There is a downside to all this flexibility and it’s, er, flexibility. It’s possible this many choices of almost the same thing will spell ‘analysis paralysis’ in some prospective buyers. In my primary/secondary/tertiary source selection, there will be those who cannot agree with themselves on a pecking order, and instead of seeing a flexible range of options, they just see too many alternatives. That said, these are the same people who will take 35 minutes to choose a sandwich filling in a busy lunch queue, so maybe we shouldn’t be too worried about their sensitivities.
Of course, all these myriad options and your decisions as to just how many boxes you want in your room are contingent on whether or not you actually want them in your room. The best on-paper system with the greatest flexibility will go nowhere if it sounds like a bag of spoons being tipped down a fire escape. Fortunately, Primare’s reputation for good sound is both long-standing and well-deserved, and there’s nothing about the 15 series that upsets that particular apple cart. Each component is similarly voiced, and that voice could be used to sell coffee or chocolate thanks to its rich, smooth, refined and satisfying presentation. That being said, it packs one heck of a punch when called upon to do so. Keeping things refreshingly Scandiwegian, I used the Swedish stack (culminating in the 60W Class D I15) with Denmark’s Audiovector’s R1 Arreté loudspeakers on their own stands. While the R1 is not a difficult speaker to drive, this should be a relatively unbalanced system revealing of flaws in the Primare. If that was its intention it failed miserably. The system sounded great and played both quietly in the background and at full tilt without complaint. I tried pushing hard with some technical deathcore (‘The Husk’ by Rings of Saturn on Tidal), but ears and neighbours got in the way.
All the usual audiophile elements are there, too. This system (taken as a system or as individual components) gives a great performance with stereo separation and soundstaging. There is lots of detail in there too; I played Bach’s Art of Fugue [The Emerson String Quartet, DG] and the Primare system returned a focused, cerebral sound, but one that – above all – was entertaining and satisfying to sit in front of.
There is one lone voice in all this; the DD15 CD transport. It doesn’t have three other similar products offering the same performance in a very slightly attenuated capacity, and cannot be press-ganged into service as a streamer, a phono stage, or a coffee machine. It’s just a slot-loading, low-resonance CD transport. OK, it takes its minimalism reallyseriously, but it gives an accurate, honest, precise and functionally invisible performance. It presents the digits without grace or favour, allowing the DAC to do the heavy lifting unconstrained by ‘quirks’ from the transport.
In fact, the DD15 is good enough to show exactly why CD is still a going concern for audio enthusiasts even in 2020. There is a directness and presence to the sound that streaming can struggle to replicate and while many of us have all but moved on from spinning polycarbonate, the DD15 shows why CD is still so much more than a hard-copy to be ripped and stored away. In particular, I spun up the title track of Blue Maqams by Anouar Brahem [ECM] and got transfixed by the solidity and physicality of the sound almost immediately. Playing the same track through a local Melco 100-series server (ripped from the same disc) and then playing it once more through Tidal didn’t have quite the same effect. Chalk one up to the DD15 and the trusty Compact Disc.
Finally, two of the boxes stand a little taller than the others in performance terms. And of those, the DD15 perhaps stands tallest; it’s such a good option for those wanting a CD transport without all the flummery and magic beans that sometimes come with that box. There are better transports out there (possibly the upper tier transport from Primare’s own 35 Series line being one of them), but not at anything like the price. Also, the R15 phono stage is a great option for those wanting to move up from the built-in phono stages but aren’t at that ‘cost-no-object’ level. Once again, it has that Primare sense of musical honesty and accuracy without sterility that I think many find attractive.