December 22, 2009

My Vinyl Revival! Pass Labs X-Ono Phono Stage.

Pass Labs X-Ono. An example of the more commonly found Rev.2 version.

With my CD player's recovery health status in limbo, with minimum chances of ever fully operational again, in it's original form, I indulged with my other source, the humble LP.

With one of my hifi buddy's recent phono stage upgrade, I was offered a prospect of owner ship to his pre-owned Pass Labs X-Ono phono stage. I know, this is not the latest XP series model and that I would offer no new perspective on what is an out dated product. However, this blog also serves to document both mine and Odiosleuth's hifi journey too, so I think I'll make a quick mention of it here.
My actual unit which is the Rev.1 version, or the one of the first batches of X-Ono's ever made. Note the shoe box sized power supply box.

The unit is a Rev.1 version, in which while the audio circuit is the same as the more common Rev.2 version available here, the main difference is in the power supply casing. The Rev.1 version power supply box is plain black shoe boxed sized, whilst the Rev.2 version power supply box is full sized, same as the main audio box. The Rev.1 also makes do with 2U steel casing while the Rev.2 version gets CNC-ed thick aluminium panels all round, just as per the front panel. Both Rev.1 and Rev.2 connects to their power supply boxes via 24 pin terminated custom cable.
The back panel of the audio box. RCA input, XLR output. Note the Telos Gold RCA caps for better noise rejection and slightly improved sound staging and imaging focus. I hope to get a pair of Telos Platinum caps to try later.

Now, the sound. I must first stress that in the process of auditioning audio gear for sound quality, if a particular equipment gives you goose bump moments when playing music, it is worth investing your $$$ buying and your time listening to it! The Pass Lab X-Ono did just that within 20 minutes in to the home trial session! Never mind if the cartridge loading and gain setting was not even finalised. It's that good! I took a further 2 weeks of continued listening to finally confirm the both the earlier mentioned settings. Mated to my Benz Micro Glider L cartridge, I ended up using 76 ohms loading and 66 db gain settings.

With the setting finalised, I sat down and listened to some music. Compared to my home brewed Pass Lab Ono DIY-ed effort, I found the real Mc Coy Pass Lab X-Ono to have much, much lower noise floor, better dynamic range & frequency extensions at both extremes plus, it's a whole lot more transparent to boot! Couple that to rather refined and textured high, smooth(but not the smoothest yet!) mids and iron gripped bass slam, I felt my LP reproduction performance levels taken up a few notches. I think the Pass Lab X-Ono is a great musical all rounder, as if you can remember, I am musically genre blind. My playback gear must do all musical genre equally well, and be compassionate to most the poorly recorded 70's and 80's rock music in my LP collection.
The Rega P25 and the Pass Labs X-Ono. Interesting but goose bumps inducing musical experience.

However, all that transparency is also a double edged sword. Along with all the sonic improvements points I heard, the sonic limitations of my Rega P25 turn table are also laid bare for nit pick. I heard what can be described as, a slight greyness in the back ground noise, LP surface noise is starting to get notice able and some wow and flutter problems when playing piano tracks. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I no longer love my Rega P25 turn table, it's a great value for money product, high in musical satisfaction and gets most of the hifi fundamentals right. However, I'll have to admit that there are better turn tables out there, like the Rega P9 or Linn Soundek LP 12 for instance.

Needless to say, after much deliberation, I bought the Pass Lab X-Ono phono stage, to spear head my vinyl revival.


Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Congrats! Finally! It is such a good feeling to see a fellow audio kaki get what he always wanted. I am elated for you Big E! :-)

Big E said...


Thanks for your support. It's actually more than what I've always wanted!

However, when it comes to audio stuff, I tend to have a history of out doing my self.

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Only in audio? :-)