Primare D30.2 CD player Page 2

Like the players from GamuT (the $2999 CD 1), Wadia (the $3250 830 and $7950 861), and Cary (the $3000 CD-303/200) that I've auditioned, the $2250 D30.2 sounded excellent. However, it lacked the sort of single, distinguishing characteristic that each of those other players has. What the Primare had was a natural ease, and a beguiling sweetness across the midrange. On Patricia Barber's Nightclub (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 27290 2), this was most noticeable as a lovely, clear ring in piano notes, and the lush richness of the cymbals' bell-like low-frequency component. I was also struck by the vocals and guitars on Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club (CD, World Circuit/Nonesuch 79478-2), which sounded very pure and natural, and also had that sweet, ringing quality. I occasionally wondered if I was hearing a little extra sweetness—perhaps some extra even-order harmonic content—but even if that was the case, the sound was never syrupy, just...sweet.

The D30.2's upper midrange was not quite as gorgeous as the midrange, sounding a little reticent in comparison. On John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD), the voices of the male choristers were more defined and articulate than the women's, with more body and richer tonal colors. On Barber's Nightclub, I noticed that guitar and piano attacks didn't sound as sharp as with other players, and throughout, the Primare's soundstage was very slightly recessed in the center. This didn't detract from the music; in fact, the slightly softened upper midrange, coupled with a sweet lower midrange, made the D30.2 very forgiving. Everything I threw at it—even recordings with some upper-midrange edginess—sounded wonderful.

The D30.2's top end, particularly its lower treble, was powerful without being sharp or hard. In addition to the cymbals' rich, bell-like component, they were surrounded by a huge, shimmering aura that was bigger and more tangible than I'm used to hearing. But way up in the ether, the D30.2's treble didn't sound as airy, delicate, or extended as what I hear in a club or concert hall.

The Primare's bottom end was powerful, with excellent pitch definition—witness the seismically ominous gongs in the opening of Dead Can Dance's "Yulunga," from Into the Labyrinth (CD, 4AD 445384-2), or the window-rattling power and tonal purity of the lower reaches of David Herman's organ on Music by Samuel Wesley (CD, Redcliffe RR019). Both Cary '303/200 and the $14,000 Burmester 001 that I reviewed last December had more impact at the very bottom, but not a lot more. The Primare's precision and articulation were very good, reproducing what felt like individual pressure waves on Herman's most subterranean notes, and every detail of Marc Johnson's bass strings on the Pat Barber disc.

The D30.2's resolution of low-level detail was also very good. The vocalists on the Rutter Requiem were all distinct individuals; it was easy to picture not only heads and mouths, but throats, chests, and bodies as well. The guitars on Buena Vista Social Club were portrayed as coherent wholes, but each was a complex jumble of sounds: fingers sliding and snapping, strings popping and vibrating, instrument bodies resonating. Another great example was the uncannily realistic image of Steve Forbert on his live solo acoustic disc, Be Here Now (CD, Rolling Tide 1994). Listening to "What Kinda Guy," I could close my eyes and picture Forbert—every nuance, every movement, his very presence—there in front of me.

Ambience retrieval—the re-creation of the original recording space—was another of the D30.2's strong points. The pieces of Rutter's Requiem fit together beautifully, from individual choristers to their assembled rows and on outward, to the farthest reaches of Meyerson Symphony Center. The pipes on the Samuel Wesley organ disc were precisely located within a great sense of the size and boundaries of Coventry Chapel. At the other end of the spectrum, the clubs where the Steve Forbert disc had been recorded were realistic and distinct—even the audiences seamlessly contributed to the sonic picture.

"Transparency" and "low distortion" appeared repeatedly in my listening notes. There was a clarity and openness to the D30.2's sound that made other players sound overstated or forced in comparison. They often had more obvious detail, but with the Primare, it seemed as if the space just opened up behind and around the image, and that instruments and voices simply flowed, without being forced or manipulated.

In other areas—timing and the reproduction of dynamic contrasts, for example—the D30.2 was competitive with similarly priced units, if not quite as good as the best I've heard. It didn't have quite the uncanny dynamic precision and drive of the Wadia 861, for example, but it was still lively and clean. Similarly, the D30.2's dynamic contrasts sounded big and fast, but direct comparisons proved them to be not quite a match for those of the megabuck players.

Summing up
Primare hit its target with the $2250 D30.2. It was carefully optimized to sound great on a wide range of music, and does so without breaking the bank. What's really cool is that Primare was able to meet all of these design goals without compromising their audiophile soul.

In some respects, the D30.2 isn't a hardcore, standalone audiophile product like the ~$3000 Cary and Wadia units I've heard recently. It lacks such audiophile "tweak" features as selectable digital filtering and variable output. Nor does it have the sort of distinct personalities that those units do, and which will represent sonic nirvana for some listeners. What it doesn't lack is true audiophile performance. In fact, the performance of my stripped-down setup, with the D30.2 driving VTL Ichiban monoblock power amps and my Thiel CS6 speakers via a Placette Volume Control, was astonishing.

The bottom line is that the Primare D30.2 is a well-built, stylish, great-sounding CD player. I'd recommend it to hardcore audiophiles on its sonic merits alone—but I'd probably first discuss the tradeoffs between the D30.2's balance and simplicity and the features, tweakability, and more overt personalities of some other units. For everyone else—those who want audiophile sound in a stylish, compact, affordable integrated system that fits into their space and life—there's nothing to discuss. The place to start is the Primare D30.2.

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