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Review: Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier

Review: Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier: With the A35.8, the Swedes show that they are back again. And that with a very special device. 

Review: Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier: The discerning stereo enthusiast could already turn to Primare for the A35.2 power amplifier to complement its high-end PRE35 pre-stage. With the A35.8, the Swedish brand goes one step further, delighting both music lovers looking for ultimate power and those building a high-level home cinema.

The Primare A35.8 is a multi-channel amplifier with eight channels. That description is enough for some stereo aficionados to stop reading – but wait, dropping out now would be a mistake. Because although multi-channel output stages are usually used in home cinemas, that’s not the only thing they can serve. This Primare in particular has been designed to be equally interesting for music lovers who want to optimally control their challenging loudspeakers. And if they want to venture into all kinds of bi-wiring/bi-amping scenarios, they can. The big advantage of choosing a multi-channel amplifier for this, instead of a stereo output stage like Primare’s own two-channel A35.2 ? Pure power.

Specifications Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier

What Eight Channel Power Amplifier
Assets 8 x 150 Watts (8 Ohms)
Inputs 8 x XLR, 8 x cinch
Extras RS232, autosense, trigger in and out, gain (+6 dB)
Dimensions 43 x 38.2 x 14.5 cm
Weight 15 kg

Impressive numbers

The figure given as power for an amplifier is not always so relevant. You do need some power, of course, especially if you drive difficult speakers with a low sensitivity and/or an eccentric impedance curve. With an output stage, however, it is the characteristic that matters. In that respect, the Primare A35.8 presents nice credentials. It is based on Hypex NCore500 modules and can therefore deliver 150 Watts per channel (at 8 Ohms). And yes, that is if all channels are controlled. Important to note, because with AV receivers you often see wattages that reach even more spectacular heights. But those figures are the result of measurements when only one channel is controlled. No dynamic content, no full frequency range and no multiple channels at the same time – then it’s easy of course. In other words, these manufacturers do not put as much stress on the power supply as they would under realistic conditions. That is different with this A35.8, partly because the power supply is of a different quality level (see below).

Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier

Eight times 150 Watts is already very nice. Where it really gets interesting for stereo enthusiasts is when you take those eight channels and start bridging. You then link channels with each other so that you make a jump in control and power. Depending on the construction of the amplifier, you will end up with a power that is more than the sum of the two channels. That is also the case with the A35.8. If you only use two channels out of eight in a classic stereo setup, you have 300 Watts at your disposal. However, if you bridge two channels at a time to get one stereo channel, you get 2 x 370 Watts – or a total of 740 Watts with two 8-Ohm speakers. This limit is artificial, by the way, because Primare applied a clipping protection circuit. The ultimate stereo setup is when working with four bridged channels and speakers with four speaker terminals designed for bi-wiring/amping scenarios. Then you end up with a peak power of 750 Watts per speaker and 1,500 Watts for the pair. That can count. Moreover, based on our listening tests, we dare to suspect that those official figures are quite conservative.

Surround lovers welcome – Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier

In this review we will mainly look at the A35.8 from a stereo perspective. But it is, of course, a multi-channel amplifier that could equally well be married to a surround processor or pre-stage. You are then talking about a high-end setup where you need more flexibility than what you can get with an even expensive all-in-one AV receiver. Perhaps you are talking about a dedicated home theater room, with equipment in a rack.

Unfortunately, we did not have such a processor in house during the test period of the A35.8, so we were unable to connect the Primare output stage to our 5.1.4 setup. That will probably come, because the Swedes plan to release various products for surround lovers in the near future. That is quite interesting, because Primare may have a rich history in the field of devices for the home cinema fan (including an acclaimed Blu-ray player), lately mainly stereo products have been rolling out of the offices in Malmö. That will change in 2022, if the deliveries of components go well. In addition to a high-end AV receiver, the SP35 Prisma Sixteen Channel Preamplifier Processor and Network Player is planned. As the rather long name indicates, Are you talking about a processor that is equipped with all possible HDMI switching, audio inputs and streaming via Primare’s Prisma platform. We don’t know much about this SP35 yet, so it’s hard to compare it with alternatives from brands like Anthem or Arcam. That remains to be seen, probably until the second half of the year. In any case, with full use of all channels on the SP35, you would need two 35.8 output stages. Sixteen channels is something; for example you need it if you want to build an extensive Auro3D setup including a voice-of-god speaker (9.1.6.1). That remains to be seen, probably until the second half of the year. In any case, with full use of all channels on the SP35, you would need two 35.8 output stages. Sixteen channels is something; for example you need it if you want to build an extensive Auro3D setup including a voice-of-god speaker (9.1.6.1). That remains to be seen, probably until the second half of the year. In any case, with full use of all channels on the SP35, you would need two 35.8 output stages. Sixteen channels is something; for example you need it if you want to build an extensive Auro3D setup including a voice-of-god speaker (9.1.6.1).

Of course, in the context of home theater and CI projects, different decisions are made about how many channels are in a surround setup. Some processors allow you to allocate channels to other zones, such as a pair for stereo playback in the dining room. In short, it can become a more complex situation where, for example, an A35.8 and an A35.2 are used for a surround setup and perhaps another device in a different zone. In a simpler 5.1 setup you can also use the A35.8 to bridge the important left and right channels. That is interesting in a surround setup that should also serve for music and where the stereo channels are provided by slightly better hi-fi speakers. If desired, you can also control the center channel in bridge mode.

Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier

Own food

Anyone can buy Hypex Ncore modules to build their own amplifier. How does a manufacturer like Primare make the difference with other output stages? Much of the answer lies with the power supply, which must provide the necessary stability and overhead for the amplification section itself to function optimally. When you peek into the A35.8, you also discover how important this part is. About a third, not counting large cooling fins, is devoted to food. What you don’t see is a large toroidal transformer, but a sophisticated switching power supply with a capacity of 1.5 kilowatts that was developed by Primare itself. Why not a linear power supply, which many audiophiles say is better? The Swedish company, which spends a lot of time trying out small parts, says that a switching type is really the better option in this case. What’s now in the A35.8 is an Active Power-Factor Correction (APFC) model. Partly due to the use of PFC converters that are 180 degrees out of phase with respect to each other, this power supply would provide a very clean output with minimal harmonic distortion. It would also be very efficient, also not unimportant when you talk about capabilities of this size.

Also worth mentioning if we virtually put our head under the hood: there is very little empty space in this device. The layout and construction of parts is very neat and clean, one of the nicer examples of how good audio design starts with the printed circuit board.

Class D stability

Even in a traditional ‘one channel per speaker’ scenario, you end up talking about a very respectable amount of power with this Primare output stage. We’ll start with our Sopras, outspoken reproducers the way Focal likes to build them – and then we’re talking about both design and sound. These speakers are not that challenging on paper to drive, in reality some power is needed to make them really sing. Getting a good bass out in particular requires an amplifier with a certain amount of muscle. We’re not really surprised that the A35.8 is quite capable of getting the job done on that front. This quickly becomes apparent when we listen to the new album by one of our favorite live bands, Calexico. ‘El Mirador’ may not be innovative, the songs of this group from Tucson, Arizona continue to exude a lot of desert atmosphere. Songs like ‘Cumbia Del Polvo’ and ‘Harness the Wind’ sit at a complicated crossroads between Mexico and the US, and between jazz and mariachi. Whenever we hear them, we think back to the time we got lost at night in Nevada, with a nearly empty gas tank and no gas station in sight. What the Primare A35.8 does here excellently is show the extensive line-up of the group. It really is that familiar NCore rendering, not overly colored and a little reserved. We do notice that we open the PRE35 a bit further than with a recent test of the NAD M23 output stage with Purifi. Maybe we should have chosen that +6 dB option at the back, but it doesn’t cause any problems in itself. and between jazz and mariachi. Whenever we hear them, we think back to the time we got lost at night in Nevada, with a nearly empty gas tank and no gas station in sight. What the Primare A35.8 does here excellently is show the extensive line-up of the group. It really is that familiar NCore rendering, not overly colored and a little reserved. We do notice that we open the PRE35 a bit further than with a recent test of the NAD M23 output stage with Purifi. Maybe we should have chosen that +6 dB option at the back, but it doesn’t cause any problems in itself. and between jazz and mariachi. Whenever we hear them, we think back to the time we got lost at night in Nevada, with a nearly empty gas tank and no gas station in sight. What the Primare A35.8 does here excellently is show the extensive line-up of the group. It really is that familiar NCore rendering, not overly colored and a little reserved. We do notice that we open the PRE35 a bit further than with a recent test of the NAD M23 output stage with Purifi. Maybe we should have chosen that +6 dB option at the back, but it doesn’t cause any problems in itself. 8 here does an excellent job of highlighting the extensive line-up of the group. It really is that familiar NCore rendering, not overly colored and a little reserved. We do notice that we open the PRE35 a bit further than with a recent test of the NAD M23 output stage with Purifi. Maybe we should have chosen that +6 dB option at the back, but it doesn’t cause any problems in itself. 8 here does an excellent job of highlighting the extensive line-up of the group. It really is that familiar NCore rendering, not overly colored and a little reserved. We do notice that we open the PRE35 a bit further than with a recent test of the NAD M23 output stage with Purifi. Maybe we should have chosen that +6 dB option at the back, but it doesn’t cause any problems in itself.

It becomes a bit more challenging when we first play a number of pieces from the impressive Bach recordings by Der Akademie Der Alte Musik Berlin, followed by a number of tracks from ‘The Berlin Concert’ by John Williams. The celesta at the start of ‘Hedwig’s Theme’, for example, is played sparkling (but not too much). It’s mainly how the A35.8 follows smoothly as this magical-feeling track swells, while simultaneously presenting all those little themes and sounds feather-light. The Primare also processes the Primare very well with its strong dynamic content, much too bombastic for our taste – but yes, a childhood memory.

Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier The full scenario

Bridge the eight channels and connect in bi-amping mode to a pair of stereo speakers… We have to admit, it’s something we’ve rarely done until now. Which of course makes it even more intriguing. One of the reasons we don’t often work with bi-wiring/bi-amping is that our high-end speakers for testing purposes are the Focal Sopra n°2s. Without a doubt these are high class speakers, but exceptionally for devices in this category they come with single speaker connections, not double ones. Bi-amping is therefore not possible with these brave Frenchmen. Fortunately, we have also visited the Canton Reference 7 K floorstanders for a while, which do have the right amount of terminals. We include speaker cables from Tellurium and the manual for the A35.8. Because you are talking about an expensive device and a lot of power, we still want to play it safe and connect everything correctly. Also on the preamp side, because the thought of accidentally sending a fixed level signal out to an output stage with these muscles… Painful for the ears, but possibly also fatal for the tweeter. And perhaps for the entire speaker. Also don’t forget to remove the bridges between the terminals on the speaker, by the way.

So we pay extra attention when connecting. The advantage of the PRE35 is that it has two pairs of XLR outputs, so you can easily bi-amp from one preamp. There are not many other preamplifiers with this characteristic, if they do exist. Among others at Audia Flight, McIntosh and Rotel.

We route the four XLR cables to the correct XLR inputs, which are numbers 2,4,6 and 8. These are also referred to as the bridge inputs on the back of the amplifier. Then the toggle switches to bridge mode and indicate that the signal is coming in via XLR, and we’re almost there. Just insert the speaker cables correctly (black for an odd channel, red for an even channel), again aided by the markings on the back. However, the weight of the Primare output stage means that you do not have to drag it out of a hi-fi furniture to read that explanation. Incidentally, the A35.8 is available in good Primare custom in black or white. With the distinctive design of the Swedes, making it a perfect match for other Primare devices, such as the PRE35.

Once those practicalities are out of the way, it’s time to play music. And no, this ultimate scenario does not disappoint. By now we know what those Ncore modules can deliver, and that is a clean, transparent Class D amplification delivered here in the superlative. We are not going to claim that the Cantons suddenly perform at a completely different level than just before, but a more than subtle step has been taken. The almost palpable ultra-deep tone of the introspective neoclassical ‘Atomos I’ from A Winged Victory for the Sullen stands even more like a solid house with deep foundations, while the midrange and tweeter set the strings with a great textural content. This is a long song of more than ten minutes, compelling but also challenging at times, especially when piano sounds are added to the mix. We note here above all a sound image with an incredible depth. It is not easy to put your finger on it, but it is indeed in the image that becomes slightly clearer and larger. And that means that the recently released ‘Songs of Recollection’ by The Cowboy Junkies – an old favorite of ours, since those beautiful ‘Trinity Sessions’ – is played with an enormous live presence. The Primare-Canton combination sometimes has a slightly dark edge, but it remains very compelling. Breathtakingly beautiful, with a certain sadness.

Primare A35.8 Stereo Amplifier – Conclusion

At Primare, as with many audio brands, it has remained quiet in recent years. With the A35.8, the Swedes show that they are back again. And that with a very special device. The A35.8 may be a multi-channel amplifier, but it also has a lot to offer for stereo enthusiasts thanks to extensive bridging options. Those who venture into bi-wiring/bi-amping can do very nice things with this Primare output stage. It is also strong that this all came in one housing that is not really extremely large by hi-fi standards. If you start with monoblocks from some brands you will end up with a much more extensive footprint and not necessarily with much more power.

But it’s not just about features, the Primare A35.8 is above all an output stage where each channel delivers an insane amount of power and a sound quality to enjoy. If you want an even better foundation for your hi-fi system, you may have to spend a lot more.

Pros

  • Insane amount of power
  • Relatively compact
  • Heat development is not that bad
  • Extensive bridging options
  • Sounds almost neutral, good pre-pedal choice is important
Negatives

  • For stereo applications sometimes a bit overkill

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