The California-based firm NuForce is probably best known within the high-end community for its innovative and very high-performance preamplifier and power amplifier designs. Over the years, though, NuForce has branched out to explore other product categories, eventually offering digital source components and DACs, upper-tier home theatre electronics, budget-priced earphones and desktop speakers, and even a range of desktop audio and personal audio electronics. In short, the NuForce team, which is headed by Jason Lim and Casey Ng, is nothing if not versatile.
Recognising that growing numbers of music lovers are choosing earphone and headphone-based personal audio rigs as their hi-fi systems of choice, NuForce has decided that the time is right to release a new premium-priced and ultra high-performance universal-fit earphone called the Primo 8 (priced at $499 in the US, with UK pricing yet to be announced). From the outset, both Lim and Ng envisioned the Primo 8 as a groundbreaking design that, they hoped, would redefine the state of the earphone-making art.
Clearly, NuForce is not alone is recognising the importance of offering a serious high-end earphone capable of pleasing even the most demanding of listeners. Other, well established firms – including AKG, Final Audio Design, Sennheiser, Shure, Ultimate Ears, Westone, and others – have drawn similar conclusions and accordingly have released top-tier, flagship earphones of their own. Two questions that arise, then, are these: first, does the world really need yet another top-tier earphone, and second, does NuForce’s Primo 8 have what it takes to prevail in a worldwide market segment already densely populated by a number of strong, well-respected competitors? By way of tackling those questions, let’s review the highlights of NuForce’s ambitious new Primo 8 design.
The Primo 8 is a three-way universal-fit earphone based on a driver array comprising a quartet of balanced armature-type drivers (consisting of one high-frequency driver, one midrange driver, and a pair of bass drivers). While quad driver-equipped earphones are relatively uncommon, at least a few competitors offer superficially similar designs; examples would include Westone’s W40 and Ultimate Ears’ flagship UE900 earphones.
What sets the Primo 8 apart and makes it truly unique, however, is its claim to be the world’s first – and thus far only – earphone to use a proprietary linear-phase crossover network said to give the earphone perfectly phase-coherent response from the bottom to the top of its operating range. As NuForce puts it, the aim of the Primo 8 is to, “replicate the sound quality of reference-class, multi-driver, high-end speakers in your ears,” which is a tall order for this or any other earphone to fill.
What is more, NuForce’s efforts did not stop with the design of the Primo 8 earphone proper. Recognising that transducers can only sound as good as the signal cables with which they are fed, NuForce also developed a distinctive, proprietary, hybrid silver/copper-conductor-equipped signal cable specifically for the Primo 8. In a conversation on this subject, Casey Ng mentioned that NuForce lavished every bit as much care and attention on the design of the cables as it did on the earphones, themselves.
User comfort was also a very high priority, so that despite the complicated driver arrays contained within, the Primo 8s feature relatively compact, oblong earpiece finished in a tasteful shade of matte metallic blue. Significantly, the earpiece housings feature tiny, snap-fit cable connectors that enable NuForce to provide detachable, user replaceable signal cables, Moreover, the snap-fit connectors allow the cables to swivel for greater wearer comfort. The signal cables also incorporate rubber-clad ear hooks that help bear the weight of the earpieces while keeping the earphones properly positioned within the wearers’ ear canals. As a further comfort-minded touch, NuForce supplies the Primo 8 with an elaborate array of ear tips (including eight pairs of silicone tips in sizes S, M, L, and XL, plus two pairs of Comply-brand foam tips in sizes M and L). Topping things off, the Primo 8 comes with a useful set of accessories including the aforementioned ear tips, a 130cm signal cable with microphone (a mic-free cable is offered as an option), a 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter, an airline adapter, a cleaning tool, a microfibre cleaning cloth, and a leather carrying pouch.