Reviews

Review: Primare 15 Series – Swedish approach

Primare 15 Series
Review: we look at almost all models from the Primare 15 Series, both from the perspective of the analog lover and the streaming fanatic.
4.5/5 - (400 votes)

From its home base in Malmö, Primare has been conquering the world for a while. One of the special aspects of the Swedish brand is its flexible view of what a music system can be. In this test, we therefore look at almost all models from the Primare 15 Series, both from the perspective of the analog lover and the streaming fanatic.

Primare 15 Series – Swedish approach

It hasn’t been that long since we started working on the Primare SC15 preamp in an earlier issue of FWD Magazine (and online) . The goal then: to become acquainted with the advantages of the WiSA technology that replaces speaker cables. In that test, we investigated a very living room-friendly music system in which the Primare device wirelessly sent high-quality and lossless audio to active speakers from the Danish System Audio. Or how you can get something very high-quality with a box and two speakers, completely tailored to the modern music lover who wants to see as little equipment as possible appear in his living spaces.

In this review we take a different approach. The SC15 we reviewed earlier is part of Primare’s 15 Series, a whole family of compact music devices with a modest size as a key feature. Also living room friendly, but just a bit more flexible than a WiSA system . After all, the 15 Series includes a relatively large number of models, so that everyone can build a system that suits their needs. If you really want to go for a one-box solution, you will end up with the i15 Prisma. That integrated amplifier with built-in streaming via Primare’s Chromecast-compatible Prisma platform really only needs two passive speakers to play music. It’s a great thing, and it was also the winner of an EISA Award two years ago.

 

For this test, however, we choose the i15 MM, a full analog amplifier with MM phono preamplifier built in. Although we do not really need that last part, because we opt to supplement the Primare amplifier with the R15. This is a very complete phono preamplifier with all the bells and whistles. A CD15 is the third item in our Primare system test. The CD15 is – as the name quite explicitly indicates – a CD player. That may seem completely out of date to some, but strangely enough the sales of CD players have been on the rise again in recent months. Perhaps because many wanted to get to know their CD collection again in this corona period – and then discovered that the CD player that had not been played for years was broken. More unusual is that the CD15 also has a Prisma module on board. This also doubles as a streamer. So you do more than expected with one device. And that fits perfectly with the focus on dexterity that the Swedes like to use.

Primare R15
999 euro

Primare SC15
1.499 euro

Primare I15 MM
1.499 euro

Primare CD15 Prisma
1.799 euro

Other options

So we made certain choices with our test system. But it can also be done differently. Those who don’t like the idea of ​​a CD player with built-in DAC or an integrated streaming section can opt for the DD15. This is a dedicated CD transport with digital outputs only. To be connected to an integrated amplifier with digital inputs or with a separate DAC, in other words. Do you only want to stream and are you not planning to bring out those silver discs again? Then the SC15 is a more interesting alternative. It is a dedicated network player and streaming, but also a DAC based on the AKM AK4490. For example, you can connect storage directly or a computer via a USB class B cable.

 

All 15 Series aircraft are characterized by a smaller footprint, although they remain relatively deep. That is not so bad, however, because the height is limited (approximately 7 cm, including feet) and the Primare devices are also not particularly wide (approximately 35 cm). Place them on a piece of furniture and the devices will not really stand out. The limited depth means that they will even fit most TVs.

The quirky finish also helps to give these compact Swedish hi-fi units some extra class. Typical of Primare is the floating front panel that appears to be disconnected from the housing. When you really think about it, it’s not that big of a deal in terms of design, but it still gives the Primare devices a look all their own. The solid build quality and materials used also give a lot of confidence. All Primare 15 Series parts are available in a matt sandblasted black that displays a character all of its own up close, and a more striking silver color that is our personal favorite. With the silver color, only the front panel is that color, the rest of the housing is black. Contrast is hip, let’s tell.

Interior-friendly

Why are those 15 Series devices more compact? The correct answer is, of course, because most people want smaller sets, not gigantic hi-fi devices that take over an entire cabinet or TV cabinet. But another answer is also: “Because it is possible”. Primare is a strong supporter of Class D, specifically Ultra Fast Power Device or UFPD technology. This is an analog amplification technique that is very efficient (90 percent plus) because it is based on pulse-width modulation. The low power loss ensures low heat development, so that no immense cooling fins are required. We only really notice what that means when we put the Primare i15 on our test bench next to the Musical Fidelity M8xi which is tested in FWD82 (and is also an EISA Award winner). Of course that Musical Fidelity is a completely different beast, but the choice of class AB means that this monster weighs more than forty kilograms and has immense cooling fins on the outside. Looks cool for audiophiles, but the slim Primare fits more living spaces.

 

The UFPD technology is not only efficient in terms of power consumption, it is also very good at preventing distortion. The properties of the speaker or the nature of the audio signal would have little impact on this, so that this class D technology can deliver very pure amplification. The technical story behind the amplification in the i15 (and other Primare devices) makes sense and in practice also delivers the predicted result. The tight timing that is promised is delivered effectively, which is reflected in a well-defined low and many details that separate from the Rubicon 2 speakers that we have set up together with the Primare speakers.

Just before that, we tested the brand new NAD M33 with the same speakers (the review can be found in FWD Magazine 80 and online here soon). Although that is also a class D device, it is about a different way of amplification (and also a more powerful amplifier). The i15 comes across as slightly more ear-friendly and less critical; it is less transparent and slightly warmer colored, making the Primare more tolerant to lesser source material. For example, we stream Adrien Younge’s super-fast ‘Life of a Hustler’, from the Black Dynamite blaxploitation film on Spotify, and the funky character rolls out of those Danish speakers in a compelling, exuberant way. On the M33 it touches just a bit less – but in terms of power reserves, the more expensive NAD of course has more to offer.

 

For vinylistas

Record players have their loyal audience. At the lower end of the market you will find turntables with their own built-in phono amplifier, if you aim higher than you end up with a high-end player that sends out a very modest signal. You have to send it to a phono preamplifier or to an amplifier with a dedicated phono input, because it sounds too quiet directly on a normal line-in. Most hi-fi enthusiasts will probably opt for the latter option, which is also possible within the 15 Series with the i15 MM. However, the R15 is clearly intended for the convinced vinylista. The history of vinyl being what it is, there is a lot of variation in cartridge types. The Primare 15 Series captures that diversity by giving you many setting options so that you can adjust the pre-stage to your cartridge. This can be done via a number of buttons and dip switches (which you may rarely change position) at the back of the device. Because the R15, as a derivative of the larger R35, has to be able to handle almost all cartridges, you will find the necessary to switch between MM and MC, and you can set the gain, capacity and resistance. This per channel, although you may want to make the same choices left and right. A subsonic filter that can be switched on or off is of course also included. For our turntable – an ELAC Miracord 90 with a disguised Audio-Technica AT440MLb cartridge – the default settings turned out to be quite correct, so we could quickly listen to our records. First find the on / off button … That turned out to be a bit more difficult than expected, because it cunningly hides in the large etched Primare logo on the front. If you push the block in the middle, a small triangle will light up that forms part of the logo. A nice touch, pardon the pun!

 

We don’t test vinyl equipment incredibly often, but we can compare the R15 with the affordable NAD PP 2E that we normally use with a Pro-ject turntable in the living room and the digitizing phono preamp in the NAD C 658. It shouldn’t surprise you that the R15 performs considerably better, so that the beautiful The Lost Recordings recording by Thelonious Monk in Rotterdam 1967 (a pricey edition of Fondamenta and Devialet) resonates very nicely in our listening room. The R15 gets the most out of the recording and cartridge, dynamically bringing Ben Riley’s drum solo, with all the subtle, natural-sounding touches on the cymbals. Really beautiful, and also very close to the phono input of our Devialet Expert 220 Pro.

Jet black reinforcement

It is when listening to a completely different album, ‘Our Pathetic Age’ by DJ Shadow, that the entire system shows its strongest side. The track of the same name is the last on the album, and combines fairly classic beats and for DJ Shadow there are few samples with the masterly voice of Samuel Herring. If we listen to this track on vinyl via the R15 and then again via the Prisma function on CD15, then the vinyl version is very authentic, but with the lossless FLAC version via Qobuz everything clicks together even better so that this song is brought very tightly. Timing is important with any type of music, but with electronic genres it is often crucial. The streamed track really plays against a very quiet background, allowing Herring’s voice to stand on its own in the room and the light synth samples floating around the room. A very nice achievement, and that i15 also seems to have no problems pushing the Dali Rubicon 2s that we have used for this test to the highest volumes. Pushing forward is also the word we think of when we listen to ‘Bogatyri’ from We Lost The Sea. Australian post rock, a bit like Mogwai, but from warmer climes. The i15 is a great engine for music like this. The emphasis is clearly on the musical, a bit like how Marantz does it, less on the critical rendering. In this sense, Primare aims at that target group of music lovers who want to relax with their favorite albums, but who do not want to observe every instrument perfectly placed in analysis mode. and that i15 also seems to have no problems pushing the Dali Rubicon 2s that we have used for this test to the highest volumes. Pushing forward is also the word we think of when we listen to ‘Bogatyri’ from We Lost The Sea. Australian post rock, a bit like Mogwai, but from warmer climes. The i15 is a great engine for music like this. The emphasis is clearly on the musical, a bit like how Marantz does it, less on the critical rendering. In this sense, Primare aims at that target group of music lovers who want to relax with their favorite albums, but who do not want to observe every instrument perfectly placed in analysis mode. and that i15 also seems to have no problems pushing the Dali Rubicon 2s that we have used for this test to the highest volumes. Pushing forward is also the word we think of when we listen to ‘Bogatyri’ from We Lost The Sea. Australian post rock, a bit like Mogwai, but from warmer climes. The i15 is a great engine for music like this. The emphasis is clearly on the musical, a bit like how Marantz does it, less on the critical rendering. In this sense, Primare aims at that target group of music lovers who want to relax with their favorite albums, but who do not want to observe every instrument perfectly placed in analysis mode. a bit like Mogwai, but from warmer places. The i15 is a great engine for music like this. The emphasis is clearly on the musical, a bit like how Marantz does it, less on the critical rendering. In this sense, Primare aims at that target group of music lovers who want to relax with their favorite albums, but who do not want to observe every instrument perfectly placed in analysis mode. a bit like Mogwai, but from warmer places. The i15 is a great engine for music like this. The emphasis is clearly on the musical, a bit like how Marantz does it, less on the critical rendering. In this sense, Primare aims at that target group of music lovers who want to relax with their favorite albums, but who do not want to observe every instrument perfectly placed in analysis mode.

 

One of the strengths of the Primare 15 Series is also how streaming is ingrained in a non-intrusive yet useful way. With an i15 and R15 you can fully opt for vinyl, but with the CD15 or SC15 you also have nice streaming options via Prisma. Prisma is essentially Primare’s streaming platform that embraces both Chromecast and Airplay. There is its own Primare Prisma app, but you don’t have to use it. It is useful to link multiple Primare devices in zones or to play your own music files – or you can use a DLNA app like BubbleUPnP or Glider. If you listen to streaming, you can use cast or Airplay via the app for most services.

Please note, to use Chromecast you must first set up the CD15 or SC15 via Google Home. Spotify users should not do that, because the Prisma devices are Spotify Connect compatible and automatically appear in the app of the streaming service. Those who choose Roon will have to use Chromecast or Airplay for the time being. However, an update will be published soon so that Prisma devices become Roon Ready and therefore receive a stream via RAAT. This makes streaming hi-res material just that little bit easier, provided you have made the (major) release for the Roon software.

 

Conclusion

The Primare 15 Series is an interesting sight in the hi-fi landscape. In a way, it is completely traditional. A music system consisting of several devices, most with a specialized function, that is hi-fi in the 1980s. Yet it is slightly different than you would expect. The compact dimensions and the luxurious finish make the Primare appliances very interior-friendly and modern. Small details reinforce that impression. Think of the OLED screen and the housing that keeps the cabling out of sight. The single remote that controls everything. The smart streaming functions, but also the options for vinyl covers. As a whole, the 15 Series is completely correct.

 

If we look at individual parts, then both the SC15 and CD15 are versatile components that combine a wide range of functionality with great sound. The SC15 in particular can do a lot and can even be a complete music system in combination with WiSA speakers. But it also has a lot to offer in the context of a more traditional music system with the i15 as an amplifier. The CD15 is one box that both plays and streams CDs. It offers a high-quality yet compact way to quickly listen to Spotify and still keep running that old CD collection. Despite its smaller dimensions, the i15 is a burly amplifier that uses excellent class D technology to play music in a relaxed and pleasant way. You wouldn’t think so when you see the i15, but this Swedish amplifier is bursting with talent.

Cons of Primare 15 Series

  •  Still waiting for Roon update for Prisma
  •  Slightly higher price for CD15

Pros of Primare 15 Series

  •  Compact shape, full hi-fi
  •  R15 is a super complete phono preamp
  •  Nice DAC hatch and streaming on CD15
  •  Versatile Prisma platform
  •  Delivers a lot of listening pleasure