Primare D30.2 CD player

High-end audio has always been a tricky business, and in recent years it's become more so. Home theater is pulling in one direction, and MP3, iPods, and the Internet are pulling in another. And customer expectations—not just of sound quality, but also of usability and integration into their space and lives—are spiraling upward. The companies that are thriving amid these pressures seem to have adopted one of two strategies: either they focus more narrowly and try to convince the world to accept their vision, or they evolve their products in an attempt to anticipate the market.

Sweden's Primare, founded in the late 1980s by industrial designer Bo Christiansen and electronics whiz Bent Nielsen, has taken the evolutionary approach. Their products have morphed over the years, as has the company itself. They began with the UFO-like, cost-no-object, 200-series separates of the early '90s. Then Christiansen left to found Bow Electronics and Primare merged with Xena/Copland/QLM; the 300-series Primare products that followed were more traditionally packaged, but more advanced electronically. In the late '90s, Primare added audio engineer Michael Bladelius, formerly of Threshold and Pass Labs. In the next generation of Primare products—the 10, 20, and 30 series—Bladelius combined his own design influences with an increased emphasis on cost-effectiveness. Integration, too, became a focus, both of individual pieces into a system and of the entire system into a home environment.

Primare's current products—evolutions of the 10, 20, and 30 series—are stylish, compact, moderately priced, and designed to work as systems. (According to US importer Sumiko, most Primare components are now sold as complete systems.) At $2250, the D30.2 is Primare's most expensive CD player. The other products in the 30 series are similarly priced: $2250 for the A30.1 100Wpc integrated amplifier, and $1995 apiece for the Pre30 preamp and A30.1 two-channel power amp. (In addition to traditional two-channel products, Primare builds multichannel and A/V components that also functionally and stylistically integrate with the two-channel gear.)

Technology: Clean, simple, nicely done
Primare is reluctant to provide much technical detail about their designs, preferring to let their products do the talking, but the basics are pretty standard for a midpriced CD player. They started with "the standard Sony OEM transport," which lacks the luxurious feel of the Philips units but gave designer Michael Bladelius more freedom to optimize his servo circuitry for superior data recovery. Similarly, the well-established Burr-Brown digital filter and DAC chips were chosen as much for the flexibility they afford as for their absolute performance.

From the DAC onward, the Primare is fully balanced, with such nice touches as 13 heavily regulated power supplies, and the packaging of the display and its associated grunge between the faceplate and the true inner chassis. However, according to Sumiko's Primare expert, Terry Medalen, there's no magic. In fact, no single design ethic or approach has been followed. "ICs, large discrete components, surface-mount passives...they use it all, wherever it makes sense. The components and parts are carefully picked, but Primare's not tied to any particular technology....It's whatever will give them the sound they want, along with manufacturing ease and stability."

The D30.2's user interface is straightforward, the player's functions accessible through front-panel buttons or the remote control—although the latter is cluttered with buttons that control other Primare components. The D30.2 lacks the vast array of features and I/O interfaces of the Cary 303/200 player (which I reviewed in the May issue), but the basics are there: unbalanced and balanced outputs, a single S/PDIF digital input, and a removable power cord. The rear panel also has a toggle switch labeled Fixed Power; turned on, it keeps the D30.2's analog circuits powered up and warm.

The D30.2 performed flawlessly throughout the review period, during which I alternated between using it to drive my standard reference system and in a stripped-down, hotrod setup, with the D30.2 driving the amplifiers through Placette Audio's Remote Volume Control (see review elsewhere in this issue). Mechanically isolating the Primare improved its focus and detail resolution, so I sandwiched it between Immedia's SSC feet and Finite Elemente's Cera-ball supports and a Bright Star Little Rock.

US distributor: Sumiko
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 843-4500