Review: Primare I30 Integrated Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

This little wonder has been a new discovery for me, I've had it for about four months and it doesn't cease to amaze me every day I listen to it. But let's start from the beginning.

For about six years I've been the proud owner of a system that I considered pretty definitive, considered my personal space, time and money constraints:

Krell KAV-300iL Integrated Amplifier
Krell KAV-280cd CD Player
Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home Speakers
Thorens TD 145 MKII + Shure V15 Type V for Vinyl

Sometime last year I decided that I had enough with scuffling with my CDs (1200+) and went digital, I bought an iMac 24" and a Benchmark DAC1 and digitized all my CD collection. It took me about three months to have everything done, including hi-rez artwork and correcting all the metadata. Now I'm happy to browse through my entire iTunes music collection using my iPhone.

The Benchmark DAC1 sounds great, I heard no difference in sound vs the Krell KAV-280cd I had. I actually think the Benchmark sounds a little better (somewhat more refined), which is pretty amazing thinking about the fact that the Krell is a class A device that is stuffed with discrete components and that it runs hot enough to fry an egg. The Benchmark is this little box with a few OpAmps inside, costs a third of the price and runs practically cold... amazing.

Anyway, I was going through my record collection and I noticed that some of my old records didn't quite sound right. Distortion was creeping in my system, female voices (I was listening to The Roaches' first album) had a screechy quality that didn't belong. I came to the conclusion that the amplifier was the culprit (the Krell) so I decided to send it for repair and asked Magnolia Hi-Fi (the store I purchased it from in Palo Alto) to help me out with that. They have been very kind and while taking care of the Krell gave me a substitution amplifier, the Primare I30.

I didn't know the Primare I30, and I didn't pay much attention to it at the beginning, I attributed its "nice sound" to the fact that my Krell started sounding bad because it was broken.

I could not fail to notice its great looks though, the front fascia is beautiful, the knobs are a work of art, and it is even heavier than my beloved Krell. The Primare I30 has a dual mono design, including the power supplies and transformers, and it is fully balanced, including the output stages.

The repair took longer than I thought (Krell and Magnolia messed up), so I got to keep the Primare I30 for about two months, right when I was ripping my entire CD collection. I listened to it a lot, and I started to notice how good it is.

The I30 does have a sweet voice, a solid and authoritative bass and exceptional clarity. Instruments stand out very clearly against a very deep sound stage and listening fatigue is virtually nil. It is amazing how much detail can be heard even at low listening volumes, with this ampli you don't need to play loud to hear things...

When the Krell came back I was very happy, it sounded great as I remembered it. But... I was really amazed to find out that the Primare actually sounded better. I was so surprised that I spent a couple of weeks comparing them side by side, switching around cables and listening to lots of different kinds of music.

The Primare and the Krell are both very solid in the lower part of the spectrum, but the Primare sounds more involving with drums and bass. I recently discovered this amazing czech singer/violinist, Iva Bittova. There is a record, Elida, performed together with Bang on a Can, lots of acoustic instruments. The rendering of the cello, especially in the lower registers, is quite eery, you can swear that it is right there in the room.

The Krell's highs are very detailed and quite a bit forward, not to the point of being bright though, but forward. The Primare's highs are definitively less forward, but they're all there, and very detailed and refined. The metals are reproduced with detail and finesse, never harsh.

But the real big difference is in the voices and the mid highs. The Primare has an angel voice. I couldn't point out a real defect in the Krell, but I definitively preferred the sound of the Primare hands down. The Roaches' voices (you need to hear them) came out amazingly, with presence, detail, harmony. The record is characterized by the three sisters harmonizing with each other. The Primare lets you know which one is which at all times. Stunning. So is with the voice and the violin of Iva Bittova (I just bought all her records, I'm in love), you never tire to listen to the voices this amplifier can produce.

I guess that the subtle difference is in the capacity of the Primare of moving something in me, convincing me that the musicians are here in the room with me and make me pay more attention to the music, to involve myself emotionally without reserve. This didn't happen in the same way with the Krell.

After two weeks of struggle I decided to keep the Primare and sold the Krell, and I'm very happy of my decision.

My system now is the following:

Apple iMac 24" digital source
Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter
Primare I30 Integrated Amplifier
Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home Speakers
Thorens TD 145 MKII + Shure V15 Type V for Vinyl

UK magazines seem to be in love with this amplifier, but I feel that the Primare I30 doesn't receive enough attention in the US, the brand spends very little in marketing and is totally understated in its web presence.

Wholeheartedly Recommended!
I recently heard the i30 and it could be the hidden gem of the integrated amp world.

It has a neutral sound, but is not cold or digital. The treble has great detail, yet it is non harsh or grainy. The sound is relaxed and laid back, yet has good rhythm when called for.

All this seems a paradox, so Primare must be doing something right with this design. Built like a tank as well.

It seems the Class D based i32 replacement is not as good....
My system contains the i30 along with the Benchmark DAC1, a CDtransport in the shape of a TEAC PD-H500c and speakerways a couple of Elac FS 207 Anniversary Edition. The sound is crystal clear but i miss something in the lower frequencies. I can't point out exactly what it is that's missing... Maybe it's unfair comparing the 6" Elacs to my previous Infinity Kappa 7A's (12" elements) when it comes to bass performance. But since I have an analytical mind when it comes to listening, there's really not much to complain about since the whole rig was less than 3000€, ca les included.
If you guys love I30 then you should listen to old I20 or A20 mk2. Less watts but more magic. Had it once and upgraded to I30. Regreting to this day. Anyway very shortly after, I30 gave up place to Monarchy Audio SM-70 Pro. Never looked back again.