Product: Breeze Audio Nelson Pass amplifier clone
Manufacturers: Factories in China
Price: YMMV via international online marketplaces - oh boy your mileage WILL vary & your Old Scribe paid about $320US including shipping
Author: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: January, 2022
“How come there is no web address, factory name or email addtress?” ask Plebs, stage left, perfectly reasonably
Because these products tend to be made in batches by small factories and this factory is probably currently making something else. Other “brand” labels (including Zero Zone) and factories are currently advertising similar versions of this and other Nelson Pass designs.
“So where is Nelson Pass involved in this amplifier?” Challenge sceptical Plebs, stage left, “Does he consult to these companies & pop over to small Chinese industrial estates?”
Only by publishing his circuits & no he does not “pop over”.
More inexpensive imported amplification. TNT-Audio has a long history of introducing the world to little known audio bargains. Some arise from months of diligent research, others from tip-offs and this one from a sense of urgency and some very specific requirements.
This is a beguiling design executed with surprising verve for modest cost. This is a Chinese artisan execution of one of Nelson Pass's classic circuits. Nelson Pass's alternative approaches were applied to the task of avoiding or ameliorating one of the most insidious amplifier distortions. Insidious because it is non-linear, increasing proportionately as level reduces. That distortion is crossover distortion and Nelson Pass has created a number of approaches to reduce psychologically disturbing distortions in amplifiers.
Nelson Pass quotes Dick Olsher's famous remark that “The first watt is the most important watt” when announcing his First Watt approach to amplifier design. Most of the time we are listening to less than 1 Watt and even when we are demanding 10 Watts or 100 Watts from our amplifiers, all the subtle nuance of music and performance lies within that first Watt. Since 1998 Nelson Pass has been publishing circuit designs enabling home constructors to experiment with these ideas.
“So where does this fit in with the Old Scribe's pursuit of
vast active systems or single-ended valves?” demand Plebs Chorus, stage left
“Waa-aa-argh the behemoth bass amplifier has died!” quoth your Old Scribe one morning on power up sequence
After weeks of the sound of one capacitor not clapping, one channel was down and it looks like an output transistor has bitten the dust. Before this one-off can be repaired there will be a lengthy hiatus involving house moves so a temporary solution is sought. It must feature a proper balanced input & be sufficient to drive loudspeakers from 20Hz-480Hz at 96dB at 2.83V in a big room. A scour of various online marketplaces of obscure manufacturers in various parts of the world revealed an interesting option. The journey readers might take to locate such products does involve considerations including ethics and caveat emptor. Impatient readers can rush to the hard core evaluation of the hardware.
There seem to be many Chinese “Little Mesters” workshops (as they used to be known in the industrial heyday of Britain) beavering away producing versions of published designs or clones of obsolete audio classics of yesteryear. Whether these makers are paying due royalties to the designers, or sufficient wages to their employees is impossible to ascertain from this distance, but your Old Scribe has taken the trouble to ask one such designer, of which more later.
Buying from the other side of the globe has serious implications for our beautiful planet. Given the mass of these little amplifiers, travelling 4000km, there would be approximately 6kg of carbon involved in flying it to Europe or the Americas or 0.12kg to 0.5kgcarbon shipping it by sea in a modern ship. The labelling on the packaging indicates the latter in the case of this review item. Readers must make their own decisions about carbon footprint in what we buy or eat.
By buying via globally accessible portals regulated in the country of purchase, rather than marketplaces in the country of origin, one hopes the odds are tipped a tiny bit towards the more ethical position. However, some of these global portals fail to pay a fair share of taxes, thus driving high street hifi shops out of business and reducing the local tax take that pays for essential services. Readers must make their own decisions.
It is now possible to identify the address of a distributor in another country and use mapping apps to see if the business looks legitimate, trustworthy and capable of sending merchandise across the globe on a basis of trust. You pay your money and you make your choice.
A prerequisite for the temporary replacement amplifier must be balanced inputs as the power amps will live closer to the loudspeakers, connected by 7M of balanced XLR terminated cable. RCA phono connectors are avoided wherever possible, being the dumbest electrical connector in the known universe. This narrowed the options somewhat.
Front panel branding may be irrelevant when adjacent factories are churning out similar looking products assembled from components from their neighbours on one industrial estate. Keeping up supply & turnover might be more important than sourcing the same brands of parts every month. A similar industrial estate in the next city has a similar arrangements supplying similar products to the world. Several companies seemed to be offering Nelson Pass published designs under various brands in a variety of executions from different towns in China.
This cheap little amplifier looks the business. It arrived some weeks after ordering having travelled by ship before the Suez Canal was blocked. It was well packed from a resilience point of view, but the aesthetics of the epic quantity of polythene wrap do not shreik high-end, which is preferable to a superfluous velvet lined presentation case. Close up the rough edges (literally in the case of the heat sinks) are more obvious. The thick aluminium front panel and wavy surfaced heatsinks running down each side, the full depth of the amplifier, really look functional and businesslike.
The casework is truly functional, which is a compliment, not an insult. The Breeze Pass Clone casework is among the most non-resonant your Old Scribe has ever encountered. The panels are thick coarsely machined aluminium. Aluminium casework benefits from aluminium's eddy currents acting as a magnetic screen. Compared with steel, aluminium comes only second to copper in the metal audio cabinet material stakes (wood being superior still if screening is not compromised). Construction is bolted up with stainless steel Allen bolts.
Inputs are by proper balanced XLR and compromised RCA single ended inputs (RCA inputs are always compromised, by their very nature). Output terminals are adequate shielded binding posts with rear entry (fnarr-fnarr) banana sockets. There's a mains switch on the front panel, a red LED beside it and two blue LED's inside just for show. Finish is not up to the adjacent 20 times more expensive ARC, looking more artisan than slick mass production, but these psychological aesthetics are actually preferable in coolness and individuality terms.
The Breeze audio Passclone was first used as cheap bass section to stand in for the meltdown 100wpc (with 1kVA ps) where it was surprisingly useful. Althogh lacking the ultimate slam of the behemoth (the behemoth's first 10W is class A, so they're not as far apart as might be imagined) the 10W Pass clone was a Breeze.
“Oh No! The puns have started, wail distressed Plebs Chorus, stage left
Transformer size often is key to bass quality. The bass quality of valve (tube) amplification is dependent on the output transformer and the bass quality of solid-state amplification cannot be recovered when the mains transformer is undersized. The Breeze Audio Pass Clone features a 200Va “oxygen free copper” toroidal transformer. A bit smaller than the 1kVa toroid in the usual amplifier on this shelf but is it adequate for a fully class A, which is less prone to the dynamic power supply voltage sag issues of class AB. The original (unbalanced) Nelson Pass Zen 10W amplifier specified 125Va transformer but the Burning Amp 2 design which the Breeze more closely resembles, requires a 600Va capacity, so this may be an issue. This may be more apparent in a full-range setting.
The current source on the first amplification stage offers additional isolation from the current demands of the output stage when nearing full power. This is important for rhythm & bass when an amplifier is driving the bass section of an active system as it is for a full-range system.
Next up was with some vintage Dynatron LS1428 (surprisingly capable mid 70s Peerless driver sealed boxes). The Breeze Nelson Pass clone continued to demonstrate the fine tuneful bass that was possible with the direct connection to reflex loaded Focal Audiom 12VX. Midrange was obviously not as sublime as from the Sonic Frontiers/Assemblage SET300B Signature amplifier running Western Electric 300B valves (tubes). Each of the Western Electric 300B valves costs twice the price of the Breeze amplifier. Midrange was superior to any solid state push-pull class AB amplifier within 10 times the Breeze Audio price.
High frequencies have a more “etched” treble quality than the single-ended valve (tube) amplifiers to hand. Sceptical readers might object to qualitative terminology like “etched” but visual analogies are common in audio because language tends to be more visual. Analogue photographers might equate it to the effect of Mackie Line developers (like Acutol) and smartphone photographers will be familiar with the effect of excessive use of the sharpening slider. Usually this audio effect is a slight mismatch in a push-pull output stage but again this is in comparison to amplifiers costing over 10 times the price of the Breeze.
When connected to the Almost Hammer Dynamics Super 12s there were some surprises.
Inevitably at some stage Little Feat's Last Record Album gets a spin. Side 2 Down Below The Borderline and Somebody's Leavin' suggest a symbiosis, or at the very least some synergy between the Breeze Pass Clone and the massive TQWP Hammer Dynamics. Lowell George's voice, sourced from the Stanley Engineering Walnut body Decca London is astonishingly well reproduced, if differently, from the usual Sonic Frontiers/Assemblage SET Western Electric 300B Signature amplification.
The Breeze lacks the sweet holographic quality of the Western Electric equipped SET300B, where each Western Electric valve costs more than the whole Breeze. The Breeze favours masculine vocal registers compared with the more even handed SET300B which can follow the most agile soprano to the top of her register. BTW Ritchie Hayward's July 1975 hospital bill invoices (reproduced on the sleeve) for routine interventions will come as a shock to all those of us used to relying on tax funded medicine free at the point of delivery.
Another shock is the excellent bass quality & extension on Glen Brown and King Tubby Termination Dub, a Simply Vinyl 180g four side well spaced grooves cut deep & loud collection of sound system favourites. Bass quality is usually the Achilles Heel of small class A amplifiers, whether valve or, as in this case, solid state. The bass alignment (well damped TQWP) of the Old Scribe version of the Hammer Dynamics Super12 eliminates the wild LF impedance swings conventional reflex boxes, including the undamped typical double peak LF resonance of John Wycroft's smaller cabinet design. The smooth gentle single LF impedance hump faced by the Breeze amplifier comes at the expense of a much larger box, sub-optimally aligned, to provide the easiest load for zero feedback valve amplifiers.
Bass does not have the chest shaking impact of the big 100watter, but has similar qualities to those big sound systems these tunes were made for. We hear extension and accuracy; we hear quality not quantity, but more than enough for 96dB/W speakers in a big room (85m^3 or 3000cu ft).
Bass note pitch is clearly discernible (which is not possible with many amplifiers with puny power supplies nor many with SMPS) with the Breeze. Rhythm is not corrupted by any phase shifts from limited bandwidth. Low frequency response is even suggesting that output impedance is low enough.
At no point in either duties as the bass section (below 250Hz) of a 3-way active system, nor full range through the passive x-over Hammers were there any artefacts caused by power supply sag. When pushed too hard into insensitive little stand mount boxes the Breeze merely clipped gracefully, confirming an adequate power supply.
Listening to the Americana crossover album recorded by Buffalo Blood around Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch (NM) it was easy to forget that this is such an inexpensive power amplifier between the tube-rolled ARC Reference 3 preamplifier and the Hammers, each of whose crossover inductors (aka chokes) cost more than the Breeze.
The Torlyte cased SET3080 probably sounds closest to the Breeze from among the stable of reference components at the TNT mountaintop lair. That little SET4W all triode power amplifier is seriously compromised in terms of crosstalk (only 59dB channel separation at 1kHz with the best double triodes, falling to 30dB at higher frequencies) compared with the Breeze. The SET3080 also lacks the bass precision of the Breeze. Some of this may be recovered on the SET3080 using the 4ohm transformer tap and more feedback, at the expense of dynamic headroom. Therefore push-pull tiny triode amps are probably the nearest comparison, but the SET3080 sounded remarkably similar to the Breeze Audio clone Nelson Pass circuit from about A3 (an octave below concert pitch A4, i.e. 220Hz) upwards.
Big orchestral and vocal works like Béla Bartóck's Bluebeard's Castle did not overwhelm this little amplifier. The complexity of this piece for voices, organ and orchestra, was handled gracefully by the little 10+10 Watter. Recorded in Leeds Town Hall on 5-6 June 2005 by the same musicians as so affected your Old Scribe on this occassion (as predicted in that article by Simon Lindley's booking of the Leeds Town Hall organ). The voices of Sir John Tomlinson & Sally Burgess with the voice of the castle taken the orchestra of Opera North are not spotlit like some older Salisbury based amplifiers might but are uncoloured and clear and as affecting as they should be.
Predictably from any amplifier design from the pen of Nelson Pass, this amplifier offers a special approach to design that majors on the psychological aesthetics of music reproduction.
What the Breeze does best is some of the good qualities of valve amplifiers without the common class D compromises in pursuit of similar goals. For the money this amplifier is among the best options to drive high sensitivity full range driver systems. The slight sharpening of high frequencies compared with thermoionic alternatives will mitigate the roll-off and weird dispersion effects of whizzer cones in single driver Lowther type horns.
Nelson Pass does not receive a penny from these numerous iterations of his handiwork. Nelson tells me that, “Not a lot that can be done about it. As it is, we sell a lot of amplifiers into China, so I'm not complaining. My view is that it could be worse - they could be cloning my competitors”. This lovely light-hearted response to intellectual property theft does not excuse it as a crime. Therefore when buying these products one suggestion is to make a donation of between 10% and 25% of the very low price to carbon offsetting and/or human rights charities. Given the carbon footprint of global trade and the well documented human rights issues in countries producing very low priced exports, this is the least we can do.
Music enjoyed while writing this review
physical media: some vinyl, some CD
Equipment used in this review:
Extensive and ever evolving acoustic treatment including corner bass absorption, high frequency (above 2kHz) absorption at primary tweeter reflection points, high frequency diffusers at other critical points, sloping ceiling with absorber >2kHz. Solid walls and argon filled triple glazing and no radiators. Hanging rugs and thick textured floor rug between listeners and loudspeakers, solid slate floor.
Some wire is used to join these components together. No interconnects cost more than 10% of the device at each end, much of it made by the Old Scribe from high quality components without Pixie Dust. Old Scribe amplifier-to-loudspeaker wire (full range, mid-range, tweeter) is ultra-low impedance Black Rhodium S900, a low-Z variation (3x3mm^2 csa) on the Black Rhodium S300 & S600 cable that came out well in Ben Duncan's objective and subjective correlation tests, selected primarily to match the OPT/driver damping factor, not for any magical qualities. Bass only loudspeaker cable Naim NACA5, which remains rarely challenged below 300Hz. Mains is supplied by an audio only ring main with Radex earth (ground) non-inductive connections and a technical earth. Crossover and power amplifiers fed by a minimum connections hydra. Sources and pre-amp from terminal blocks within the audio only ring.
Copyright © 2022 Mark Wheeler - email@example.com - www.tnt-audio.com