Pass Labs XP-12 Preamplifier


When Pass Labs comes out with a new piece of gear the audio industry takes notice. Well known for the quality of its products, the longevity of its designs and the seriousness to which it addresses the ever evolving science and art of sound reproduction, the XP-12 Preamplifier arrives. The XP-12 is the replacement for the XP-10, which had been their entry level, reference, one-box line level preamp for nearly a decade. What have they done to improve performance?

The new XP-12 starts with a new power supply. It uses an efficient toroidal design with both an electrostatic and Mu metal shield along vacuum impregnating and epoxy fill. This makes a very quiet transformer both electrically and mechanically. The power supply circuitry is also quieter and has additional filtering. The XP-12 uses a single stage volume control borrowed from the XS line preamp. This gives one hundred 1 dB steps with lower noise and distortion while removing some signal path parts. This redesigned volume control results in greater precision with a more luxurious feel.

The gain circuitry continues to use our favorite transistors from Toshiba but has a higher biased output stage similar to the XS Preamplifier. This makes longer and multiple cable runs easier to drive and gives the advantage of simplifying single ended output circuitry while increasing performance. Overall this makes for a quieter, more neutral, musical and versatile control center for your system.

The Pass Labs XP-12 aesthetics are simple, strong and elegant with an emphasis on functionality. The front panel is dominated by a large, bright and easy-to-read adjustable fluorescent display, a mode selector button for the single large multi-purpose knob which serves as manual volume control, a balance control, input selector switches, and a mute button.


The XP-12’s rear panel comes with two pairs of balanced inputs, three pairs of single ended inputs, one pair of balanced outputs and one pair of single ended outputs. The well designed remote control provides all functionality from the comfort of your listening chair. The unit is clearly high end. The XP-12’s MSRP is $5800.

Setting up my system with the XP-12 was quite simple and direct. I used all balanced,  top of the line interconnects from AntiCables. My current reference preamp is the Music First Audio Classic V2 Preamplifier and is noted for its transparency, accuracy of musical timbre and soundstage. What kind of picture would this new XP-12 paint? 

Using a variety of sources I gave the XP-12 about 150 hours of burn-in before any serious listening would take place. Lately, I’ve been getting into big band jazz and what better way to do this then listening to Duke Ellington and Count Basie and their all star orchestras? Almost every great jazz musician of that era worked with Duke or The Count. The band personnel lists read like a who’s who of jazz musicians.

Listening to Columbia CS8241 Duke Ellington—Blues in Orbit was filled with new discoveries. From the opening track on side one, Three J's Blues, it was clear that the XP-12 captured the explosiveness and power with full dynamics that live music provides. Individual instruments possessed more textural information, providing a more complete image with greater separation. From the opening notes of the sax solo, the clarity was brilliant without any edginess or hardness. This ability to provide such clarity is but one of the characteristics of the XP-12 that so impressed. Another area where the performance excelled was the bass. Whether played via upright or electric, the music not only had great weight and visceral impact but the ability to articulate low level information that brings the sound closer to live.

The human voice is complex and capable of transmitting so much information that we respond immediately to the most subtle of changes. These subtleties help define our emotional response to what we hear. The XP-12 gives you a full picture of both the performer and the atmosphere of the venue. One of my favorite singers is Shirley Horne. Her rich and expressive voice pours forth through my system and the XP-12 raises the bar by creating such an excellent three dimensional image one can almost be fooled into believing she is singing in your listening room.

What I find so intriguing about this Pass Labs product is the neutrality of presentation it exhibits. I could not find any area in the music where one was stronger than another. No imbalance, here. Equally important is the music emerged from a black background. The XP-12 easily meets and exceeds my requirements.

I’ll conclude by saying that the XP-12 has all the characteristics one could wish for in a line level preamplifier—it is as close to a straight wire with gain as I have experienced. I could only guess how good its bigger siblings sound. 

The XP-12 will now be joining my system as preamplifier of choice. A superb product. Very highly recommended. 

Further information: Pass Labs


Power Consumption:30 Watts

Gain: 9.3 dB Balanced

Frequency Response: +/-0.05 dB @ 10Hz to 20KHz; -1 dB @ 100KHz

Crosstalk: >100 dB

Residual Noise: 15 uV @ 10 - 30 KHz

THD: <0.001 @ 1V 1KHz; Double shielded low noise toroid

Dimensions: 17”w x 12.5”d x 4”h @ 20lbs