My writing desk looks out over a large garden with chickens, bees, and feral cats. My chair sits only six feet from loudspeakers, playing softly on my left. Between the speakers sits whatever painting I am working on. That painting hangs no more than 10 feet from the oscilloscope and drill press in my kitchen. Best of all, my desk is only six feet from squadrons of ravenous sparrows attacking the suet cage on the fence outside my window. These real-world attractions keep my right and left brain in balance. Similarly, reviewing both analog and digital sources, as well as tube and solid-state amplifiers, keeps my review practice in balance. But not always. Sometimes my Apollonian self struggles to balance my Dionysian self. Especially when reviewing class-D amplifiers.
You see . . .
Class-D amplifiers are about quantities: like high power with high damping factors delivered at low temperatures in small, lightweight boxes at low dollars-per-watt prices. Class-D is a left-brain pleasure that declares, “Look what a smart shopper I am.”
Class-D lovers venerate Bruno Putzeys, the Belgian engineer who kick-started class-D’s current popularity, first with his UcD power amp module for Philips, and subsequently with his NCore amplifier modules and various switch-mode power supplies for Hypex.
I’ve been a forever fan of Bruno’s class-D modules be cause they deliver exceptionally clean, dynamic power at very reasonable prices. Best of all, Hypex makes these modules available, not only to other manufacturers (like Bel Canto, NAD, and MBL) but also as kits made available to DIY people. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s fair to say: Putzeys’s inventions are currently reshaping the landscape of high-fidelity audio.
To me, the chief beauty of class-D is: It brings the specter of upper-class sound to the parlors of the merchant class.
Class-A, on the other hand, is about qualities. Long favored by gentry, class-A appeals to right-brain audiophiles with a penchant for sensuous excitements and leisure-class pleasures. Think stone fireplaces, linen sheets, and wines from Châteaux. Like aged beverages, class-A warms the listener’s blood. Class-A amplifiers are typically low power, reside in heavy chassis, and operate at high temperatures.
But times are changing. Young Royals have started to abdicate. And class-D amp manufacturers are seeking Royal Warrants.
Class-D amplifiers are tiptoeing into the Lord and Lady’s listening chamber. They are sneaking in because they are being presented in understated, fashionably sculpted chassis, at Oxford Street prices. The subject of this review, the $3495 Primare A35.2 stereo amplifier, is one of these new breeds of fashionably sculpted, “gentrified” class-D amplifiers. My plan is to see how it sounds while sipping Châteaux Margaux.
Description Solid-state stereo power amplifier with class-D amplifier module and AFPC power supply. Power output: 200Wpc into 8 ohms (23dBW), 400Wpc into 4 ohms (23dBW). Inputs: 1 pair single-ended (RCA), 1 pair balanced (XLR). Outputs: 2 pairs of three-way binding posts. Frequency response: 20Hz– 20kHz, −0.2dB. Voltage gain: 26dB. Input impedance: 15k ohms single-ended, 30k ohms balanced. Power consumption: <0.4W standby, 28W operating.
Dimensions 5.7 (145mm) H × 16.9 (430mm) W × 15 (382mm) D. Weight: 26lb (11.7kg).
Finishes Titanium, black.
Serial number of unit reviewed 81-5235-9032 Made in China.
Price $3495. Approximate number of dealers: 40. Warranty: 3 years.
Manufacturer Primare AB, Limstensgatan, 7 21616 Limhamn, Sweden. Web: primare.net
US distributor MoFi Distribution, 1811 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago, IL 60660. Tel: (312) 738-5025. Fax: (312) 433-0011. Web: mofidistribution.com
Sequence is everything
The only way I know to review a basic amplifier is to take out the amp that’s driving whichever speaker is in the system and replace it with the amp I’m scheduled to review. My review deadlines are always the 10th day of each month, so usually, on the 11th or 12th day, I connect the new amplifier to whichever loudspeaker was in the system at the end of the review period. My first hope is that it works—that some form of relatively undistorted sound emerges in equal portions from both channels. If that happens, I can relax: As long as the amp doesn’t catch fire or blow fuses, I will likely earn my shilling and three pence for the month.
On December 11, 2019, I connected the just-arrived (from Sweden) Primare A35.2 amplifier to the been-here forever Magnepan .7 quasi-ribbon panel speakers. The .7s have a current-hungry 3–4-ohm nominal impedance, which I assumed would work very well being driven by the A35.2’s 400Wpc into 4 ohms. And I was right. Immediately, the modest Maggies made clear, undistorted sound, from both channels, causing me to relax and listen closely to Alexandre Tharaud’s faux-cabaret album Barbara (24/44.1 FLAC Erato/Qobuz). This recording, an homage to a chanteuse Francaise known only as “Barbara,” is a 2019 favorite of mine. It’s nicely recorded and, through the A35.2, sounded especially well-articulated.
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