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Friday, December 20, 2013

Exclusive First Review!
Pass Labs SR-2 Three-Way Loudspeaker
Delivers Audiophile Class, Sound Quality




Brevis...
Price: $18,000
Likes: Peaceful, easy signature
Dislikes: no piano black gloss
More info: Pass SR-2

by John Gatski

  Best known for its superb-sounding amplifiers and preamplifiers, Pass Labs has rarely produced loudspeakers. The grande-sized Rushmore. manufactured from 2003-2008, was a fantastic speaker, though up there in price — and it weighed a ton (not really, but seemed like it). I listened to it at CES a few time and liked its rock solid, deep bass and ability to beam its energy into a big room.
  Pass Labs’ current line of speakers includes two-models in the SR-Series, They are said to continue the rich, music reproduction of the Rushmore, but in smaller packages and at more typical audiophile prices. The models are the top-of-the-line. dual-stacked cabinet SR-1 4-way and the uni-cabinet SR-2 3-way.
  I put in my request for a review pair of the entry model SR-2 three-way, a tower speaker that looks like it costs a lot more than its $18,000 per pair list price. This speaker offers a no-hype, high-caliber transmission of sonics that is old school smooth and gimmick free. It relays high-resolution music with a keen accuracy and much welcome, tight, deep bass from its port-assisted cabinet. As I discovered during the review process, it matched well with Pass’ amps, as well as various other amp designs.

Features
  The made-in-USA SR-2 is a very handsome tower speaker, finished in a cherry finish back and sides and black angled front baffle. The three-way, bass-reflex design is equipped with three, custom-made SEAS Nextel drivers, consisting of a 10-inch bass driver, 6-inch midrange and a 1-inch HEXADYM tweeter. The premium Nextel Series SEAS drivers are not the latest in metal dome technology, but are hybrid paper/textile composites that make for a transparent, clean, smooth, tonal characteristic that is not hyped anywhere in the spectrum.
  The 12 dB-per-octave second order crossover frequencies are centered at 126 Hz and 3.2 kHz. The crossover circuit contains premium parts including polypropylene capacitors from Kimber and Solen, Mills resistors, and high-current Erse inductors, all mounted on thick, heavily plated circuit boards. The wire is the same used in the output stages in Pass amplifiers

With the original Rushmore as its inspiration, and Pass’ dedication to high-end quality hi-fi, the SR-2 is as fine loudspeakers as you could buy out to about $40,000. Its accurate tonal spectra, classy build and good looks net it a Stellar Sound Award.

  The other key to the speaker’s performance is its cabinet, a heavily-braced, solidly built MDF enclosure — with cherry veneer and the solid black baffle. This speaker cabinet was designed to have minimal effect on the outbound sound from the drivers and rear port, which measures five inches across. Each enclosure weighs 165 pounds, including the drivers. I would call the Pass SR-2 a medium sized tower, at 42 inches tall, and fairly compact in width, about 16-inches. Front to-back dimensions are 24-inches.
  The speaker connections are bi-wireable, or you can use them with the supplied jumpers. I tested them with the jumpers engaged and with Westlake bi-wire cables.
  The SR-2 contains two tone-tailoring adjustments: rotary-detent, attenuation controls for the tweeter and a woofer, located on the back panel. The tweeter control has three positions: -, flat, and +. The bass has the same adjustments.
  The Pass literature on this speaker does not reveal level changes, in dB, when using these controls, but it appears to be 3-dB steps. In my room, I left the controls in their “flat” position. In a heavily carpeted room with soft furniture you might turn the tweeter switch up to +. Similarly, a reflective room may benefit from the minus position. Bass attenuation via the control could compensate for boomy rooms or less than ideal placement. It’s best to play around with the controls to see what you prefer.

SRT-2: a perfect mate for most any Pass amp


  The SR-2 comes with removable grill that give it a look of refinement, but sonically, I prefer listening with the grill detached. It is slightly more present and real sounding to my ears. Again, it’s my preference, in my listening room.
  The overall system frequency response is rated at 35 Hz - to 20 kHz, minus -3 dB on the bottom end. Using an AudioControl RTA, I measured better than rated spec at about 32 Hz in my listening room, the -3dB point. The nominal system impedance is 6 ohms, Sensitivity is not overly high, but a respectable, 86 dB, 1W/1meter. That is why you have all those watts, right? In reality, a 30-watt amp can drive this speaker to ear-shattering volume in typical listening rooms.
  The SR-2 and its big brother, the SR-1 4-way, which uses a two-enclosure, stacked arrangement, were designed, according to Pass, to carry on the Rushmore tradition of fine, accurate sound in an elegant enclosure. The speaker line also address the desires of Pass amp owners who wanted a new speaker to call their own. I would say that Nelson Pass and company achieved their goal, but the speaker has a much wider potential audience. As I discovered, the SR-2 can work with most any amplifier.

The setup 
  I placed the speakers in my audiophile listening room about 8 ft. apart and 7 ft. from the back wall. They were angled in, per the Pass manual. I used various amps from my collection, including two Pass amps: the X350.5 Class A/B MOSFET and the ever-versatile XA30.5, all Class A super symmetry MOSFET. I also mated the SR-2s with the highly regarded Rogue Audio Medusa Class D/tube hybrid amp, a Bryston 14B SSTII, and a vintage 1960s Macintosh MC275. For kicks, I also plugged the speakers into an AudioControl AVR-4 Class H receiver — one of the better multichannel all-arounders out there, but also a pretty good stereo playback component. (click here to see the review on EAN).
  The audition preamps included the Coda High Current, the Rogue Audio Model 99 tube pre, and a Pass Labs XP-10 preamp. I used WireWorld interconnects for balanced and unbalanced termination, and Alpha-Core Goertz solid-silver, flat two-conductor speaker cables for uni-wire and the Westlake Audio bi-wire cables.

The first thing I noticed with the SR-2s was how clean the bass was, even with the five-inch wide rear port; the bass has a tight, almost acoustic suspension character. The bass drums and the organ’s chugging low-end girth were clear and defined.

  Source gear included the Oppo BDP-105 universal player and Macbook Pro with Audirvana playback software for high-res download playback. The Mac was connected to either a Benchmark DAC2-D or Mytek Stereo192 DSD D/A. Record duties were handled by my Clear Audio turntable and an AT-150ML cartridge.
  As typical in my test setups, all components were linked to the AC through Essential Sounds Products Essence II power cords and power strip that are clean as a whistle, in terms of noise rejection and current delivery
  Though the speakers don’’t look that big, the SR-2 are stout. The MDF cabinet, plus heavy duty drivers and electronics, contribute to a 160 pound+ package that is quite heavy to move around by yourself. After doing the tippy-toe dance in their shipping cartons, I got them down two flights of stairs to my basement audiophile room. I carefully unpacked them from their foam packing material, slid them into position, and adjusted the feet to get the tweeter close to ear level.
  Pass Labs President Desmond Harrington said the tester SR-2s had been given a mild break-in before leaving the factory, but I plugged in an old CD player and played, on repeat, a test tone CD for three days to further burn in the drivers.

The audition
  Firing up the Pass Labs X350.5 amp, my listening tests began with a lengthy listening session with one of my favorite jazz recordings, the Anthony Wilson TrioOur Gang SACD (Groovenote GRV1008-3), now out of print. Using the Oppo BDP-105, this is a well-recorded, minimalist, direct-to DSD recording of Mr. Wilson’s fine Gibson jazz guitar playing, Joe Bagg on Hammond B3 and Mark Ferber on drums. The 2001 recording has a warm bass character, yet energetic top-end with ever-present drum cymbals, intricate guitar picking and that thick sound of a Hammond tube organ with Leslie.
  The first thing I noticed with the SR-2s was how clean the bass was, even with the five-inch wide rear port; the bass has a tight, almost acoustic suspension character. The bass drums and the organ’s chugging low-end girth were clear and defined. I think the ultra-rigid cabinet construction also contributes to this clean-bass character.
  The midrange tones were quite accurate, not overly forward or recessed, while the top-end beams a smooth, analog-like presentation. No metallic-tweeter artifacts or the narrowness of some ribbons that I have auditioned.
  Some audiophiles may perceive the treble as a touch laid back, but the more I listened, the more it sounded balanced and accurate. If you want to punch up the treble presentation in a “dark” sounding room, you can turn the SR-2‘s tweeter attenuation switch to +, which adds a tinge of shimmer. But if your room is not heavy in fabric and you have normal upper-frequency reflections, the switch’s flat position is just fine.

This speaker offers a no-hype, high-caliber transmission of sonics that is old school smooth and gimmick free. It relays high-resolution music with a keen accuracy and much welcome, tight, deep bass from its port-assisted cabinet. As I discovered during the review process, it matches well with Pass’ own amps, as well as various other amp designs.

  Moving onto the Warren Bernhardt - So Real SACD, recorded by Tom Jung in 1999, the SR-2 sounds terrific on the piano interludes, showcasing that fine Steinway grand used in the recording; the upper register notes were natural  — without any of that ringing I sometimes hear with cheap metal-dome tweeter speakers — and I could hear the room reverb decay quite clearly.
  On classical music, the Pass SR-2 midrange quality was obvious — with a thoroughly enjoyable listening session with Janos Starker - Bach Cello Suites SACD. The sweet cello tones were spot on through the Pass speakers, projecting a rich, velvety texture and plenty of string harmonics. Again, these SEAS drivers were fatigue-free, yet detailed in their relay of the cello. The SR-2 pair were equally at home with violin recordings, never descending into that edgy, ragged tone that you hear with over-hyped speakers.
  To check out the bombast of a spirited orchestral work, I played the Telarc SACD transfer of Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture, recorded in  1978 with Eric Kinzel and the Cincinnati Pop Orcestra. Though a 16-bit PCM recording using the Soundstream recorder (popular in the early days of digital), the dynamic range is vast — ranging from low-level instrument solos to the full-tilt power of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and the overdubbed cannon shots that all build to a crescendo. At 90 dB plus levels, the Pass SR-2s never showed any strain through the X350.5, or any of the other amps. Although not reaching the depths of a subwoofer, The SR-2 relayed the cannon shots quite well — with substantial sub 40-Hz impact.
  Compared to my Legacy Focus 20/20s and the MartinLogan Montis electrostatics, the SR-2s imaging held its own. The MartinLogan electrostatic dipole is the king of soundstage width and depth, creating amazing space between instruments. As a traditional three-way, the Pass SR-2 is not quite in that league, but is surprisingly wide in its stereo projection for a narrow tower speaker, offering good depth front to back. I think the tight bass also contributes to its ample musical space impression.

I did a lot of repeat listening of the music on my other amps, and the SR-2’s essential character was maintained. The Rogue Audio tube/Class D MOSFET was slightly leaner, the Bryston 14B SST II split the two, and the Pass all-Class A XA30.5 tilled toward slight warm.

  For those who love vinyl, the SR-2s will not disappoint you. Via my Clear Audio turntable, the attached AT150ML cartridge, and preamplification through the Rogue Audio Model 99 tube pre with Magnum phono stage, my half-speed mastered Wes Montgomery - Full House reissue was delightful. Montgomery’s amazing, thumb-picked Gibson L5, and the open, live analog recording from the early 60s, projects an immediacy that only vinyl and analog tape can convey. I really dug that sound when listening to the Pass SR-2s. The combination of the AT’s accurate-as-you-can-get-from-a-phono-cartridge sound, and the tight, present demeanor of the Pass SR-2s, made for a blissful record-listening experience.
  On pop music, the SR-2s immersed me with their smooth, focused bass and open, top-end. The Neil DiamondHot August Night reissue double CD, one of the best live recordings from the 70s, sounded aces. The speakers highlighted  the analog recording’s broad presentation of Mr. Diamond’s many talents: from faux country (Your So Sweet, Kentucky Woman), hard rocking, (Crunchy Granola Suite) and big tent pop/gospel (Brother Love’s Salvation Show/Soloman). This album kicked butt through the SR-2s.
  For the grittier, bluesy side of the spectrum, I popped in my Stevie Ray Vaughn/Albert King - In Session SACD. The overdriven guitar tone and gritty vocals cane through with all of their colors intact. The digital recording never got hard or edgy with the SR-2s. On dense, dance-pop/hip-hop music, the SR-2’s bottom-end control makes the music more listenable versus some bigger towers that I have tested. One of 2013‘s biggest singles was Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Its vintage Chic vibe with plump bass line and Nile Rogers guitar rift, is infectious and gets full play from the Pass SR-2s. Heck, I even put on my vintage copy of Chic - Risqué, the vinyl record version, (yeah baby, 1979). The SR-2 pumped out the dance floor vibe with that signature rhythm guitar, bass and female vocal lead just fine.

Pass SR-2 tweeter attenuation switch


  Speaking of vocals, compared to the many forward-voiced speakers that proliferate the audio landscape, today, the Pass SR-2 does not have an aggressive mid character, This can make voices, depending on the recording, sound slightly more subdued in comparison, but I think it is mostly is the reference point of other speakers that exaggerate the mids. The SR-2's vocal clarity and its tonal balance is more like the real thing. By the way, The SEAS tweeter does a magnificent job of dampening down sibilance and upper-spectrum resonances, especially with female voices.
  I did a lot of repeat listening of the same music on my other amps, and the SR-2’s essential character was maintained. The Rogue Audio tube/Class D MOSFET was slightly leaner, the Bryston 14B SST II split the two, and the Pass all Class A XA30.5 tilled toward slight warm. The old Macintosh MC275 tube amp, coupled with the Rogue Model 99 tube pre, conveyed an ultra-vintage, soft bass, laid-back tone that was nice on instrumental jazz and classical, but plumped up the bass with pop music. Time to turn down the woofer switch.
  Just to show that all roads are not paved in separates, a bit of time with the AudioControl AVR4 Class H receiver convinced me that it was an unusual, but nevertheless, a good mate to the Pass SR-2s. The audiophile-grade receiver (it costs about $6,000) relayed the 2L Blu-ray classical violin concerto, Ole Bull — full of string harmonics and a spacious stereo image — without a hint of edginess. Several friends commented that they thought the music was coming through separates, not a receiver. It is quite a testament to the AVR and the SR-2s.

The verdict
  Having reviewed quite a few Pass products since the late 1990s, I was not surprised that the Pass SR-2's performed so well. With the original Rushmore as its inspiration, and Pass’ dedication to high-end quality hi-fi, the SR-2 is as fine loudspeakers as you could buy out to about $40,000. Its accurate, yet musical, tonal spectra, classy build and good looks net it a Stellar Sound Award. The SR-2 is not the cheapest speaker, but also is not the most expensive either. If you have $18,000 to spend, a pair of Pass Labs SR-2's is worthy of consideration. In the high-end priced world, they may be a bargain.

  John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio Network©Articles on this site are the copyright of the Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

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