YBA and ATC Make Love
by Josh Ray, Sep 01 '06
"So I've got this new preamp from YBA, wanna hear it?" "Uh, okay. When?" "Say 6 tonight?" "I'm 150 miles away,
haven't bathed in a week and Red Bull owns my eyes, but, sure, I'll be there."
Glad I made the trip. YBA is "that French company" making a half dozen electronic lines and dominating the French
audio scene. Once described to me as the French Linn, YBA is big stuff everywhere except here in the states where
YBA is usually just a footnote, thrown at the end of lists of components like "oh yeah, I guess there's YBA."
So the preamp in question is the $5000 YBA Passion 400, the latest in a line of Passion progressions. Forget trying to
figure out what's actually inside of these things, designer Yves-Bernard Andre is genuine quantum physicist, packing all
kinds of weird tech in his products. Unlike other audio designers who bang the quantum drum, YBA doesn't really talk
about what's inside, preferring that you "just listen to the damn thing you crazy audiophile" or however you say that in
The speakers for this little demo were the latest ATC Anniversary 50s, the $27k active, hyper detailed laser beams. If
you've never had experience with ATCs or any detailed active speaker, know these guys eat preamps for lunch. People
either love or hate ATC for brutally revealing everything in the food chain and requiring almost maniacal dedication in
component matching. Bought a preamp without listening first? Have yourself a good cry and put it on the 'Gon.
But once you make the match, the heavens open and angles sing or, more accurately, your orifices pucker up like
clams as you claw your chair and mutter obscenities. I've heard these ATCs with probably a good 8-10 mega buck
preamps over the last few months and nothing even comes close to the YBA Passion 400. Yeah, Googling "how to sell
your kidney" when I got back home.
So what gives? YBA is generally perceived as a warm and luscious, anything-but-accurate, bass-lite, tubish-meets-SS,
crazy eccentric French brand. In the past, that was generally the case. The revised Passion, if seems, has bass,
accuracy and dynamics to spare. It's just a different beast entirely, except for the crazy French eccentricities.
So one part ATC sword of Damocles, one part YBA Moulin Rouge, bring to a boil and you have a match made in
heaven. Of course, two important questions were raised: first, what do the $7500 and $10000 Passion 600 and 1000
preamps bring to the table and, more importantly, will the far less expensive ATC active 10s or 20s (around $3000-
6500) with YBA produce the same magic?
We may find out soon enough. But it's worth noting that YBA probably won't be oh-so dreamy with speakers and amps
that have their own luscious sound. It just may be too much in one direction, hence much of the US audio scene's
perception that YBA is way over the top in the Godiva region. Then again, you still get "the third cellist from the right
had Taco Bell for lunch" detail, so, who knows. Try it out. At the very least, the US scene should perk up, put down the
DIY and realize a wacky physicist across the pond is doing some stuff that's worth a listen.
Interesting. I have ATC Active 10's so I'm always curious as to what others find to work in terms of
preamps. Most ATC active speaker owners I know (myself included) mate their speakers to tubed
preamps b/c solid state preamps would be way too dry and analytical. I'm looking forward to hearing
more about your findings.
Posted by: kn31 at September 1, 2006 11:10 AM
I had a Passion Integre hooked up to my ATC 20s and they were a bit more "steely" than I would want
for the long haul. Using the Integre as an amplifier to my EAR 864 was pretty nice, but a bit
unrelenting. I did not find the Integre to be lucious. However, the older Integre with JM Lab Dalines
were quite nice, but hardly lucious. I preferred powered ATCs (10s and 50s) with my EAR tube preamps
(first the 802 and now the 864). Again, I am surprised that the powered ATC and YBA match weren't
unrelenting, but the proof is in the pudding. Perhaps the matching issues are why there is a hobby and
lots to grouse about. Hope John is happy, give him my regards. L
Posted by: Larry at September 1, 2006 11:46 PM
My Passion Integrated is also too "steely" with passive 20s (unless bi-wired with some Hovland stuff up
top), but with the passive 10s it's a different story entirely: just great sound. (I do wonder if the
Passion Integrated is just on the border of having enough oomph to handle the 20s.)
And, yes, I think YBA stuff has generally been more light than luscious. I write about this (among other
things YBA and ATC) in a follow-up for Josh that should appear in a couple of days.
The Passion 400 is indeed a remarkable fit with the ATC 50s, but the upper mids aren't as sweet, or
maybe finessed, through the Anniversaries as they are with most tube stuff. I'm not at all sure whether
this is a weakness--since as of now it seems material dependent, or whether the piece is simply telling
the truth about some recordings. (Its more noticeable on some pop stuff than on classical pieces.
Massed strings, that is, don't singe the ears.) I'd have to have more than the less than two weeks of
time I've had with the 400 to get a read on this. I can say that the 400 produces more varieties of tonal
color from the Anniversaries than any pre I've had in front of the speakers: tube or solid state. The 400
is also absolutely the most see-through YBA piece I've ever heard. In fact, it might be the most see-
through preamp I've ever heard.
I've some active 10s upstairs I'll bring down in the next couple of days for a listen. I'll make sure to
pass along, for whatever it's worth, my thoughts.
Posted by: JB at September 3, 2006 10:47 PM
Hi Josh.. Very interesting to read your comments on the Anniversaries. I have standard active 50's and
I was wondering what cables and equipment stands you are using?? Do you have your ATC's directly
plugged into the wall?
BTW I am using the Ayre K1-xe pre with my ATC's. It will be interesting to read your comments if you
get hold of one. I would seek out a YBA pre for a listen unfortunately YBA don't have a distributor here
in the UK at the moment.
Posted by: Jonathan Manders at September 20, 2006 2:59 AM
JOnathan, it would be great if you could add more comments on Ayre/ATC match. Anything that you
particularly like or dislike?
I unfortunately can't dig deep enough in my pockets for K1xe but K5xe is an option and that's why I
would appreciate any further comments for Ayre/ATC users.
Posted by: gordan at October 22, 2006 2:54 AM
I have my 4 Active 10's and a C4CA Active Center Channel mated to an Anthem Statement D2 Pre/Pro.
The sound is exquisite for both movies as well as music. Particularly now that high resolution audio is
available through HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. The smile is permanently fixed on my face. Cheers!
Posted by: Doug Storm at March 27, 2008 4:16 PM