A chain reaction – the search for new balance

Ow my… what have we done? We know very well that if you change one thing (permanently), things will start to tip over… (is that correct English?). And yes: partly due to the arrival of the Sonnet Pasithea, we looked at another power amplifier…. the Pass Labs X150.8. And now… whoops…things are out of balance.

The balance in the Alpha Audio system was always very good. The Focal Sopras played very well together with the Bryston. And the Metrum Acoustics Pavane with DAC3 played pleasantly throughout. Nothing to worry about. A wonderful system that we could listen to for hours.

So why change things? Well: that is part of the hobby, right? And at the end of the day we also try to make things better for you…

Domino…

The moment the we had the Sonnet Pasithea in the system for review, we already wrote that we felt that our system was not good enough to get the full potential out of it. And this became apparent when, after some ‘heavy lifting’, we had put the X150.8 in place of the Bryston: it was like a veil was being lifted. The fact is: the Pass Labs gives more insight on all levels. And it showed better what the Sonnet dac has to offer…. But… after a few days we started to lose definition and refinement. Weird.

So… honestly: the past few days have been a rollercoaster. There really has been a domino effect. And on the one hand that has been incredibly instructive, but it was also very frustrating. And it shows how complex our hobby is. One link can ruin an entire chain. Especially at this level where everything can be heard. And because of that: everything has to be right.

That midrange

The midrange on the Bryston is pretty relaxed. It is a fine amplifier with a forgiving character. But the consequence is that it is not the most transparent, nimble amplifier on our planet. Is that a bad thing? No. Otherwise we wouldn’t have played with it for years. It really is a true and forgiving friend for many speakers.

By the way, the 4B still lets us hear a lot, otherwise we could not have done our job of course. The Pass Labs X150.8 is a completely different beast. It relentlessly lets you hear what’s going on. And in that respect, it’s very much a learning tool for your author. Is there a power cable out of phase? Shame… Is there a filter somewhere in the way? Shame… is a source a little grainy? Shame on you! It’s a bit of the stern teacher you have some fear of. But then when you’ve done your homework right, the reward is oh so great!

When everything falls into place with the Pass X150.8 it is truly intense enjoyment. However, the road to it is still a bit bumpy at the moment. But it is also our own fault. When we hear the potential, we want to get 110% out of it. Nothing less than perfection…

The problem at the moment of writing, is in the mid-range. There is sometimes still some pressure there that we experience as unpleasant. But in some tracks it is negligible, in others it is downright tiring. We have now also tried the Grimm UC1 next to the Pasithea (and yes: also that one is going to stay…. that dac/adc kept on itching…. you can already see how dangerous this hobby is becoming) to be a bit more flexible with dacs.

Nuances

The Grimm UC1 and Sonnet Pasithea do not differ so much in resolution or quality. They do have a different way of presenting the music and that difference is mainly in the midrange. The Grimm UC1 is a bit more calm in the midrange and has a somewhat softer treble area. The Sonnet Pasithea is a bit more up-front and lively. We hear qualities in both products. And partly for that reason, we like having both on hand to match.

This also applies to cabling and filters. Every change is audible. And that makes it quite complex to make a choice. For example with the Titan V5: is with the filter in the chain just different or really better…? The reason we have yet to make a decision on this is the fact that the Pass Labs is a completely different load. That one is 25 watts in Class A…. permanently. The current when we are not playing is 370 watts.

The Bryston was a ‘normal’ class AB with a few watts in class A. That loads such a filter very differently. And we hear that… the differences are more subtle and it is not immediately obvious that the bass is better, like with the Bryston. But… there is a bit more calmness… But honestly: we still need to give the Pass some extra days of burn in, before we start tuning.

One thing at a time

And that last point is important: one thing at a time. We have a strong tendency to tackle everything. Dacs, cables, filters, streamers…. network… etc. But if you start doing everything at once, in the end you no longer know what effect a change has. And then you just get more and more tangled up in your problem. Not convenient.

The disadvantage of doing one thing at a time: it takes a long time to make a choice. In our case, it’s our job; so we can just go out and have fun with hifi all day long. However, we do have a bit more to do than just tuning…

Anyway: when everything is in place, we promise you an update and a review of our new reference system… To be continued.

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