It pays for an author to make transparent any conflicts of interest he might face right at the outset of a hardware review. In this case, I must admit a certain bias when it comes to the Primare I30 amplifier, as I now own the sample under test. That might take some of the surprise out of my conclusion, but Iíll try to keep it interesting along the way.
Holding out for a hero
Iím sometimes asked if itís hard to part with components that come to visit for review. When it comes to amplifiers, the answer is, not often. Once the review model was packed and shipped back to its anxious distributor, it was usually a welcome relief to reinstall my trusty Plinius. While it was not perfect by any means, somehow the Pliniusí flaws were less intrusive than those of other machines, and it was never a dull listen. Then, one day, it exploded in an understated fashion, and that was that. The search was on for a replacement.
The Primare I30 was not my first choice. I wanted another high performing 100ish watt integrated that didnít require re-mortgaging the house or selling a child into slavery, and while I knew Primare by reputation, my initial investigations involved the usual suspects: Naim, Musical Fidelity, NAD, Arcam, Perreaux, Rotel, Cambridge Audio, and, of course, Plinius.
Some were too pricey, others too uncompromising, and the rest just a bit unremarkable, and so it was that my interest in the Danish amp with the battleship build began to grow. Reviews elsewhere were never less than complementary, indeed criticism of any sort was hard to find. The harshest thing written about the I30 was that more expensive amps can do better. Savage!
So, in receipt of the actual beast, officially as a review candidate, but unofficially lined up as a contender for permanent residence, my first impressions were very good. The I30 is extremely well put together. At the front the pugnacious knobs, offset fascia, and deeply inscribed insignia proclaim the Primare as no common or garden amp.
This impression is reinforced around the back, where high quality speaker binding posts and both balanced and unbalanced inputs greet the curious observer. Then thereís the size and weight, thanks to the dual transformers, which is pleasingly unhelpful when manoeuvring the item onto a shelf with tight tolerances. The I30 may not be tall, but it wears a size 12 boot.
Itís worth remembering that Primare launched the I30 five years ago, and while some fine tuning might have gone on since then, the design, inside and out, remains essentially unchanged. Product lifespans are short in the sub-$2k market, but even at this mid-level price point, that kind of longevity suggests something out of the ordinary.
Blinded me with science
Once itís clear that a component wonít collapse under its own weight, and doesnít pose a health and safety risk, all that really matters is the sound. The I30 possessed power in spades Ė easily the equal of my expired Plinius, which was a proper arc-welder when pushed. Bass was very good, smoother and with less of the growl of the Plinius, but more than forceful enough to give the 10 inch woofers in my vintage Magnats an excellent workout.
The mid-range was tremendously articulate and open, very much to my liking, but the top end made me wonder. Was it just little soft? Further listening revealed the truth, as the amp warmed to its work over the next few days. Throwing lots of girly singer-songwriters, cymbal heavy rock, and the odd violin solo at the amp cleared things up nicely. The Primare is not lacking for energy in the treble, rather it lacks the astringency that Iíd become accustomed to in its aging predecessor.
That being said, this is not an amp to brighten a dark system, as the Primare is not about laser-etched precision, but more the shape and texture of a musical performance.
I had it my way
It hardly seems an accolade when the price-tag sails this far north, but the Primare really is an easy-listening amplifier. It doesnít impose itself, but brings a performance into focus like a big-screen TV, allowing you to listen without fatigue or the need to squint with your ears (we need a word for that).
Perhaps what eventually sold me on the Primare was the unassuming improvement in information transmission, a change that I more usually encounter when experimenting with sources rather than amps. The I30 enhances the listenerís ability to hear the deeper layers in a song, so that you can better appreciate the playing as you groove to whatís played. You might imagine that when you venture past three thousand perhaps youíre entitled to this amplification feature as standard, but it ainít necessarily so.
So, to recap, the Primare I30 looks great, is built like a weapon, comes very well equipped, sounds amazing, and doesnít make a fuss about cables, outboard power supplies, speaker loads, or matching with sources. I bought one, and havenít looked back. My greatest fear is the courier landing a fifteen hundred dollar amp on my doorstep that does just as well. For the foreseeable future, I think Iím safe.
Primare I30 integrated stereo amplifier $4250