I have been lucky enough to have a brand new Primare R32 Phono Preamplifier to audition over the last few weeks and I wanted to share my experiences in a proper review.
The Primare R32 phono preamplifier is designed in Sweden and is a fully discrete, solid-state, DC-coupled, class-A phono preamplifier. The R32 has three gain settings, allowing it to work with the vast majority of cartridges available, past and present.
The R32 features very convenient externally switchable resistive loading for your moving coil cartridges. The load impedance can be set anywhere between 10 Ohms and 47 kOhms, with a broad range of steps in between. This allows owners the freedom to explore the subtle and not-so-subtle changes one can make to the sound of an MC cart, by varying the resistive loading.
In addition, there are two external gain settings, for MM and MC cartridges. The gain is a good 40 dB in the MM operation (internally, you can switch to 46 dB). There is a 62 dB gain available for MC signals and that is enough for the most current pickups.
Being a discrete design, there are only a few transistors in the signal path and no chips. There is a DC servo, implemented with feedback by an op-amp, but this lies outside the signal path. To clarify, really everything is in the signal path, but the DC servo essentially lies to one side of the signal path and acts to correct any DC voltages that might make their way to the output.
DC-coupling means that the frequency response of the Primare R32 phono preamplifier is ruler-flat down to a few tenths above 0Hz, almost guaranteeing excellent bass performance. The standard RIAA EQ curve is only really applicable to the 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range, but the electronics in the are flat to well below this 20Hz bass cut-off point.
The R32 doesn’t disappoint, the bass is taught, tuneful and powerful, as good as I have heard at this price-point. The chassis is gorgeous too, I almost forgot to mention this, blown away as I was by the sound!
You can do better of course, but for me, that meant swapping back in my Fidelity Research XF-1 step-up transformer and using the Primare as a moving magnet gain stage. Adding in the FR transformer and taking away a bunch of transistors added air and ambience to the sound, without changing it tonally. You really can’t do better than a Fidelity Research transformer if you have a moving coil cartridge.
The Bottom Line
Overall, the Primare R32 is an excellent phono preamplifier. It smokes the Cambridge Audio 651P and is a class act, at around AUD$1000. Bass is deep and taught, the midrange is more fluid than lesser phono preamps and the treble, smoother and airier.
The R32 punches up at the top of its price class. It’s not as transparent or airy as the Fidelity Research XF-1 for example, but then nothing is! It’s smooth, powerful, extended, never fatiguing and you can always upgrade it by adding a transformer later. I highly recommend the Primare R32!