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Pass Labs XP-17

Kevin Olson | Published on 10/2/2019

Curiosity killed the cat?




What makes you want something? What turns a want into a purchase?  Well, for me, it is often curiosity. I read about a new product design to get improved sound. Products are produced, reviews are written and often it is out of reach financially. I hope to hear it at a show or at an SFAS event even if it is beyond my budget. Curiosity.

“Miles Davis”, Kevin’s Curious Cat


Sometimes someone makes a version of the product and it now falls within my budget. Yes!

I got an email from the Cable Company asking if I would be interested in the new Sutherland Engineering Little Loco phono stage. Little Loco is a budget followup to the Loco. $3800 vs $8200. Yes!  This is Ron Sutherland’s take on Current Amplification of moving coil cartridges. A Transconductance preamp. Like that nice CH Precision P1 phono stage we heard at the SFAS Phono Stage shootout a few months back. Michael Fremer uses one as a reference.

Of course, I am interested. Send it out!

It arrived during a busy time. Bad timing. I could have planned that better.  Finally got it in the system and played some vinyl. After a few sides, the Little Loco woke up. Wow. Wow. Wow.
A few days go by too quickly. No time to listen.

All of a sudden it is time to buy it or return it. I have the day to myself. Play vinyl and critique.

Now, this technology only works with moving coil cartridges. Low internal impedance is best. No Denon 103s need apply. 5 to 10 ohms internal impedance cartridges only.

That is a pretty limiting factor. Hmmm?  Also, that gorgeous sound is not always sounding real. Do I need real? Verity? Verisimilitude?  Yeah, kinda.

I listen to classical and I know the sound of acoustic instruments. This gilds that sound.

Like eating a delicious dessert all day long. Every day. Forever.  Decision made. Send it back. It sounds so pretty though. But now what?

I have been using a Pass Labs XP-15 for the last 4 years. Flexible, quiet and reliable. Am I happy now having heard sonic dessert?  The XP-15 is a serious product. It plays by the book. Totally flexible (almost) with amazing gain, low noise, great accuracy to RIAA and great staging. MM and MC inputs.

Didn’t Pass Labs announce a new phono stage, the XP-17 last year? Time to read up on it.

This design is also totally flexible. I think it will accommodate any phono cartridge. Yes.

One input two outputs. RCA in and RCA or XLR out. Same stage for MM and MC. Interesting. This will work with the new Grado Statement cartridges. Even has a 10k ohm load.

I spoke with Kent English at our SFAS Headphone Event. Kent works for Pass Labs and mentioned the XP-17 to me last year after he brought one home. Did he still like it? Yes, very much. He said it had amazing FLOW.  Wait, he is the Sales Director. Can I believe him? Kent is a forthright guy and besides, I can get an in home trial. Trust but verify.

Well, a brand new one arrived and I was told it needed 24 hours to stop being cranky. And about 4 more days to really get settled. So, I played a record after about 2 hours. I am impatient, if you hadn’t noticed.

Well if this is cranky…. I played Yuko Mabuchi and her trio. The ambiance of the room came through like never before. The piano sounded more ‘piano’ than I remember. The drums and bass. You know.

After getting to know the Pass Labs XP-17 I really like it. It is a solid step up from the XP-15 which was in production for 9 years.  Flow, Detail, and yes, better bass. Bad albums sound bad still. Honesty. I think the big thing is the lowered noise floor. This just digs out more information. Information that makes music sound real.

I forget I am evaluating sound and just get into the album. Ah. Nice. A keeper.

Kevin says, Check it out! (and check out the Sutherland Little Loco or the Loco. You might love it)