|In Issue One, Jonathan Valin tagged a quickie first impressions review of
this amplifier to the end of his in-depth look at the higher-powered Pass Labs Aleph Os. I
have little to add to Jonathan's accurate take on this product, except for my own great
enthusiasm. Not since the days of the original Levinson ML2 (the one that blew up all the
time), or the first Spectral DMA 50, have I been so taken with a solid-state amp.
a product is "right" we instinctively, and instantly, know it. I'm reminded of a
scene in Woody Allen's Manhattan in which the highly neurotic characters played by Allen
and Diane Keaton (Isaac and Mary) seek refuge from a sudden thunderstorm in the Hayden
Planetarium. As they walk past an exhibition on Saturn, Mary starts reciting the names of
the satellites of Saturn and then asks Ike how many he can name. Allen replies that he
can't name any and that, fortunately, they never come up in conversation. He then goes on
to say that nothing worth knowing can be understood with the mind; that anything really
valuable has to come to us through a different opening.
Audiophiles especially, should heed this advice. Too frequently, evaluating audio
components is a cerebral exercise, and we give thumbs up or down to a component based on a
pre-approved checklist of sonic criteria: soundstaging, macro/micro dynamics, extremes of
frequency response, etc., rather than to instead judge a product based on the whole
enchiladaour gut response to the musicas we respond to it in real life. (I can
see it now, there we are at a sym phonic, rock or jazz concert, listening to the music the
way we listen to our audio rigs. Mmm, let's see...can I hear the rear wall of the
orchestral shell, or the spittle running out of the trumpet player's hoary? Do the
instruments exhibit tube-like authenticity throughout the midrange? If you answered yes to
any of these questions please keep reading the Ask the Audio Shrink column in this
Jonathan's enthusiasm for this amp whetted my curiosityas soon as I heard it I
knew the Aleph 3 was something special. Living with it over the past couple of months,
with three different speaker sys. terns (Swans Allure, Metaphor 2 revised, Wilson WITT),
has only increased my love for this sweet little amp. It has the immediacy and purity of
the finest vacuum tube single-ended amps, combined with a seamlessness, freedom from
electronic coloration, and effortlessness especially in the bottom endthat, on
most speaker systems, sometimes eludes the pip-squeak tube-driven single-endeds. (It's
amazing how well this little 30 watt/channel, pure Class A amp drives a lot of speakers).
The Aleph 3 is beguiling in its neutrality and ability to translate the recorded event
into living, breathing music in one's living room.
The first track on Mosaic's The Complete 1959 CBS Charles Mingus Sessions [MQ4-143], an
alternate take of "Better Get It In Your Soul," begins with a rapid-fire bass
riff that launches the entire band into the melody; exuberantly playing, yelping,
clapping, and generally having one helluva great time. The interplay of the band members
is almost Bach-like in precision, and the Pass amp's presentation of their ensemble work,
its ability to decipher tiny degrees of low-level tonal, textural and dynamic
detailsomething this baby does exceptionally welland sheer energy of the music
making, is a marvel.
On Art Davis' A Time Remembered Jazz Planet JPCD-5001-2], the veteran bassist teams up
with an all-star cast (Herbie Hancock, Ravi Coltrane and drummer "Smitty" Smith)
for a spirited exploration of jazz standards. This release is the first from Classic
Records' new offshoot jazz label, and musically, as well as in productionit was
recorded live to 2-track analogthe disc lives up to its title. Although a couple of
the tunes fall apart, the album is generally very satisfying, and the recording is superb.
Again, the Aleph 3 easily defined the subtlest shifts of dynamics and shading.
Most audio gear tends to, sooner or later, expose a weakness that is typically
manifested in our ability to predict what it will do with a given recording. No matter the
vintage, style, or recording space captured; whether old mono Sinatra, vintage piano
recordings, funky historic opera discs, or the most sophisticated of today's studio
creations, the Aleph 3 convincingly presented all music without pressing a big fat
electronic thumb print over the results. From something as intimate as Dylan's World Gone
Wrong [Columbia 4748571],where a song like Blind Willie McTell's "Broke Down
Engine" reveals Dylan's rustbucket, sputtery guitar picking to be absolutely as
expressive as his ultrascruffy late-Dylan vocal rasp, to something as radically different
as the large hall and orchestral forces on the ever amazing The Royal Ballet [Classic
Records/RCA LDS 6065], the Pass Labs Aleph 3 is one of the most chameleon-like
ampsespecially when coupled with the equally amazing Metaphor 2 revised speaker
system (review in progress)that I've ever encountered.
As Jonathan said, this is a masterpiece indeed! I too think this amp is nothing less
than an instant classic.