With a long legacy of innovative amplifier technology from designer Nelson Pass, it is no surprise that Pass Labs also manufactures high performance preamplifiers to provide source switching and volume control, as well. Designed by Wayne Colburn, Nelson's business partner, the XP line of preamplifiers includes three current models: XP-12, XP-22, and XP-30.
The XP-12 and XP-22 were first introduced in 2017 as replacements for the XP-10 and XP-20 models, even though these older models remained in the product line until recently. In this review, we'll be taking a deep dive into the XP-12, a $5,800 solid-state line preamp that provides upgrades over the XP-10 in the form of a new power supply, improved circuit designs, noise isolation, and features borrowed from the company's flagship XS Preamplifier ($38,000).
The XP-12 provides source switching for up to five components. The first two inputs are balanced, while the other three are single-ended. Home theater pass-through lives on the fifth input, which allows the XP-12 to integrate with your surround processor.
Unlike the two step-up XP models, the XP-22 and XP-30, the XP-12 is a single-chassis design with the gain stage and power supply residing within a single unit. The new toroidal power supply used in the XP-12 benefits from enhanced shielding using both an electrostatic and a Mu metal shield in conjunction with epoxy filled vacuum impregnation that provides electrical and mechanical isolation. New and more involved power supply circuitry provides lower noise and further filtering over previous models.
Additionally, the XP-12 benefits from a trickling down of Pass Labs' sophisticated micro-controlled volume system, borrowed from the extreme top-of-the-line XS preamplifier. This design offers one hundred steps of attenuation in 1 dB increments.
The XP-12 also features a rugged yet sophisticated appearance. The power switch is located on the back panel, just above the AC power cable connection point, and is the only power switch offered. The intent is to keep the XP-12 powered on, warmed up, and ready for use at all times since it draws little power.
The front panel consists of various selectors and a light blue fluorescent display. In addition to Mode and Mute buttons, the front panel also includes two buttons for cycling through inputs. Home Theater Pass-Thru (Unity), is accessed only from the remote control, though, which appears to be milled from a solid block of aluminum.
I did all my evaluation of the XP-12 in my dedicated home theater. With the preamplifier positioned dead-center between a pair of Pass Labs XA-60.8 monoblock amplifiers, the preamp appeared diminutive by comparison, despite its rather standard 17-inch width, 12.5-inch depth, and four-inch height. Despite the visual disparity, this location provided plenty of wiggle room for secure attachment of Wireworld Eclipse 8 balanced interconnects and speaker cables.
I connected NAD's M17 V2 Surround Sound Preamp Processor to input five of the XP-12 to take advantage of the home theater bypass function. My primary source for this review was an Oppo BDP-105D Blu-ray Disc player and streamer. With the Oppo's HDMI output already connected to the processor, I ran the balanced analog outputs of the player directly to the XP-12. In this configuration, the Oppo would use both its digital HDMI and analog outputs, providing an easy comparison of both preamplifiers.
The Focal Kanta No. 2 speakers already connected to the monoblocks stayed in place for the duration of this review.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...