The amplifier needs a little bit of running in. However I received it with some miles on the clock, so the amount of running in required is unclear, as is the degree of change that running in creates. Asking around suggests the running in process, and the changes it creates, are mild.
I plugged the I35 in and liked it. I changed the speakers (from LS3/5as to Wilson Duette II) and still l liked it. I swapped out cables, and I liked how it sounded. In fact, at no time and with no combination of bits and pieces I have to hand (and there are a lot of them) did it exhibit any ‘don’t like it’ properties or characteristics. OK, if you are going to use an amp-crushing full-range loudspeaker that costs as much as a small house then the I35 gets a little strained, but in the real world, you aren’t going to find a combination that doesn’t satisfy.
A big part of putting a smile on your face here is the combination of keeping a taut sense of rhythm throughout, and a sound that is extremely entertaining and attractive. A big way of determining this isn’t just listening to music; plug a TV or cable TV box into the amplifier and the designed-for-TV-speakers sound of something like Casualty[BBC-One] is transformed and you begin to realise the relative sophistication of the foley work, the effects, and the ability to pick out speech from a maelstrom of over-the-top plot devices. It’s hard to like this hack Saturday night ‘trauma-porn’ as it has been running for decades and ‘Holby’ has long run out of accidents to befall its hapless residents. But the I35 makes the programme entertaining like it once was.
It’s music, however, that will make or break the I35. And it’s music that the I35 does very, very well indeed. You’ll probably begin as I did, with several well-trodden pieces of music that are used for assessment but they will lead, and lead quickly, to the music of your youth, or the music of your passion. I realised I was on to something special when I found myself playing Louis Armstrong’s ‘West End Blues’ [Hot Fives and Sevens, JSP] which segued into ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ by The Only Ones [Columbia]. These are core pieces of music for me. They hold special powers and only come out when the stars are aligned. Playing these tracks means I’m enjoying the music on an atavistic level and everything in the system is sounding great.
There’s something of the classic ‘Chrome Bumper’ Naim Audio sound about the Primare I35, both tonally and on that sheer musical enjoyment quotient that is so hard to pin down. Tonally, the I35 is rich and satisfying rather than bright and breezy, and yet it comes over as both energetic and dynamic sounding. These were all the elements that drove people into hi-fi stores in the 1980s, and all of those elements are improved here, with more detail, midrange clarity, and focus. Other aspects like soundstaging are also excellent, but it seems my personal preferences and priorities place that lower on the hierachy.
That’s perhaps the biggest thing about the Primare I35: it shakes the audio tree. Received wisdom held by some parts of the audiophile community states that there was a golden age of audio (defined as, “around the time my equipment was made”) that is unassailable in performance, and anything with Class D is an Agent of Satan. Sorry if my cynicism is brimming over here, but it’s products like the I35 that demonstrate the patent nonsense of these seemingly ineluctable audio truths. This is an amplifier that has the Devil’s Amplifier Class running cool and clear and it is extraordinarily modern in design inside and out. And yet, if you listen with your ears instead of your eyes and your prejudices, you’ll discover that this is an absolute blinder of an amplifier – possibly one of the best there is!
By virtue of ‘not taking the kids on holiday’ this month, my house has filled with very expensive amplifiers, and that gives me some perspective on what’s good, and what’s great. We are extremely lucky at this time because what’s good is outstanding, and this amplifier takes on some very big guns and wins. More buys you better as you might expect, and there are amplifiers that are brighter sounding, even richer or sweeter sounding, and ones that deliver way more power, volume headroom, dynamic range, and transparency. But here’s the thing, none of those amplifiers costs £3,200. What the I35 does is bring all of the good parts of audio with no sacrifices, skip all the bad parts, and make something that sounds sweet while it does its job.