduced, the XP-25 was the flagship model and deservingly so. I am not concerned that the XP-25 will be lost in the wake of the XS. It can proudly stand on its own, but I want to make sure that folks clearly understand the value that it can offer. Yes, an MSRP of $10,600 is not insignificant and most of us would claim that the use of the word "value" is inappropriate. I beg to differ. Please check out the number of $50K plus phono preamps that have been introduced over the last couple of years. The XP-25 loves to be the underdog and will absolutely delight you!

Review System

  • Magico Q7 Speakers
  • Pass Labs INT-60 Integrated Amplifier
  • Vitus RI-100 Integrated Amplifier
  • D'Agostino Momentum Integrated Amplifier
  • Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD/DAC
  • VPI Aries Extended Turntable
  • VPI 12.6 Memorial Tonearm
  • Van den Hul Frog Cartridge
  • Synergistic Research Element CTS Power Cords
  • Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level 4 Interconnects and Speaker Cable
  • Synergistic Research Powercell 10 UEF & FEQ - PowerCell Equalizer
  • MIT SL-Matrix50 Interconnects and SL-Matrix90 Speaker Cables
  • SRA VA Turntable Isolation Base
  • Rix Rax Hoodoo Component Rack
  • Magico QPod Footers

Caveat Emptor

System synergy and personal taste are critical when evaluating high-end audio products. This review is based on my subjective requirements, my subjective ears, my specific system and my specific listening room. This combination is only one data point of many that exist out there for these components. Please consider my comments and analysis appropriately.


Though all designs from Pass Labs are created through a collaborative process with input from several team contributors, Nelson Pass is the primarily leader for amplifier designs and Wayne Colburn for the preamplifier designs. I am sure that many deserve praise here, but I'd like to salute Wayne for another magnificent performer in the XP-25.

Pass Labs X-25 Front

At an aggregate of 55 pounds, the XP-25 is a fully balanced two chassis phono preamplifier with a separate dedicated power supply. Pass Labs provides a robust Din-25 cable that links the two chassis together. There is considerable flexibility to dial in your unique cartridge and system needs with controls for resistive loading, capacitive loading and gain. Additional useful functions on the front panel include control buttons for mute, hi-pass and two inputs (for two turntable/arm/cartridge combinations if you have them).

One set of balanced and unbalanced outputs are provided. After market power cords can be utilized, though you need to be aware of a few caveats. The ground pin on the power cord provides product safety ground. Thus for safety and integrity requirements, the safety ground must never be defeated. The XP-25 also has filter components in the AC line that are designed to shunt unwanted noise from the power-line to ground. Defeating the safety ground will ultimately defeat some of the performance advantages built into the design.

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to my eyes, the casework and overall aesthetics are exceptional (thank you Desmond Harrington). I would rate ergonomics and user friendliness as right up there with the best. It's all very logical without much need to peek at the excellent user's manual. Speaking of the user's manual, there is some very insightful advice provided for the art and science of setting up your cartridge for proper loading and additional tweaking. I want to emphasize the "art" part of this narrative as we all know how difficult it can be to find your ultimate combination of settings for best performance. And let's not forget that "subjectivity" thing. The XP-25 leaves you plenty of room to find the sweet spot for your unique listening needs.


  • Number of Chassis: 2
  • Ship Weight (lbs.): 55
  • Dimensions (each Chassis): 17" W x 12" D x 4" H
  • Gain: 53dB, 66dB, 76dB
  • RIAA Response: +/- 0.1dB at 20-20K hz
  • Distortion: < .005 % THD @ 1mV MC input, < .002 % THD @ 10mV MM input
  • Maximum Output: 22 volts RMS
  • Output Impedance: 150 / 150 ohms
  • Input Impedance: 100pF - 750pF on any input, 30 ohms - 47K ohm any input
  • Unweighted Noise:  -93 dB ref. 10 mV (MM), -85 dB ref. 1 mV (MC)
  • Power Consumption: 25 watts

Pass Labs XP-25 Rear


You can check off all the audiophile boxes for the XP-25, but it's the aggregate or organic like synergy of these variables that will make you smile. If like me, with phono preamps I am always scrutinizing the noise floor and here we have one of the quietest phono preamps that I have experienced. The deep black background gives you a wonderful palette for everything to pop and to stimulate your senses at all frequencies.

Bass has plenty of weight and dynamic punch—some of the best that I have heard from a phono preamp. Mids have just the right amount of bloom and seduction. Highs are extended with considerable transient speed and immediacy yet no edge or grain. Images are locked in and almost holographic. The sound stage is extended well beyond the speakers. Yes, very impressive stuff, but again and most importantly, the overall combined effort just seems right - relaxed, unaffected and yet spontaneous. What more could you want from your music?

I have owned or reviewed several outstanding phono preamps over the years. Three of my favorites include the Audio Research PH8 ($7000), Joule Electra OPS-1 MK-IV ($4000), and Parasound Halos JC3 ($2995). All just happen to be single chassis configurations, but they are all terrific products with very close to reference like performance.

In a nut shell, the PH8 and OPS-1 are tube designs and both have that midrange magic and bloom that tubes are known for. The OPS-1 has a slightly darker presentation with a rich chocolate disposition. The PH8 is more neutral with a just a pinch of white. The JC3 is a solid state design with lightning fast highs and bass performance that will surprise you. Price points range all over the map. And yes, this is not exactly an apples to apples discussion, but you may still find my thoughts useful.

All three have their strengths and weaknesses, yet the XP-25 easily trumps them on virtually every level and listening criteria. Highs are extended and as articulate as the solid state JC3, but the XP-25 goes the additional mile with a more fleshed out presentation. Midrange on the XP-25 also has that tube like magic (tough to find via most solid state designs), but it seems more accurate to my ears—just the right amount of warmth and detail without going over the top in either direction. Bass performance far exceeds all three including the solid state JC3 with more slam and blunt power.

My guess is that much of what I hear with the XP-25 is due to three important differentiators. Based on Pass Lab's specifications, the XP-25's high gain and exceptionally low noise floor allow for ample output and detail from virtually any cartridge.  This includes those with as little as 40 uV (micro-volts) of signal at the phono input. Secondly, I have to believe that the dedicated standalone power supply is not only a key contributor to these specifications, but also provides the improved drive and dynamics that I was hearing over and over again with music that I am very familiar with. It ain't always true in audio, but in this case "ya gets whats ya pays for". The XP-25 and the stand alone power supply gets it right.


LA Four - Just Friends

The LA Four – Just Friends

This direct to disc LP is a must have in your collection (if you can find it).  Released back in 1978 on the Concord label and pressed in Japan via Toshiba, my understanding is that it is also available on SACD and DVD-A formats. An all-star lineup includes Laurindo Almeida on guitar, Jeff Hamilton on drums, Bud Shank on alto sax and Ray Brown on acoustic bass. Legend has it that Bud Shank showed up to the studio without his flute in tow thus all his contributions were on alto sax only. For my taste, this makes for a unique LA Four album with a much more attractive and energized demeanor than the rest of their catalog.

It's hard to categorize LA Four, but many would describe them as a cross between Bossa Nova jazz and classical chamber music—very unique and very satisfying. My favorite track on this LP is the outstanding Chick Corea treasure entitled Spain. Talk about dynamic contrast and inner density!  These folks are in the room with you and starring you down. Jeff Hamilton begins with a whirling dervish on snare drums that will have you bouncing in your seat. Locked in, just to the right and behind is a distinct clapping of the hands in synch with the beat and echoing throughout the recording venue. Bud Shank enters with his alto in fine form and you can sense the distinct reediness and bloom of his instrument as he takes the hand off. This is a real test for any analog front end and the XP-25 takes it to another level.

Ernest Ansermet - The Royal Ballet

Ernest Ansermet – The Royal Ballet Gala Performances

I am still waiting for this release on SACD or a high resolution format, but why sweat bullets when neither will probably equal or exceed the sound of this LP pressing. Reissued by Classic Records in 2002 and originally recorded on the RCA Living Stereo label in 1957, this has long been an audiophile standard. Produced and engineered by the legendary team of Michael Williamson and Kenneth Wilkinson and recorded in London's famous Kingway Hall, be prepared for an emotional ride through classical ballet heaven. 

Ansermet and The Royal Opera House Orchestra are in fine form here. The precision and boldness of both conductor and orchestra reinforces the beauty of these masterpieces. Though this is a sampling from many classic ballets, it still flows well from beginning to end. With the XP-25, the recorded sound will immediately draw you in and keep you mesmerized. Percussion is especially light and whimsical—almost like a collage of sound effects throughout the soundstage. The weight and power of a full orchestra comes through loud strong, adding to the drama and romance.

The first track, March and The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker is just one of many highlights. Via the XP-25, strings are absolutely lush and captivating as the rich harmonics of the violin section come through like the real thing. Woodwinds pop in and out with a lithe agility and a vivid pin point precision. The bell like sound of the celeste floats through the score with all the proper chime and acoustic delicacy. My goodness, there is nothing like good vinyl and a premier analog front end to raise the goosebumps.

The Allman Brothers Band - At Fillmore East

The Allman Brothers Band –  At Fillmore East

Three albums top my personal list for best live Rock recordings: The Who - Live At Leads, Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense, and the The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East. The latter is not exactly an audiophile delight for sound. This is one of those records where audio quality is really not an important factor for pure enjoyment—the performance is that good. Having said that, there must be two dozen or more reissues on vinyl, CD, SACD and high resolution that keep trying to get it right. Originally released on the Capricorn label in 1971, many consider the Classic Records LP reissue in 2003 as the one to own or possibly the new MFSL vinyl and SACD reissues that are now just hitting the market. My own favorite is still the half speed mastered Nautilus SuperDisk pressing from 1982.

Guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts must go down as one of the top guitar duets in Rock history. Greg Allman is still a premier vocalist even at the current age of 67. Berry Oakley on bass, Chuck Leavell on keys, and both Butch Trucks and Jail Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson on drums were essential if not critical contributors. Unfortunately, the original lineup was short lived as Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident just before the album was released. Incredibly, later that year Berry Oakley also died in a motorcycle accident. Thankfully we have this recording as a living testament to their legacy. Their unique interpretation of the blues and brilliant improvising skills will probably never be equaled (though Grateful Dead and Phish fans may have a different opinion).

Duane and Dickey along with their slide guitar solos of course get most of the press and who can argue? With the XP-25, the steely and bending vibrato tones of their guitars never sounded better. There is also something very special about the rhythm section—specifically the two drummers and what that uniquely provides to the overall band sound. There is an incredible amount of air and detail surrounding those drums across the entire soundstage that can sometimes be missing via other components. For example, on the track Whipping Post, snares rise and fall like a roller coaster ride and bass drum is as full and weighty as the real thing. All of this affords the proper foundation and authority that is required to really make this album sing. Highly recommended for both ultimate pleasure and evaluation.


LP sales are dramatically up as are sales for all supporting front end analog components. The number of quality re-issues hitting the market has my head spinning. Many new releases from popular to obscure are also available on vinyl. Of course, like any other format, it can be hit or miss and then there is the quality of the source which might be anything from digital to aging 50-year-old or more analog tape.

However, recent 33 and 45 RPM re-issues from such artists as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, the Beach Boys, and Fritz Reiner (with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) are absolutely wonderful if not the new standards for sound quality on these specific titles. Independent and major labels continue to offer new releases from artists like Neko Case, Spoon, J. Cole, Three Days Grace and the Drive-By Truckers.

This is obviously just a small fraction of what is rolling out and available. I strongly recommend that you consider taking advantage of what many consider the best sound available (vinyl) and the vast selection that may not be around forever. If you are considering the purchase of an analog front end for your system or even upgrading your current equipment, this might be an excellent time to reward yourself.

With all of this in mind (sorry for all the vinyl drama), the XP-25 should be high on your audition list. Design and build quality can compete with anything in the market place. Customer support is considered by many as the best in the industry. As stated above, the XP-25 delivers the goods on sound. There are no compromises here. If you like an inviting balance of warmth and detail along with superior dynamic punch and transparency, the XP-25 is a rock solid high reward investment and just might be your last phono preamp purchase!

Pass Laboratories XP-25 Phono Preamplifier

Retail: $10,600

Pass Laboratories

13395 New Airport Road
Suite G
Auburn, CA 95602