Kent English and Desmond Harrington wheeled out the fun toys for this show. Starting with the well-and-truly hacked Technics SP-10 — Pass engineered power supply, custom plinth, custom milled platter — sporting an ancient Micro Seiki tonearm and a My Sonic Lab‘s Hyper Eminent cartridge, moving on through a Pass XP 25 phono stage ($10,600), a Pass XS preamp ($30,000) and a pair of XA 60.8 Class A monoblocks ($12,800 per pair), and finally into a pair of Tannoy coaxes in an unbraced cabinet inspired by the old Jensen horns.
A quick word about those Tannoys is in order. If I have this written down correctly, Pass Labs maintains about five pairs of these for use in evaluating their amps. At any given time, some are working better than others. This pair of cabinets, for instance, had not yet received the new bracing. If they got damaged on the trip, well heck, that would have been the perfect excuse to open them up and add the bracing. The best pair was wisely left back at the office. I was told “they’re not good speakers, but they’re incredible tools for evaluating an amplifier.”
Another quick word about Tannoys: I have a weakness for their sound. “They’re not good speakers” is something I generally consider to be fighting words. These, however were a vintage pair, and the sound had that vintage grottiness that we all know and love. These were also in cabinets whose design brief did not, I suspect, include playing nice with a hotel room.
Tell me you care about any of that when the needle drops on to Surfer Rosa and “Bone Machine” starts belting out at you. I dare you — but don’t interrupt Black Francis to do it. “Belting” is exactly what you want to hear in this case, and this system belted. The Pixies sounded just like the Pixies.
In further news, I have to figure out a way to scam… er… “review” a pair of those XA 60.8s. They were a great match with the Tannoys. Everything was under control, with only the mid-bloat, lack of a bottom octave, and overtly insane presence you’d expect from cabinets like that in that small a room. Better, from my point of view, was the lack of even a hint of solid state sound signature. On Friday morning. At a show. In a hotel with crap power.
[ed. note: alleluia!]
As a side note: other show attendees complained more to me about this room than any other. Technically speaking, they probably had a point. Setup was either insane or indifferent, music choices were made for fun, and the sound was utterly unlike anything else at the show. To me, though, this system was not only a complete blast but a real showcase for just how unobtrusively excellent that Pass gear can manage to be.
And, hey, the Pixies are officially audiophile music now. That’s good news, people.