|Pass Laboratories X350 Stereo Power Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Stereo Amplifiers|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Tuesday, 01 August 2000|
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Back to the Music
And a little more rock and roll. Every time I use rock as reference, we get letters criticizing the music selection as poor quality for product evaluation. That might be the case with poorly recorded rock, but let’s face it, if you like rock, what Sonny Rollins sounds like on the given component maters little to you. I love all music including rock, so here it is.
Blind Melon from their self-titled first album (Capitol Records) benefited immensely from the power and the control of the X350. I was continually impressed with the X350’s ability to involve me in the event, and to provide very high volumes of this high-energy performance without fatigue. I noticed that this amp had me listening to levels far higher than I typically do. Power is addictive without question, and quality power is infectious.
I have owned tubes for quite some time now, not because I am a tube addict, but because I demand reality in my reproduction and have yet to find a solid-state amp that can reproduce the live musical experience the way that tubes do. I am aware that tubes have their drawbacks in both sonic and maintenance areas. They will not give you the authority and dynamic slam that the best solid-state amps will. Many tube amp manufacturers will claim that their amps have the benefits and naturalness of tubes, with the authority and sound of solid-state. Conversely, many transistor amplifier manufacturers will claim to have the control of solid-state and the sweetness of tubes. In general, I find this to be hype with little substance. Solid-state sounds like solid-state. The Pass not only confirms but quite possibly epitomizes this fact. I don’t think that Pass would ever imply that the X350 has the warmth of tubes - they would likely say that they spent considerable money in development in order to avoid the shortcomings of tubes. Many listeners, if not the majority, have a preference for the pluses of transistors and would be willing to overlook the benefits of tube electronics. Personally, I am simply looking for the most realistic reproduction achievable, and the most natural-sounding instruments. I found the Pass X350 to be a tad cool in nature, so it’s not among my favorite amplifiers in these categories. There were times when I fell in love with its dynamics, yet felt that I could not live without the timbre, wonderful texture and sweetness of the AR VT100 or my current reference, the Sonic Frontiers Power 2.
If you are looking to integrate a theater amplifier with the X350, Pass offers a good match with the X3, which supplies 150W x 3 to control your rear and center channels. As always, I recommend that you attempt to use same-manufacturer amplification for theater applications. Although I did not run this amplifier in a multi-channel application, its ability to provide the highest in multi-channel reproduction is unquestionable.
There are few downsides to the Pass X350. Because of the class-A operation of this amplifier, it runs very hot. By "hot," I mean that you can heat your house with this amp and, depending on your local utility rates, not necessarily inexpensively. Although I previously mentioned that I love the front meter on the amplifier, I should emphasize that, although beautiful, it is as useless as . . . well, you can finish that for me. If it were to demonstrate some information for the music lovers rather than the engineers - not to imply that there aren’t music-loving engineers, - that would be a different story. However, let’s face it, a meter that reads the current demand to the transformers, measured in joules, is hardly presenting quintessentially crucial information.
When looking to buy an amp in this category, it is important to either audition the amplifier before you buy, or to consult your retailer and be sure that they understand your system and your personal likes and dislikes. An amplifier is a critical link in your audio chain. I consider the Pass X350 to be among the best solid-state amps that I have heard and, although pretty darn expensive, not ridiculously so when compared with similar quality products. Before purchasing in this class, I would consider the competition carefully. At a few coins below the 10K mark, there are other comparably-priced amps to chose from. A couple that come to mind are the Krell 250Mc monoblocks at $11,000 and the Mark Levinson No. 336 at $9,500. If you wanted to run out today and get an amp without the trouble of auditioning, the X350 would be a very safe choice. It is a fantastic amplifier.
I feel that the X350 is not for everyone but, for that matter, neither is any product right for all. The X350’s somewhat lean and ultra-transparent top end will offend some and energize others. If you are looking the warmth of tubes, you won’t find it here. If you are looking for a gentle, sweet, musical component, you will only questionably find it with the X350. If you are looking for dynamic slam and the many benefits from the best that solid-state has to offer, you’ll find that and more. Regardless of your taste in presentation, you are sure to find this amp an exciting one.