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CES 2015: Pass Labs and a suite full of new gear

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ces-logoPass Laboratories doesn’t really “do” audio shows. Sure, you can find their amps at AXPONA, T.H.E. Show, RMAF and others. In fact, it’s damn near impossible to not find them at shows. But they don’t show up. That is, neither designer Wayne Colburn nor CEO Desmond Harrington will be there. No, if you wanna catch up with them — or with what’s new or “coming soon” — CES is the place.

Walking into the huge suite that Pass reserves at each CES, you’re greeted by the Tower of Power. It’s intimidating — the full stack of just about every new amp currently on offer, all powered up. Silent. The big central dial glowing a patient blue. Heh heh. Heh heh. Awooooooooo!

Okay, so after that rather intimidating showing, it was fun to see all the new-new littered across the suite’s built-in bar. And there was plenty to look at.

First up? A headphone amplifier.

Yes! A Pass Labs headphone amplifier!

Desmond shrugged. “It’s still an amp,” he said. This is a particularly on-point point here, most especially given Pass Labs’ almost religious focus on the importance of those first few watts and ironing out every last potential barrier to audio awesome. Making an amp that only does those vital few? Yeah, that’s pretty much right in their wheel house.

I almost hate to say it but this is yet another example in what’s quickly becoming a trend and not just a “good idea” — hi-fi is heading toward head-fi, with a bullet.

The new, as-yet unnamed, amp sports two single-ended inputs, with both pre and single-ended headphone outputs. It’s fully Class A (with a mosfet output, low-feedback, circuit). According to the data sheet, it’s designed to drive headphones with impedances of 20Ω and higher. A low-noise PSU with “discreet regulators with over 40kμF of capacitance”, with a “custom over-designed toroidal power transformer with Faraday shield”, rounds out the details. The price-target is $3,500, with a release later in the year. A fully-balanced version will follow the single-ended version.

Going to extreme other-end of the audio market, I found the new Xs Phono Preamplifier. The price of audio mastery? $45,000. This piece, obviously, sits in Pass’ new top-of-the-line Xs series and is part of their no-holds-barred assault on the ultimate in performance. An external PSU in a dual-mono platform, with three inputs and custom settings for each. The internals feature six ceramic input boards and two ceramic gain modules. Fun, fun. Availability? In the next month or two.

Last, and certainly not least — a pair of new integrated amplifiers! The INT-60 ($9,000) and INT-250 ($12k) are part of the dot-8 upgrades announced last year that so wowed us. The INT-60 is going to be all Class A, after the XA-series, while the INT-250 will be Class A/B, after the X-series. A big glowing meter and a digital volume display round out the cosmetic changes. These guys look sweet — and 60 watts, in that architecture, is pretty much whispering “take me home”. Yep, that was me, absently reaching for my checkbook. Whew.

After getting almost strung out just walking in the room, I found that actually sitting down for a few minutes was non-optional. And there, before me, was spread audio joy all turned up. Some big TAD Reference loudspeakers, driven by an all-Xs front-end, was one of the most achingly pretty experiences I had at CES this year. So, naturally, we changed things up. In with the 1980’s pop, out with the classical. And … the room cleared. [Sigh]. Oh well. Sorry about that, Desmond.

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.