Primare R35 Phono Preamplifier Page 2

I kicked off with the Ortofon 2M Black, setting the R35 to its +44dB gain and standard 47kohm loading – a 'plain vanilla' set-up that immediately illustrated the delightfully smooth and inherently neutral performance offered up by this phono preamp. There was no sense of it showboating or boosting any particular part of the musical spectrum, and neither did I feel compelled to change either the gain or loading away from my initial and very standard settings.

Instead, the pleasing even-handedness of the R35 lets the inherent character of the cartridge – where there is one – shine through. In the case of the 2M Black, this meant a presentation that was poised, clean and beautifully detailed. And I was also delighted by the punch, heft and insight the R35 offered at the low-end. Kick drums had real wallop behind them and bass guitar lines bounded along with gusto.

These two aspects combined very effectively on The Art Company's 12in single of their joyous pop hit 'Susanna' [Epic TA 4174]. Sure enough, I was a little concerned at the stridency of the vocals on occasion but, by way of upside, the R35 certainly projected these voices with confidence into the listening space.

The R35's treble typically imparts an appealing glossy sheen to performances. Treble detail is, as mentioned, excellent, and percussion instruments generally have just the right amount of metallic glimmer to their sound. Equally, firmly struck cymbals ring out strongly and decay much as you might imagine from a live performance, the R35 allowing you to distinguish the real from the processed.

Price Buster
By way of example, the electronic percussion at the beginning of The War On Drugs' 'Under The Pressure' from their Lost In The Dream LP [Secretly Canadian SC30] sounded in complete contrast to the real hi-hats used in the main body of the track.

That said, while the Primare R35 never sounds less than smooth and unflustered, the busiest and brightest of recordings can appear just a little sanitised, as if details and dynamics large and small are bundled, so to speak, into a neatly digestible package. So while the R35 never sounds confused or fatiguingly congested in the treble, neither does it have quite the separation or sweetness of the very best phono preamps. At just £1345 however, comparison with far higher-end devices is academic.

On the other hand, the R35 has strengths that transcend its price point, especially in the way it projects performances out into the room. It can setup a realistically three-dimensional soundstage with seemingly little effort, while also offering an impressive sense of front-to-back layering. As a result, backing effects are typically kept exactly where they need to be and are not unrealistically pulled to the fore, just as lead instrumentalists and vocalists are sharply focused.

Star Of The Show
Brandi Carlile seemed to be standing somewhere between me and my equipment rack when belting out 'The Wheels Of Laredo' from The Highwomen's eponymous album [LCS 0075678651731] – a performance that was both impressive and slightly alarming in equal measure. Her vocal presence was strong and confident through the R35, albeit with a slight hint of stridency creeping in now and then.

Switching to MC and with the Clearaudio MC Essence in place, the Primare R35 continued to impress. The extra insight from the MC Essence was clear to hear and the R35 once again did its best to step aside, sonically speaking, and ensure the cartridge remained the star of the show. Any midband hardness, stridency or slight coarseness that might have been evident with the high value MM quickly disappeared using the MC input and, in this instance, the more capable pick-up. Midrange detail, image focus and solidity all took a step forward, the cartridge 'upgrade' being rewarded rather than smothered by the R35.

So how about the venerable Denon DL103 moving-coil – the stalwart of many a vinyl-spinner's system in years past? Setting the load impedance using the old adage of '10x the cartridge impedance' worked a treat here. In theory, the DL103 works best into around 400ohm, thanks to its relatively high 40ohm generator impedance and, in my experience, can sound a little flat and dull into the 'standard' 100ohm loading that most MC phono stages offer. Fortunately, with the loading dialled up to 400ohm the R35 confirmed the '10x rule' as the DL103 came alive, sounding as punchy and gutsy as I have ever heard it. I suspect there'll be few cartridges that Primare's R35 cannot squeeze the very best from!

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Although the Primare R35 may appear to have a daunting array of cartridge matching options, and its physical layout is not exactly user-friendly, it is well worth persevering with. In practice, it is an incredibly flexible and capable phono stage that seemingly has the ability to extract the very best from any cartridge that crosses it path. A rare feat at any price, this only further pumps up the R35's value.

Primare AB
Supplied by: Karma-AV Ltd, York
01423 358846