Pass Labs XP-17 Phono Stage

Pass Labs XP-17 Phono Stage

While spending more time using vinyl in my audio system, I came to realize the importance of a phono stage; in particular matching one appropriate with one’s turntable and cartridge. This is a huge grey area, and one in which passions are high. If you ask for advice you must be prepared to enter a mine field. Some will insist that all-tube phono stages are the only way to go, while others will insist on solid state. Not having any strong pre-conceived ideas of my own, I considered whatever advice I could get and then researched/explored further. I tried both types, plus the solid state one I own, the PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter, which has the unusual ability to convert to digital on the fly and send the output to my DAC--in addition to offering a purely analog path. As I gained a better understanding of what I did and did not like about sound quality revealed by different phono stages, I concluded that the reason my digital setup had the overall upper hand in sound quality was due to its superior components; the weak link in my vinyl setup was the phono stage. So, here we are; the raison d’etre for this review.

Being of a practical nature, I did not like the moving coil (mc) versus moving magnet (mm) dichotomy incorporated in the vast majority of phono stages. Why? Because the cart I liked so much as my reference was neither; it was a moving iron (mi) and had other unusual properties that were not accommodated by some of the most expensive and well regarded phono stages.

Carl Schuricht conducts Beethoven and Bruckner

Carl Schuricht conducts Beethoven and Bruckner

The first recording I ever bought of Beethoven symphonies was the Decca Eclipse LP of the 1st and 2nd played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Carl Schuricht. I knew nothing about him except that the reviews all said that they were fine performances, so I bought them. I have never regretted that decision in nearly forty five years and when the Icon box set was released, I knew I had to have it.

The orchestra on this set is the Paris Conservatoire and although not the Vienna Phil they give Schuricht everything he wanted and the set has always been highly prized. 

Listening again to these taut, brisk but very musical performances I can only wish that they were all in stereo (all but the 9th Symphony are in mono), the strange thing is that at the same time a French conductor Cluytens was making a set with the Berlin Philharmonic. I often wonder why Schuricht was not given this orchestra to work with because then something really special may have been created. Cluytens' set is very good but he doesn't get the textural detail out of the orchestra that Schuricht does and if the wind playing of the Paris band is quirky to say the least it lends a slight period air to the proceedings. Listening to the French horn solos I could swear that they were played on a cornet such is the difference is sound this orchestra then made to the German competition.