Amplifier upgrade - thinking of Pass Labs INT250

Vortex

Well-known member
Jun 6, 2021
15
8
1,525
Hi, after admiring Nelson Pass’s ideas on amplifiers for some years I’m thinking of changing my Hegel H590 for a Pass Labs INT250. The reviews seem to be excellent and one reviewer said its performance was as good if not better than amps costing multiples of the INT250’s selling price (albeit none of these could be called cheap). I‘ve had some experience of Nelson Pass designs in Nakamichi products some years back, I also like the idea that it is sold as a lifetime product and their customer service is second to none (they will respond personally and get things fixed / send parts regardless of age and sometimes without charge).

Currently quite happy with the Hegel H590 and it’s driving Kef Reference 3 Foundry Edition speakers (no plans to change the Kef’s at anytime as I’m delighted with them every time I listen to them - I’d go to Kef Reference 5’s but the 3’s are the biggest I can get away with in the room and my wife already thinks the Reference 3’s are huge).

I accept the INT250 being an integrated amplifier is a compromise but I can’t make the lounge look like a HiFi shop (as much as I’d like to). If space wasn’t an issue I’d have the X250.8 and the XP22 Pre amplifier which would be a total of 3 boxes including the power supply. The INT250 is quite a large amplifier anyway so I’d have to get my rack heavily modified to accommodate its depth (21 inches) and 47 kg weight. Essentially I’d be going from a 300w amp with the Hegel to a 250w with the Pass Labs, this probably meaningless as it’s all about sound quality than power / volume.
 

Al ears

Well-known member
Best of luck with your upgrade.
I would take Pass Lab over Hegel if I had the money to choose between the two.
My current amp is a John Curl creation, also American, and it's brilliant.
Previous amp was the genius Tom Evans pre / power combo which, unfortunately, due to financial complications, I had to sell.
I would take an amp from a reknown designer over an anonymous corporation any day, perhaps a Ken Ishwata signature Marantz being an exemption.
 

Vortex

Well-known member
Jun 6, 2021
15
8
1,525
Quick update, I’ve been reading up on some reviews of another 2 contenders Chord Ultima 5 with Ultima 3 Pre-amp - the reviews are outstanding with one reviewer deciding to buy the exact set-up for himself from a retailer (also said he was someone who very rarely made changes to his set up - ie not a constant gear changer chasing a better sound). The second option is a Bryston 4B3 amplifier / pre-amp.

Reason for looking at above is I’ve scaled up the size of the Pass Labs INT250 and it is huge - the depth is the main issue at 21.25 inches. I just get something that large and bright silver to blend in to the room.
 

nopiano

Well-known member
An interesting conundrum. When I heard the KEF Blade 2 Meta at the recent Ascot show the KEF rep let it be known that they used Hegel in development of their speakers. So, aside from the fact they were using an H600, the successor to your amp which now costs over ten grand, you are definitely getting what KEF intended in your home.

As you’ll see in my signature I have Pass Labs’ most affordable power amp. I did consider an XA 30.8 (secondhand, I’m not made of money!) but I realised I’d struggle to manoeuvre the weight into my rack. Space wasn’t the issue for me.

Fortuitously, with no urgent need to buy anything, I read that the XA25 is arguably the best sounding Pass amp because it’s the simplest design in the range - but at first glance 25 watts wouldn’t cut it. Of course, a close look at technical reviews shows this is simply the rated class A output at 0.1% distortion. On the bench it yields 80wpc into 8 ohms and 130wpc into 4ohms, according to JA in Stereophile. As my speakers are 4ohms it’s a great match.

As you rightly say, above 150wpc or so, there’s no meaningful difference in power output at home, unless you live in a huge barn and play at rock stadium volumes.

I have a friend with very costly German Physik omni speakers. He used a Hegel H360 or an MBL amp (can’t recall the model, a Class D integrated). Wanting slightly richer bass he bought a Chord power amp to go with his TTHugo and MScaler DAC which he uses as Preamp. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t much different, but after weeks of burning in he says it suddenly opened up to a warmer, deeper sound, and he’s delighted. I’ve not heard it since, but I tell the story to help you realise it’s an elusive goal that you seek.

What is the rest of your system, because I wonder if some change there might be more fruitful. And, come to think of it, what are you seeking to improve, because it’s not obvious to me?
 
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daytona600

Well-known member
One box Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 800.2
Or multibox pre / power / psu versions

mg4 DSC09919_copy.jpg
 

Vortex

Well-known member
Jun 6, 2021
15
8
1,525
What is the rest of your system, because I wonder if some change there might be more fruitful. And, come to think of it, what are you seeking to improve, because it’s not obvious to me?
I’m using a Marantz SA-10 CD player but will consider some streaming options at some point. I was aware of a synergy with Hegel and the higher end KEF speakers, I’ve not been disappointed with the Hegel’s performance and it’s been in the system a couple of years. The new Hegel H600 now seems to have the tag Reference which the H590 had when I purchased it (the H590 was a £9500 amplifier so not much difference in price to the new H600 is now). Interestingly, the H590 and 600 seem to weigh exactly the same and have the same case dimensions etc.

Now what am I looking to improve? Difficult question as at this point improvements / gains are realistically going to be small. I’ve had a number of friends listen to the system and are convinced it would be difficult to better without going crazy with the budget (which isn’t really an option). The only thing I sometimes ponder is if the Hegel exercises slightly too much control over the speakers with it’s very high (quoted at 4000) damping factor? would the Chord Ultima option be slightly livelier and a warmer sound. I’m probably going to have to test these options in my system to know the answer. One thing the Hegel and KEF combination managed to do was overcome a room layout issue which meant the speakers were slightly further apart than I would consider optimum.
 

nopiano

Well-known member
I’m using a Marantz SA-10 CD player but will consider some streaming options at some point. I was aware of a synergy with Hegel and the higher end KEF speakers, I’ve not been disappointed with the Hegel’s performance and it’s been in the system a couple of years. The new Hegel H600 now seems to have the tag Reference which the H590 had when I purchased it (the H590 was a £9500 amplifier so not much difference in price to the new H600 is now). Interestingly, the H590 and 600 seem to weigh exactly the same and have the same case dimensions etc.

Now what am I looking to improve? Difficult question as at this point improvements / gains are realistically going to be small. I’ve had a number of friends listen to the system and are convinced it would be difficult to better without going crazy with the budget (which isn’t really an option). The only thing I sometimes ponder is if the Hegel exercises slightly too much control over the speakers with it’s very high (quoted at 4000) damping factor? would the Chord Ultima option be slightly livelier and a warmer sound. I’m probably going to have to test these options in my system to know the answer. One thing the Hegel and KEF combination managed to do was overcome a room layout issue which meant the speakers were slightly further apart than I would consider optimum.
Well the ultra-high damping factor is a bit of mythology, really. Some will say the higher the better, but anything over, say, 100 is unlikely to be heard in practice*. The KEF References I’ve heard - mostly the 1 and 5, as it happens - sound enormous, so if anything I’d worry about too much bass unless you’ve plenty of space.

It’s too subjective really, but if anything I find Chord electronics on the cool and analytical side. But you might not. (I hate their appearance, but that’s a secondary thing). If you’re exploring streaming, you might prefer a streamer+preamp, therefore would only need a power amp. Or for a warmer sound, some big Spendor or Harbeth might be preferable. (Another acquaintance chose Harbeth 40.2. over KEF Ref because they were easier to relax with, but we are all different)

I definitely wouldn’t dissuade you from hearing any Pass Labs amp at home, if you have a cooperative dealer.

*I can bore you with some numbers if you’re not convinced!
 

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