Load settings on a phono stage are rather like filter settings on DACs; not everyone bothers to try them out, yet their effects can be pretty dramatic. The degree of effect is often more apparent with phono stages than it is with DACs, but in both cases, it’s always worth trying the available options. The new Primare R35 has more loading options than most for both main cartridge types, and the differences encountered were fairly obvious, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The R35 replaces the R32 at the top of Primare’s small selection of standalone phono stages, and there is just one other model, the R15. The R35 has both XLR and RCA output connections, but limits input to RCAs alone as this is what 99.9% of tonearms have on their output cables. It’s slightly ironic that a cartridge device that has an intrinsically balanced output, rarely has XLR connections but that does make life a little easier for phono stage makers. I think I’ve only seen one or two with balanced inputs in several decades of reviewing.
Primare designed the R35 for use with ‘virtually any’ MM or MC cartridge and has a wide range of loading options to cater for both types. It also has three levels of gain, one of which is 70dB, higher than that typically encountered even in dedicated MC stages. Interestingly it’s higher still via the XLR output at 76dB. There are no fewer than 21 options for resistance loading as well, probably the most comprehensive range I’ve seen, these start at 10 ohm for MC and rise to the 47 kohm generally used for MM. Unusually there is another option for MM at 2.5 kohm, which I believe can work well with some high output moving coils.
Terry Medalen at Primare was in charge of ‘voicing’ the R35, which is a posh word for tweaking the design so that it sounds just so. There are numerous components inside a piece of electronics like this. A capacitor, say from one brand, will sound different to one from another company, even if the construction type and values are the same. Therefore Terry is in effect the final stage of a design process that began with engineer Bent Nielsen creating the four-layer circuit board topology and MM circuitry of the R35 and sourcing the power supply and MC stage from specialists. The power supply is a linear, discrete type based around a toroidal transformer in a mu-metal case. Many phono stages separate the power supply in a second box to stop noise polluting the very low-level signal being amplified, so this degree of shielding is necessary. More shielding is provided for the power supply and processor boards on the R35 because noise is the enemy of sound quality in a phono stage to a greater extent than any other audio component.