Primare Pre35 Prisma, A35.2 Pre and Power Amplifier Review

Review
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This is a review written by Terry Ellis July 2024.

For my video review please see my YouTube channel link here

The Modular HiFi component concept

I want to start this review with a question, should all HiFi be modular in design? I think its an interesting question as there are obvious merit to the idea.  This review will be discussing my experiences with essentially four different products from the Swedish hifi manufacturer Primare because one of them is modular and its fully loaded. I have here the Primare’s A35.2 stereo power amplifier and I have the Pre35 preamplifier that has the Prisma streaming module in it and the new DM36 DAC module installed and whats really important to consider about each addition is of course they raise the price which obviously effects our perception of value for money.

But if you want this review in its most simplistic form this Primare pre power is a very nicely built, nice looking, nice to live with HiFi system that sounds quite full and punchy and has a fun sound with some typical sonic characteristics of class D but not really. Primare have changed things up for the betterment here but at its total cost of just shy of seven thousand pounds this is a serious amount of money for a hifi system with a huge amount of competition, so I think the modular aspect is really key for each audiopphile finding the best value.

PRE35

I an going to break this review down into specific segmets as each of the four Primare products are available to buy on their own and I want to start with the Primare Pre35 acting just as a preamplifier because I think this is the star of this show and let me explain why.

Firstly is the looks or just good how the Pre35 looks, I have always admired Primare’s characteristic aesthetic whenever I have seen them but sometimes when you get things home its not as good as it looked in the photos. That is not the case here, I really like not only the general layout but also the feel and build quality of the front face plate, its thick and solid. All the buttons and knobs feel high quality and even the OLED screen, yes its super small but its clear enough for me to be able to read it for the volume and the input sat 12 or more feet away, not something I can say for every screen.

Around the back I liked the number of inputs that are available, its seems like a crazy amount when you have all the digital inputs too but if the DAC module was not installed it would be the perfect amount. Two balanced inputs, one for a DAC and the other a phono stage, that would be perfect for my needs.  With an additional three single ended inputs too and  two sets of balanced and singled ended outputs, that will be overkill for many but I am sure great for some audiophiles and they know who they are.

More impressive for me was taking a look inside, I was very impressed with the overall build quality especially the lid It was very thick and heavy.  I liked how everything is laid out neatly and symmetrical or balanced where it needs to be. The transformer is impressively large and I am no engineer but I don’t have too much to complain about here from what I can see and sonically I feel the same.

Admittedly I didn’t have another preamplifier here to do a side by side comparison which was a shame, so I judged the Pre35’s sound quality on what it allowed me to hear from all the different digital setups I have been testing and from the vinyl setup I am reviewing. All of them I know their sound very well by now and I have been really impressed by how the Pre35 sounded very clear and transparent so I could  easily hear the source quality. Most important for me the transparency didn’t come with any negative traits like robbing the sound of energy or dynamics or by being too brutally honest and sterilising the music, instead it got it just about right balancing telling you the truth but not killing you with it. I think there is a little bit of character here, just a little bit of pleasing tones or warmth being added by the Pre35, its very minor but I will take it..

I also didn’t notice much difference to the presentation between higher and lower volumes which is a great sign for the quality of a preamplifier and similarly I didn’t notice tonal changes or anything odd when switching between different inputs, another good sign.

For me the pre 35 is a very well designed, well thought out, clean and clear sounding preamplifier that justifies its asking price of £2900 when you take into account  this is a preamp built to last.

A35.2 Power Amplifier 

Next I turned my attention to the A35.2 stereo power amplifier and I don’t know why I was sent a black one and not a matching titanium finish. I assumed it was so I could see both colours and talk about and show them in my video review.  From the two colours I prefer the titanium. When an amplifier is fairly simple in design like this and is all black I find its hard to get too excited by how it looks. I am on a bit of a silver and white fetish right now though, so for me the Black A35.2 has got a stick in a rack and forget about it styling and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

The layout of the connections on the rear I found to be a little unusual with the speaker cable connections and the power being all over to one side and then a lot of spaced is wasted essentially on the other side with just some basic but important switches. So this is definitely not my favourite layout for an amplifier but its more than fine and was easy enough to get everything connected.

Removing the lid and looking inside, the A35.2 is a very interesting amplifier design based on Primare’s own UFPD 2 or Ultra Fast Power Device technology which is a proprietary Class D amplifier technology. If you do some digging on the Primare website you can find some articles where the benefits of UFPD technology are explained such as instant and sustained power delivery, low output impedance so varying speaker loads don’t effect the frequency response, low noise, efficiency and a lack of heat generation and more.

The UFPD 2 modules get a better power supply that has custom wound transformers and even though its very different to a traditional power amplifier I still think it looks impressive.  Its very powerful too, it can deliver 200 watts into 8 ohms and 400 watts into 4 ohms or 800 watts if you run it in bridged mono mode, now that would be interesting but of course you would need two of them.  The A 35.2 costs £2900.

Big Comparison

Now unlike with the preamplifier I have two other power amplifiers here that I used to compare with the Primare. I have the NAD M23 which is a very famous also Class D type of amplifier design, which has similar power on paper and would of course make for an extremely telling comparison. If you  take the lid off the NAD I was expecting it to look quite similar to the Primare but the two are totally different.  The NAD is £500 more expensive at £3399 so a significant amount more.

I also have here the claimed giant killer the Galion TS A75 which is only a 75 watt per channel into 8 ohms stereo power amplifier but it’s a high current class A/B design and it throws something different into the comparison especially as it costs about half that of the other two.

For sound quality I did multiple rounds of comparison listening between the three different amplifiers, using two pairs of speakers the KEF R11 Meta but mostly using the new SVS Ultra Evolution Titan speakers I am reviewing as well. I really like these speaker because their bass its immense but they do more than just bass. I used a mixture of sources all going through the Pre35, I used the internal Prisma streaming module and Primare DAC module but also an Eversolo A6 digital straight into the Pre35 and into my reference Chord Hugo TT 2 DAC. I also used the Origin Live Calypso / Conqueror turntable setup thats here for review so a lot of different sources and a lot of different music.  From big hitting hip hop by Reason to live female jazz from Simone Kopmajer and a bit of everything in between.

What I found interesting here was it didn’t matter what the source was the amplifiers differences were always the same but the better the source quality the easier it was for me to hear the limiting points or the weakness of each amplifier, but I have to say all three are excellent there is no loser here.

I found the Primare to have a surprising full and punchy sound, especially in the deeper bass and overall a more lively fun presentation compared to the NAD, which I would say was the more smooth and sophisticated of the two.  We are not talking a massive difference here but one that stood out and was obvious. I found the Primare to add a bit “fat” to the bass to make music sound bolder and add a little more punch and that also made the  vocals sound more full and fleshed out which worked great with the KEF R11 Meta, as they are a very dry sounding speaker and a bass lift adds to them in my opinion.  The SVS Titans are totally the opposite speaker, they are much bigger hitting in the bass and in my room they were very heavy hitting just how I like it. With the Primare amp it was maybe a touch too heavy at times or the bass was just a little thick where as that was never the case with the NAD M23 where I found the opposite problem. I was missing a little bit of the bass fullness and how that made the vocals from the NAD sound more specific and more carved out in stone which I liked sometimes but they were also a little thin by comparison. I preferred the more fleshed out vocals from the Primare a lot of the time.

Both amplifiers did great with the timing of the music, the organisation and sound stage layering. They both sound very fast and articulate with these as the obvious benefits of Class D amplification but I would give the edge to the NAD in this regard. The Primare was a little rougher around the edges sounding, but by only a small amount.

Interestingly the Galion almost hit exactly between the Primare and NAD amplifiers in terms of sounding full and punchy but not quite as bold as the Primare.  The Galion has more of a deliberately bloomed sound in some regards which can be very complimentary to the music but it wont be for everyone, especially if you like more specificity or neutrality to your music delivery.

But the Galions twist meant the vocals sounded the most characterful and sweet of the three, especially through the SVS Titans. There was a little more charm there and the Galion could mostly match the other two for dynamics, drive and enthusiasm, but I found it could lose its composure of the bass when I was pushing it hard. Neither the Primare or the NAD did that, their sound stayed the same regardless of how hard I drove them.

So this creates an interesting value proposition, with the Galion seeming like the best value given its significantly lower price and I don’t think anyone can deny that.However its not the best looker of the three, it has a very old fashioned aesthetic with an overly bright blue LED and this and its characterful sound wont be for everyone.

If you want the most “traditionally” linear sounding of the three amplifiers the NAD could be worth the extra ÂŁ500 to you and I think it looked really cool above the Pre35 on my rack.  But ÂŁ500 is a lot of money and that is where the Primare gets you close to the NAD’s best strhegths while being more fun to listen to and at the same time it gets you close to the best bits of Galion while having the benefits of Class D. That is why this comparison was so important as it shows very clearly where Primare have tried to put the A35.2 in terms of sound somewhere in the middle of A/B and D and for the best price they possibly can. Hats off to them for that.

Pre35 Prisma

The next focus of my review was the built in Prisma streaming module from a usability perspective.  The Prisma module adds WiFi or a lan network connection both in and out which could come in handy. Also very handy is the music streaming flexibility from Airplay 2, Spotify connect, Tidal connect and its Roon ready. All of these streaming user experiences are of course dictated by those apps and solutions. I tested Airplay and Tidal connect and it all worked as expected. Primare do have their own Prisma App which works great for setting things up and its great for listening to internet radio stations, or maybe listening to music from a USB drive or similar. You can use it to control Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz is great as we are still waiting for a Qobiz connect. The Primsa App user experience is ok, and its quick and easy to get music playing but its not my favourite music control App. I found navigating can be quite slow because it refreshes full pages each time you scroll up or down and that can be frustrating. Worse for me is you can only have one orientation of the information, I always want album art to be as big and obvious as possible  but when I select an album I want the songs in a list. You can have both the Prisma App but only once choice at a time, the selection doesn’t save independently which is again frustrating.  Then I found it difficult to build a play cue of music from various albums and this is my main bug bear with most streaming service apps and that is why I generally prefer to use a solution that makes that easy and most of them don’t.

To create some price relevant comparison, I tested the Eversolo A6 and this has a much better overall app user experience and it does everything the Primare does and more so that is something to factor in here before deciding if the Prisma upgrade is right for you.  Think about how are you planning to use it as the long term App experience is a huge factor for enjoying the best music streaming experience.

Then also very important to think about is the Prisma is tied to the DM36 DAC module because of course you cant have the streaming module added without the DAC module added too. You can have just the DAC installed and not the Prisma, just not the other way around. Looking at the DAC module up close its running an ESS Sabre 9068A DAC chip and it supports MQA and DSD 256 and it looks very well built to me. On the rear you can see the DAC module adds a lot of digital inputs, an excessive amount I feel, how many digital sources could someone ever have, but if you need a lot you are covered here. The USB input is likely to be the most interesting as it means you can use a computer or high end music server as your source. There is also  WiSA support added so you could use WiSA active wireless speakers using the Primare as a preamp hub and maybe that would be great for some people for a system change up, doing away with wires but its not something I was able to test.

More testing

I did of course test the sound quality of the DAC extensively, I compared it to the DAC in the Eversolo A6 and to the more expensive Chord  Hugo TT2 and the result was pretty much as you might expect. The DM36 sounded better to me than the DAC in the Eversolo but not as good as the Chord. But overall it sounded very good to me, nice and balanced, with good timing, good detail, good transparency, good tone so nothing really complain about but nothing I can shout from the hills about either.  Don’t let that comment anything away because its not meant in a negative vain, for a built in DAC it’s a good solution that balances very well with the pre and power and the Prisma too, as I have said the combination delivers a more full, bold and warm sound than you expect.

A more interesting comparison was feeding a digital signal into the Pre35 from the Eversolo and comparing that to the built in Prisma module, so essentially bith sources using the Primares DM36 DAC. When I used toslink Optical from the Eversolo I found its sound to be thinner, less immediate, less impactful and less full and dynamic compared to the built in Prisma module, again the Primares boldness was obvious but this did come at the expense of some clarity and openness. Now that is not necessarily a bad thing I actually think some audiophiles would really like it,as it will help “flesh out” their digital sound which can be a good thing as it can make music sound warmer and more pleasing. But others will find it not open enough so may prefer the Eversolo as the source.

The best value sum up

I think the choice of should you add either the DM36 DAC module and or the Prisma streaming module to the Pre35 will come down to one really important question, do you really want everything in the one box? The cost to value for money ratio can get a little confusing with all these options, so bear with me. The DAC module costs £750 which depending on how you look it I don’t think is crazy expensive for what you get, but there are a lot of very affordable DACs on the market these days that cost less, but I think the new price of £3650 with the convenience of the DAC being internal seems fair and reasonable. Adding the Prisma streaming module pushes the price up to £4000 so its not a lot more money to have music streaming built in too which seems like great value. That does put the overall price much closer to something like the NAD M66 which does all of the same things with a built in phono stage with Dirac Live room correction both great features that could be hugely beneficial. .

So the overall value proposition of the Primare Pre35 I think really shifts as you add the modules and that is why I am really glad it is modular because the Pre35 on its own does exactly what you want from good HiFi separates. It also doesn’t force you into paying for features you don’t want and it doesn’t take away the best benefit of HiFi separates, the ability to chop and change things as you desire, something the NAD M66 doesn’t allow you to do.

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For the full specification of the Primare products see their website linked here